Category Archives: Bali

Bali Misconceptions

Bali misconceptions — there are a few. And a lot of them depend on where in the world you’re from and in which parts of the world you’ve travelled. The main one for Australians is that it’s a beachside destination full of bogans, chavs, trailer trash, etc. The main one for people coming from other parts of Asia is that public transport is going to be cheap and easy and therefore the best way to get around. The other that has been bandied about on twitter and the internets is that internet access in Bali is poor. So it’s time to clean some of this rubbish up.

Bali is a Bogan Haven

Bali: Kuta -- A great place for sun, sand and cheap booze -- It's not all like this
Bali: Kuta -- A great place for sun, sand and cheap booze -- It's not all like this

As with many myths, there’s an element of truth to this. And it’s usually confirmed by those that don’t extract themselves from the one bogan-centric place on the island — Kuta/Legian. Yes, there are plenty of bogans, chavs and trailer trash here, but they are having a great time drinking cheap beer, eating cheap meals and lounging by the beach or hotel. I say good on them. I actually enjoyed doing some of this for about 2 days as well. I saw hundreds of other backpackers partaking, despite claims of it being “unauthentic”. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but it is only one tiny spot on an island that takes 4hrs to cross so you do not have to be trapped by boganism for a minute longer than you can stand. Most people choose to go to Ubud to avoid bogans, but usually run into bus-loads of other foreign tourists and hordes of monkeys which they inevtiably whinge about too. Me, I love Ubud. But if this is still too touristy, head to other places like Amed, Pemuteran, Yeh Gangga, Munduk, the Bukit. Anywhere. In fact, Bali has so many places that are hardly touristed at all that calling Bali a bogan haven is rubbish.

Public Transport is ALWAYS the Best Way to Travel in Asia

Bali: Public transport is not always the best option
Bali: Public transport is not always the best option

Bzzt. Sorry filthy backpacker that did it tough in India for a year. The same doesn’t apply in Bali. Sure, it’s possible to get from the airport to Ubud by public transport, but it will probably take you 4 hours and about 4 or 5 buses. The price will be more than the price of hiring a motorbike for the day. If there are two of you, the price will be about the same as a rental car. Ubud to Amed? Sure, you can do it, but the costs are going to be running at about $5 each and will involve at least 3 buses, but probably more likely 4 or 5. Estimated time of travel, the better part of a day. Yes yes, it’s authentic, but it cost you more than me in my hire car, your luggage got wet on the roof, I’ve been snorkelling while you’ve been crammed in the bus and I don’t smell like you. So while public transport is definitely a viable option in Bali, it’s often quite inconvenient and you need to pick your battles. Forget the notion that it is always going to be cheaper than the alternatives. It only is for point-to-point travel or short journeys requiring few changes.

Internet in Bali is Crap

Bali: Trunyan -- 3G internet blazing along even in a tiny village across a lake inside a volcano crater -- GREAT internet!
Bali: Trunyan -- 3G internet blazing along even in a tiny village across a lake inside a volcano crater -- GREAT internet!

Oh dear. How this has been bandied about on the interwebs recently. Bali does not have poor internet access. Firstly, I’d like to put some context to the argument that internet in Bali is bad. Bali is located in a very poor country and local 6 day/wk wages are approximately $100 per month. This fact is indisputable as it is set by the Government, regency by regency as the minimum wage and most businesses in the tourist industry tend to stick to this. Some of the better resorts might increase this by 50% and provide free health insurance. Many of the cheaper joints will simply pay their staff what they can afford. Some as low as $30 per month. These people don’t need blazing fast internet, yet in larger towns, ADSL with speeds of 1mbit is readily available. This means that many cafes and guesthouses in tourist towns hook into an unlimited ADSL plan for about $90 per month in order to attact more business. Most of the time it is fast, but as with a lot of infrastructure in Bali, you have occasional blips. If you’re frequenting a place with lots of blips, find another place. I always found Roma Amor in Legian to have fast internet. Likewise Casa Luna in Ubud. Further afield where fewer tourists travel, this sort of free wifi situation dries up and I was left to rely on the mobile phone network. Well, I’m happy to report that in the vast majority of rural Bali — the places where many many poor people live — 3G broadband internet access works like a dream and is CHEAP. Occassionally I’d take a wrong turn and end up in a cloudy valley on a dirt road and my signal would drop to GPRS, but it was still internet and I could still make phone calls. In Yeh Gangga in the hotel I was in, internet was poor. No phone signal most of the time, but that could be rectified if I could be bothered to head up the road to the local mini mart. Plenty of free wifi in tourist towns and great 3G access everywhere else. So in the context of a 3rd world country, the statement that “internet in Bali is crap” is just…

