Once a sleepy coastal village, Canggu — or “the ’Gu”, as it’s affectionately called — has turned into one of Bali island’s necessary drop-off points. Bordered by fancy Seminyak in the south and serene Tanah Lot in the north, the area has solidified its presence with a thriving vegan café culture, cool tattoo parlors, street art and a yoga scene that rivals that in Ubud.
With black-sand beaches and tanned surfers lugging their boards through small lanes bordered by rice fields, Canggu is kind of Bali‘s middle ground — a surfing center that is rife with nightlife options, as well as avenues for peace and quiet.
We ask F&B consultant, ardent surfer and overall man-about-town Kevin Dwisandy Tjaja to show us his favorite hangouts.
8.00AM Hit the waves at Batu Bolong Beach
The volcanic-sand beach facing the Indian Ocean is your entry point to the island’s best waves. Ideal for longboarders and novice and intermediate surfers, the winds blowing through from April to August help create powerful waves. “It’s a popular beach, but there’s plenty of room for everyone. It’s a great place to meet and interact with other surfers,” says Kevin. “If you want to pick up the sport, sign up at one of the surf schools situated at the Old Man’s bar parking lot.”
9.00AM Have breakfast at Alter Ego
Alter Ego features distinctive, stylish wood-and-concrete interiors that stand out among Canggu’s beach-shack-type establishments. In line with the healthy eating culture of the area, the café offers vegan and vegetarian dishes (there are also meat-based offerings) along with solid coffee made by award-winning baristas. “I always take my morning cappuccino here. They have a build-your-own-breakfast option, but I usually go with the Green Goddess — a fruit, vegetable and grilled chicken salad,” says Kevin. Jln Batu Mejan; fb.com/alteregocanggu
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Three things you’ll only find in Bali
- Barong. You might spot this red-faced creature with bulging eyes and long fangs on souvenir shirts and as a character in traditional dances. The mythical creature is thought to predate Hinduism; a symbol of the constant battle between good and evil, and wisdom and destruction.
- Small offerings. The small, rectangular palm-leaf baskets — called canang sari — which contain items like flowers, rice and betel leaf, are daily offerings that signify the intent for equilibrium between the gods, man and nature. They’re everywhere on the island — on streets, in temples and at the front of public establishments. Tip: Avoid stepping on them.
- Black-and-white checkered cloths. Known as saput poleng, these textiles, often found wrapped around trees or over arches, represent yin and yang; right and wrong; and purity and impurity. When wrapped around an object, it signifies the presence of a black and white force that resides within.
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10.00AM Go souvenir shopping at the Underground Handicraft Market
A stone’s throw away from the breakfast spot is the Underground Handicraft Market, a new indoor space that features stalls selling trinkets, home décor, clothing and accessories. It’s not usually crowded at this time of day, so you can browse and haggle in peace. It’s a great place to get the souvenir shopping done — sellers here aren’t as aggressive as those in the bigger markets. Jln Batu Mejan
12.30PM Lunch at Lola’s Cantina Mexicana
This Tex-Mex spot, popular with the discerning residents of the ’Gu, epitomizes the best of Bali — good food, beach vibes and a location right next to a rice field. “I’ve raved about their four kinds of chili sauces — with different levels of spiciness (chipotle, jalapeno, spicy pineapple and extra spicy tomato chili) — steak fajitas and fresh guacamole,” says Kevin. “Take my recommendation and then wash it all down with a Big Bang, an apple, spinach, mango and banana smoothie served in a cactus-shaped glass.” Jln Subak Canggu; fb.com/lolasbali
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Three yoga places to check out
- Serenity. Five minutes’ walk from the beach, this guesthouse and yoga space is popular with both surfers and yogis. It offers an extensive range of yoga and meditation classes, from starter sessions and gong meditation to more intensive classes in aerial yoga. serenitybali.com
- The Practice. Perfect your poses at this high-ceilinged, bamboo-constructed training center, to temple sounds emanating from nearby Batu Bolong Beach. Surrounded by rice fields, the peaceful center is suitable for yogis and beginners alike. fb.com/thepracticebali
