When my sister said let's go to Bali and eat Nasi Goreng for my 50th, how could I resist. That dish instantly transports me to Bali. There was 5 of us, including our Mum, and we had a ball, celebrations lingering throughout the week.
With thousands of superb restaurants to choose from, my sister opted to have her birthday dinner catered poolside in our villa, sharing the night with family and close friends in intimate surroundings. It was a perfect opportunity to break out the 80's music and sashay through the night.
Bali has changed much since I first visited in the late 70's, when tie-dyed sarongs, lace edged dresses and crochet bikinis were all the rage.
Stay: One of the nicest things about staying in a private villa is the feeling of having a home away from home. It's a splendid option if travelling with a group. It allows us all to have our own bedrooms and bathrooms but also a communal living space poolside where we gather for much of the day and also at night for pre-bedtime swims.
That is of course when we're not out shopping, dining or poking around the streets and laneways of nearby Seminyak and Legian, picking up bargains or eating our way through Bali's other culinary staple: char-grilled chicken satays.
Shop: Bali was a screaming bargain back then and it is still is, though thankfully fashions have gone more upmarket to reflect Bali's cosmopolitan visitors. Jalan Raya Seminyak is a great place to start, with both sides of the street lined with funky clothing and shoe boutiques, home wares, restaurants, cafes and spa therapy centres. If you can't find somewhere to spend your rupiah on this endless strip, well, you're really not trying.
Nico Nico is one of my favourites for swimwear while Sea Gypsy does simply gorgeous jewellery inspired by ocean and earth elements. Periplus is a must for bookworms, stocking fiction and non-fiction, maps and travel guides – there are a dozen or so of these stores across Bali.
With birthday celebrations looming, we five ladies book an afternoon of pampering organised through Nikki, our villa host. Setting up her massage table beneath the thatched roof in a secluded corner of the garden, Anna's hands work her magic each day as we book her to return again and again. In fact daily massages and the odd pedicure turn out to be a highlight of my Bali holiday. Sure, you can still take a traditional Balinese massage on Kuta Beach, with soft-handed sarong sellers multi-tasking as coconut oil wielding masseuse. But for me, I'd prefer to retreat to a private sanctuary for such treatments. Our sanctuary, the Villa Akasa in Seminyak. With staff on hand to cook and look after us, we wanted for nothing.
It's impossible for me to not associate the island of Bali with the ubiquitous rice dish of Nasi Goreng. I always head to a local Warung (Balinese local restaurant) when I land and order Nasi Goreng with a side dish of sliced chillies in soy sauce, then I know I'm in Bali. Our Villa cooks served up a mean Nasi too and it was consumed often.
A local staple that originated from a need to preserve cooked rice in kitchens lacking refrigeration, Nasi Goreng is found everywhere: served street side from wheeled cart vendors to fine dining restaurants and everywhere in between. The deal maker (or breaker) for me is in the egg. Sliced omelette style and mixed into the rice rarely works. However, serve me a mound of Nasi Goreng draped with a firm white fried egg with soft yoke and I'm in culinary heaven.
Much better to venture out on to throbbing streets in search of perfect Nasi Goreng, knowing that I've a masseuse 'at home' to work out any holiday stresses should I be unlucky enough to encounter the odd bad egg.
Fiona Harper is a freelance travel writer specialising in travel boating and lifestyle genres. When not on the road checking out divine holiday destinations, she can usually be found bunkered down in a tropical location working on her next writing project.