An island just to the east of the main Indonesian island of Java, Bali defines the word paradise. The combination of friendly, hospitable people, a magnificently visual culture infused with spirituality, and spectacular beaches with great surfing and diving have made Bali Indonesia’s unparalleled, number-one tourist attraction.
What to See and Do
Bali is one of over 13,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago and is located just over a mile from the eastern tip of the island of Java. The island of Lombok is to the west. Bali, approximately 90 miles from east to west and 50 miles north to south, is home to about 4 million people.
- Seminyak is the most upmarket of the south coast’s beaches, with high-end accommodation and mostly high-end restaurants and bars to serve residents and tourists. The atmosphere is more sophisticated and laid-back than Kuta, the most famous Bali beach that now suffers from overdevelopment. Seminyak’s beautiful beach is quieter during the day, although this area too is developing fast.
- Legian is located north of Kuta and south of Seminyak. For surfers, this is a great place to go.
- Uluwatu Temple (Pura Uluwatu) is one of Bali’s six directional temples and Uluwatu’s only site of significance. More remarkable than the temple itself is its location, perched on a steep cliff 200 feet above the roaring ocean waves. There are more steep headlands on either side, and sunsets over Uluwatu are a sight to behold.
Uluwatu temple on its cliff-top perch
- Ubud. Far removed from the party atmosphere at Kuta, Ubud can be described as a magical, wonderful cultural center, famous for its arts and crafts. Half (if not more) of the town and nearby villages seem to consist of artists’ workshops and galleries, mostly producing wares for tourists. There are some remarkable architectural sights, beautiful rice paddies and lush jungle, and the famous Monkey Forest–don’t bring any food you don’t want stolen!
- The north of Bali is cooler and mountainous. For travelers, the main attractions are Lake Batur, set in a vast volcano caldera, and Gunung Batur (Mount Batur). The two hour climb to the summit of Mount Batur, still an active volcano, to watch the sunrise is an unforgettable experience. Nearby is Pura Ulun Danau Batur, the second most important temple in Bali.
- Menjangan. There are great diving and snorkeling opportunities around Bali, but one of the best is Menjangan, a protected island in Bali Barat National Park. Fish of every color swim over spectacular coral formations in crystal-clear water.
At over 5,600 feet, Mount Batur gives tourists who reach the summit a commanding view of northern Bali
These clownfish are among the staggering variety of sea life you’ll encounter in the warm waters off Bali
- Amed. Most people come to Amed as a getaway, including expats from other parts of the island. It’s a favorite honeymoon destination for tourists and is also popular with divers and snorkelers. Sailing trips in small Balinese sailboats can be arranged as well.
- Besakih. High on the slopes of Mount Agung, Besakih is Bali’s most sacred temple. Guided tours of the temple complex are possible.
- Tirta Gangga is famous for its water palace, a lovely maze of pools and fountains surround by a lush garden and stone carvings and statues.
Besakih temple is the most sacred of more than 20,000 temples on Bali
All over Bali
Bali is a great place to get away from it all and relax. Numerous resorts and spas are waiting to pamper you in gorgeous natural settings.
A trip to Bali may be the most relaxing vacation you’ve ever had
Getting to Know Bali
Unlike any other island in largely Muslim Indonesia, Bali is a pocket of Hindu religion and culture, although Balinese Hinduism is so far removed from the original Indian variety that the casual eye will be hard put to spot any similarities. Every aspect of Balinese life is suffused with religion, but the most visible signs are the tiny offerings (sesajen) of flowers, glutinous rice and salt in little bamboo leaf trays, found in every Balinese house, restaurant, souvenir stall and airport check-in desk. They are set out and sprinkled with holy water no less then three times a day, before every meal.
Sesajen, or offerings–a common site on Bali
Balinese dance and music are also justly famous. As on Java, the gamelan orchestra and wayang kulit shadow puppet theater predominate. Dances include:
- Barong or “lion dance:” A ritual dance depicting the fight between good and evil, with performers wearing fearsome lion-like masks.
- Kecak or “monkey dance:” Actually invented in the 1930s by early German resident Walter Spies for a movie but a spectacle nonetheless, with up to 250 dancers in concentric circles chanting “kecak kecak,” while a performer in the center acts out a spiritual dance.
There are an estimated 20,000 temples (pura) on the island, each of which holds festivals (odalan) at least twice a year, which means that there are festivities going on almost anywhere you go. Bali uses both the 210-day pawukon calendar and the lunar saka calendar, which more closely follows the Western calendar year.
There are some large festivals celebrated islandwide, but their dates are determined by two local calendars. The 210-day wuku or Pawukon calendar is completely out of sync with the Western calendar, meaning that it rotates wildly throughout the year. The lunar saka (caka) calendar roughly follows the Western year.
- Funerals, called pitra yadnya, are another occasion of pomp and ceremony, when the deceased (often several at a time) are ritually cremated in extravagantly colorful rituals.
- Galungan, a 10-day festival celebrating the death of the tyrant Mayadenawa. Gods and ancestors visit earth and are greeted with gift-laden bamboo poles called penjor lining the streets. The last day of the festival is known as Kuningan.
