The trip from Los Angeles to Singapore is very long, including a fuel stop in Taipei. Singapore Airlines is truly excellent in their economy-class service. Be sure to request an aisle and adjacent middle seat so you can move around during flight. The flight attendants are constantly in the aisles with food and drinks, they work very hard to provide a good flight experience for passengers. Anti-jetlag tips: Bring your own small bottles of water and keep drinking, walk the aisles frequently to keep circulation moving. We take melatonin to help with adjusting our body clocks and it works quite well for us.
Singapore is a wonderful stopover and we took advantage of the city tour with our package and the hop-on hop-off trolley that circumnavigates the city. We also had high tea at the Raffles Hotel, walked Orchard Road (lots of shops), and (husband being a retired Marine officer) went to the World War II exhibit "Battle Box" at Ft. Canning Park. This underground bunker-turned-museum explains the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. On day two we went back to the Raffles for a drink at the Long Bar, a Singapore must. The city is clean, very tropical, safe, with great restaurants and shopping. If you plan to shop for electronics be absolutely sure to price what you want before you leave home. Only then will you know if what you're being offered is a good buy. Be sure to bargain for electronics. We bought an extra battery and a wide-angle lens for our video camera. If you want to shop extensively it might be better to do it at the end of your trip.
The one glitch with our package was the failure of ground transportation (part of the tour package) to meet us when we arrived in Bali. We tried to track them down, but gave up and took a taxi to our hotel. Our package gave us a limited selection of hotels, all in the Nusa Dua area. We enjoyed the Nusa Dua Beach Hotel, a large complex that incorporates beautiful tropical landscaping, Balinese stone architecture, pools and fountains. We had a standard room overlooking gardens, with much woodcarving, shutters, very nice bathroom. This room is pictured on the website as a "deluxe room."
After perusing the hotel spa menu we booked the special experience for couples in their Spa Villa and it was a highlight of our trip. It took several hours, included a couples massage and flower bath, and we were left in the beautiful Spa Villa with complete privacy for about 45 minutes at the end. The cost was about $120 and it was worth every penny!
While staying in Nusa Dua we walked around the peninsula on the beach and looked at quite a few other hotels. Fortunately, we didn't find one we liked better than the one where we stayed. But once we got out in the countryside we were glad we had the opportunity to try several other hotels.
In my opinion, the number one key to enjoying Bali is your driver for excursions. I read posts on the forum for a couple of months and communicated with several drivers by e-mail. We ended up hiring two different drivers and the first was very satisfactory. We had given him our hotel arrival time and he called to reconfirm that he would pick us up the first morning of our agreed time with him. He was very prompt and so personable. My husband didn't want to tour every day, so he was flexible about driving for us some days and on other days we relaxed at the hotel. We told him that we wanted to find other hotels for later nights of our stay and during our tours he took us to see some of his favorites. We chose the Alam Indah, a tiny and affordable hotel with bungalows in Nyuh Kuning village near Ubud. Our "Gardenia Suite" bungalow was $95 with a downstairs verandah, living room and indoor-outdoor garden bath; the bedroom was upstairs with a wonderful view over the hotel pool and rice paddies. Across the road from this hotel is a delightful open-pavilion restaurant , great for dinners, a 3-minute walk from our bungalow. The hotel recommended the Nur Salon in Ubud for a massage, and it was wonderful! I went late in the day and the open-air private massage room with giant flower-filled bath was exquisite.
We also stayed at the Indra Udyhana Hotel in Amed. This hotel overlooks the beach, our bungalow had a wonderful outdoor bathroom and an amazing ocean view. Price was $95. The pool area at this hotel is truly gorgeous. There is snorkeling right off the beach adjacent to the hotel. Snorkeling was satisfactory, but not best-in-the-world like Fiji and Palau.
Our first driver was already booked for the second half of our time in Bali, so we hired Wayan Sueta for the second half of our trip, again by recommendations from the forum and e-mail correspondence. He was very reliable, a careful driver, and quickly got to know us and adjusted the daily sightseeing to our interests. On our last day he brought a friend to help drive the car. He walked with us about 3 miles, slightly downhill, through rice fields where we saw many of the wonderful Bali cows in their private houses, the duck shepherds and their flocks, and all stages of rice growing. Meanwhile the friend drove the car to the end of our walk. This Wayan has continued to correspond with us via e-mail, keeping us informed about major Bali holidays and the latest news about the tooth-filing ceremony for him and his wife! Search the forum archives for more on this driver. He gets rave reviews from everyone. His clients even e-mail each other great Sueta stories.
