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
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.
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 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 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.
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.