As you can probably tell, I’m extremely sensitive to criticism — particularly of Bali. Happy to argue these points.  🙂

Transport in Bali

Bali Transport. It was a constant item of discussion with travellers I met across the island when I was driving around doing research for the Travelfish Bali guide. Many independent travellers in Southeast Asia become accustomed to utilising public buses and tourist shuttles to visit the must-see destinations within a country and expect the same transport arrangements to be in place in Indonesia and more particularly Bali.

Unfortunately for travellers, the paradigm in Bali is different because of the way transport infrastructure evolved which was based around the needs of the local people — connecting large towns and cities through transport hubs and servicing smaller towns out of these hubs. Many of the tourist towns in Bali were historically small villages and therefore were offshoots to the main hubs. To this day, they are serviced quite poorly by public transport when compared with other Asian countries — the alternatives are as follows:

Tourist Shuttles

Tourist shuttles are a mainstay of the tourist infrastructure in many Asian countries and Bali is only slightly different. The main tourist destinations are serviced by a number of companies, but the most popular is Perama which charges about 50,000 rupiah (US$5) between the main towns. The problem with tourist shuttles throughout Bali is that they only service the main tourist towns and skip what I would consider some of the best areas of the island.

Car and Driver

For more flexibility, many people choose to do day trips from the main tourist towns with a car and driver. Drivers line the main roads of the major tourist towns touting for business and most will jump at the opportunity to take you on a tour around the island on a day trip. The usual cost is around 400,000 rupiah (US$40) for a full day trip involving a long drive, but most will quote enormous prices and fierce negotiation is required. The big tip here is to have your own itinerary otherwise you might be taken to all sorts of tourist traps and shops where the driver gets commissions.

Bali: Miscellaneous Transport
Bali: Miscellaneous Transport

Ojek

Ojek is the term given to motorcycle taxis in Indonesia. In the main tourist areas, it’s easy to find ojeks on the side of the road and most of the time they will find you. They’re usually looking to transport customers short distances around town, but are happy to take people on full day trips which usually cost about 100,000 rupiah (US$10), dependent on distance. The problem with ojeks is that you get wet when it rains and carrying big backpacks is a bit of a pain. But they are perfect when traffic is a problem or you want to go somewhere without a lot of luggage.

Bali: Motorbike Transport
Bali: Motorbike Transport

Self-ride Motorbike

Many people in Asia choose to rent a motorbike and it’s possible to do the same in Bali. A licence is not necessary, but riding without one is illegal and bribing the police when you are pulled over is par for the course — the fee is 50,000 rupiah (US$5) after ruthless negotiation and threats to take you to jail. Motorbikes can be rented for anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 rupiah (US$2.50-$5) per day dependent on the length of the rental and the quality of the bike. It’s a great way to see the island, but it can be dangerous (as it can be throughout Asia) and some might want to stump up an extra few dollars to get a car instead.

