One of the most popular travel destination in Indonesia, Bali is a great place that vets the appetite of any tourist.The culture,food, adventure, sun and sand adds to the overall appeal of Bali.
Bali, a small island in the archipelago of Indonesia is known as the Kingdom of Gods, heaven on earth and many such epithets. I find all of them appropriate. It is one such place where you can never be satisfied in one visit; there is so much to see, so much to do, so much to soak in. Bali is probably the only place where I have had this feeling of not wanting to return from.
Tourism has changed a lot on the island, but yet it retains the old world charm, no high rise buildings, rounding alleys, no express ways, lush greenery, paddy fields and small shops. However it manages to offer both, solitude and peace and the comforts of a modern day life.
The touch down: We arrived at Bali a day before our anniversary. Touched down at Ngurah Rai airport and the first impression is not very great. It looked like any small town Indian airport. Tourists from a list of countries are given Visa on Arrival valid for 1 month on a payment of USD25. You pay the required amount at a particular counter and wait in a queue for stamping. This is where touts come in to the picture; you can bypass the queue by paying a small fee. One more thing, if you happen to pay in USD, be sure to take back the change in USD, because the exchange rate there is abysmally low. It is quite a long walk to the road at the airport where there is transportation available. If your hotel has not arranged for transfers, the safe bet would be to hire a metered taxi, I would recommend Blue Bird. It has the best service.
The stay: We stayed at Hotel Risata Bali Resort and Spa (see 'Author recommends' below), just a 10 min drive from the airport. Bali is known for huge traffic bottlenecks, hence planning your travel needs no emphasis. Areas like Kuta,Sanur, Jimbaran , Tuban etc are closer to the airport. The hotel looks quite small, but felt like a peaceful zone right next to the famous Jalan Karthika Plaza of Kuta.
Risata Bali is a well equipped hotel, comfortable and spacious rooms, play area, swimming pool, spa, a small Balinese temple, an open library and facilities for games like chess, cycles on rent and local activities. They also have Balinese dance performances once a week at night (not free though!) and special sea food buffets etc on particular nights. The food at their Pandan restaurant is good, though the breakfast menu got a little repetitive. The most amazing part of the hotel is their staff, all of them so friendly and warm, no wonder I could see people coming to the hotel for 7th or 8th time. I would also like to stay there, if I ever get a chance to be back at Bali someday. This is probably due to the Balinese culture, people there are inherently very friendly I felt, there is a smile on everyone’s face and make you feel very comfortable. Accommodations of all ranges are available at all areas in Bali. You can take your pick on the area depending on your needs.
Explore Bali : Next comes the most important part, exploring Bali. There are numerous packages offered by either the hotels or the tour operators (you can find them in plenty on all streets and corners). Bali is a small island but getting from one place to another takes a long time, due to traffic and other issues. These tours depart early in the morning when the traffic is the lowest and manage to cover most of the must see places. If you want to pick and choose places that you want to visit, then you can either hire a taxi for a fixed number of hours or take a blue bird taxi and pay as per the meter, these taxis drivers generally do not charge for the waiting period, so if it is just one place and back, Blue bird proves to be a good option. However if you intend to cover more than one place, an arranged tour proves economical.
As we explore : We began our day 1 of exploration with a visit to the famous Uluwatu temple. This is located at the southernmost tip of Bali and is famous for the views that it offers and the Kecak dance. On the way to Uluwatu is the GWK or the Garuda Wisnu Kencana (gwk-culturalpark.com), which is a place for all arts and culture of Bali. We missed it, as we started quite late. The ideal time to begin your tour to this part of Bali is 12-1 pm. All Balinese dances can be viewed at GWK for free, the Kecak dance, Barong dance and the traditional Balinese dance.
Uluwatu is further ahead of GWK and gets crowded for the sunset and the Kecak dance that happens at sunset. This is one of the important nine directional temple at Bali perched on a cliff. As in any other temple, the entry to this temple requires you to be attired in the traditional sarong and sash. The entry to the main temple premises is barred for tourists, so one can only enjoy the excellent views that this cliff top temple offers, the waves lashing at the rocks beneath the temple and the setting sun.
Kecak dance is a unique form of dance from Bali, there is no use of any music, and instead the performance is to the tunes of chants of chak chak chak, hence the name Kecak dance. The dance had the depiction of the Sita abduction and her subsequent rescue by Rama from the epic of Ramayana. The dance performance lasts around an hour or little more than that, but it makes for an interesting watch. The elaborate costumes, the chants of chak chak, graceful movements and the fact that the entire sequence is played out only by the fire and lacks any other form of lighting, makes the experience a cherished one.
Bali is a Hindu state, hence all the Indian mythological stories, traditions and customs holds relevance there. There is a pooja conducted before beginning anything. All homes and business establishments have a temple in their premises and the morning begins with a pooja. The evil is shooed away from the door step by giving them offerings of some food, incense sticks etc. This is found at the door/gates of almost all shops and homes at Bali, do not step on them.
