Bali is a gorgeous island with azure seas, white sand beaches, teaming jungles and volcanic peaks in Indonesia. It is located east of the island of Java and west of the island of Lombok. This island paradise has recently been a target of the Al Qaeda network through its local arm the Jemaah Islamiah. The attack in October 2002 at Paddy’s Bar and the disco Sari Club at Kuta beach paralyzed the burgeoning tourist industry in Bali. Barely had the island recovered from these devastating attacks when there were more attacks in October 2005. The victims in both these attacks were Indonesians themselves as well as foreigners. The majority of the victims were Australian tourists who flock to Bali due to its close proximity and its excellent surfing facilities .Though travel warnings continue to be issued by many governments this Island which is famous for its always smiling gentle inhabitants continues to attract visitors in droves. Bali has something for all, the back packer, the surfer, the spa lover as well as the well heeled isolation seeker.
Bali is a Hindu enclave in predominantly Muslim Indonesia. The Hinduism practiced here is a combination of Buddhism and Animism. The Hindus first arrived in Bali as early as 100BC. In the 19 Century the Dutch captured Bali with a series of bloody battles, they made it a part of their colonial playground and since the 1930 Bali has featured as a prominent vacation destination. Such is the lure of Bali that several foreigners even travel to Bali to get married according to Balinese rites at the many Hindu temples called pura which dot this idyllic island.
Getting to Bali
Bali can be accessed by flying into Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai International Airport. The island is on the map for airlines from Singapore, Japan, Australia and Korea. Low cost airlines like Jetstar Asia and Air Asia fly to Bali as well. Air Paradise International flies to cities in Australia, Japan and Korea. Indonesia’s tional carrier Garuda flies to Bali as well..
The citizens of most countries require a visa to visit Bali, this visa can be procured on arrival. Visas cost US$10 for a seven day visa and US $25 for a 30 day visa. These visas are non extendable. Before traveling to Bali one must check for the visa requirement for one’s own country. This can be checked online at www.bali-tourismboard.com.
The fairly large Island of Bali can be accessed by ferry from Ketapang on the Island of Java to Gilimanuk on the western side of Bali. The ferry offers a cheap alternative access to Bali.
The crossing takes 30 minutes and the ferries are very frequent. There is also a ferry service from Lombok to Padang Bai on Bali. This crossing takes three and a half hours.
Cheap bus services exist from other cities on Java and Lombok to Bali. These Buses use the slow ferries to cross over into Bali.
By Car and Driver
The easiest way to see Bali is to rent a car and driver. It is much more convenient to rent a car rather than attempt to drive oneself as the traffic in southern Bali in tourist hubs of Kuta and Denpasar is usually chaotic. Motorbikes and cycles veer in and out of traffic and if one is not accustomed to driving in such conditions it can be traumatic. A driver and vehicle can be hired for between 80,000 -120,000 rp. The drivers are usually well informed and most understand English. They can take one to see Bali’s many myriad sites. The cars can be hired from one of the street agencies where the price is fixed before one embarks on ones journey. The trip may be for a day or half a day.
Taxis exist only in Southern Bali , these are metered and the first flag fall is 5000 rp. The trips are ideal for short journeys as for longer journeys one incurs a surcharge so a rented car and driver makes for better economic sense..
By Motorbike and Bicycle
This is the mode of transport favored by the young tourists who throng the beaches like Kuta and need transportation between the various nightspots. Motorbike rental is cheap between 30-35000rp. One needs to wear a helmet while riding a motorbike in Bali. It is advisable to have an international driving permit if one intends to rent a motorbike in Bali. Bicycling around the island is another favored past time of the young tourist, bicycles can be hired from shop in Denpasar.
By Local Bus
There exists a local mode of transport called Bemo which is a minivan service. These minivans are cheap but not for foreign tourists as the crafty drivers of the Bemo expect tourists to charter the entire Bemo .
