It is no surprise at all that in the 1952 flick “Road to Bali” Bob Hope and Bing Crosby sought refuge on this Indonesian island from an overprotective and furious father. Indeed, Bali has proven a refuge for many people before and many since that time, so why not two vaudevillians? Of course, where Hope and Crosby fought for the attention — more precisely, the affection — of a young Balinese princess and foiled an evil prince’s plot to steal a treasure, visitors will find the island far more peaceful and heroics quite unnecessary.
Bali is just eight degrees south of the equator in the middle-south part of the Malay Archipelago. Java — home to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city — is to the west, Lombok to the east, and Australia a six-hour jump south across the Indian Ocean. The majority of Indonesia is Muslim, but Bali is a mighty exception with a 92 percent Hindu population. Most Balinese are bilingual or even trilingual, speaking the island’s Balinese, the country’s Bahasa Indonesian and English — a result of heavy tourism.
The island is arguably one of the most stunning places in the world. This is not only because it is a tropical Eden inundated with lush vegetation in parts and vibrant green rice paddy terraces in others. Its beauty is not simply defined by the surrounding jade and cobalt coral reef waters, and the inland dormant volcanic peaks hugged by clear lakes. You cannot visit Bali without amassing a sense of an ancient and beautiful culture, manifested in the form of highly practiced and developed arts. Expertly created paintings, silverwork and woven cloth can be found in villages, but it is primarily the intricately carved stone and wood sculptures that saturate the island: in hotels, along the side of the road, in and around temples and in front of private residences.
Dance is another of these arts. Balinese dance is characterized by quick changes in movement, from slow to fast and back. Dancers burst from stiffer and more controlled postures as though they are satiating a need to free their bodies from restraint before masterfully recomposing themselves. With dance there is also music. The most popular musical ensemble on the island is the gamelan (meaning to strike or handle), which features drums, metallaphones, xylophones (either bronze or bamboo) and gongs. Other instruments include cymbals, bells, drums, flutes, gong chimes and the anklung (bamboo rattle).
Travelers usually indulge in the resorts and comforts of southeastern Bali, but to the west there is a great deal to see, much of it off the beaten track. Medewi, Soka, Pasut and Klatingdukuh are quiet rural beach towns to the west of Denpasar, the island’s capital, that offer some of Bali’s best surfing. Far west, in the waters around the tiny Menjangan Island, divers will see a variety of colorful fish, vertebrates, lacy sea fans, sponges and occasionally even whales, whale sharks and manta rays. Along the Menjangan north coast slope is the final resting place for Bali’s oldest dive shipwreck, dubbed Anker Wreck. On Menjangan’s topside small herds of protected deer roam the grasslands. Also west is Negara, famous for its bull races (called Mekepung). From July to October, jockeys harness their bulls to chariots, grab hold of the animals’ tails and career down a 3.2-mile race course. The winner receives instant respect, fame and a chance to become national champion.
Heading north, travelers will come across Singaraja, the Dutch capital of Bali during the colonial era. It is a quiet town with old Dutch warehouses and museums. Heading south from Singaraja through Bali’s interior mountainous region will take you to Ubud, the preeminent center for the arts. Once a village with no hotels — only cottages provided by Prince Gde Agung Sukawati for an artists’ colony — Ubud has expanded into a mini-metropolis of wealth and elegance. The outskirts are a ring of sprawling mansions and resorts, the interior an assortment of cafes, bouti ques and art houses for collectors and connoisseurs. Oddly enough, the city still attracts bohemians and backpackers as it did in the days of Prince Sukawati.
Farther south, past Denpasar, Sanur is a place of tradition and old Balinese culture, a quiet beach town with centuries-old temples nearby. Opposite Sanur, Kuta is perhaps the most spectacular place for a beach-view sunset. Kuta is also a shopping mecca, and has fantastic waves to taunt and challenge surfers. Jimbaran is south of Ngurah Rai Airport. Its location in Bali’s narrow neck means it is flanked on both its west and east sides by beaches. Nusa Dua, in the southernmost part of the island, is known for its fabulous snorkeling, diving and surfing. It’s a fairly remote bead of land beneath the bottleneck, which makes it a prime setting for quietly remote high-end resorts.
If visitors are not captivated by the arts or enchanted by the clear waters and white sands, then perhaps the mangosteen fruit, which originated in Bali and the surrounding islands, will prove more beguiling. Beneath its hard, red outer shell, the fruit resembles a peeled tangerine, but is white in color. Each “slice” is so deliciously and stunningly sweet and tangy, it is rumored that in the 19th century Britain’s Queen Victoria offered a cash reward to anyone who could bring her some mangosteen. It’s only flaw — not worth considering when weighed against its flavor — is the staining properties of the outer shell. Even the most stain-savvy specialists will be far more likely to foil the plans of an evil prince than to restore their clothing.
