Cool people I’ve met travelling: Michelle Matthews in Bali

It’s rather embarrassing to admit, but if I want to know where all the cool new bars and cafes are in London, I ask someone who’s based 12,000 miles away in Melbourne. That someone is Michelle Matthews.

Michelle is the force behind Deck of Secrets and spectacularly well-connected on all continents.

Michelle Matthews

Recently back from Bali, I picked her brains on her favourite discoveries there from this trip:

Where should I be eating right now?

Up in lush, green Ubud the place to dine is Bridges. Spectacularly located overlooking a deep, narrow canyon and the bridges that cross it. Fine dining, but like most places in Bali, still relaxed.

Down south in the beach area I’m enjoying the very casual, healthy cafes. My favourite is Green Ginger for vegetarian curries, noodles and salads. They also offer free Bahasa Indonesia language classes on Wednesday evenings and a great brunch on Sundays.

Where should I be drinking right now?

The so-hot-right-now place is Mama San. Dining downstairs and bar and lounge upstairs. It’s slick modern Chinese fit-out inspires but doesn’t necessitate dressing up. Book for dinner to enjoy accomplished dishes from across Asia and then head upstairs to the bar for more cocktails. Friday night is best to mingle with the hip local crew and in the know visitors.

For a chilled end to the weekend finish at Single Fin for sunset views and their Sunday Session live music set. Aim to arrive by 5.30. Single Fin is perched high above the sea with sweeping views of the famous Uluwatu surf break and surf village below. Look for signs to Blue Point.

Favourite chill-out spot?

Ignore the silly name, you’ll fall for Potato Heads amazing entry façade of thousands of wooden shutters towering high or the breezy 1950’s beach house styling inside. Located right on the beach, come for the day if you can nab a lounge by the pool, stay for cocktails (great cocktails) and watch the sunset and then settle in for dinner.

Did you find any great new places to stay on this trip?

I used AirBnB for most of my accommodation in Bali which was great but since I was doing the location independent thing and spending most of my time working from cafes and living simply I think the next trip I’d live a little more and stay at these places:

Desa Seni: An eco village and arguably the best place to come for yoga (even if you don’t stay in-house).

Cicada, Seminyak: I stayed here a few years ago and loved it. Great location, stunning villas.

Uma Sapna: These villas are incredibly well located in Seminyak although not close to the beach yet they are incredibly quiet and private with decent sized private pools and a leading contemporary art gallery Kendra on the property. Time your stay for one of their opening nights.

Favourite new discovery this time?

For the first time I’ve taken notice of the shops in Bali. The main streets in Seminyak are full of boutiques. Most sell ordinary or overly bejeweled resort wear but some places sell international and local designer wear that is made locally, priced competitively and will be treasured and envied.

Karma Koma: French design, classic simple separates and leather accessories.

Biasa: Contemporary, jet-set worthy designs in natural fabrics.

Enfants du Paradis – stunning new brand of skincare and accessories. Grab their travel-size hand sanitizer. A stylish travel essential.

Best place for a caffeine hit?

Regular cafes are starting to open up but just because a place is western and hip is no guarantee that the coffee will be drinkable. Drop in Seminyak is great for a shopping pit-stop while Butter is an air-conditioned haven for lovers of cake and coffee. Meanwhile Sea Circus aims to set the coffee standard using that fine Perth coffee brand, 5 Senses, who source and roast coffee grown locally in Kintamani. The new coffee window makes this the spot for a quick, quality takeaway coffee.

Anything else?

Transport: The Bali experience is either about staying in a Nusa Dua resort far from the action or staying in villas and hotels and exploring the diverse hospitality scene of cafes, restaurants, fine dining, beach clubs and sunset bars. To explore these you need a vehicle. Scooters are super popular and cheap but check your travel insurance to see if you’ll be covered if you don’t already carry a motorbike or scooter license. The traffic is pretty mental. Plus it is hot and the footpaths, where they exist, are narrow and full of large gaping holes.

Taxis are the cheapest and most plentiful option in the Seminyak area;  so so much cheaper than the opportunistic drivers who will try on any price with new arrivals. In Ubud every second Balinese person is a driver (not official taxi) and they will call out to you every few minutes to try and get work. They’re fine to use but ask around the check the standard rate to and from your accommodation and standard places like Monkey Forrest. A handy phrase is ada sudah sopir or just ada sudah “I have a driver already” or the implied and sufficient “have already”.

For longer journeys it is worth hiring a driver for a day or half day or multiple days if you want to explore more distant parts of the island. They will stay locally nearby so they are on hand for the onward journey. Whenever I come to Bali I use the driving services of Nengah Mudarta. His vehicle seats six passengers. Email him on or phone on +62 812 462 9647.

Terima kasih, Michelle!




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