Bali. Ahh, the very word conjures up exotic scenes, tropical gardens, amazing temples, beaches, swimming pools and a completely different culture. Yet, geographically Bali is only three and a half hours flying time from Perth, but because it is so different to everything Australian it feels a world away.
It’s probably the most popular holiday destination for West Australians because it’s relatively inexpensive to get there, there are so many things to see and do in Bali and Five Star in Bali is within reach of the average pocket whereas Five Star in WA possibly isn’t. But attention to detail is present at all levels of accommodation and wherever you look, certainly not just confined to hotels or resorts.
Bali is steeped in culture
Arguably one of the most beautiful islands in the world it’s steeped in a complex culture, and although it might in comparison be poor when judged by Western terms, it’s rich in art, spirituality and mythology.
Magically though, Bali has a way of taking over your senses.
Why is Bali so alluring?
Everything in Bali feels voluptuous; bigger and brighter. There’s a mysteriousness to the island, and of course it’s like a playground for holidaying visitors.
I think that Bali induces superlatives – it’s been called the split gate to heaven, paradise, and garden of Eden, and as you walk between waxy red and yellow flowers which hang like sculpted carvings from banana-type palm trees you begin to understand why.
There are also lilies, big white affairs and smaller feathery ones, along with the ever present frangipani trees, their sweet, cloying scent hanging suggestively in the air, or behind my ears – you’ll be offered lots of flowers to decorate your hair with.
There are several airlines that fly to Bali. We’ve flown with Garuda, Jetstar and Virgin and been happy with all three airlines. However, at the end of the day I generally juggle the cost of an airfare against my airline of choice.
Things to see and do in Bali
The Monkey Forest
It’s an experience to walk around the monkey forest at Ubud. The monkeys are not, shall we say, timid, and will take any chance to steel something from you. Don’t feed them bananas and hold onto your handbags. They are incredibly funny and although this is a sacred place it’s hard not to laugh.
Uluwatu Temple in Bali’s south-western Bukit peninsula has a wonderful backdrop of sea and sunsets – but with the addition of grey long-tailed macaques that inhabit the surrounding Uluwatu Monkey Forest. Pilgrims flock to the temple where the furry monkeys are ready to greet them with mischievous antics.
Visit an Ashram
Our bike ride one day included a visit to an Ashram where the silence was unignorable, save for our voices or the sonorous ring of the bell as we entered a temple area filled with a confusing array of Deities. Flowers, shrines, birdsong – and an all encompassing feeling, I can’t exactly describe, of perfect serenity….these were my abiding memories of this tranquil place high in the hills above Ubud.
Yes, I did think about Elizabeth Gilbert and Eat, Pray, Love and wondered what it would be like to stay here for a few days to exist in silence.
Be pampered in a Balinese Spa
Spa treatments in Bali are much less expensive than in Australia and you get the right Royal treatment. The Maya Ubud for example has thatched treatment pavilions dramatically cantilevered over the rapids of the Petanu River which carves its way through the secluded valley below. A canopied bathtub filled with bucketfuls of frangipani, the sweet smell of rose, orange or lime bath crystals, a healthy snack, fresh lemon juice, and the rushing sound of the river make for an experience which can best be described as heavenly.
Be intrigued by Balinese dancing
Balinese dancing is an integral part of religious ceremonies, intertwined with the island’s culture, and rooted in tradition and mythology.
Typical dance costumes are ornate, bright, gaudy and bursting with colour, the girls often in vibrant shades of red, yellow, gold, and green. Hands, fingers, eyes and hip movements are imperative movements for the girls while the xylophones, drums, flute and gongs of the orchestra play a seductive, trance-inducing accompaniment.
Get out and about at night time
Night time in Bali can often feel like living in a fairytale. Oil lamps flicker, candles glow and frangipani flowers are scattered at random places in restaurants.
Walking around Ubud you have to be careful to avoid potholes, and dodge the chaotic charge of scooters, trucks and the smaller wave of cars, but arriving at places like this Garden Restaurant below is all worth it.
From my journal: “We ate at Garden Restaurant in Ubud, sitting on top of a slight slope, reached by old stone steps lined not only with candles but myriads of frangipani flowers, that festooned the base of the steps and the pathway. The air was suffused with incense. Lanterns hung from the trees in a secret walled garden where we ate chicken satay and peanut sauce, and Balinese chicken in a chilli and lemongrass sauce. Did I mention we drank cooling Bintang beers and got bitten by mossies too?”