Self-drive Car

My favourite way to travel Bali is with a hire car. It sounds like something that a grandma and granddad might do when visiting a place for a week away from home, but the cost of hiring a car in Bali is so low that it makes sense for budget travellers as well. You can get a Suzuki Jimny for 80,000 rupiah (US$8) per day or something better for the same price if you hire it for a month. It gives you the best freedom in Bali and shields you from the regular tropical downpours that tend to creep up on you while you’re out amongst the ricefields or up in the mountains. The freedom that a car provides is brilliant when visiting such places as Pemuteran (the best snorkelling in Bali) or Yeh Gangga — you can just hop in the car, rain hail or shine, and find food, visit off-the-beaten track places and experience parts of Bali that most don’t have the opportunity to experience.

So the moral of the story in Bali is that public transport is only for the patient. Use the shuttles for the major tourist towns and get a car or motorbike to get out and about. It enhances the experience to levels that most visitors don’t experience — absolutely fantastic!

My Favourite Bali Destinations

Earlier this year I started writing about the parts of Bali I loved and tried to start dispelling many of the myths that exist about this dreamy tropical holiday destination. It was a bit stupid really because it was only a couple of months before I was to travel to Bali to research and write the Bali travel guide for Travelfish.

I now have a much more comprehensive understanding of the parts of Bali that suit my style of travel — relaxed, slow-paced, comfortable. So the following places are based around those themes and generally represent the less-frequently travelled areas of the island. Bliss…

Amed

Bali: Amed bay with fishing boats
Bali: Amed bay with fishing boats

Amed is predominantly visited by European tourists in the months of June, July and August when accommodation options are extremely limited and much more expensive. Outside of this peak season, the place is virtually deserted and it’s a great place to come and relax by the beach, snorkel the many reefs and eat fresh fish. My view is that the experience here is enhanced with your own transport and some decent digs… Without these two things, the vibe can be totally different, so it’s worth a little extra effort.
http://www.travelfish.org/location/indonesia/bali/bali/amed

Pemuteran

Bali: Monkey in Pemuteran
Bali: Monkey in Pemuteran

Pemuteran is another one of those off-the-beaten-track destinations rarely visited by the majority of tourists in Bali. The main reason to visit is for the spectacular snorkelling on the reefs surrounding Menjangan Island offshore — I have never experienced anything like it before. The water here is crystal clear with visibility I reckon to be about 30m, the coral is vibrant and colourful, the fish are abundant and diverse and the drop-off is incredible. I was awe-struck when I saw that drop-off for the first time — I just floated there above it, looking down at the black abyss filled with schools of brightly-coloured tropical fish, mouth agape (there was a snorkel in it, of course it was agape). There’s a few other things to do in Pemuteran as well and contrary to Lonely Planet recommendations and the views of many Balinese I spoke to, it’s not an expensive destination. This is the place to come for reef-lovers.
http://www.travelfish.org/location/indonesia/bali/bali/pemuteran

Yeh Gangga

Bali: Yeh Gangga sunset with fisherman
Bali: Yeh Gangga sunset with fisherman

What a surprise this place was. I got this tip off a German traveller who had been coming here for years. It’s not really covered in the guide books I’ve read, so I visited expecting to stay a couple of nights. I spent a full week in the area and was surprised that such a beautiful place was so infrequently visited by tourists. Yeh Gangga is right on a sandy beach with a pounding surf about 10km east of Tanah Lot. It’s a place to come to see stunning sunsets, walk along the endless beach, observe daily ceremonies and visit surrounding villages which allow for more authentic Balinese experiences. Love.

Ubud

Bali: Ubud ricefield
Bali: Ubud ricefield

Ubud is well and truly on the tourist trail. Some would say it’s over-run with tourists and they’d be right. Down at the market it can feel like the set of a movie more than a traditional Asian market — souvenirs, cheap clothes, useless knick-knacks. But the market is the real deal if you visit at around 7am when the local people are going about their business. In fact, the whole town feels a lot more peaceful when walking around it while most other tourists are still asleep. Another way I’ve found peace in Ubud is to find accommodation in smaller laneways where it can sometimes feel like you’re living in part of  a village, which in some respects you are. Ubud is a place to visit for observing dancing, painting, ricefields, great cafes, yoga and a vibe that soothes the soul. I love it. I always have.