This fruit, among the many other wonders of the island, should make travelers a bit wary; when traveling the road to Bali, be mindful that you may not want to traverse that same path back home to reality.
SOFITEL SEMINYAK BALI
Balconies and luxuriously pillowed window seats face lily-padded garden pools and white sand beaches. Inside, the dark brown Balinese furniture and bright white king-size bed linens lend a cool contrast to the humidity outside. There is a small bathtub next to the shower which has two massage shower heads.Villas and suites are outfitted with home movie theater systems, private whirlpools and secluded swimming pools. There are three choices for dining: the Thai Husk, Japanese Teppanyaki and the Mediterranean Capris. The Namaya Spa at the Sofitel combines Indonesian massage therapy with western treatments to target the five senses. Additionally, the property has putting greens, a business center and tennis courts. $$$$
SOFITEL SEMINYAK BALI
Jl.Abimanyu, Seminyak Beach
tel 011 62 361 730730, fax 011 62 361 730545
FOUR SEASONS RESORT BALI AT JIMBARAN BAY
The Four Seasons at Jimbaran Bay has 147 thatched-roof villas. Each has a private courtyard with plunge pool, a secluded garden with an outdoor shower and an open-air, thatched-roof living room.The bathroom is a mini spa, with marble-enclosed shower, two vanity sinks and a soak tub for two with frangipani flowers, incense, bath salts and oils. You may never want to leave the villa, but if you manage to step outside the double Balinese-painted doors, on the property you’ll find the spa, which specializes in Balinese treatments, a seaside golf course, a health club, two tennis courts, a cooking school and three restaurants: Tamin Wantilan for a taste of Indonesia, PJ’s for pizza or Warung Mie for noodles. $$$$-$$
FOUR SEASONS RESORT BALI AT JIMBARAN BAY
Jimbaran, Denpasar 80361
tel 011 62 361 701010, fax 011 62 361 701020
ALAM PURI ART MUSEUM AND RESORT
Alam Puri is an inland property with manicured gardens and several thatched-roof villas adjacent to vibrant green rice paddy terraces. Many suites are two stories, with private plunge pool and living room downstairs, and bedroom with balcony upstairs. The decor is Balinese, with contrasting light and dark colors, softly lit and decorated with original artwork. Ther e is a library on the property with a modest selection of books and the spa has a menu of fairly basic, but very relaxing, massages and baths. Guests can dine out at the Terrace Restaurant or stay in and prepare a dish in a full private kitchen. Bicycles are available to all guests and there is shuttle service to nearby Ubud for shopping. $$
ALAM PURI ART MUSEUM AND RESORT
Jalan Trenggana 108
tel 011 62 361 463737, fax 011 62 361 462724
BATUR SARI RESTAURANT
There is no better way to taste the cultural flavors of the island than by eating a buffet lunch while looking out over the valley to the Kintamani Volcano and Lake Batur. The entirely unobstructed view of the volcano is magnificent, both on clear days and when thick fog clings to the top in massive swirls. It’s as though you can reach out your hand across the valley and dust off its top. The restaurant buffet consists of creamed corn soup, boiled cabbage, spring rolls with sweet and sour sauce, chicken satay, shrimp-flavored puffed chips and traditional Balinese vegetables made of water spinach and long beans. $$
BATUR SARI RESTAURANT
Jin. Raya Penelokan
tel 011 62 361 0366 51007
Along Jimbaran Bay there are a number of local seafood restaurants all vying for your business. Gekko Café is one of the better among them.With candle-lit tables set up close to the water, it’s best to have a meal here at sunset. The fare — mainly seafood — is tremendously delicious and fresh. The menu is divided into easy meal selections and combinations.Try the daily pan fried catch, the lobster and prawns. All meals come with rice, Balinese salad and a fruit plate. $
Jalan Four Seasons Muaya
tel 011 62 361 7033296
fax 011 62 361 703296
This bar and lounge restaurant is a popular hot spot for both locals and tourists. The menu consists mainly of Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese,Thai and Vietnamese dishes.There are three types of spring rolls on the menu (Indonesian,Vietnamese and Thai), Chinese dim sum, Japanese vegetable tempura, and cheese samosas (triangle-shaped pastries served with a spicy chutney dipping sauce). Main courses consist primarily of various kinds of noodles, made either from egg, rice, flour,mung bean, tapioca, rice flour paste, buckwheat (soba) or thick wheat (udon). Try the Japanese Tempura Udon (noodles and vegetables in a fish broth topped with prawn tempura).There is also a selection of fish and meat main dishes. $$
Jalan Rava Sanur
tel 011 62 361 289398
The island’s economy relies heavily on its visitors, so the nightlife in Bali has a significant number of venues to suit the international crowd. Nights in Bali start late, around midnight. In the Sanur and Nusa Dua areas the Jazz Bar & Grill (Komplek Pertokoan Sanuar Rava, No. 15-16, tel 011 62 361 285892) has live music and dancing. The Kuta area is a nightlife center with open-air pubs and noisy discos such as the Peanuts Discotheque, (Jalan Raya Legian at the Jalan Melasti corner, tel 011 62 361 75419) which features live reggae music and pool tables. The nightlife in Ubud is very subdued. Two places to try are Tutmak (Jalan Dewi Sita, Ubud, tel 011 62 361 975754) and Sai Sai Bar (Jalan Wanara Wana, Ubud, tel 011 62 361 976698, fax 011 62 361 974217) which are both open until midnight and also have live music.
