A Singapore mama talks building the family-friendly Bali villa of every child’s dreams (childcare included!) and gives Sassy Mamas her Bali insider tips AND a 20% discount!
Like many families in Singapore, we looove traveling to Bali; it’s a quick flight, the weather’s great, and you’ve got beach, jungle, mountains and fabulous dining and shopping all within reach (just don’t mind the traffic!). But with literally thousands of resorts and villas to choose from, it can be tough finding a place to stay. Villas are a popular pick for families as they offer more space and often come with kitchens and built-in services like cleaners and cooks. But finding child-friendly Bali villas? That’s a whole other kettle of fish.
Exasperated by having to pay extra for standard child amenities like high chairs and baby cots, and finding that chasing after her kids didn’t exactly make for a relaxing holiday, British mama (and Singapore resident) Michelle Jones set out to build something better. She and her husband painstakingly constructed 5-bedroom Villa JOJU (and its next door sister property, Villa JOJU Alit) from the ground up in happening Canggu, one of Bali’s most stylish and family-friendly areas. Photos of the absolutely gobsmacking children’s bunk room – which sleeps six, is stocked with toys and books, and features an amazing hand-painted Gruffalo mural – have been making the rounds on social media, and we just had to find out more. Between the two of them, the villas sleep an amazing 22 people (not including babies in cribs)!
Read on to see how Sassy Mamas can score 20% OFF their stays at Villa JOJU!
We grilled Michelle on what inspired her to undertake this project, and learned more about the amazing kid-friendly amenities that make Villa JOJU so unique (can you say “bouncy castle and slime workshops?”). She also shares her top family-friendly picks for Bali, including beaches, indoor playgrounds, and kid-friendly restaurants. This is a must-read, mamas!
How long have you lived in Singapore for? Can you tell us a bit more about your family?
I moved here 7.5 years ago, but Ben (my husband) has been here for 13 years. Jolie is 5, Jude is almost 3, and we have baby Joshua in my tummy – he is due in November!
What is it that you love about Bali in particular? How long have you been taking holidays there for?
We love Bali – I can’t put my finger on what exactly about it that I love, but from my very first visit, I just felt at home. The Balinese people are so welcoming and warm, and since we have had children I can appreciate how family-orientated they are, too.
I love the creativity and style of the island, and the shopping and restaurants are unlike any other place I have ever been.
We love the climate – all of the tropical sunshine of Singapore, but with less of the humidity that I struggle so much with here – I always feel more energised in Bali.
There is so much to do in Bali. It doesn’t have to feel like the same holiday over and over again, there are so many different landscapes – jungle in Ubud, cliffs and white sand in Uluwatu, the shopping and surf of Canggu & Seminyak. Also, I am vegetarian and food there for veggies like me, is just so easy.
We also got married in Bali in 2013.
What made you decide to build your own villa in Bali?
Aside from the fact that we were turned down by the SLA to buy a landed property in Singapore?! We were heading to Bali for long weekends maybe every 6 weeks at one point, it just made sense for us to have a little place of our own where we could leave the kids’ gear and just hop on a flight with a carry-on like the good old days! [Sounds like bliss! –Ed.]
In your experience, what family-friendly features were other holiday villas missing?
This is a very embarrassing first world problem, but once we had children we just found our Bali villa holidays were not as relaxing as they once were. One of the things I am not proud of, is that I am so used to having my helper – an extra pair of hands around to prepare the kids a snack or cleanup after an accident, or watch the kids for 20 minutes so that I could finish dinner – it makes such a difference. We would check in to a villa, staff would come in the morning to prepare breakfast and make-up the rooms and then disappear — it’s entirely my spoilt Singapore experience, but it was genuinely more work for us on ‘holiday’, with no help and no creature comforts than to just stay put at home!