Toward the end of our time with each of these drivers they took us to their homes and we toured the family compound, met family members, and learned about Balinese culture and daily life. If you're staying for more than a week, I highly recommend getting to know two different drivers as you will gain a richer perspective. Our driver helped us find moneychangers and phone shops (so we could call home). He was scrupulous about finding reputable moneychangers and we never had problems.
I had booked a hotel by internet called Alam Sari Keliki and told our driver about it on the first day he drove for us. He tactfully suggested that we should look at the hotel before staying there and he took us to preview it. Unfortunately, the hotel is located at the top of a hill where much motorbike traffic passes by and the bikes have to really strain to get to the summit. The noise was awful! The hotel allowed us to cancel our booking and refunded our deposit! I was astounded. This hotel is small, with lovely bungalows, and if noise doesn't bother you it would be a good choice.
Our last hotel was a dream-come-true, the Lorin Saba Bai. I found and booked this place on the internet. It was in a remote seaside area east of Sanur, on an incredible ink-black sand beach. Wayan Sueta had never heard of this hotel, but navigated there (many odd turns through a succession of villages) faultlessly. We all exclaimed with delight as we approached this Eden. It would take many paragraphs to describe this wonderful place.
We booked a honeymoon package for a "2-level deluxe pool suite" and paid about $150 a day. I cannot begin to describe how wonderful our accommodations were. We had our own compound with wooden gates. At the back was a small garden with our own pool, also 2 patios and an outdoor shower.
Only a low wall separated this area from the beach. The view was spectacular and we could watch the farmers taking their cow along the beach early and late in the day. The beach front suite had the air-conditioned bedroom and large garden bath downstairs. Upstairs, a completely open-air pavilion included a large "day bed" surrounded with mosquito netting., also other comfortable sofa and chairs for lounging.
Note, this is not a swimming beach. The surf is very high and breaks right onshore. Also, this hotel is isolated which we greatly enjoyed. But if you're looking for a variety of restaurants and lots of nightlife, better try other spots. The hotel food was very good, we certainly enjoyed every meal there.
On our last night at the Lorin we were served a private dinner in the upstairs lounge of our villa --- a multi-course meal with the two servers scurrying back and forth from the kitchen for several hours. Fabulous! Every aspect of our time at this hotel was as close to perfection as I can imagine. We were glad we stayed here last, as anything else would have been a letdown. Be sure to specify a beach front suite as I think some of these units do not face the beach. During our stay a European couple had their wedding and an outdoor feast for their guests on a stone platform overlooking both the beach and pool. All the hotel guests were invited to watch the Legong dance performed by the local dance troupe. This dance originated in this area, so the performance was stunning.
We didn't do a lot of shopping. I bought sarongs at various shops, just choosing the shop by looking at the displays outside. We enjoyed the Sukawati art market near the Lorin hotel. Go early in the morning and be prepared for lots of bargaining. The food market across the street from the main arts building is fascinating. There are many arts vendors along the main street and the prices are excellent.
Other excursions we enjoyed in Bali were the elephant safari park and river rafting. Be careful of the water in the river. My husband contracted an ear infection and he's convinced it was from being splashed directly in the ear by one of the river guides. We spent part of one morning in Kuta (shopping, I do recommend the Animale shop for near-couture women's clothing) and that was more than enough. We did load up on bottled water at the Matahari store. By the way, all our hotels included a very nice breakfast as part of the tariff.
Unless you are going to Bali in peak travel periods (July-August and around the Xmas holidays) I believe you could safely book hotels once you get there. However, the 5-star boutique and villa hotels should be booked in advance to avoid disappointment. We would stay at any of the hotels mentioned above again.
Don't leave home without it: a small flashlite, pocket-size tissue packs, handiwipes and hand sanitizer, a travel umbrella, Teva or similar "water" sandals for paddy walks, lightweight jacket for overly air conditioned cars and restaurants.
A trip to Bali is wonderful journey into a totally different and fascinating culture. Take time to learn about the people and their religion. Please practice cultural sensitivity and manners by dressing appropriately. I'm convinced that we saw more and had special experiences because the drivers knew that we had a genuine interest in their culture and life. I suggest two books which I read before and during the trip: Knopf Guides Bali and Passport's Bali Island of the Gods. For Singapore I used the Insight Pocket Guide.