Seafood Dinner by the sea : A popular stopover after the evening at Uluwatu is the seafood dinner by the beach at Jimbaran. The Jimbaran area houses most of the five star resorts and hotels in Bali, another posh area being Nusa Dua. The restaurants at Jimbaran are known for serving fresh catch from the sea. The restaurants are set on the sands of the beach in the open, making for a impressive ambience with great views of the flights taking off and landing at Denpasar Airport. A candle lit sea food dinner seemed just perfect for our anniversary, but the food gave it all away. We dined at the Blue Marlin Seafood Restaurant, which was our taxi driver’s recommendation, the food was horrible. Do your own research. I am sure there were will be many worthwhile places to dine at.
The cultural haven: The next day it was the turn of Ubud and Monkey Forest. Ubud is the cultural haven of Bali. It is believed that it is the original form of Bali and this was the centre of attraction before the much hipper areas like Kuta etc gained prominence. This is the space, if you are interested in arts and crafts. Ubud is dotted with all sorts of artisans and painters practicing the rich culture of Bali. Famous museums like the Agung Rai Museum of art, Puri Lekisan, Blanco Renaissance Museum and many more art galleries find their home in Ubud. Wide spread paddy fields, nature reserves, forests, small rivulets, mountains all add to the landscape of this place. The main places of interest would be the Ubud Palace, the monkey forest and Goa Gajah. Ubud is famous for Fried Duck, which you can try at one of the many restaurants. Bebek Tepi Sawah is said to be a good place to try this delicacy.
We visited the Monkey Forest and the Goa Gajah. Monkey Forest (Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana)is a calm and quiet nature reserve housing temples , a cremation site and of course the monkeys. Long tailed macques reside in the precincts of this sacred forest, apparently some 605 monkeys inhabit this place. They are largely not harmful but look out for chips and eatables in your bag. It is a pleasant ½ hr walk to the end of the Monkey forest.
Goa Gajah is a sacred cave temple located close to Ubud and it not on the main tourist circuit so lesser crowds. This is an ancient 9th century temple dedicated to the Elephant God with water flowing out of hands of 3 goddesses which is also a bathing site.
There are many more places to explore and visit at Bali like the Tanah Lot temple again set on the sea, Besakih the mother temple of Bali, Gunung Kawi, etc. I would say it is impossible to visit all of them in one visit, so you keep going back for more.
Get pampered: How can you visit to Bali and not get yourself pampered. Spas and salons of all ranges are found on all streets of Bali offering you a host of packages. I tried the Bali Green Spa on the sunset road at Kuta. There were great reviews about this spa on the internet, but did not meet my expectations. My hubby tried the Sukha Spa at Risata Bali and it was not much satisfying. Most of the spas offer special internet rates (may be a marketing tactic) and pick up and drop is also complimentary. The Murni Spa at Ubud and the Jagat Sekar Spa have some great reviews on the internet.
Shop till you drop: Bali is synnomous for its exquisite handicrafts and art works. You can't really think about leaving Bali without a souvenir or two. Pasar Kumbasari at Denpasar was our target, it is the traditional market spread across four floors selling various handicrafts, to clothes, traditional items required for various religious ceremonies etc. A river separates Pasar Kumbasari from Pasar Badung. Pasar Badung is the market for all sorts of fresh produce. But beware of the operational hours of Pasar Kumbasari, it is from 0700-1700h, we reached the place by 1800h and there was not a single place open and not a single soul to be seen. Ubud is also a good place for some art and craft shopping. Sukawati market quite close to Ubud, is also a cheap place to buy traditional Balinese stuff.
We fulfilled all our desire for shopping at Oleh Oleh Khas Bali Krisna, the 24 hr souvenir shop at Kuta. There are a number of shops all across Bali, by this name, as this, in Balinese, transalates to Souvenirs from Bali. Oleh Oleh Krisna stocks a wide variety of goods from paintings, to eatables, accessories, footwear, clothes, handicrafts, bags, creams, aromatic oils and souvenirs etc. Undoubtedly their wares are the cheapest in the market. Hassle free shopping without haggling, in air conditioned environs, what more could you ask for?
Sun and Sand: Another integral part of any coastal destination is obviously the beach. Beaches at Bali are known for the kind of activities that it provides. Surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, banana boat rides, rides on glass bottom boats etc etc the list is practically endless. I feel that Bali was too crowded to experience any of these activities in peace. We preferred to lay low and kept our underwater activities for a later date. An early morning walk and a serene sunset along the Kuta beach is what we enjoyed.
Gastronomy: We are big foodies and love trying out all sorts of delicacies. Our taxi driver and the staff at the hotel gave us lot of information on local Balinese specialties. It is a little different from the Indonesian cuisine. It is a wonder mixture of aroma and spices and interesting ingredients. Sample the sates like the Ayam sate, Sate campur (mixed meat) or the fried delicacies like the Ikan Bakar (Roasted fish)or Ayam Goreng (Fried chicken). The sea food crackers known as krupuk is ubiquitous accompaniment. Rice is staple food, Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice) being a must on menu everywhere. Porridges are also common on the breakfast menu, with fried soybeans and fried shallots to complement.For those with the sweet tooth, Pisang (Banana) Goreng is good, pancakes and rice cakes are also yummy.
This was how we spent our five days at Bali, we felt refreshed and rejuvenated and left the island wishing to spend many more trips at this Paradise Island.