Bali is a favorite destination for tourists looking for exotic adventures, romantic getaways, or spiritual experiences. A recent survey in the Jakarta Post reported how it is now the most popular destination in South East Asia by a significant margin – this survey also revealed that almost 60 per cent of visitors have plans to return to the island. There is an incredible amount of choice available when it comes to things to do on the Bali, and there is something to suit every taste – here are just some of the options:
Exploring the Culture of Bali
Bali is sometimes referred to as the island of two thousand temples – it is also called the Island of Gods. Religious beliefs play a major role in the life of the people, and this is reflected in the local traditions and practices. A common reason for why tourists fall in love with the island is they find it to be a deeply spiritual place – the bestselling book Eat, Pray ,Love by Elizabeth Gilbert provided a wonderful glimpse of this in action. Even the way the local people design their homes is influenced by their spiritual beliefs.
There are signs of humans living on the island for at least 200,000 years. The Balinese are an ethnic group that is believed to have arrived in three waves from the nearby island of Java. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, the majority of the population on Bali (89 per cent) follows the Hindu religion. The local people have also developed their own unique forms of music, art, and architecture, and they are very proud of their traditions. One of the great joys of exploring the island is the chance to soak up this rich and vibrant culture. The town of Ubud is considered to be the cultural center of the island, and this is a good place to experience the local arts and traditions.
Language on Bali
The majority of people living on Bali are bilingual, and a large proportion of them can speak three languages. The most widely spoken language is Indonesian. There is also the Balinese language, and this could be described as the native tongue (used for everyday communication) for one quarter of the island’s population. Most of the locals who are involved in tourism can speak a reasonable amount of English – many of them would be considered fluent.
Visitors to Bali can get a much deeper understanding of the culture by learning at least a few Balinese phrases. There are also a number of schools on the island, such as Cinta Bahasa and the Indonesia Australia Language Foundation, which offer courses in the Indonesian language. Learning the language can also be a fun experience.
Festivals on Bali
One of the most interesting and fun things that visitors can go during their stay in Bali is to take part in a local festival. There are regular events throughout the year on the island with the most popular of these being:
- Nyepi Festival is the traditional New Year celebrations on the island and it is a festival of extremes – a day of hard partying followed by a day of spiritual pursuits. The date of this event changes each year on the western colander, but it is usually in March – it officially takes place on the dark moon of the spring equinox.
- Tawur Kesanga is the day before Nyepi, and this is when the locals will have processions and enjoy various type of entertainment – almost the whole island benefits from a carnival atmosphere at this time.
- The Galungan Festival is when the ancestral spirits revisit the island, and it is a time for relatives of the deceased to provide offerings and prayers. The exact date of this festival is based on the 210 day Balinese pawukon calendar, and in 2014 it will occur on Wednesday, May 31.
- Mekepung (buffalo races) is a fun event to mark the end of the rice growing season. The rehearsals, trials, and final of this event occur mostly in the Negara area between July and November each year.
- The Bali Spirit Festival is a new festival that combines yoga, dance, and music. It takes place in Ubud and in 2014 it will be taking place between Thursday, March 13 and Sunday, March 23.
Food on Bali
Traditional Balinese cuisine has benefited from many influences (Indonesian, Indian, and Chinese) but most of these dishes are unique to the island. Many of the restaurants that cater for foreign visitors offer menus containing mostly Indonesian and western food options, and this is a real shame because it means tourists canmiss out on the opportunity to taste some local culinary magic. It is worth making the effort to visit a traditional restaurant selling local dishes such as:
- Lawar a spicy dish containing minced meat, mixed vegetables, coconut, and an assortment of herbs.
- Tupat is served inside of a coconut leaf and is made up of rice, tofu, and vegetables covered in a hot and spicy peanut sauce.
- Tempe manis involves wafer thin soy bean fried in coconut oil.
- Bubuh Injin is a black pudding dish made from glutinous rice, coconut, and palm sugar syrup.
The best way for foreign visitors to learn more about the local cuisine would be to join a Balinese cooking class. These courses usually last half a day, and they will also involve a trip to a local market where students get to learn about local ingredients.
Places to Go on Bali
The island of Bali covers an area of just 5,780 square kilometers, and there are many places worth visiting including:
- Kuta is the most popular resort area on the island, and this is where the best nightlife and tourist facilities are to be found. Many of the top attractions on the island are in easy reach of Kuta, so it does make a good base from which to explore the rest of the island – it is only about 5km from Ngurah Rai(Denpasar) International Airport(DPS).
- Denpasar is the capital city of Bali, and there are plenty of interesting tourist attractions here including; the Bali Museum,Puru Agung Jagatnatha, and a beautiful park called Lapangan Puputan Margarana.
- There are some impressive waterfalls to be found in North Bali including; Git Git, Les Waterfall, and Sekumpul Waterfalls
- There are thousands of temples on Bali, but the most impressive of these has to be Tanah Lot. Other religious sites worth visiting would include: Besakih Temple, Ulun Danu Temple,Pura Luhur Uluwatu, and Pura Kehen.
- Sanur is a beach resort area located to the south east of Denpasar. There is a sizeable population of retired expats, and this is a popular choice for families or those looking for a more relaxed beach atmosphere than Kuta.
- Ubud can be best described as the cultural heart of the island. This laid back town is packed with museums, art galleries, and music venues – there are also cooking, meditation, and yoga classes available here too.
- Lovina is the most popular beach resort area in North Bali. The local black sand beaches offer a great place to relax and there are plenty of nearby attractions including Git Git Waterfall, and Banjar hot spring.