Many other places in Bali are impressive and certainly worth a visit and I’ll try and cover some of those in subsequent Bali musings.

Bali Travel Writing – Seven Weeks In

I’ve been in Bali now for over seven weeks writing the travel guide for travelfish.org. The information is now online which is really quite quick for destination information that has been solidly researched! Many paperback travel guides can be 6-12 months out of date by the time you purchase the latest version, so this really is impressive stuff.

I’ve been wanting to write about my experience as the researcher of a travel guide…but I just can’t figure out what angle to take…and what would be interesting to a reader. So for now, I’ll leave that story until another time but I’d like to know what you want to know about — if anything!

Bali: Sad Monkey
Bali: Sad Monkey

Bali really is an interesting place. Most people know that the Kuta/Legian area is mass-tourism-central and for that reason, most people talk about avoiding it like the plague. But that story isn’t backed up by the facts. The fact is that there are a lot of budget travellers in town. A LOT. I mean, OVER RUN. So I’m sort of getting the impression that while it’s cool to say that Kuta is a terrible place, most people stay here for a few days or a week anyway and take in the sun, sand and surf as well as cheap beer and food. It’s a winning combination despite the throngs that partake in it!

Outside of Kuta/Legian, things have been decidely quiet. The entire North feels comparitively deserted and it is absolute bliss. Places like Amed and Pemuteran have been amazing places to hang around and relax. Yeh Gangga on the south coast felt like a million miles from civilisation. Tirta Gangga felt special because no other tourists were staying around there. Kuta/Legian feels like a different planet. It really does. And I don’t hate it. It’s just different.

Bali: Yeh Gangga Ceremony
Bali: Yeh Gangga Ceremony

There has been a bit of debate on the interwebs in recent times about internet access in Bali and how awful it is. Quite frankly, it’s all rubbish. I have had very cheap 3G internet the whole time here except for a black spot in Yeh Gangga. The rest of the time I’ve been getting better coverage than in many parts of Australia and the cost has been $11 for 300mb. That’s a bargain for mobile data on a phone. It gets even cheaper if you go into the Simpati shop and get a proper 3G broadband deal. Free WiFi has been rare outside of Kuta/Legian, but the guesthouses and cafes are generally so cheap that to get free WiFi would be a fantastic bonus. When I have gotten free WiFi, the connection has usually been 1mbit, but has sometimes been 4mbit. That’s pretty good, I reckon.

Bali: Yeh Gangga Sunset
Bali: Yeh Gangga Sunset

Costs have been like this so far. Average accommodation price for me has been 150,000 rupiah ($16.50) inclusive of tax and breakfast. This has usually gotten me a good quality room and occasionally with hot water and very rarely with air-con. I hired a car for 40 days earlier and that cost $9 per day. Petrol is dirt cheap and not even worth explaining in detail, but just say it’s 50c/L and you don’t use much here. I’ve tried to eat one local meal per day and those have cost me $1.50 with a drink. Occasionally $3 if I go overboard and load up on meat. Tourist meals have been around the $6 mark which will normally gets me a pizza or burger or some other Western rubbish that I can’t do without. A big bottle of beer is $2.50.

I honestly thought loneliness was going to be a problem, but it hasn’t been. I have been so well-connected to the internet via my iPhone that it really doesn’t feel that different to being at home. Twitter, facebook and the web have been great companions, no matter how nerdy and socially isolationist that sounds!

Bali: Lovina Sunset
Bali: Lovina Sunset

All in all, it’s been a great time, relatively cheap and I have not been slumming it. I’ll try and get some inspiration up to write about my travel writing gig. In the meantime, ask as many questions as you like!

Travel Writing in Bali!

A little while back I started writing some Bali travel posts documenting my love for Bali and some of the things that I’ve enjoyed doing there. Since I started that process, I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to actually formalise some of my knowledge of Bali by conducting research and writing reviews on behalf of the fabulous company, Travelfish. Travelfish specialise in South East Asia travel guides, primarily in the online world via their website and iphone apps. They have recently expanded their coverage into Indonesia and I will be the writer for the Bali portion.