Take a walk or bike ride through rice paddies
Rice is a symbol of Balinise life. It’s been cultivated in Bali for over a millennium. Ancient terraces are bordered by irrigation channels and flanked by swaying palms. On a hot dry winter’s day, along the roadside you may see rice being dried and de-husked.
Rice is the staple diet of the people, and it’s offered daily to the gods, the spirits and the ancestors. You could say, Rice for Life and Rice for the afterlife.
From my journal: “The morning is a scorcher. We set off on bikes along the hotel’s tranquil, winding driveway and onto the busier road towards Ubud. We turn off amid the clamour and bustle of shops, the chaos of scooters and trucks into a quiet side street which rises quite steeply into the hills above the town. Within minutes we are in a rural area, with the sweets smell of incense wafting on the breeze and children shouting, “Hello, where are you from?”.
Ride an elephant
There are a couple of places you can ride elephants, but probably the Safari Park will give you the better experience. The ride we did below was part of our white water rafting day out – white water rafting + elephant ride + spa treatment.
The Bali Elephant Safari Park of Desa Taro, is north of Ubud and offers visitors a chance to get up close and personal with these giants with a choice of experiences.
Go river rafting
I’ve been river rafting in Nepal on the Sun Kosi river and I thought Bali’s rivers would be tame. The rapids weren’t as big, but the thrills and spills were as much fun. Lots of companies offer river rafting – get recommendations when you’re there and go with a reputable set up.
Action packed adventure
For the young at heart Bali can be an adrenalin fuelled adventure playground. Three more things you might like to try: Tubing, Scuba Diving, Quad Biking … as well as go for a ride with a monkey on a motorbike perhaps?!!
Snorkel and Swim
There might not be much coral, but you’ll enjoy the fish. And with a bit of bread in your hand, you’ll induce a feeding frenzy of bright colour.
Go to the Bali Butterfly Park
It’s billed as the largest butterfly park in Asia, and the best time to go is early morning when the butterflies are more active. The park promotes the study, breeding, and preservation of over 300 species of butterflies found in Indonesia.
Get into Yoga
From my Journal: “The setting was gorgeous, in a grove of palms overlooking the Petanu Valley and rice paddies. Our yoga instructor at the Maya Ubud was gentle and humorous, sympathetic to us novices, as we grunted our way into poses about which our limbs and joints complained ferociously. We were quite hopeless, falling into one another, jostling for arm and leg space, using the wrong hand or foot, but generally enjoying it as only fools can. At the end, when asked to relax, close our eyes and consider our breathing for ten minutes, both Dave and I failed to close our eyes, mesmerised as we were by a flock of swifts darting in a graceful swoop and soar dance between the tall palm fronds and the baby blue sky above us.”
Visit the Turtle Breeding sanctuary
On an island near Kuta you’ll find a turtle sanctuary run by the World Wildlife Fund for the protection and breeding of sea turtles. If turtle eggs are found in dangerous places, they’re brought to the island. You can get close to huge turtles, the biggest are over 1 meter wide. You can hold the smaller turtles and feed the big ones. The center also has other animals such as birds and snakes, although this part of it felt just a little sad.
Have a cocktail or two
There are so many places to enjoy a cocktail as the sun sets. The young and fashionistas are likely to head to Potato Head in Seminyak, while the oldies amongst us may just wander to a quiet bar with a splendid sunset view.
Dining out in Bali is an aesthetic adventure and taste sensation. There is so much to choose from and it’s not expensive by Australian standards.
At the Maya Ubud the restaurants are all rooms with views and mostly open sided, leading to water or fountains or dramatic valley vistas. Our first breakfast was beside a pond with a water feature in view of two stone carved elephants complete with checked yellow rugs and chairs with bright yellow cushions.
From my journal: “The breakfast buffet was immense and varied – for starters I had, yoghurt, sweet banana chips, passion fruit sauce, muesli, fresh papaya and limes followed by cheesey grilled tomatoes, scrambled eggs with capers and crispy fried onion slivers, little crunchy potato bombs and a tough but tasty Balinese bacon. Oh, but there was too much to mention – from Japanese cuisine, to Chinese, to American and Balinese, far too much for just one sitting.”