- The fishing village at Padang Bai is where tourists will usually just go to catch a boat to nearby islands, but it is actually well worth spending a day or two here. The local black sand beaches offer a relaxing experience, and there is also a beautiful lagoon.
- Jimbaran tends to attract tourists looking for a bit of luxury – it is often referred to as the Beverly Hills of Bali. The local beach is pristine, and there is an excellent selection of restaurants nearby – the Jimbaran morning market is also worth checking out for visitors who enjoy seafood.
- Legian is located just north of Kuta, and this is the place to go for one of the best beach on the island as well as the best sunset.
Things to Do on Bali
Some of the most enjoyable activities on Bali would include:
- Cooking classes (see above) can be found in many locations on the island including Ubud, Kuta, Seminyak, and Nusa Dua.
- Enjoy the sunset in a sacred place such as Tanah Lot.
- Health spas and retreats will be a good choice for people who wish to recharge physically, mentally, or spiritually. The island is home to some world class health spas such as: Bali Goodness Retreats,Bali Botanic Day Spa, and Bagus Jati.
- Rent a motorcycle and go on a tour of Bali – it takes about 2 days to circumnavigate the island. This option is only recommended for people who are confident handling a motorbike because it is a very dangerous place for newbie riders.
- There are plenty of good snorkeling opportunities around the island.
- Exo Fly on Timbis Beach can provide paragliding lessons or equipment hire.
- White water rafting can be enjoyed with Sobeki on the Ayung River.
- Experience the beauty and mysticism of Balinese dance as part of a cultural show in Ubud. There are also regular kecak dance shows at Uluwatu temple close to Kuta.
- Spend the day at Waterbom Bali Waterpark and get to choose from 21 world class slides – great fun for adults as well as children.
- Visit Bali Safari and Marine Park and get to see over 50 species some of which are endangered. There is also a water park and a fun zone.
- Walk around the local area and admire some traditional Balinese Architecture – even the way the local people design their homes is greatly influenced by their spirituality.
- The Discovery Shopping Mall can be found on Kartika Plaza Street in Kuta, and it offers a good selection of shops and dining options.
Off the Beaten Track on Bali
Visitors who wish to try something a bit different from the usual tourist experience can choose one of the following:
- Bali rice field tours offer an excellent opportunity to witness another side of the island’s character – it can also mean getting up close to the famous rice terraces. There are now also a number of resorts located in these rural areas.
- Singarjain North Bali was once the capital, and it home to a large selection of colonial buildings and bizarre looking monuments. It is just 15km outside of Lovina, and it is worth visiting as part of a daytrip if you want to experience a non-touristy Balinese town.
- Hiking is one of the best ways to enjoy a unique perspective on the islands. Tourists who are feeling particularly adventurous may decide to hike a volcano such as Mount Agung or Mount Batur.
- Amed is a tranquil beach area in the north east of Bali, and it has become a favorite destination for romantic getaways. Up until recently, this area was only really known to scuba divers who came to dive the nearby wreck of the USS Liberty.
- Monkey Forest can be found close to Ubud. There is a jungle temple here, and it is also home to hundreds of monkeys.
- One of the best examples of a mangrove forest is to be found close to Nusa Lembongan.
Sports and Other Physical Activities on Bali
Bali has plenty of great options for people who enjoy exercising and outdoor activities such as:
- Bali is now one of the top destination in Asia for golf, and there are five professional standard courses on the island including; Nirwana Bali Golf Club, Bali Golf and Country Club, and Bali Handara Golf and Country Club.
- Kite surfing is one of the fastest growing water sports on the planet, and it can be enjoyed at a number of locations on the island including Sanur, Legian, and Nusa Dua.
- Some of the best surfing conditions in South East Asia can be found in South Bali including the Impossibles, *Padang Padang, and Uluwatu.
- The island also has an excellent reputation for scuba diving due to the local warm waters, high visibility, and interesting reefs and wrecks. There are many scuba diving schools to choose from so this can be a good location for people to do PADI beginner or advanced courses.
- Kayaking is available in a number of locations including the Ayung River.
How to Get Around Bali
If visitors hope to get the most out of their trip to Bali, it will be necessary for them to do a bit of travelling around. The best options for this will include:
- The most popular tourist bus service on Bali is provided by Perema Tours. They offer a shuttle bus/boat service going between all the main tourist areas including: Sanur, Kuta, Padang Bai, Amed, Candidasa, Ubud, Lovina, and Nusa Lembongan.
- It costs about 50,000 IDR (US $4.85) to rent a 100cc scooter and 75,000 IDR (US $7.20) for a 125cc motorbike (prices correct as of mid-2013). There is a high rate of road deaths on Bali involving motorcycles, and this has been attributed to; poor road conditions, high congestion, unskilled motorcyclists, low compliance with the rules of the road, and tourists riding while they are intoxicated.
- A bemo is a type of open air minibus that offers a cheap and reliable way to get around the island. Bemos follow particular routes, but they will stop anywhere along this route.
- It is relatively cheap to hire a taxi – especially if there are a few people to share the fare. The average costs on some of the most popular routes are: Ngurah Rai Airport to Kuta 50,000 IDR (US $5), Ngurah Rai Airport to Ubud 190,000 IDR (US $18), Ngurah Rai Airport to Candidasa 335,000 IDR (US $32), and Ngurah Rai Airport to Sanur 95,000 IDR (US $9)- all prices correct as of mid-2013.
- Infrequent cyclists will find that a bicycle will be a good option for short distances – experienced cyclists will be able to tour the island.