So I thought this would be a good opportunity to document my experiences travelling around majestic Bali and I’ll therefore be posting some articles about this.

The plan is to spend between 8 and 10 weeks completing this task. I intend to rent a car for most of the time in order to make transport between destinations speedy, but still affordable. I’ve already been through East Bali and I intend to complete a loop of the island before heading inland.

People have constantly been telling me how this is a dream job – and in many ways it is. But I have to keep reminding people that it’s not like some kind of paid holiday. I’ll actually be working the entire time, earning travel writer’s wages and living a fairly isolated existence! But yes, I do feel fortunate to have been given this opportunity, I am passionate about travel and therefore this fits into my general philosophy of pursuing my passions – I plan to make the most of it.

Bali Travel: Ubud

This is Part 3 of my Bali Travel Overview which started here and was continued here.

I’ve generally encountered two types of people that enjoy Bali. The beach types and the culture types. The beach types predominantly hang out in the South (Kuta, Legian Seminyak and the Bukit) and the culture junkies in the centre – the centre being Ubud. So what does “culture” exactly mean? Well, it’s a catchall for seeing dancing, galleries, doing yoga, eating great food, staying in plush accommodation and wandering through the ricefields. If you like this stuff, you’ll love Ubud because it has it in spades.

On the cultural front, just about everyone visits a traditional dance in one of the main styles: Legong, Barong, Kecak etc. Although in the centre of Ubud these are put on purely for tourists, they still honour the traditional methods and in some cases offer a better experience than what you find in local villages. The main reason being that it costs a lot of money to have a hire a gamelan and train a bunch of dancers to the level that are on display in the centre of town. The other main cultural activity that people partake in is visiting local artists’ galleries and the woodcarving village of Mas or the stonemasons’ village of Batubulan.

Bali: Dancer
Bali: Dancer

Another favourite of visitors to Ubud is visiting a spa. Now for the blokes, this might seem a little girly, but it’s actually a pleasure to roll up and have a massage for an hour or two. Some places charge western prices and some are as cheap as USD$5 for an hour massage. You generally get what you pay for, but at the cheaper end competition is so fierce that with a little shopping around you can get a top massage in clean surrounds for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home.

Accommodation in Ubud ranges from a bare room with cold shower to hotels that rank among the best in the world. Most of the best accommodation options are located so far out of town that you have to use the hotel shuttle to get anywhere and are really only practical for those wanting seclusion. In the centre of town there are any number of cheaper options with common prices being around the USD$15/night and USD$40/night marks. Cheaper than this and you’re likely to get something not very nice.

Bali: Plush Accommodation
Bali: Plush Accommodation

For foodies, Ubud has all that you could ask for. World-class dining, great coffee, locally run eateries (rumah makan/warung) and even an organic food market. Most of the top-quality dining is found at the many top-end hotels around town such as Uma Ubud and the Viceroy. But there are also restaurants such as Lamak and Mozaic that are independently run and offer world-class food. The cafe scene in Ubud is also quite developed with Tutmak and Kakiang Bakery serving the best coffee and some good food too! On the local front, everyone visits Ibu Oka for a plate of pig ($3). But there are a bunch of other places that do good local food too like Warung Mendez (mainly for the goat) and Warung Mina. For the health nuts, you cannot go past Kafe or Bali Buddha for a vast menu featuring fresh local produce.

Bali: Lunch at Uma Ubud
Bali: Lunch at Uma Ubud

The one thing that I find most people don’t do when visiting Ubud is walk. Yeah, people might walk around the big loop that is Monkey Forest Road and Jalan Hanoman, but people rarely get beyond that. But beyond that loop are the endless surrounding ricefields. The Lonely Planet guide has a bunch of walks around the local area and they are generally very good and not too difficult to accomplish despite the oppressive heat. Just take a hat and some water and all is OK. The tranquillity just a 10 minute walk in any direction around Ubud is phenomenal and should not be missed!