Air Bali is a helicopter service available in Bali where a helicopter can be chartered for aerial tours and to get golf courses etc. Information about this charter can be found online at www.airbali.com
Lying in the tropics, Bali is always humid and receives rainfall all year round which contributes to the lush vegetation of the island. For Surfing which is one of Bali’s major attractions the best months to visit are between June-September. This period is relatively dry and coincides with holidays of the Australian school year as a result Bali tends to be crowded at this time as well as during the Christmas and New Year holiday week. It is also crowded during the Indonesian school holidays. The temperatures hover around 85 degrees F or 30 degrees C. all year round which is greatly conducive to the various adventure sports as well as eco tourism endeavors available on the Island.
Balinese is widely spoken on the Island but one can easily get around by speaking Bahasa Indonesia and English.
To See and Do
Perhaps Bali’s most famous beach is the surfer mobbed Kuta Beach. Bali has excellent waves all year round. Kuta has a wide range of hotels from the$3 a night bodegas on Poppies lane to more luxurious options. Seminyak is another beach which is more up market and is located close to Kuta. Kuta beach is more commercial with shops selling touristy wares such as body massages , tattoos and cheap souvenirs while Seminyak is more exclusive and the abode of the well heeled traveler. Seminyak also has a beach but it is quiet compared to Kuta and many villas are located here. The villas in Seminyak can be hired for long term stays and come furnished with many amenities as well as staff of maids, cooks and drivers. There are villas to cater to each budget. and provide a viable option to a hotel room. Nusa Dua is another beach on the south east coast of Bali which is a surfer’s paradise.
Dive sites abound in Bali but marine life is protected and spear fishing is not allowed in most of these sites. Menjangan Island in West Bal,i teeming with marine life and crystal blue waters is one such popular dive site. Other dive sites are located at Tulamben, Amed, Padang Bai, Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan
Balinese Eco Tourism
Marine life is sought to be conserved in Bali this can be seen at various sites all over the Island where natural parks and sanctuaries exist.
On Lembongan Island is a Reef Appreciation program and cruises and activities are designed so as they do not disturb marine life.
Bali Elephant Park
Located in the hills of Ubud in the forest of Desa Taro is the Elephant Park. Here the magnificent creatures can be observed in their natural habitat. Elephant Safaris are available for tourists..
Bali Bird Park
Located at Taman Burung Bali near Batubalan, it houses numerous endangered species of birds including the Bali Mynah.
Bali Barat National Park
In Western Bali at the dive site Pulau Menjangan is the Bali Barat National Park. The Java Deer and the Bali Starling can be found in the park here which is home to many birds and animals of the rainforest.
Bali Butterfly Park
Located at Taman Kupu Kupu Indonesia’s only butterfly park showcases many varieties of butterflies from all over Bali and Indonesia.
Bali Botanical Gardens
These gardens were built in 1959 and cover 120 hectares on the slopes of Gunung Pohon. These wonderful gardens boast of many varieties of orchids which grow plentiful in this part of the world as well as several species of trees.
An active volcano with Lake Batur in its crater is another popular tourist site The Ulu Danu Temple of Batur is located here and entrance to the temple is free of charge though there is a fee for the rental of a sarong.
Bali Reptile Park
The last of the Dinosaurs, the prehistoric lizard ,the Komodo dragon can be seen at the Rimba Reptile Park in Bali. The reptile park is adjacent to the Bali Bird Park.
The Sangeh Monkey Forest
The Jungle here spread over six hectares has tall nutmeg trees that house hordes of chattering Balinese macaques. Visitors to this monkey sanctuary are warned to keep their belongings out of sight for fear of attracting these mischievous monkeys.
Located near Pupuan the waterfall is a 100m drop and is spectacular during the rainy season.
Located in Singaraja ,it has a legend associated with it in that couples who bathe here together will eventually separate.
Royal Pools Tirataganga
In 1948 a Balinese Rajah built a water garden around a natural spring and called it Tirtaganga after the holy Ganges river in India. The spring rises under a big banyan tree where the villagers built their temple.