Visit a batik factory
From my Journal: “Juda and Wayan took us from Nusa Dua to Ubud, via Tohpati and a Batik factory near Sanur. We drove past many stone carving and wood carving enterprises and then to a traditional Balinese compound before heading into Ubud and the sacred monkey forest. Yuda was a village leader and a rice farmer before he learnt English and moved to Denpassar so that his children might be educated and get to University. At the batik factory he explained many of the designs and age old techniques giving us a fascinating insight into the craft of Batik.”
Find out about traditional Balinese life
The traditional Balinese house is situated in a walled compound and consists of various simple mostly open-sided buildings in a garden setting, almost medieval.
From my Journal: “To the right of the front door will be small grey stones, under which will have been buried the placentas belonging to the boy babies and to the left of the house, the girls. Offerings will be made regularly, and a Balinese person is expected to return to their house and their roots if they can. If families move, the mother will dig up some of the soil from these areas and take it with her to the next house thus creating a sense of belonging for each child.”
Apparently about 72% of the population is probably living in the traditional way.
Feng Shui is an important element in the compound design where, for instance, front entrances shouldn’t face each other so the evil spirits are rebounded. What struck me was, though it’s fairly primitive, it’s reasonably safe and the spirit of community is ever present – people sleep undercover but outside, there’s land for growing food or raising animals, which means basic food is reasonably plentiful.
Getting to grips with real life in Bali
Made’s house is accessed through an ancient looking stone archway or Ankur. Living areas are separate, there is a living area, temple area, ceremony area and separate bedrooms with animals wandering in the back yard. The kitchen is a fairly primitive place without a fridge, and there is wood stacked above an open fire’d stove ready to be used.
Bedrooms may be simple side-less structures with high wooden beds. The temple area will be housed separately and there will be a simple building used for ceremonies such as weddings. In the yard there are likely to be pigs, chickens and other animals and possibly fruit trees.
“Made had tall Kepundung trees and we think we might have eaten a few too many of these tasty little fruits which Gina did warn us might cause diarrhoea, because Dave went downhill rapidly after munching his way through his 5th Kepundung declaring it “delicious.”
In the outer yard, near the pig stye is another shrine, this one to appease the spirits of the river. The Balinese people are superstitious and animism is part of their ritual. In the Kuta markets we kept unwittingly crunching the offerings placed on the ground outside the market stalls, put there to ward off the evil spirits. The evil spirits it seems are generally to be found at ground level.
Visit some art galleries Ubud
The mountain village of Ubud is famous for its artists and its pristine setting. It’s touted at the cultural centre of Bali and rice paddies and picturesque hillsides surround the increasingly busy town which is home to palaces, temples and art galleries.
But it’s the galleries that are the pull for us. We’ve bought several Balinese paintings over the years, and they are exquisite, often colourful and not expensive in the general scheme of things.
Go bird watching
There are lots of opportunities to get out and go bird watching. We loved the Egrets. Snow white egrets in a sea of lime green rice stalks in green paddy fields were a sight to treasure.
Have a sunset dinner at Jimbaran Bay
We were lucky to be able to enjoy a seafood dinner right n the beach watching the sun set and the moon rise amidst a sea of candles and smiling people.
Stay at Beautiful Hotels and Villas
It doesn’t really matter where you choose to stay in Bali, because mostly everything is beautiful, by degrees. Everything is voluptuous and induces superlatives, so wherever you book is likely to be extremely pretty.
For our wedding anniversary we stayed at the Maya Ubud – a place I’ll never forget. We were so lucky to have a beautiful pool villa with an outside shower and private plunge pool, beautiful shrubs and our own entry with a huge, temple-like door. The gardens were gorgeous and extensive, with lots of colourful corners as in the pic below.
Melia Bali, Nusa Dua
We arrived at Nusa Dua in moonlight for a special family holiday, and it was only next day that we saw the vast gateway into the dedicated tourist enclave which stood tall, imposing and intricately beguiling as we stopped at the security checkpoint.
The Melia Bali appeared at the end of a long winding driveway with tall white flags .
Gardens leading to the beach are filled with colourful shrubs, frangipanis, palms and bougainvillea. Rooms with four poster beds are situated around the gardens or a lagoon pool, others look over one of two pools. The garden villas with their own private pool are the ones I’d like to book another time.
