Sun, rest and relaxation, Bali is definitely the place for all of these. Well, anyone who knows me knows that I love the sun..I enjoy the feel of it on my skin, I don’t mind the heat it brings and if you asked me what the one thing was that could life my spirit, it would be, waking up to the glorious sun shining through my window. So of course, Bali would be on my list of places to visit, if for nothing else but the stunning weather and of course, like so many women, I read Eat, Pray, Love…….
So it was that hubby and I packed our bags and headed off to the beautiful island. We decided at the very last minute so of course seats on all the quicker routes were already full and we were to go the long way round, by the time we arrived, we were both exhausted, frustrated and quite grumpy with each other. But, landing at the beautiful Ngurha Rai airport changed all of that. The newly built airport instantly reminds you that you’re on holiday..it has a light airy feel and doesn’t feel like an airport ‘arrival’ section at all.
Our destination was Nusa Dua quite a bit of a drive past the very popular districts of Kuta and Seminyak. Nusa Dua is not as busy as Kuta and is the ideal location to experience the majesty of this “island of the Gods”. It is close enough to Kuta or Seminyak and about 40kms from the capital, Denpasar, so that you can spend the day in the madness but return to the relative calm of the south side of the island. Nusa Dua is known as an ‘enclave’ of 5 star resorts and we chose, The Grand Aston Bali.
See our review of The Grand Aston Bali in “Where To Stay”
Kuta is overrun by tourists at any time of the day or night, most of them coming from Australia, as Perth is just a 4 hour flight away. To put it in context, it is quicker to get to Bali from Perth than it is to get to Sydney.
Seminyak, is well known to tourists and quite a bit more upmarket than Kuta with many excellent dining establishments , including the 2 Michelin starred Mozaic and the ever popular Ku De Tat.
Whichever area you choose your hotel, Bali, is bound to delight you and enchant you in many different ways and will leave you wanting more.
Though Bali is part of Indonesia, it has a identity all its own. The language spoken is Balinese and the culture is almost entirely unique to the island. Although Indonesia is a majority Muslim country, the population on Bali is 90% Hindu. The preservation of the Balinese culture means everything to the Balinese, for example the tradition of the eldest male son living with and taking care of his parents is paramount on his marriage, so every Balinese married male of course wants to have a son.Of course, when you’re in the ‘city’ this might not be that evident but take a drive to Ubud and you can see exactly how they live. Not in a ‘house’ per se, but rather on a compound, where there are free standing units for the elders, the married son and his family, the temple (all homes have one) and the common area, all joined together by beautiful gardens and pathways.
(The home of Ketut Liyer see no. 6 is a perfect example of this way of life.)
With the rebirth of tourism, the main source of income for the island, many of the compounds have converted their home fronts to little shops selling anything from fruit to handmade sandals to jewellery. Traditional clothing is still worn by many, the colours are vibrant and the items are lightweight, with both males and females wearing a sarong.
When I went to Thailand, I remember saying that I have never met more hospitable people, well, I hadn’t been to Bali then. The spirit of the people is amazing. Friendly, helpful and so obliging, nothing is too much trouble. They clearly know that tourism means prosterity for the island and every single person is happy to ensure that you have a great stay and hopefully return, I most certainly will.
We spent a week in Bali, but I would suggest that if you had the time, at least 10 days should get you to all the ‘touristy’ must see spots without too much of a rush and then a second visit to just enjoy the flavour of the place.
So, there is much to do and see in Bali but I’m going to try and give you the best reasons for a visit:
- The Temple at Tana Lot – This is a spectacular site, located in Tabanan, about 20 kilometres from Denpasar.The temple sits on a large offshore rock in the water, which has been shaped over the years by the ocean tide. When the tide is out, you can walk across to the temple. Sunsets in Bali are spectacular, but for some reason, they’re even more amazing here.
2. The 30 000 year old Mt Batur volcano in Kintamani – it is at least an hour away, but really worth a visit. The surrounding lake is spectacular and we got lucky, this area is usually surrounded by cloud, but the cloud lifted just long enough for me to take some stunning pictures. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can do an early morning hike up the volcano, but don’t worry, though it is an active volcano, it last erupted in 2000. Be warned though, this region is extremely popular with tourists so you will definetly be confronted by pushy vendors selling you anything from fridge magnets to silver jewellry.