Bali: Endless Ricefields
Bali: Endless Ricefields

Visted Ubud? How was your experience? Want to visit Ubud? What do you look forward to most?

Bali Travel: Kuta, Legian & Seminyak

This is Part 2 of my Bali Travel Overview which started here.

For some people, these villages situated along a large stretch of beach in the South of the island represent everything that Bali has to offer. The beach, cheap food, cheap accommodation and most importantly, cheap booze. These elements combine to give Kuta, Legian and Seminyak a distinct party feel.

Kuta

Kuta is the cheaper end of town and consequently has a grungy edge – alleyways with cheap eateries home to local surfer culture, big bars home to Australian football teams on a mid-season break and innumerable shops catering to those shopping on a budget. Large numbers of families visit Kuta on the cheap and there is plenty of accommodation to cater specifically for this demographic. Large sprawling hotels with nice swimming pools, kids’ activities and a bar for Mum and Dad. Catering to the surfer/backpacker market, guesthouses are located in the vast maze of alleyways bounded by Jalan Pantai Kuta (Kuta Beach Road) and Jalan Legian. All of these places are cheap and usually come with a breakfast of fruit and omelette/pancake.

Bali: Kuta Beach at Sunset
Bali: Kuta Beach at Sunset

Food choices in Kuta can be a bit of a disappointment given the opportunities that must abound for proprietors. Many menus look identical, trying to serve up every option imaginable, both Western and Asian. Sometimes these menus have several hundred items and one must wonder how any chef could do any of the dishes justice and how on Earth any of the food could be fresh! With that said, it’s worth putting some effort into finding places that serve more limited selections and sticking to those places that have good numbers of people in attendance.

Kuta itself does not have a whole lot to offer in terms of tourist activities. There is the beach and there is shopping. That’s about it. You might spot the odd cockfight in a side street, but you’d have to be lucky.

Legian

Bali: Family Style Hotel in Legian
Bali: Family Style Hotel in Legian

I view Legian as just an extension of Kuta. And in reality, it is. Most people don’t even know where Kuta ends and Legian starts because development merges the two into one big mass. With that said, the eating options tend to get a little better when entering Legian with some more cosidered operators serving up country-specific cuisines. You’ll also find some of the better local Indonesian foods in Legian – Warung Melati on Jalan 66 being just about the best I’ve ever had. Accommodation options tend to start increasing in price and quality as do the shops giving the area an ever-so-slightly more refined vibe.

Seminyak

Seminyak is the place you go if you like the beach, partying, hedonism and have a bit more money. Plenty of expats live here and life can be one big blur of parties, social engagements and living it up. So it goes without saying that this is where all the best hotels are located. Names such as the Oberoi, The Legian and a selection of some of the best villas in the world are all here. THE BEST. I mean it.

With the party scene so dominant in this area, there is of course a range of upmarket bars to be seen at, serving imaginative cocktails and mean beats. The atmosphere in some of these places can be intoxicating but for the uninitiated, intimidating. Without some measure of self-confidence, you will feel like everyone is just too cool for school.

Bali: Just a Taste of the Food Seminyak has to Offer
Bali: Just a Taste of the Food Seminyak has to Offer

Eating options in this area and further North in Kerobokan change frequently due to the cut throat nature of the business and the price of rent. There are some mainstays that never fail to serve up world-class fare at prices that are almost always less than what you would pay in the West – usually about half the price. If you’re in the Kuta, Legian, Seminyak area and you are a foodie, this is the lace to get world-class food at half the price you’d pay anywhere else. Bliss!

Again, the sights in Seminyak are few and far between. The beach and the bars – and maybe a massage. That’s not to say it isn’t a great place to relax, but tourist activities all lie further afield and will require some form of transport.

Summary

So why go to this area if there is nothing to see? Well, some people love the beach, eating and drinking. And if that is you, at least just for a few days, this is the place to go. Your budget will determine the area you stay in and the people you socialise with as is the case in the West. Just choose your place and go for gold. There is much fun to be had!

