Medewi: A great Bali getaway

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Updated on 25th January, 2013. First published 10th March, 2012

I've always been a bit of a big wrap on Medewi in west Bali. It's one of those places that tends to get short shrift in guidebooks as a "surfer hangout" but when I spent some time there last year while motorbiking around Bali, it struck a chord with me and I decided it was more than just a surfer hangout. And so, this weekend, I returned with my family in tow.

It's true: Medewi is a surfer hangout. But, like Balian half an hour to the east, it's also a stupendously beautiful area. The beach starts with smooth boulders and pebbles that are a bit of a challenge to scramble across. After the river, the pebbles give way to a jet black volcanic sand similar to what you see in Lovina -- the difference is in Medewi there are no touts trying to sell you wooden dolphins. In fact there are no touts at all.

Peak hour at Medewi Beach.
Peak hour at Medewi Beach.

To add support to the guidebook stereotype, we (or at least I) were in Medewi to surf among other things (read more about the travel writing scholarship here), and while last time I'd stayed at the decidedly fabulous Brown Sugar Surf Camp, this time we opted for the decidedly welcoming Medewi Surf Homestay. What a place. But more on that later; first a bit more about Medewi.

A silver dollar for you a silver dollar for me.
A silver dollar for you a silver dollar for me.

Like many Balinese stretches of beach, while tourists refer to the entire area as Medewi, you've actually got a series of villages skirting the surf, roughly east to west (and I'm happy to be corrected on this -- there may be more!) Pekutatan, Medewi and Yeh Sumbul are the main spots. Pekutatan marks the spot where a spur off the main road leads to a fabulous alternative route to Munduk in the highlands, and is also home to the rather fancy Puri Dajuma. Medewi proper has the bulk of the surfer digs and the only Western-orientated restaurant(s) that was open in the area. Yeh Sumbul is home to a terrifically placed mosque with terraced ricefields running down, quite literally, to the high water mark.

Simple pleasures at Yeh Sumbul.
Simple pleasures at Yeh Sumbul.

We don't leave Seminyak till mid-afternoon so it's just on sundown by the time we pull into Medewi Surf Homestay after calling our contact Ugis from the beach to come show us where it was. It's a village homestay on the non-beach side of the main road, a solid 10-minute walk (or two-minute drive) from the water. The family house is at the front, but as you walk back it opens first to a banana grove and soon to be garden, while to the left and right rice paddy stretches out. You cross a foot-wide, teeming canal and then look up and see the "Welcome to Medewi Surf Homestay" sign.

We're home.

Our own little getaway.
Our own little getaway.

The homestay is a two-storey wooden house that has three rooms in total. The master is downstairs and two smaller rooms are upstairs, with shared bathroom facilities (including a bloody cold shower!) at the rear on the ground. In front is a cute little garden and beyond the rice goes and goes and goes... and goes.

Quick, that coconut is about to go!
Quick, that coconut is about to go!

The guesthouse is a collaboration between Austrian Mike (who was in Austria when we visited) and Balinese Ugis. The rooms are very simple and after one night reading the kids books by torchlight there's certainly some scope for improvement with the lighting. Otherwise, bring your book light and it's a very comfortable spot. After dashing out for a quick meal at Mai Malu (the only tourist-focused restaurant, that is, they had surfing videos on and burgers as well as local dishes) we return and I snooze on the lazy chair upstairs to a backdrop of the mosque warbling, with a light seabreeze and the distant electrical storm over the ocean making me want to put my glasses back on.

Ribboned black sand.
Ribboned black sand.

Later that night the storm arrives and I wake to the thunderclaps. Torrential rain at its best, the teeming water throws itself at the house, but there's almost no breeze, so it's like we have a bungalow in a waterfall. It's otherwise silent. Even the mosque is quiet.

Morning comes and I meet my surfing fixer, Mano. Adorned in a knock-off straw fedora hat, a pair of board shorts and, well, not much else we talk about where to surf.

Travelling with a family? Rent the whole house for around 3,000,000 rupiah per week.
Travelling with the family? Rent the whole house for around 3,000,000 rupiah per week.

Surfing is a bit like pole dancing; you can either do it or you can't. I learned long ago that overstating your ability (umm, lying) equates to gross pain for you and inconvenience for everyone else. So, yes I can stand up but no I'm not confident on a fast unbroken wave on a boulder base.

We go for the beachbreak, you know, just to be sure.