3. Dine under the stars at Jimbaran – this strip of beach has dozens of restaurants with tables in the sand. The cuisine is of course seafood and the restaurants range from the super expensive to the averagely priced, but it is a favourite of tourists, simply because of the setting. We had the most outstanding ‘braaied’ mahe mahe and exquisite giant sized prawns here.
4. Bali is a well know destination for surfing, and the best beach to ride the famous waves is defintely in the south west Uluwatu where you will have to paddle out through the famous Uluwatu cave or two hours north of Seminyak is Balian, a black sand beach with a more gentle and slow wave which breaks in two places, one close to shore and one further out. These beaches are preferred by seasoned surfers so if you just want to have the experience of surfing in Bali, without the pressure, then the beach at Kuta is perfect. Kuta, is extremely popular with young people, hence the beach is almost always busy.
- A visit to a Kopi Luwak plantation – Now this was a treat for me. After having read about this famous and very expensive coffee, I absolutely loved this.You get to taste all the different types of Balinese coffee free, the Kopi Luwak is the only one you have to pay for. Civets are very private animals and live high up in the trees but some of the plantations have one available so you can actually see the animal that is responsible for this very controversial coffee. Kopi Luwak refers to the beans of the coffee berry once it has been eaten and excreted by the civet, the resulting coffee has become highly popular with coffee lovers. Oh, and I did NOT love the coffee, tasted kinda like sand to me…just saying
6. The highlight of my visit was meeting Ketut Liyer, the medicine man who famously helped author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert . Now, 95 years old, he is still sprightly and active and still practising as a healer. No, I did not have a reading but thoroughly enjoyed a conversation with him. He made sure to tell me though, that he was in the book. Should you wish to have a reading though, I would suggest you make a booking as he is old now and only consults during certain hours. The cost is about R250.
7. The area of Ubud – is overcrowded by tourists but you must visit. There is a lot on offer here, like a visit to the old King of Ubud’s palace or the Monkey Forest and of course there is lots and lots to buy.
8. Bali is a nation of craftsmen and you can visit the stone masons or the silversmiths or the wood carvers and watch them in action. Most of what they make is exported but the interest for me is that these ancient skills are passed down from generation to generation and it is fascinating to watch brothers carve a piece of stone into a thing of beauty.
9. Temples abound and festivals and ceremonies happen all the time. Not all temples are available for you to enter but what struck me most about them, is that they’re all ‘open air’ much like the compounds on which the Balinese live.
10. You will definitely be invited to watch a Barong or a Kecak show, these shows are interpretations, in dance form, of the Rama and Sita story , which is of religious importance to the Hindus, but though the Balinese are essentially Hindu, their practice of the faith differs to Hinduism as we know it in South Africa.
A few things to know before you travel:
- The currency of Bali is the Rupiah, and it can get quite confusing, for example R1=+/-1100 IDR so the easiest thing to do is to divide by 1000.
- Take along your mosquito repellant, it is an island, the weather is tropical, mozzies are everywhere.
- It is hot and humid all year round, be prepared.
- Before you buy, bargain, bargain, bargain, they can spot a tourist from a mile and the price is almost always double what you should pay.
- Service charges are almost always included, but they do not always get to the person serving you, if you want, go ahead and tip over the charge, in cash
- On the beach in Kuta, you WILL be accosted by vendors selling you temporary tattoos, manis, pedis, jewellery, in fact just about anything, including Magic Mushrooms, your ticket to the moon apparently! It can become quite frustrating, so be prepared and keep your sense of humour, just remember, all prices are negotiable.
- Most hotels outside of Kuta offer a free shuttle service to the area, so before you book a taxi, enquire at the reception.
- It does rain, often, but it doesn’t last long and it is still very hot.
Bali, is a stunning destination. It is a beautiful place to visit whether it be for a honeymoon or a Valentines getaway. It is not big city living but it does offer big city luxuries, but nonetheless, if you’re planning a trip, expect to be transported to a different way of being. Many surprises await you, I was gobsmacked when I saw vendors selling Magic Mushrooms on the road , legally and families of four or five all packed on to a little Vespa, including groceries and I was really surprised at how clean everywhere was yet there was not a bin is sight. I tried to stay out of the malls with all the big name brands and stick to the ‘local’ areas and I was not disappointed.I discovered the Queen of Fruits here, Mangosteen, after only ever tasting the juice I must say the fruit is a kazillion times better…the juice does not do the fruit justice..at all!
So grab your sun screen, pack very little, as you can buy everything you need there, at very low prices and head off to Balmy Bali!!