Bali

Sunset, Tanah Lot Temple, Bali

The Indonesian Island of Bali holds a special place for many young international travellers, especially those from Australia and New Zealand because of its proximity, but also for visitors from Europe. For many, Bali is almost a rite of passage. It can be a crazy, action-packed, fun-filled adventure, or a quiet relaxing escape. The choice is yours.

A short one and a half hour flight from the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, or around five hours from the Western Australian capital of Perth, Bali is very accessible. The brand new international airport at Denpasar, Bali’s capital, is a world class gateway, and accommodation ranges from cheap (and sometimes dodgy) backpacker dorms, to luxurious, five star hotels. The locals are incredibly friendly and helpful, and the island itself is a paradise.

The Royal Temple of Mengwi, Bali

The Royal Temple of Mengwi, Bali

Bali is home to just 4.5 million of Indonesia’s massive 252 million people, but it often seems far more crowded than that, especially in Denpasar, where about 1 million people live. While Indonesia itself is predominantly muslim (about 90% of Indonesians are muslim), most Balinese (around 85%) are Hindu. In fact Bali hosts very nearly all of Indonesia’s Hindu population. Visitors will quickly see that religion is very important to the Balinese. There are Hindu temples, large and small, everywhere – in some areas several in every block – and many Balinese will devote a large amount of their waking hours and hard-earned income to their religion, often in preference to things like education.

This high-density living has another side-effect that often bemuses tourists. Bali is well-known for its wild, seemingly lawless traffic. Balinese love their scooters/mopeds/vespas, and they swarm like bees over the road. With helmets, without helmets, often with two, three or more passengers in addition to the driver. Teddy once saw an entire family of two adults and four children riding along on one scooter! There are no speed limits on the entire island, and there often appear to be no other road rules either – no giving way, no lanes (they’re painted, just completely ignored), and little regard for personal safety. You’ll also need to get used to the sound of car and scooter horns, which sometimes seem endless. A word of warning to tourists: most travel insurance companies will NOT cover you if you ride a scooter in Bali. Many will also not cover you if you drive a car. Check the fine print!

Sunrise over Nusa Penida, Bali

Sunrise over Nusa Penida, Bali

What do you look for when you holiday? History and culture? Got it. Nature and beautiful scenery? Check. Shopping and fine eating? No worries. Nightclubs and parties? Easy. Adventure and thrills? By the truckload. Clean beaches, spas and five star hotels? Tick. Perhaps that’s why Bali is so popular – it really does have something for everyone.

As a volcanic island, Bali is lush and green and the interior has amazing vistas and panoramas. The north of the island includes Mt Agung, an active volcano, and the largest peak on the island. Slightly to the west, Mt Batur is also an active volcano, but is uniquely situated within the caldera of a former volcano which is situated in the caldera of yet another former volcano. The former eruptions have left behind incredibly fertile soils, which explains why the interior is so lush, and also provides all the nutrients needed for the terraced rice paddies and other plantations. Several large rivers feed out to the coast, providing not only all the fresh water the Balinese farmers could wish for, but also beautiful, quiet valleys, and the potential for plenty of white-water sports.

Beautiful green farms, BaliAll around the island are dotted the various palaces and hangouts of the former kings and princes of the many minor kingdoms that ran the island over the centuries. They are a fascinating insight into the cultural heritage of the island and well worth visiting.

Surfers, party animals and those on a drinking holiday will probably spend most of their time in Kuta. The beaches are wide and white, and the surf is generally good. There are many bars and nightclubs to keep the party going, and lots of cheap accommodation. The Kuta market is usually on everyone’s to-do list, though it is hard to comprehend why. The merchandise is generally cheap, but none of it is genuine – there are no real big name brands, just cheap rip-offs. Even the goods that are supposed to be Balinese in nature (batik, carvings, jewellery and so on) are generally cheap imported imitations. If you’re after the real thing, best to wonder inland a little and get it from the source. As with most markets of this type, haggling and negotiation are expected. Never buy anything for the first price offered, as that is generally three or more times what they really expect you to end up paying. For those with more upmarket shopping requirements, Denpasar and Kuta both have a number of good shopping centres.

Dinner on Jimbaran Beach, Bali

Dinner on Jimbaran Beach, Bali

Eating in Bali is a treat. Most of the restaurants are good quality, especially in the tourist centres. Dinner on the beach at Jimbaran beach is on many visitor’s must-do lists. While the food is not as great as other eateries, the sunset is brilliant and makes for a stunning night out. Try out the coffee plantation tasters, too.

For those looking for a more relaxing, luxuriant holiday, there are spas aplenty. Many new hotels, eco-hotels and spas have opened in the Ubud region, many nestled in quiet valleys or overlooking the rivers. In the south of the island, many family-friendly five star hotels are clustered together in the Nusa Dua region. With a beach at the bottom of the garden, these hotels are very popular and well worth the extra few dollars. In particular, Teddy recommends the Grand Hyatt, The Ayodya Resort, the Mulia Resort and the St Regis.

Bali sunset

Bali sunset

Bali isn’t all good news, however. While the safety issue around traffic has already been covered, there are also safety issues with some tourist attractions. Beware of some of the powered craft sports, bungee jumping and similar, which are effectively unregulated. Beware also of scammers. There are fake competitions, raffles and the like which are all just cons to get you into things like high-pressure time-share sales offices. Large parts of the island, especially in the heavily populated south, are dirty and covered in trash and litter. It seems no one there cares enough to pick up the rubbish, so it lies and rots in piles on the side of the road. Everywhere. And Teddy has never seen so many abandoned, half-built buildings.

None of that is to say that Bali is should not be high on your list of potential holiday destinations. The positives far outweigh the negatives. Just be mindful, and exercise caution and good judgement.

Lately, flights to and from Bali have been unpredictable, as volcanic eruptions on other nearby islands lead airlines to cancel flights. Consult your agent and airline.

 





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