But much more than just clubs and pubs, Bali also offers nighttime cultural activities. The Kecak Dance, or as Westerners call it, the Monkey Dance, is a spectacular show of Balinese art, performed at sunset. Men rhythmically slap their bodies and chant and shout while dancing in unison to the beat they create. It is about one hour long and tells the Hindu story of Rama, his abducted lover, Sita, and the evil King of Lanka. The Wayang Kulit is a puppet show most often performed late at night and can last until morning. Flat cutout figures are silhouetted against a white screen, backlit by a coconut lamp. These puppet shows retell religious mythological stories. Night Monkey Dances and puppet shows typically are considered entertainment, whereas day performances are strictly religious.
Bali — at heart a peaceful place, a tourist destination to its core — has unfortunately not always been immune to the politics of Indonesia as a whole. In October 2002, there was a terrorist bombing in the resort town of Kuta, and in October 2005, another two — one more in Kuta and one in Jimbaran. Needless to say, these two incidents have greatly affected tourism, and since October 2005 the island has been fairly quiet.
The people are coping in a variety of ways. Resorts have taken greater security and preventive measures; armed but very amiable and respectful guards ask guests for their room numbers while dogs sniff around vehicles entering the grounds. Vendors now more aggressively tout their goods than in the days of heavier tourism, and because there are fewer visitors, taxi drivers attempt to secure long-term driving arrangements with guests.
Amed, on the eastern side of the island, is a small town virtually unaffected by tourism. Snorkel along the coast, or dive near a Japanese shipwreck, or simply sit by the waterside and watch the dolphins play. Locals here are friendly and will talk with visitors without trying to sell them something, a rarity on the island. About 16 miles northeast of Denpasar is the town of Bedulu, famous for its proximity to Goa Gajah, (also known as Elephant Cave), an ancient Balinese worship site. The cave, carved into a rock face, dates to about the 11th century. The entrance of the cave is an intricately carved head and mouth of a mythical demon. Inside you will find a statue of Ganesha (elephant god) and phallic statues. Outside the cave are equally as ancient bathing pools, water flowing from spouts held by figures of six female nymphs. In nearby Ubud, spend a day shopping. More than just the usual handicraft shops, the streets are clean and manicured, and the stores are upscale. Not far from Ubud is Monkey Forest, where friendly monkeys roam around the pathways. It is also worth a visit to Lake Batur and Mount Batur volcano, currently dormant. The hike up the mountain is relatively easy. Tour guide companies, such as Nirwana Tours (tel 011 62 361 7403147), either will take visitors to see the view (breathtaking without the fog), or on an early morning hike to the top just in time for sunrise. There are many temples in Bali, but there are two that are quite unique. Besakeh temple — the mother temple in southeast Bali — dates to about the same time as Goa Gajah. It is immense, the largest temple in all of Indonesia. Pura Uluwatu temple, which is on the southern tip of Bali in Uluwatu, is a good place to watch the Monkey Dance. It is also the oldest temple in Bali. But be careful. Monkeys at Pura Uluwatu are not friendly. They have been known to snatch cameras, glasses (which they probably will break in half) and even long hair. Do not wear dangly jewelry or anything too flashy. A stick — just for show — usually scares them away. In order to enter the prayer grounds of any temple, visitors must wear a sarong. There are always some for rent when paying the entrance fee.
INFO TO GO
The major international airport is Ngurah Rai Airport (DPS), about nine miles from Denpasar in Southern Bali. Taxi transportation is the most convenient, but be sure the meter is running. From the airport it is best to pre-pay. If considering a rental car, note that driving is on the left-hand side. There are information desks in both terminals and several places to exchange money.The best rates are at the airport. Currency is the Indonesian rupee. For more information about the island, visit www.balitourismauthority.net/home.asp.
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