Bali is both an island and a major province in Indonesia. It is a global tourist hub. Denpasar is its capital. Approximately 85% of the island’s population follows Hinduism (even though Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country).
The significant development of tourism started in Bali in the 1980s. Island is famous worldwide for its highly developed arts, which include modern and traditional dance, music, sculpture, painting, metalworking, leather, and so on. Also, Bali hosts the annual Indonesian International Film Festival (during the fall season).
An excellent way to get to know and understand more of the country is to do some volunteer work. There are organizations that arrange work for international volunteers in Bali and other places in the region. This is something to consider if you are planning to stay long in Bali.
Things To Do In Bali
The main tourist locations are the town of Kuta, its outer suburbs Legian and Seminyak, the east coast town Sanur, town Ubud in the center of the island, Jimbaran, and the newest Nusa Dua and Pecatu. The rise of tourism industry also influenced the growth of the real estate industry in these locations. Also, the investments, both domestic and foreign, into other areas of Bali economy continue to grow.
There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bali that showcases the island’s unique ecosystem. Visit the breathtaking Puras (Temples) scattered throughout the island and marvel at the magnificence of ancient Hindu religion.
In 2010 Bali was called the Best Island by Travel and Leisure magazine. It won due to its attractive surroundings, various tourist attractions, excellent restaurants and the friendliness of the locals. Also, in 2011 BBC Travel called Bali second in the list of the World’s Best Islands after Santorini.
The 2010 movie, based on best-selling Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir book “Eat, Pray, Love”, starring Julia Roberts as a lead, was also filmed in Bali. The filming took place at Padang-Padang Beach and Ubud.
Bali is a part of the coral triangle region. Here, scientist eagerly study the wildlife, as the area has some of the highest biodiversity in marine species. Be sure also to visit the Subak irrigation system.
Both surfers and divers flock to Bali to enjoy the beautiful water and scenic coasts. Come to Bali to enjoy all the opportunities, which this magnificent place offers!
Temples In Bali
Bali’s best-known attractions are its countless Hindu temples. Each village is required by customary law to construct and maintain at least three temples: the pura puseh (temple of origin) located at the kaja (pure) side of the village, the pura desa (village temple) at the centre for everyday community activities and the pura dalem (temple of the dead) at the kelod (unclean) end.
Wealthy villages may well have more than these three obligatory temples, and additionally, all family compounds have a temple of some nature.
The nine directional temples (kayangan jagat) are the largest and most prominent. These are located at strategic points across Bali and are designed to protect the island and its inhabitants from dark forces.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu (Uluwatu Temple), at the southern tip of Bali, is easily accessed and hence very popular, as is Tanah Lot. For the Balinese, the “mother temple” of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung is the most important of all and sits above the nine. The other seven directional temples are Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Pura Ulun Danu Batur, Pura Pasar Agung, Pura Lempuyang Luhur, Goa Lawah, Pura Masceti and Pura Luhur Batukaru. All of these are located on either rugged high ground or at the water’s edge, and this is a clear indication of the likely source of dark forces as far as the Balinese are concerned.
Note: To enter any temple you must be appropriately dressed in a sarong and sash. These are always available for rental at the large temples which attract a lot of tourists (usually included if you’re paying to enter, else a few thousand rupiah per set), but it’s better to buy one of each when you arrive and use them throughout your visit.
Art Scene In Bali
Art, both traditional and modern, is everywhere in Bali and impossible to miss. Ubud is the artistic capital of the island with several museums and a variety of informal workshops and retail outlets. Ubud’s museums showcase the works of local artists, both living and dead, as well as works by many foreign artists, who either have a strong affinity to Bali or have made the island their permanent home.
Adventure Travel In Bali
Many companies also provide adventure activities such as Paragliding at Nusa Dua, Mountain Cycling in the hills of Ubud or downhill cycling from Bedugul and Kintamani, Jungle Trekking, Bungy Jumping on the beach in Seminyak, Horse Riding in Seminyak and Umalas, and Hiking in the rice fields near Ubud and many other places in the hills.
Nature can be observed while trekking in West Bali National Park, at the Butterfly Park (Taman Kupu Kupu) in Wanasari, or at the Bali Botanical Gardens in Bedugul. Inside the Botanical Gardens, visitors can also get a bird’s-eye view of nature from the Bali Treetop Adventure Park. Hiking the Bali volcanoes is a popular option for visitors.