After picking a board, the whole tribe -- Mano, Sam, Lyla, Will and myself tramp through the fields and wiggle between the fishing boats and hop over the pebbles till we reach the river.

Boogie board class for little people.
Boogie board class for little people.

Sam doesn't know about the river, and not wearing swimmers, and not being all that comfortable with the surfer moll identity she's adopting, isn't so keen to wade across. Mano exclaimed no worries, only waist deep!

Mano is short -- but not that short.

We ferry the kids, the boards, the bags across the river and keep walking, soaked to about half way up our chests -- at least Mano's hat is dry. Perhaps another 200 metres up the beach we set up camp in front of some curious cows and off we go.

Beach scenes near Pekutatan on another, sunnier, visit.
Beach scenes near Pekutatan on another, sunnier, visit.

I love surfing. Which is unfortunate as I'm terrible at it. As mentioned previously, I paddle like a girl, and while I get a few rides in, we take a break while Mano goes back to get his board and I give Lyla some boogie board lessons (as if I'm qualified).

Mano returns and we head far further out. I struggle to understand why 20 years of beer drinking hasn't developed my upper arm strength -- those pint glasses were heavy I tell you. Nevertheless, with the aid of Mano-power I catch some great waves -- they're faster, and far more exhilarating, than anything I've ever caught before. But each time I ride them in too far, necessitating a painful, strength sapping paddle back out.

Low tide at the fishing village part of Medewi.
Low tide at the fishing village part of Medewi.

I snap one fin. Mano demands we keep going: "Just one more wave". I snap another fin. If he'd forced me out again I'd have snapped off the third with my teeth.

Shattered and the tide very high, Sam and the kids wait while Mano and I walk back to get the car to drive around and pick them up. The tide is peaking and the river that we previously waded across is far deeper. We have to swim across and the freezing river water cuts through the rashie and my ample padding like a knife.

With one especially cold, shiver-inducing blast I exclaim, "Shit it's cold!" and Mano looks back saying, "Get on the board and paddle!" Given at this stage I'd rather freeze to death in a Balinese river than paddle another stroke, I shut up.

Medewi: A veritable hardship posting.
Medewi: A veritable hardship posting.

Then we emerge from the river and the fishing fleet is in. Fish are everywhere. Baskets of long thin ones, stubby ones, a sting ray-like critter, crabs. Women are carting bucket loads back from the jukungs that continue to rush in with the waves, berthing on the river bank. Fishing nets being emptied, produce bought and sold.

I'm exhausted but fascinated. And free of a camera, I'm happy to point and ask and stare and inquire. The people are incredibly hospitable -- lots of laughs and smiles.

We get back, dump the boards and go to gather up the family. And this takes me back to my most poignant memory of Medewi -- the mosque run down to the beach. The blueish mosque sits atop the rise that runs down to the beach -- for a large part it is still all paddy. But walls are creeping in -- at least some put up by a Hawaiian, another a German, who take long leases or buy with a partner then start to convert the land to residential.

You will eat at Mai Malu.
You will eat at Mai Malu.

We pull aside a traditional plough to get to as close to the family as we can, but they're still a good 200 metres away, so Mano goes to help them while I watch the waves.

Afterwards, back at the homestay, Sam talks to Ugis about a massage -- on the website, particular mention was made of his massage skills so, well, you know ... just for research purposes ...

Ugis asks Sam if she has any problems, and she says she doesn't, so he suggests she gets a massage by his wife. I, meanwhile (who at that stage could barely walk thanks to the surfing class), have a long time back problem so I volunteer for a Ugis test case.

The afternoon football game gets underway.
The afternoon football game gets underway.

Ugis ain't cheap.

Ugis delivered arguably the best massage I've had in my life.

I'll wager I've had more massages than you and your entire family combined.

So, I know I started this story saying Medewi isn't really a surfer hangout and then proceeded to write 800 words about surfing there, but the thing is, Medewi is much, much more than surf.

More than just waves.
More than just waves.

It's a predominantly Muslim area, so you'll feel more like you're in Java or Lombok than Bali, and while I don't want to resort to the cliche of saying the "locals are so friendly", the thing is, they are.

The first morning, I said to Sam, "Why haven't we been doing this every weekend for the last four years?"

Take from that what you will.

More information

Medewi is a three to four hour drive (depending on traffic) to the west of Seminyak. Both the above-mentioned homestays are excellent value. For those looking for something more comfortable, Puri Dajuma is a good option. There are a number of other mid and upper market places in the surrounds, see the Pekutatan section on Agoda for more well-priced hotels and resorts.