- Nyepi, or Hindu New Year, usually March or April. This is the one festival worth avoiding: on Nyepi, also known as the Day of Absolute Silence, absolutely everything on the island is shut down and tourists are confined to their hotels. However if you are in Bali in the weeks preceding Nyepi you will see amazing colourful giants (Ogoh Ogoh) being created throughout the island. On Nyepi Eve the Ogoh Ogoh are paraded through the streets, an amazing sight not to be missed, especially in Denpasar.
Nyepi is a very special day to the Balinese as this is the day that they have to fool all evil spirits into thinking that no one is actually on Bali–hence the need for silence. If this can be achieved, then it is believed that the evil spirits will go looking elsewhere for their prey and leave Bali alone for another year. Balinese people are very religious and life is full of ritual-Nyepi is one of the most important days in their calendar. Police and security are on hand to make sure that everyone abides by this rule.
Hinduism on Bali is unique because it is woven into and around the original Balinese animistic religion. In a true sign of tolerance and acceptance, the two have become one for the Balinese.
Rice paddies and a religious shrine–two staples of Balinese culture
Arts and Crafts
The arts are central to Balinese life, and during your visit you will be delighted by the sheer variety of painting, sculpture, jewelry, textiles, and other creative objects wherever you look. If you’re seeking high quality works of art to take home with you, Bali will not disappoint.
- Wood carving. Bali’s wood carvers are ubiquitous–just listen for the sound their mallets and chisels. All sorts of carved objects are produced. Only expert woodcarvers attempt the masks, such as those representing the demons Barong and Rangda, used in ritual dance performances. Mas and Puaya are two good places to find quality masks for purchase.
- Painting. Bali has a long tradition of painting, especially rich floral designs and flame-and-mountain motifs known as the Wayang style. During your visit you may hear the names of two Westerners–Rudolf Bonnet and Walter Spies–who did much to revive traditional Balinese painting and bring it to the world’s attention.
- Textiles. Batik, a richly ornamented fabric, is popular among tourists and locals alike, although batik is actually from Java. Authentic Balinese cloth is called ikat, made of silk, cotton or, today, synthetic materials.
- Jewelry. Bali is known for its high quality jewelry, which is almost always handmade by local artisans. Traditional Balinese gold and silver work is now complemented by international styles and influenced by foreign designers living in Bali. The villages of Celuk and Kamasan are good places to look for jewelry.
A traditional Balinese mask representing the demon Barong
Eating on Bali
Be sure to try the ubiquitous Indonesian dishes nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles). These dishes should rarely cost more than Rp 25,000 (sometimes a bit more if you add chicken– ayam–or shrimp–udang), so their cost on a menu can be a good indicator of a restaurant’s relative cost and value.
Some of the most authentic food can be found from roving vendors called kaki lima, which means “five legs.” This comprises the three legs of the food cart and the vendor’s own two legs. Go to the beaches of Seminyak at sunset and find steaming hot bakso, a delightful meatball and noodle soup, served up fresh for a very inexpensive Rp 5,000. You can season it yourself, but be forewarned: Indonesian spices can be ferociously hot. Go easy until you find your heat tolerance level!
Fire danger: These Balinese peppers can be scorching hot–eat with caution!
Authentic Balinese food is common on the island, but it has made few inroads in the rest of the country due to its emphasis on pork, which is anathema to the largely Muslim population in the rest of the country. Notable dishes include:
- babi guling – roast suckling pig, a large ceremonial dish that must usually be ordered several days in advance.
- bebek betutu – literally “darkened duck”, topped with a herb paste and roasted in banana leaves. The same method can also be used for chicken, resulting in ayam betutu.
- lawar – Covers a range of Balinese salads, usually involving thinly chopped vegetables, minced meat, coconut and spices. Traditionally, blood is mixed into this dish, but it’s often omitted for tourists’ delicate constitutions. Green beans and chicken are a particularly common combination.
- sate lilit – Minced seafood satay, served wrapped around a twig of lemongrass.
- urutan – Balinese spicy sausage, made from pork.
Drinking on Bali
Not being Muslim, the Balinese have nothing against a drink and alcohol is widely available.
Indonesia’s most popular beer Bintang is ubiquitous, but local brand Bali Hai is nearly as popular. Bintang is a fairly highly regarded classic light Asian beer, but Bal Hai is a rather bland lager. Also available is the Bali-brewed microbrew Storm, available in several different flavors. Beer is, however, relatively expensive, though still cheap by Western standards.
Bali produces its own wines, with Hatten being the most popular brand, available in white, red, rose (most popular) and sparkling varieties. Bali’s traditional drinks are arak, a clear distilled spirit that packs a punch, and brem, a fermented rice wine sold in gift shops in attractive clay bottles that are much nicer than the taste of the stuff inside.
Very cheap (Rp. 10,000) are fresh juices or their mixes (watermelon, melon, papaya, orange, lime, banana or any other possible juice). In Bali, avocado (alpukat) is used as a dessert fruit. Blended with sugar and ice–and sometimes chocolate–this concoction is uniquely Balinese.
Almost all restaurant menus have a section devoted to various non-alcoholic fruit-based beverages. It’s not wise to drink the tap water on Bali, but bottled water is widely available, as are shops which will filter tap water-an environmentally friendly solution.
Sunset on a Bali beach
source : Wikitravel.org