There are a number of reputable white-water rafting operators in the Ubud area, and the rafting is of good quality, especially in the wet season. If you want to go in the noncommercial area and feel more sensations you can also do canyoning.
Sports fishing is an increasingly popular activity with visitors to the island. Trolling, jigging and bottom fishing can all be very rewarding, with large game far from unusual. Charters are available from many coastal areas but the most popular points with a competitive range of options are Benoa Harbour and nearby Serangan close to Kuta, just to the north in Sanur and Padang Bai on the east coast.
Waterbom is a large water park situated in Jl Kartika Plaza in Kuta. It is the second best of the waterpark in the world based on Travellers’ Choice (beating both Disneyland and Dubai).
There are several hot springs to be discovered in Bali. One of them, on the north coast of the island near Lovina, is Air Banjar, where stone mouth carvings allow hot water to pass between the pools, which are set in lush gardens. Another good choice is at Toya Bungkah on the shores of Lake Batur, high in the northeastern mountains.
Bali is a paradise for spa lovers, and all sorts of treatments are widely available. The Balinese lulur body scrub with herbs and spices—traditionally performed before a wedding ceremony—is particularly popular. Balinese massage is usually done with oil and involves long, Swedish-style strokes. In steep contrast to exorbitant western massage fees, Balinese massage is an incredible value, and visitors should definitely avail themselves of this luxury.
In local salons, a one-hour full body massage will cost between Rp 70,000 and 100,000, and the 2 hr mandi lulur, which incorporates a body scrub and hydrating yogurt body mask in addition to the massage, will cost about Rp 150,000. The curiously named creambath is a relaxing scalp and shoulder massage, usually lasting 45 minutes, in which a thick conditioning cream is worked through the hair and into the scalp. A creambath typically costs about Rp 60,000. Note that these same services in an upscale hotel will cost many times more.
Yoga In Bali
Bali is host to some of the finest yoga and well-being centers and retreats in the world. You can find an abundance of amazing yoga classes to suit all levels in most of the tourist areas. Look for the best yoga centers in Ubud and Seminyak. Bali is also now home to a number of renowned yoga teacher training centers.
Weddings in Bali have become very popular in recent years. Many couples who are already legally married choose Bali as the place to renew their vows. Full wedding organizing services are widely available: ceremony arrangements, photography, videography, flowers, musicians, dancers, and catering. There are several wedding chapels available that are usually attached to luxury hotels, and the number is growing all the time. There are many professional organizers to handle your wedding in Bali, and these are easily found through the Internet.
Destination weddings, featuring all types of religious and presentation arrangements, are becoming increasingly popular, with large private villas being one of the island’s many offerings for venues.
There are many interesting scuba diving sites around Bali. Particularly popular are the wreck of USAT Liberty at Tulamben in the east, the chilled out coral bommies in Padang Bai, the serene reefs around Menjangan Island in the northwest, and dramatic drift diving off Nusa Penida in the south. Bali is a major teaching center, and there are numerous reputable dive centers around the island affiliated with PADI and SSI. For those who want their diving to make a difference as well, dive voluntourism has gained a foothold in Bali, such as in Sea Communities in Les Village, Tejakula, where divers could help rebuild coral reefs and learn to catch ornamental fish in a sustainable way.
Warm waters, crowds of young backpackers, cheap living and reliable waves keep Bali near the top of world surfing destinations. The southern coast at Kuta, Legian and Canggu, the Bukit Peninsula and Nusa Lembongan are the primary draws. Expert surfers usually head for the big breaks off the Bukit Peninsula, whilst beginners will find the gentler, sandy areas between Kuta and Legian to be ideal for learning. All Bali’s surf beaches are described in the “Indo Surf and Lingo” surfing guidebook. There are formal surf schools on Legian beach and Kuta beach. The more adventurous might like to try informal lessons from one of the many local self-styled surf teachers to be found hanging on any beach in South Bali. Regular surf reports are provided by Baliwaves.
Visitors can see animals at the Bali Zoo in Singapadu near Ubud, at the Bali Bird Park, at the Taro Elephant Park, and at the Bali Marine and Safari Park located near Gianyar.