There are no ATMs in Medewi, the closest is in Negara. There are a couple of internet cafes on the main road and there is a good 3G signal in this area. Check with your hotel beforehand if you require WiFi.

Western style restaurants are very limited, on this visit in March 2012, Mai Malu was the only one reliably open, but in high season (June to September) there are more options.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

Read 9 comment(s)

  • I spent one night in Medewi whilst in Bali and attempted to surf the next morning. I chuckled as I read your suggestion of not overstating your surfing ability, as it brought back rather painful and demoralizing memories.

    I met a tiny Austrian girl the night I arrived; she had spent her last four weeks surfing in Kuta. I had spent the last four weeks doing 'bucket curls' in Thailand so I assumed we'd be at the same strength level.

    When we hired boards the night before, I reminisced on the one time I went surfing on small waves on a large board in Raglan on NZ's North Island. Surely I could handle a small board on large waves in Medewi...

    The next morning resulted in the surf demolishing me (and my manhood) whilst this tiny Austrian girl must have surfed about 12 waves. I barely got past the breakers!

    Lovely place and your write-up makes me want to go back!

    Posted by Matt on 11th March, 2012

  • Beautiful write up, I think I'm sold.

    Posted by Swampgum on 12th March, 2012

  • After 2 decades of going to Bali to surf, in 2005 I went there looking for a place to settle down. Age and infirmity had gotten to me and I was unable to surf the classic Indonesian breaks anymore, so I gave Medewi a try for the first time. The famous lefthander was packed with longboards and I almost turned around and left, but decided to explore a little first. Imagine my surprise when I found a nice righthander within walking distance of the main drag with only three other surfers in the water. I'm not sure if the picture at the top of the page is the same spot, but it sure brings back memories. Thanks.

    Posted by rob in sihanoukville on 15th March, 2012

  • Sounds like another area in Bali that is going to see a lot more development in the coming years.

    Posted by Mike on 16th March, 2012

  • Nice.. most people think Bali is just a big beach, but there is more to Bali than that... best explore the countryside and meet with locals to truly appreciate the beauty of the place... thanks for the post.

    Posted by charles on 20th March, 2012

  • Hi Rob,

    Top pic is taken about 300m to the right of the main blue mosque (also pictured above). Mostly beach break there, but I'm still a beginner :)

    Glad you enjoyed the story -- I think it's a great slice of Bali.

    Posted by somtam2000 on 26th March, 2012

  • Stuart

    This is a brilliant piece you have written on on Medewi Bay Region and I am sure a few more fellow travellers will trek to the Medewi Bay on your recomenation.
    My not so glossy posting is intended for one purpose ,to warn people that there I an unscrupulous time share gang of scammers working out of Sanur Bali they are called the PVB Group. And they are scamming through a company called Bali Getaways this company is run by a Con Man called Percy Burlace who is a New Zealander and his manager Frank Scott who is a Canadian . These two men operate Medewi Bay Resort a time share scam and they have a resort on Gili Meno Island called the Gili Memo Bird Park . they are selling “Freehold Property “in Medewi Bay to unsuspecting tourists and westerners who fall under their con man spiel . Stuart you and I know westerners cannot hold “Freehold Title Property" in Bali or Indonesia and they blatantly advertise “freehold property' in Medewi Bay for sale on their web site home page on I would hate to see anyone who loves the Medewi Experience to be cheated and conned by these people , then there is the bigger scam on Gili Meno Bird Park , they are selling time share vouchers for Gili Meno Bird Park and they are giving the buyer two years to use the vouchers , the problem is the PVB Group os selling off the bird park land for villa developments and will close it down soon because it is in such bad repair look in their web site under Property For Sale in Bali section this is a scam on Gili Meno , to see the terrible condition of the bird park and what they are doin there to the Birds and Animals go to this link Link:------------- ----be be patient while the link uploads , these are not the knid of people Medewi Bay need to be expanding their timeshare scam i believe they are hoping to expand their resort the local banjat should throw them out of the Medewi Bay Region.

    Posted by ThomasO. on 2nd February, 2013

  • How far is it from Ubud? Looking for some short trips to take from Ubud.....any suggestions?

    Posted by stephanie on 15th May, 2013

  • hi there - nice write up and good pictures!

    we recently stayed in Medewi at the Brown Sugar Surfcamp - which we wouldn't recommend to friends - but read for yourself:


    Posted by on 28th May, 2013

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