Bali – Island Of The Gods
Bali, the famed Island of the Gods, with its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic hillsides all providing a picturesque backdrop to its colourful, deeply spiritual and unique culture, stakes a serious claim to be paradise on earth. Bali island is home to many temples, statues and festivals, which share common traits with Asian Hinduism.
With world-class surfing and diving, a large number of cultural, historical and archaeological attractions, and an enormous range of accommodations, Bali is one of the world’s most popular island holiday destinations and one which consistently wins travel awards. Bali island has something to offer a very broad market of visitors from young back-packers right through to the super-rich.
Why Travel To The Bali Island
Daytime temperatures in Bali island are pleasant, varying between 20-33⁰ C (68-93⁰ F) year-round. From December to March, the west monsoon can bring heavy showers and high humidity, but days are still often sunny with the rains starting in the late afternoon or evening and passing quickly. From June to September, the Bali island’s humidity is low and it can be quite cool in the evenings. At this time of the year there is hardly any rain in the lowland coastal areas.
The best way to get around Bali island is with your own transport, whether you drive, hire a driver or ride a bike. This gives you the flexibility to explore at will and allows you to reach many places that are otherwise inaccessible. It’s worth noting that many pricier restaurants in places such as South Bali and Ubud will arrange free transport to/from the establishment. Just ask.
Public transport is cheap but can be cause for very long journeys if you’re not sticking to a major route. In addition, some places are just impossible to reach. There are also tourist shuttle buses and these combine economy with convenience. The Perama bus company serves the budget traveller well in Bali island and beyond, and they have offices in several major tourist destinations on the island.
Also, a new Trans Sarbagita government bus service operates on Bali island since August 2011. The buses are comfortable, air-conditioned (similar to Transjakarta Busway but even more spacious), and the fare is only Rp 3,500. These buses stop only at permanent elevated bus stops built on the road curb. There are other scheduled shuttle buses between many of Bali’s most popular destinations, and these are cheap and reliable. Check locally advertised services (you cannot miss them) and book one day in advance.
Transportation in the Bali island comes in plenty of flavors, some more tourist-friendly than the others. If you’re not relying on your hotel to get you around – not that there’s anything wrong with that – you can get around town on foot, on rented bike or motorbike, or via bemo.
Accomodation in Bali island
Bali island has, without a doubt, the best range of accommodation in Indonesia, from Rp60,000 per night ($6) losmens to US$4,000 per night super-homes.
Bali island has become famous for its large collection of private villas for rent, complete with staff and top-class levels of service. Low labour costs result in single villas boasting staff teams of up to 30 people at the really high end. A private villa rental can be a great option for a visit to Bali, but it pays to be aware of the potential pitfalls.
While on the other side, backpackers who visit Bali island tend to head for Kuta, which has the cheapest digs on the island. However, if the accomodation is located near a night club they can be noisy at night. One quiet and clean place in the cheaper catagory is Hotel Oka in Jalan Padma in Legian, only a kilometre from the night clubs of Kuta and walking distance from the beach.
Many of the numerous five-star resorts are clustered in Nusa Dua, Seminyak and Ubud. Sanur and Jimbaran offer a fairly happy compromise if you want beaches and some quiet. Ubud’s hotels and resorts cater to those who prefer spas and cultural pursuits over surfing and booze. Legian is situated between Kuta and Seminyak and offers a good range of accommodation. The newest area to start offering a wide range of accommodation is Uluwatu which now boasts everything from surfer bungalows to the opulent Bulgari Hotel. Further north on the west coast is the district of Canggu, which offers many traditional villages set among undulating ricefields and a good range of accommodation. For rest and revitalisation, visit Amed, an area of peaceful fishing villages on the east coast with some good hotels and restaurants, or head for the sparsely populated areas of West Bali.
Please note, Bali island is not overwhelming in size, but with numerous interesting and diverse places to pick from, it can be hard to choose where to stay in Bali. Bali can be divided into six main areas:
South Bali – South Bali includes Kuta, Western Bukit and Uluwatu, Canggu, Denpasar, Jimbaran, Legian, Nusa Dua, Sanur, Seminyak, andTanah Lot. Here you are in the most visited part of the island by far, with tourists flocking to world renowned Kuta Beach and chic Seminyak.
Central Bali – Central Bali includes Ubud, Gianyar, Bedugul, and Tabanan. This region is the cultural heart of the Bali island and the central mountain range.
West Bali – West Bali includes Negara, Gilimanuk, Medewi Beach, and Pemuteran. You have here access to ferries to Java and the West Bali National Park.
North Bali – North Bali includes Lovina, and Singaraja. You can enjoy quiet black sand beaches and the old capital city.
East Bali – East Bali includes Amed, Besakih, Candidasa, Kintamani, Klungkung, Mount Agung, Padang Bai, and Tirta Gangga. Here, you can discover another atmosphere with laid back coastal villages, an active volcano and the mighty Mount Agung.
Southeastern Islands – Southeastern Islands includes Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida, and Nusa Ceningan. These quiet offshore islands in the southeast are very popular for diving activities.