Due to the high competition between various taxi services, new tourist scams have crept up. Tourists could end up paying about 10 times than normal tariff. The drivers use a taxi with a broken meter and threaten to call the police if passengers don’t pay the visible fare. Only book a taxi from a reliable taxi company.
When you rent a motor vehicle, please wear the provided safety kit and helmet for your life’s sake! The roads may not be even or leveled. The traffic could be crowded. The traffic rules may not be the same as your home country. Moreover, Police have been on the lookout for motorbike riders that do not wear a helmet and forces you to pay fine on the spot, regardless if you are a foreigner or Indonesian.
Turtle Island Scam
One of Bali’s most infamous scams. It is important to note that Bali does possess a legitimate Turtle Conservation and Education Center (TCEC) at Serangan Island, also known as “Turtle Island”. However, when requested to go to “Turtle Island”, many drivers and tour agencies will instead lead tourists to an unlicensed “conservation center” at Tanjungbenoa peninsula, where turtles, snakes, and other animals are kept in filthy, small cages and subject to several forms of mistreatment. If you have any concern about animal welfare, make sure that you visit the licensed TCEC at Serangan Island, and do not support any tour agencies that attempt to lead tourists to the fake conservation center at Tanjungbenoa.
The midday sun in Bali will fry the unwary traveler to a crisp, so slap on plenty of high-factor sun-protection and drink lots of fluids. However, there is no need to carry buckets of water as you can buy a bottle virtually anywhere. The locals tend to stay away from the beaches until about two hours before sunset, when most of the ferocity has gone out of the sun.
Travelling to Bali may expose you to some risks in contracting one of many tropical diseases that are present in the region. Bali is officially a malaria-free zone but dengue fever is a problem and all sensible precautions should be taken against being bitten by mosquitoes.
Avoid Ice In Drinks
Take care in restaurants and bars; although it is very rare nowadays, some may use untreated/unsafe tap water to make ice for drinks otherwise made with clean ingredients. Tap water in hotels should not be used for drinking or brushing teeth unless explicitly labelled as safe.
The HIV infection rate in Bali is increasing, mainly among sex workers of both genders and intravenous drug users. If you engage in any risky activity, always protect yourself.
Monkeys and Bats
Be careful around monkeys. They may be habituated to humans, but they are wild animals, and being bitten or scratched by a monkey could result in your contracting any number of maladies, possibly including rabies. So you are best off keeping your distance, especially if a monkey seems to be behaving erratically. If you are bitten or scratched by a monkey or bat, get medical help immediately, like rabies, if not treated before symptoms occur, is almost 100% fatal.
Although the standards of healthcare and emergency facilities have improved greatly in recent years, they remain below what most visitors would be accustomed to in their home country. Be aware that the purchase of travel insurance still means that most clinics and hospitals may require payment in advance, or sometimes by incremental payment as various services are rendered. This may require access to a quite significant amount of cash to keep things moving. Any claim is then made to the insurance company upon your return home. This is almost always the case if the problem is one that can be dealt with on an outpatient basis. Make sure that your insurance company has an agreement with the provider or immediately establishes one, otherwise you will also be landed with a bill for an inpatient stay.
Getting Around In Bali
Bali is a fairly large island and you will need a method to get around. Infrastructure is okay so expect some transportation challenges (if compared to western standards). In major tourist areas, the traffic is chaotic, and daily traffic jams are to be expected.
Once you arrive at your destination you may encounter difficult walking conditions as sidewalks in most parts of Bali are simply the covered tops of storm-water drains and in many places only 60 cm (2 ft) wide. This makes for uncomfortable single-file walking next to traffic. Often sidewalks are blocked by a motorbike or a caved-in section, necessitating dangerous darting into traffic.
Many of the island’s conventional streets are simply not pedestrian-friendly. Beach areas and major tourist areas are easier to walk around and Sanur, in particular, has a wide beachfront pathway with many cafes and bars. But although the walking conditions are difficult, they are by no means impossible.
Lots of tourists and locals travel the roads by foot and even the traffic is generally very accommodating to pedestrians if it is given time to react.
For different excursions around the island, it is common to join a tour via your hotel or at one of the many street agencies which are found everywhere in booths normally marked “Tourist Information”.