Most villas in Bali have to hire the items that young families need to keep children safe. They would then mark the price up – so we would find ourselves paying through the teeth to hire high chairs, pool fences, baby cots, and stair gates per day. It really used to get to me paying extra for something that for us is the most basic apparatus needed to holiday with kids, especially when we were already spending thousands of dollars for a villa break.
We adore Bali’s iconic outside-living style, but I know we aren’t alone in finding it impossible with young children. Our children still don’t sleep through the night – there is no way we can put them down in a bedroom with a pool and garden in the way of our own bedroom door. We wouldn’t have been able to hear them if they woke (we are not blessed with great sleepers!) and we couldn’t leave their door unlocked for them to wander over to us in the night and sleep soundly. We would have to go on holiday and sleep the children in with us, 4 in a bed – no matter how bedrooms we had – or alternatively separate and take one child each until morning.
When we were building our villa in Canggu and going to check on the progress of the build, we stopped staying in villas after so many exhausting experiences to be honest. We used to stay at the Como Uma Canggu which is just up the road. We were prepared to sacrifice on space and pack ourselves into a hotel room, just for the ease of amenities like room service and a kids’ club. When we built and designed our own villa, we knew that we would need to rent it for a percentage of the time because of the running costs, and it was a real leap of faith for us to design the build and facilities specifically for families like ours, and address all of these little things that are of very little consequence to a group of adults, but could make or break a vacation experience for young families.
Read more: The Best Kids’ Clubs in Asia
So what is unique about Villa JOJU and sets it apart for families?
In our build, I also wanted to address the problem we had always had with sleeping arrangements in Bali too, so our dedicated kids’ room is like an en-suite. It’s accessible only via the Parents’ suite (this bedroom also opens into our TV room). We have French doors to maintain some privacy when we need it (lol), but our children and I sleep a lot more soundly knowing that we are so close and knowing where they are – and there can be no sneaking out to the pool over night for our little water babies, one of my worst fears!
The villa is packed with toys, books, indoor and outdoor/pool games. I have complimentary travel cots, floor beds, high chairs, stair gates, pool fences. There is a breast pump and milk storage bags, a steriliser, baby wipes and toiletries, potty seats and bathroom steps for toddlers. I want to make life easier for parents travelling with little ones; by having all of the baby gear that you need to take care of and entertain young kids at the villa, so that it’s less stress to pack, and also different ‘kids club’ style facilities at the villa so that parents can enjoy the house and relax.
We have a bouncy castle there, an outdoor movie projector and popcorn machine, slime and play dough crafts and more at the house. We also have Finns Platinum Membership for free and discounted entry and purchases to Splash Water Park, Finns VIP Beach Club/Beach Club/ Bounce Trampoline Park, Body Temple Spa.
What kind of services does Villa JOJU offer in terms of cleaning/cooking/childcare etc?
Firstly, the villa is staffed with ANGELS! Our team are hand-picked and all of them are parents. Our team are such an asset to us. I wanted the villa to offer families a proper holiday, and for our staff to be able to engage and entertain little guests as if they were at a kids’ club, so that mum can have some time to sunbathe while the little ones are having the time of their lives a few feet away.
Our butlers can fix a G&T for the parents and then take the children for a slime-making workshop. I’ve also got a bouncy castle at the villa. It’s packed with toys & books. We even have a Paw Patrol mascot, and if you ask gardener Yanto he will happily dress up as Marshall and present birthday cakes or lollipops or organise Easter egg hunts. Our neighbourhood has some of the best restaurants in Bali, but it’s not always worth it to get little ones ready and out of the door, so I have a full-time private Chef on staff. Chef Sri is incredible with local and international cuisines – every guest comments on the food at JOJU. Ayu is our villa manager and a mum of 4, yet she coordinates everything so effortlessly – she is local to the neighbourhood and can organise everything from surf instructors to traditional Balinese dancing entertainment for the ultimate guest experience.
We also have night security; our villa is in a safe little pocket of Canggu but I feel more comfortable knowing that Komang, our burly Balinese security guard, is patrolling from 11pm to 6am.