More than 20,000 temples exist in Bali and are one of the main tourist attractions. Temple festivities are an integral part of Balinese life. The Galungan is a 10 day festival celebrating the death of a demon. Leaves filled with offerings are left in the streets to commemorate this festival. Bali should not be visited during the Hindu New Year usually in March/April as on this day is the day of Absolute Silence and the whole island shuts down. The ‘mother temple’ of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung is the most imimportant temple for the Balinese. Another Temple worth visiting is the Uluwatu Temple located on a limestone cliff on a 90m drop over the Indian Ocean. It was built in the 11 century by a Hindu priest from East Java and the name Uluwatu means ‘Head of Stone’.
Bali has a variety of lodging to suit every budget. From the $5 night lodgings favored by surfers and backpackers to the $4300 night ultra luxurious suites at the Begawan Giri( Como Shambalah Estate) at Ubud there is somewhere for everyone to rest their head.
Popular Hotels in Bali
One of the most renowned hotels in Bali is the Oberoi on Jalan Oberoi. This Hotel located in Seminyak was built in 1971 and was designed by famed Australian Architect Peter Muller. Rooms here start at $225 a night and private villas with walled pools are also on offer. It is tranquil setting close to the best Bali night spots the entire area is identified by the Hotel and called Oberoi.
Amandari Resorts – The Aman group has three hotels on Bali; The Amanusa is a blend of western and Balinese architecture at Nusa Dua. Peter Muller has designed the Amandari Resort at Ubud . At the Amadari resorts cooking classes in Balinese cooking are offered. guests are taken to a neighboring village to learn to cook Balinese cuisine in an authentic setting. Rates for these classes can be found online at www.amanresorts.com.
Hotel Padma at Kuta has a swim up bar and is popular with young people and wedding parties. The Four Seasons at Bali with its 150 villas and their private pools is another immensely popular boutique hotel in Bali.
In the serene tranquil atmosphere of the hilly region of Ubud located 45 minutes from the airport is the ultra luxurious resort of The Como Shambalah Estate. It is spread over 8 hectares of lush tropical jungle and has 21 suites and 4 private villas. Various Spa treatments and massages are offered at this oasis of calm. Cendana Resort and Spa is yet another Spa hotel located at Ubud. Balinese massages and Spa treatments are well known throughout the world and provide yet another attraction of this isle.
On boisterous commercial Kuta Beach one can eat at Macdonalds, Pizza Hut, KfC and even Starbucks. But why eat here when one can partake of wide variety of local food and dishes like mee goering (noodles),nasi goering( fried rice)which can be made with chicken or shrimp. There are many shacks and roadside stalls which serve up these delights. Donalds Beach cafe and CaféUluwatu are some of these beach side cafes Café,Bedugel is a Balinese restaurant where one can listen to traditional gamelan music while one dines in Balinese architecture inspired surroundings. Hard rock Café is an iconic venue for live music. Pocco Bar and Bennys Bistro are other locales for live music. Jalan Dhyana has many bars and clubs such as Q bar, Spy Bar, Liquid Bar and Fuel .
Semaniyek has some excellent restaurants such as the Kafe Waristan an antiques store cum restaurant. It overlooks verdant rice paddies and serves French food featuring Australian beef and lamb.
La Lucciola is an Italian restaurant on Jalan Oberoi while Hu’u on Jalan Petitenget has alfresco dining featuring fusion as well as Asian dishes. Ku de Ta is an expatriate haunt for watching the sunset on the deck. It has an Australian influenced menu.
While the beach side stalls of Kuta sell touristy wares such as sarongs and other knick knacks, the stalls at Semaniyak sell Balinese wood carvings, puppets, lamps and curios for the home. While in Ubud there are many Art Galleries as well as stores selling products made by local artisans.
With its sandy palm fringed beaches, natural parks and excellent nightspots and luxurious hotels Bali is indeed a tourist paradise.