- Desa Seni. This is a resort and spa, organic restaurant, yoga studio and art village all combined into one. The outdoor studio is also available for private yoga sessions. After a rejuvenating session, check out the exhibits of works by artists who live and work across the Indonesian archipelago. desaseni.com
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1.00PM Get inked at Bold and Bright
Known for producing meticulous and quality artwork, Bold and Bright tattoo and piercing studio is located on the second floor of a small building in a quieter area of Canggu, and it’s situated high enough so that you can have a view out over a rice field (yes, they’re almost everywhere you look in this part of Canggu!). It’s just the place to take home a memento that has permanence to it. “The practice is spick-and-span, the tattoo artists are friendly and attentive and the cool ambience and music playlists make it a stand-out even for non-first-timers,” says Kevin. Jln Subak Canggu; boldandbrighttattooparlor.com
2.00PM Make your own chocolate at Primo
Found near North Kuta, the Primo Chocolate factory is a neat space that offers chocolate-making classes for groups of up to four people. During the sessions (arranged by appointment only), participants are taught to sort through beans, temper chocolate and make their own bars. “People get to experience having chocolate made with a custom-made chocolate-making machine,” says Kevin. After class, head to their small shop, where you can purchase the factory’s single-origin dark chocolate products. Pro tip: Bring insect repellent. 130 Jln Bumbak Dauh, Kerobokan; primobali.net
4.30PM Go mural hunting on Jalan Raya Canggu
Street art has actually been on the rise in Canggu since about 2016. Stencil art and vibrant graffiti are splashed on street corners, on surfaces amid rice fields and even objects (like pots) sitting in small lanes and back alleys. “There are so many great photo ops. Just be sure to take along a camera that offers good zoom — for a better view of some of the smaller murals,” says Kevin. Start from what the locals call “Shortcut Road”, which connects Batu Bolong with Berawa, then make your way to the Allcaps Store on Jalan Raya Canggu (a gallery and mural supplies shop). Here’s another pro tip: The large area next to Allcaps has large-scale murals that reflect outstanding craftsmanship. 18A Jln Raya Canggu; fb.com/allcapsbali
6.30PM Enjoy sunset cocktails and dinner at The Lawn
Grab a spot at this popular beach club for food and drink and a view of surfers in action while the sun dips below the horizon. Daybeds, available for use with a minimum spend of IDR1,000,000 (about P3,685) on weekdays, or bar stools on the second floor are the best spots for views. On Fridays, DJs begin cranking music from sundown. “I love the vibe, the music and the mini lobster brioche. The lobster is super fresh, and the cocktails are fantastic too. I’ll take a passion fruit daiquiri any day,” says Kevin. Jln Pura Dalem; thelawncanggu.com
7.30PM End the night at Pretty Poison
Round out the day at this grungy, barebones bar that is full of character — and characters. The bar area is a wide-open space with skate videos screened on its concrete walls. “Delicious cocktails accompany an edgy vibe, but the main attraction is the skate bowl at the back,” says Kevin. The place really gets going at about 10pm — in case you want to stick around! Jln Subak Canggu; IG: @prettypoison___
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Meet Prawira Adhiguna, co-owner of Alter Ego
Why Canggu? Compared to other places in south Bali, the visitors are hipper and more experienced. Canggu attracts a mix of surfers, digital nomads and yogis. These people usually take on extended stays and stick around for a few months. And because of this, the vibe is more intimate. There’s good company, great conversation and a sense of community. Things are on the up-and-up for local businesses and there’s no low season.
How’s life in Bali’s hippest area? Life’s good. There’s easy access to nice beaches, good surf spots and high-quality restaurants — many Seminyak businesses have opened branches here. I also love that there’s high awareness of environmental issues. People work together for beach clean-ups and there’s a collective effort among businesses to offer reusable utensils. I know a local family who, with their own time and resources, create and distribute “Do not litter” banners and posters.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of Smile magazine.