Did you have any help navigating the particulars of building/owning property in Indonesia?
To start with, we didn’t. We were a bit naïve going into the build and probably a bit arrogant too in hindsight. I had even read horror stories online about people purchasing land and working with builders in Bali, receiving photo updates of their project via email, only to find out 6 months later that they had been receiving random photos and sending money, only to find out that work hadn’t even started on their build.
Basically, in the summer of 2016 we met an expat realtor who showed us this perfectly located plot of land in Canggu – it was a rice terrace at the time, minutes from the beach and shops and restaurants of Berawa. We were obsessed – we didn’t even use an architect, we sketched and designed the house ourselves, drawing inspiration from the Singapore Black & White home we live in in Alexandra Park.
When the purchase of the land went smoothly, we put a bit too much faith in this person. He referred us to a contractor, who showed us some of his previous projects, and we signed and sent the money. We didn’t even see anyone else for a second quote (bear in mind we have good friends who successfully built beautiful properties in Bali – I still can’t believe we didn’t think to speak to them first!). Luckily, as Singapore is so close to Bali we were able to check on the villa progress in person relatively regularly, and so we weren’t left as out of pocket as we could have been when the original contractor was dishonest. If we could do it again I would have trusted my intuition. It’s very hard to accept that a person you have trusted with thousands and thousands of dollars, who has met your children, is lying to your face, but after a year of seeing very little progress we switched to an incredible construction team, which was recommended to us by friends. The new build team quickly made up for lost time and delivered our property as it stands today – it still takes my breath away when we walk in and I am forever grateful to Eden Builds for rescuing our dream!
There are different local government licences and permissions that you need to apply for both to build and then rent your property, and taxes that need to be paid, too. We have been very lucky that friends of ours introduced us to a great local Indonesian lawyer, his wife is an accountant too. My maths is terrible (especially when I try to think in IDR – so many zeros!), so it was important for me to hand that over so that everything remains legitimate.
Give us your top 5 Bali insider tips of things to do with kids:
One of the reasons we chose to build in Canggu is because it’s just so family-friendly. Finns Beach Club in particular has such wonderful facilities that we took out a Platinum Membership under our villa’s name, so that guests can enjoy free and discounted access to Cubby House Kids Club, Splash Water Park, and Finns VIP Beach Club, which is like a tamer version of the main beach club next door – it even has a children’s menu and specific family pool. We don’t go to Bali without going to Finns.
I love restaurants with playgrounds attached (So do we! –Ed.). My children love Milk & Madu, it’s from Bali’s Good Food Brotherhood restaurant chain so the food is incredible, but it also has a playground and free kids’ crafts. There are always other little ones there, my kids love it.
We are also fans of Made’s Warung Berawa, which used to be called The Joglo – great food, an indoor and outdoor playground, what’s not to love?
In the last few months Parklife (a park and indoor playground) has opened – we have only been once, but we really enjoyed the play facilities.
It’s also nice to get out of Canggu sometimes. My husband can’t stand Seminyak traffic, so sometimes we will have our driver take us to Uluwatu – we love Sundays Beach Club (complimentary buckets and spades there for the win!) and Ulu Cliffhouse, which has a dedicated kids’ club and great music for mummy to get her dance on! My husband isn’t a fan but I like to take the kids on day trips to Ubud, too – I can’t get enough of the Sacred Monkey Forest, and we always stop in to the BAWA Dog Shelter on the way home to cuddle the puppies and make a donation.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Michelle!
Sassy Mama readers can score an exclusive 20% discount off stays 3 nights or longer with the promo code SASSY20. Enter online at the time of booking!
Rates at the 5-Bedroom Villa JOJU (sleeps 14 + babies) start from US$970 per night in the low season, including taxes, breakfast, and return airport transfers; click here for full rate schedule, and visit www.villajoju.com for more!