Food in the Bali island
Dining in Bali island is generally a highlight. You may choose to eat in a five star hotel restaurant, or you may prefer a breezy open sided bamboo cafe. Hotels and restaurants in Bali offer guests a wide variety of excellent dishes to satisfy every budget and taste. When you feel like venturing outside for a meal, there are dozens of good restaurants to be found in the main streets of Kuta, Legian, Ubud, Candidasa, Lovina, Sanur and most of the major tourist areas.
The simple and relaxed restaurants, often with grass roofs, cane furniture and the latest top 40 singles blasting through the hi-fi systems are almost everywhere. Even more simple, are the warungs, the snack bars and the mobile carts that cater mainly to local workers and adventurous travellers who have discovered that low cost hawker meals really can be safe to eat.
The night markets are traditional outdoor eateries that come to life at dusk, and are famous all over Southeast Asia. Even if you cannot work up the courage to eat in the markets, you must visit one to experience the thrills, the smells, the sights and the noises that define this part of the world.
Surprisingly, authentic Balinese food is rarely enjoyed by the island’s thousands of visitors, simply because it is rarely served in hotels and restaurants. True, a wide variety of exotic dishes are available, but the typical fare is Indonesian and Chinese.
The true Balinese cuisine is, like all else in Bali island, a matter of contrasts. Just as there are men and women, good and evil, night and day, there is everyday food, and there is festival food. The staple of daily fare is rice, accompanied by vegetables, a small amount of fish or meat, and a range of condiments, usually cooked in the early morning, and consumed whenever the need arises, often as snacks. Most Balinese meals are eaten quickly and without fanfare. Dining out and in groups is not a normal social custom.
Festivals are the major exception. Food is prepared in an elaborate and decorative manner and is eaten communally, marking the occasion as something out of the ordinary.
Some tourist restaurants present special Bali island nights, featuring dishes such as suckling pig, a Balinese banquet favorite. Unless you are invited to dine with a local family, these special events may be your only way to sample the true Balinese cuisine.
Almost every restaurant will serve nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice with a fried egg on top) and mie goreng (fried noodles with egg). These basic dishes are generally the favorites amongst tourists and travellers. Vegetarian versions may be requested. Prices range from Rp.3,000 to over Rp.15,000 depending on the surroundings.
Another Indonesian favorite is satay (spicy marinaded thin slices of meat, threaded onto a skewer, barbecued, and served with a spicy peanut sauce). Satay ayam is chicken served in the same way. Satay prices vary widely from Rp.3,000 in the markets, to over Rp.15,000 in the larger restaurants.
Gado gado is an Indonesian salad, served with spicy peanut sauce and often with prawn crackers. Expect to pay about Rp.5,000 to Rp.15,000.
Chinese dishes, such as sweet and sour, cap-cay (stir fried meat and vegetables) etc. are also widely available, as is an abundance of fresh seafood, which is often kept alive in tanks until ready for cooking. Expect to pay about Rp.5,000 for basic dishes to over Rp.50,000 in restaurants (lobsters, will of course be far more expensive).
A special Balinese treat that is widely available, is black rice pudding (Bubuh Injin). This is a desert made from natural black glutinous rice, served hot, in a sweet sauce of palm sugar and thick coconut cream. For those with a sweet-tooth, this is the best of local cuisine–Robyn’s favorite.
Indonesians prefer to eat snacks, which can be bought everywhere on the streets at the small three wheeled carts, often pushed by young boys (the mobile stalls are called kaki lima, which means five legs – the three wheels of the cart, and the two legs of the boy – a kind of joke). Popular snacks include bakmie (rice flour noodle soup), sate (grilled meat on a skewer served with peanut or soy sauce), bakso (meatball soup), lemper (sticky rice), lumpia (fried spring rolls with vegetables and meat), sop (clear soup), soto (a meat and vegetable broth with rice), nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles).
Sweet offerings include pisang goreng (fried bananas), peanuts in palm sugar, cooked peanuts, jaja (multi-coloured coconut confectionary) and ice-cream, as well as cool drinks and coffee.
In terms of fruits, Bali island has a great range of fruits. Some of the fruits you can never imagine, and some you wish that you only had imagined! The fabled durian is the king of Asian fruit, although most westerners dislike the smell of this football sized monster.
Lastly, water and non-alcoholic drinks are also plenty. Example, balinese coffee (Kopi Bali) and hot tea (teh panas) are excellent drinks to refresh in the hot weather, although a cappuccino machine may be difficult to find outside of a hotel! Why not try tea with ginger for a treat? Sugar is called gula, and milk (often sweetened condensed milk) is susu. If you prefer cold drinks, only ask for ice if you know the water has been boiled (most bars and restaurants will advertise if this is so).
Supermarkets are to be found in the larger cities, including Kuta and Ubud. Goods, including many western packaged foods, bread, biscuits, chocolate and bottled water (at the lowest prices) etc. may be stocked up on in case of a craving for a late night snack, or to save money by preparing your own breakfast or supper etc.