Bali Travel Overview

As a bit of a Bali tragic, I do my best to tell anyone and everyone about this fantastic island set amongst 17,000 others in the Indonesian Archipelago. The main reason being that here in Australia, Bali has a very poor image – one of boozy tourists with no shirts on, making fools of themselves whilst destroying the local culture. There is no denying that this is the case in very small parts of Bali. And for those that enjoy this sort of relaxation, good for them. For most others, it’s unappealing and also very avoidable on a trip to Bali. There is so much to say about Bali that I’ve never attempted a blog post before – it’s too big.  This time, I think I’ve got the perserverence to make it happen. So over the coming weeks, I’ll write a number of posts about the different areas of Bali, the food, the accommodation, the things to do. This should be fun.

Kuta, Legian & Seminyak

Bali: Fishing on Legian Beach
Bali: Fishing on Legian Beach

The main boozy shenanigans happens in Kuta and Legian. Move further up the beach to Seminyak and the booziness turns more expensive, hedonistic and snobby. If you’re into boozy nights, these are the places to head and there is fun to be had! But for me, it’s in small doses only.

Ubud

Bali: Ubud Ricefield
Bali: Ubud Ricefield

When people from around the world (aside from Australia) think of Bali, they think of an exotic island with phenomenal people, volcanoes, verdant rice fields and a unique and mysterious culture. Ubud is the place that has all of these elements come together in a tourist-friendly environment. Yes, Ubud is tourist-central, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It does the tourist “thing” so well that whilst you get all the tourist creature comforts like hot water, western toilets, clean rooms and unbelievable food, you get a sense that behind the tourist veneer there is a fully functioning Balinese village(s) in operation. And this is true. You will often see ceremonies in full swing with processions, dancing and an assortment of cultural things going on at all times of the year.

A short walk in any direction from the centre of Ubud lands you in the middle of seemingly endless ricefields. Sometimes green, sometimes flooded, sometimes mid-harvest.

The East

Bali: Tirtagangga Water Palace
Bali: Tirtagangga Water Palace

The East of Bali is visited predominantly by Europeans and hence is very seasonal in terms of visitor numbers. That is, outside of the European Summer, East Bali can seem dead. The main towns are Candi Dasa and Padang Bai although you could probably class Sidemen as part of this as well. Most people visit East Bali to be near the ocean and for a more authentic Balinese experience. The culture here is said to be more traditional than in other parts of the island, but that said, I only notice more poverty and perhaps this is what forces people to rely more heavily on their religion. Needless to say, the entire Eastern landscape is dominated by the 3000m+ (10,000ft) Gunung Agung. It is truly an awe inspiring site.

The North

Bali: Lush valley near Amed
Bali: Lush valley near Amed

The North generally stretches from Amed to Lovina (and further West for some) and is a  much drier part of the island than the South. Rice is much harder to grow here and you’ll therefore see other crops on the landscape such as corn (jagung) making for a totally different feel to the rest of the island. It can also be brutally hot in these parts adding to the more barren feel of the landscape.

Everywhere Else

Bali: View of South Bali from near Mt Batukaru
Bali: View of South Bali from near Mt Batukaru

The rest of the island, and I’m talking about a vast area, is relatively untouristed (Sanur excluded). It’s great to cruise around the empty roads on a motorbike (US$4/day) or car (US$10/day) and just explore. There are accommodation options in some of these areas catering to tourists and they generally offer a more relaxed and “authentic” experience, but this may be too much for a first time visitor that hasn’t seen the activity-dense hotspots of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak and Ubud.

So that’s a little taster of Bali for now. I cannot emphasise the extent to which most people are captured by this place. Words such as “magic”, “heaven” and “paradise” are thrown about with such regularity that we must ignore them – nothing could be this good. But it is.  The way I like to describe Bali is that I have a small pain in my stomach when I think back on all the fantastic experiences I have had there. A yearning to return again and again.