An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required for vehicle rental, with a motorcycle endorsement if renting a motorbike, the IDP must match the license class of the home country of issue and must be appropriate to the vehicle being used; both documents must be carried. The IDP is seldom requested by the person renting you the vehicle but will be required (along with the vehicle’s STNK registration papers). If you’re stopped by the police typically a Rp 50,000 “fine” will allow you to keep driving but this strategy will quickly unravel if there is an accident involving damage or injury. An IDP is easily obtainable from motoring clubs in your home country such as the AA in New Zealand and the UK and the AAA in Australia and the US.
If you wish not to rent a motorcycle and have someone drive you, ride-sharing services such as Gojek and Grab have started to look for passengers island-wide. Keep in mind that as they use a motorcycle, only one person can be a passenger for every motorcycle; while it is certainly convenient if you are traveling by yourself, those that travel in groups should do calculations to see if other transportation options can actually be cheaper.
Rent Motorbike or Scooters
Renting motorcycles or scooters can be a frightening yet fascinating experience. They are typically 125 CC, some with automatic transmissions and rental tariff are Rp 50,000 or above per day (for a week or more; cheaper prices can be bargained). In areas outside of the tourist enclaves of south Bali, a motorbike is a wonderful way to see the island, but in south Bali, with its crush of traffic, the chances of an accident are greatly increased.
Rent Car With A Driver
Rental car services owned by individuals or companies are easy to find in Bali and this is the best option for first-time visitors. Using a rental car with a driver is certainly cheaper than taxis and far more efficient than using other public transportation. The drivers are usually English-speaking and they can also act as informal tourist guides recommending good destinations and restaurants. Choosing to rent from a large car company is naturally more expensive than sourcing from a private individual. Ask hotel staff to recommend a good individually owned rental car with a knowledgeable driver.
Price varies (usually rented for 10 hours but you can also rent cars for a shorter time period on an hourly rate). Price is open for negotiation depending on the season, demand, and quality of the car. Make sure to check if the price includes petrol (gas) and driver fee and any toll-tax/fees/etc.
It is common custom to buy lunch for your driver. For those on a tight schedule, visiting most of the major tourist destinations in Bali will need about 3 days with a rental car and driver.
Bemos are minivans which serve as a flexible bus service and are Bali’s “traditional” form of transportation. However, they have largely given way to metered taxis in the south. Fares on shared bemos can be very cheap, but drivers will often insist that foreign tourists charter the entire vehicle, in which case they will usually ask for a price equivalent to a taxi or even more. So, talk before boarding and negotiate wisely.
Drive Left or Right
Driving in Indonesia is on the left. Car and motorbike rentals are widely available but think very carefully about your ability to handle traffic in Bali with its different traffic rules—both formal and informal. Consider hiring a car and driver as you can relax, be safe and not get lost.
Electricity is supplied at 220V, 50Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 “Schukostecker” or “Schuko” or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 “Europlug” types.
The native language of locals is Balinese, which is related to but not mutually intelligible with Indonesian. Virtually all Balinese people are bilingual in Balinese and Indonesian, so learning Balinese is not essential to communicate. Nevertheless, locals are proud of their language, so efforts by visitors to speak Balinese will be warmly received by the locals. In tourist regions, English and some other foreign languages are widely spoken.
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. Definitely, try some of the following dishes:
Satay lilit – minced seafood on a lemon grass stick, grilled over charcoal
Babi guling — roast suckling pig. A large ceremonial dish served with rice that is usually ordered several days in advance, but also often available at night market stalls and selected restaurants. A very notable outlet for babi guling is Ibu Oka’s in Ubud.
Bebek betutu — literally “darkened duck”, topped with a herb paste and roasted in banana leaves over charcoal. 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 is often omitted for the more delicate constitutions of visitors. 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.
Other Balinese local specialties include:
ayam panggang bumbu bawang mentah – Grilled chicken with sliced shallots, chilies, and lime
ayam panggang bumbu merah – Grilled chicken with red chili and shrimp paste sauce
ayam tutu – Steamed chicken cooked with Balinese herbs and spices
tum ayam/ketopot – Sliced chicken mixed with herbs and spices and steamed in banana Leaves
ikan kakap bakar bumbu terasi – Grilled snapper in local hot spices
sudang lepet – Salted dry fish
pepes ikan laut – Sliced fish mixed with herbs and spices grilled and served in a banana leaf
pelecing kangkung – Water convolvulus with shrimp paste and lime
pelecing paku – Fern tips with shrimp paste and lime
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