Fun Places And Things To Do in Bali Island
Bicycle around Ubud – The streets of Ubud teem with culture. A great way to see the town, surrounding artistic villages, and working rice paddies is on bicycle. Start at Monkey Forest and visit with the infamous residents — crab-eating macaques. Mid-day, head over to Goa Gajah, one of Bali island’s most unique holy places. To end your day, ride to the village of Petulu. A massive nightly Heron migration is said to be the manifestation of spirits felled in a communist cleansing back in the 1960s. The birds began showing up exactly one week after an especially brutal massacre and have roosted in Petulu every night since. The scene is holy.
Learn to Surf in Kuta – If the heart of Bali island’s culture beats in Ubud, then its hard charging Bintang gripping extremities flail about in Kuta. The scene is all here: bikinis on the beach, clubs that go all night, expat bars, hip travel cognoscenti, and intoxicated Australian high fivers. Depending on the experience you expect to derive from travel, Kuta will either be a place to remember or a place to forget. Perhaps, even a place to remember forgetting. Either way, Kuta does surf lessons brilliantly. Since the Kuta wave breaks over sand rather than coral, new riders do not exit the water grasping for gauze. This provides a perfect arrangement for wide-eyed noobs to pick up the surf game. After a day spent learning your way around a barrel, quench your thirst with fresh fruit drinks and a sunset at KuDeTa.
Sunset at Tanah Lot – The sea-draped temple of Tanah Lot rises out of the surf like a hazy dream along Bali island’s southwest coast. Beneath the waves that crash along the dark temple walls, a pride of banded sea kraits patrol the waters. The snakes guard the temple from evil spirits and harm. (Or so I’ve been told.) Tanah Lot is many things: magical, stunning, unlikely, romantic, and strange. It has a plucked from a dream aesthetic that allows you to believe the lore and have fun with it. A local told me about those sea kraits, and I believed him because the place looks so unreal. It seems to exist on dreamlike terms. Catching it at sunset frames the temple at its most beautiful and surreal.
Kecak Dance in Ulu Watu – In the 1930’s, a German artist taught the Balinese a peculiar performance called the Kecak. The dance has no instruments, just vocal chords, about 100 of them. They chant generously and costumed performers dance and act out the Ramayana. While the 20th century German impetus may sound slightly inauthentic, you will hardly care about details as the sun slowly sets beyond the cliffs of Ulu Watu and you get lost in the chant. There is also lots of fire.
The show begins at 6:00pm nightly. Hire a taxi to drop you off at Ulu Watu temple. Once there, follow the crowds to the performance area. It is perched on the cliffs at the southernmost tip of Bali island. Your driver will undoubtedly offer to take you to a Jimbaran seafood dinner after the show. Decline this service. It is an expensive tourist trap.
Snorkeling around Menjangan Island – Menjangan Island in the far west is a long trip from almost anywhere in Bali island. The remote location augments the pristine experience by discouraging crowds. Much of West Bali is sparsely populated parkland, so it is a departure from the bustling south. In Menjangan, hire a boatman to take you out to the reefs for the day, and prepare to get your mind blown. Snorkeling does not get better than this. The bright reefs and strange fish will tattoo a smile upon your face. At the end of the day, shack up on the beach in nearby Pemuteran. It is wise to stay a night, or three. If you have time, then take a trip into Taman Nasional Bali Barat to view some Balinese flora and fauna.
Road Trip to Lake Bratan – With taxi rates substantially lower than Western standards, it is cheap and easy to hire a driver for a good old-fashioned chauffeured road trip: $50 for an entire day is about average. One of my favorite paths begins in the southern part of Bali island and snakes up through the lush highlands ending at the otherworldly Lake Bratan. It takes about 2 hours. The lake is home to the unbelievably photogenic cover-girl temple, Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. The mist hangs low, the air is much cooler, and it all feels so right. This is an enlightened place.
Climbing Mount Batur – The volcanic Mount Batur and surrounding lake provide a proper setting for a gorgeous clamber to the summit. The best time to climb is the morning. Most groups begin their ascent around 4am, hitting the summit at 6 to watch the sun slowly rise over the Lombok strait. Bring a jacket and be careful at the summit. Batur is an active volcano and an unfortunate tourist fell into the cauldron in early 2010.
Rafting through the heart of Bali island – You will get drenched, and you will love it. Rafting through the heart of Bali island thrills the heart and frightens the mind. The rapids shoot you through Bali’s lush interior like a drunken torpedo. The voyage zips passed rice paddies with working farmers and kids flying kites. It feels like traveling through a privileged backstage portion of Bali, and that is a great feeling.
Attend a Buffalo Race in Negara – Negara is quite a haul from South Bali, and the buffalo races start very early on every other Sunday during the dry season (July to October) around 7am. To arrive on time, it is best to stay the night prior to the races. Medewi is a nearby surf town with nice accommodations. Check out Medewi Beach Cottages or Medewi Bay Retreat. Once there, it is simple to arrange a driver to the races. To determine when the races take place, ask a tour operator or driver before heading towards West Bali. Things change often in Bali island, and it is best to be informed to avoid disappointment.
Now you know everything about the Bali island, book your trip and enjoy your vacation there is a lot more Bali can offer.
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