The enormous entrance to the hotel is like a tropical cathedral with an intricate painting on the ceiling.
When we were backpacking in Bali 26 years ago, the whole tourist enclave of Nusa Dua was a project still in its infancy. Now it’s a tropical paradise of luxury hotels all with the most amazing gardens and a connecting walkway along the beach.
The Melia gardens wind and twist between ponds and pathways where there are fountains and water features, here a splash of cerise bougainvillea, there a bright red hibiscus. Frangipani trees are everywhere, and palms grow right down to the beachfront
The Maya Ubud
Maya Ubud Resort & Spa is hugged by verdant jungle and situated between a steep river valley and swaying fields of rice. Garden Villas and Pool Villas are designed to co-exist with nature, set in their own walled, tropical gardens.
There are 10 hectares of hillside garden set high above the Petanu River Valley which flows fast, some 30 metres below. Towering silk trees and jungle creepers with waxy leaves as big as satellite dishes rise catch your attention as you walk down the steep steps to the hideaway horizon pool, and the River Cafe that hugs the last bit of hillside before it plummets dramatically into the river. If you prefer, there is a lift for the fainthearted.
“ A ghecko croaks in the thatched rafters. Night is drawing in. The million eyes of the jungles quieten and begin to close their eyes. Sleep comes upon us.”
Tiptoe amongst the Temples
On every corner in Bali there seems to be a temple or a shrine. Always the design is ornate. If there is a celebration or a ceremony there will be sunflower yellow or ivory white parasols, and colourful bunting.
Besakih Mother Temple
Besakih sits high on the slopes of the most sacred and revered mountain, Mount Agung. It’s the largest temple of the Hindu religion, and known as the Mother Temple. I didn’t expect such a vast complex of temples, many of which are not open to tourists. There are lots of ceremonies held at Besakih as it’s considered a public temple for all the Hindus of Indonesia.
If you don’t have a sarong (men and women) you can buy them at the gates to the temple, but you can’t enter wearing shorts or trousers.
Try different food and tropical fruits
Mmm, we ate lots of Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng (special, spicey fried rice or noodles) and Gado Gado (steamed vegetables with peanut sauce) but here you can see Tuti Satay Chicken with an array of tasty accoutrements.
Strange tropical fruits like Durian, Jackfruit and Kepunding were in abundance and we may have eaten too many of the latter.
Salak, a curious brown fruit which was interesting, to eat! Sirsak, green and very sweet papaya, mongasteen a small brown fruit with a fleshy core.
Is crowded and hectic with an omnipresent smell of incense.
There’s a glittering array of jewellery and trinkets. It’s like an Aladdin’s cave of treasure, along with silks, wood carvings, silver, batik, clothes and beadwork. I had to be restrained.
“You give me good price.” “What your price then” “I give you good price,”, the bartering is urgent and essential, part of the dance of a successful purchase. “You my first customer this morning, I give you good price.” You give me good luck, here I’ve got Rolex, Omega – but don’t go in water with it – real Rolex you know it cost millions.”
One thing that I’ll never leave home without these days is mosquito repellant (dengue fever is prevalent in Bali) and adequate sun protection.
In Bali I used Banana Boat high protection sunscreen lotion and spray which I was gifted for editorial review. I really love the spray because it’s quick and easy to use and really non greasy. The Faces lotion is great for faces, but for general use I’ve become a bit of a suntan spray fan because I find it’s a lot easier to clean off my hands quickly if I need to get out my camera quickly to take a photo. Anyway, I’m hooked and I’ll be buying it in the future.
If you’d like to WIN some Banana Boat lotion you could pop over to my other blog where from tonight (10/10/2013) I’m hosting a mega beauty giveaway with 17 products up for grabs. Pop over and have a look – Lifestyle Fifty.
At the end of the day, Bali is for lovers. When we visited for our 22nd anniversary a few years ago, Dave had a love message written for me in the sand at The Melia Bali, and it made me burst into tears!
If you’d like more information about Bali, perhaps you’d like to read :
or perhaps, Bali – Heaven or Hell, The Split Gate to Heaven
and a post that’s proving popular: Part 1 How to Create A Balinese Garden in your Back Yard and
Part 2 showing how the garden has changed : How to create a Balinese Garden without going to Bali
or have you considered living in Bali? Here I wrote about Why Retire In Bali