So you’ve packed your bags, your copy of ‘Eat, Pray Love’ is stowed away in your hand luggage and you are counting down the days until you land on the tropical paradise that is Bali. The movie version has certainly raised the profile of this large Indonesian Island amongst those of us this side of the world. For quite some time, the path to Bali has been well worn by the Aussies who utilise it as something akin to their Santa Ponsa. But does the reality really reflect what is portrayed in the film? Is it merely an idyllic haven for quiet contemplation and recharging the batteries or can you grab a Bintang beer while dancing your socks off to the latest tunes in a local club? Well luckily enough you can do both and plenty more. Here’s what Bali has to offer….
You’ve just landed in Denpasar, navigated the visa and passport check, forked out your US$35 for your visa on arrival, struggled through arrivals and out to the taxi stand, laden down by your heavy bag and confronted by the incredible wall of humidity. First port of call for most is Kuta, for some rehydration. This is definitely the party town on the island. It is densely populated with backpackers, holidaymakers and party goers. There are an abundance of bars, restaurants and clubs in Kuta, ranging from the locals on the beach with an esky full of beer, to Sky Garden, an exceptional roof top bar, which offers free drink and small bites for an hour in the evening, an excellent way of adhering to your strict backpacker budget.
However the shack style bars you’d associate with the island paradise are slowly being replaced by high-end cocktail bars with hostesses. This doesn’t apply solely to the nightlife. Expensive boutiques and modern shopping malls have surfaced, as has a very ‘Western’ way of life, practically killing the soul and essence of Bali in Kuta town. The beach remains the only place where you find yourself sheltered from the overwhelmingly modern structures. Lying on the sand, locals will pass by, offering anything from manicures to freshly cut pineapple, from surf lessons to a sing song watching the most spectacular of sunsets. In saying all that, you’ll still have a fantastic time soaking it all in.
Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali and where all those dreaming of the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ experience flock to. There has been a huge increase in tourist numbers owing to the book and at times it can become a tad busy, but a quick stroll through the surrounding rice fields will soon return you to the tranquil Ubud of old. Possibly one of the most popular attractions on the Indonesian island is the Monkey Forest Sanctuary. As you meander through the jungle, marvelling at the many temples in the dense undergrowth, you will be watched keenly by the cheeky macaques, hoping to relieve you of any treats they can. There are also plenty of museums and temples in this sanctum of spirituality to keep your attention for more than just a few hours. Ubud is very close to Kuta geographically, yet it’s a world away in every other sense.
Surfing and Scuba
Scuba diving can almost be regarded as a rite of passage when travelling Asia. Bali has a plethora of sensational diving spots, not least the wreckage of the USS Liberty, torpedoed by the Japanese in 1925. Sitting on the sea floor, 25 metres from the beach, it is perfect for all levels of divers. The wonderful thing about the wreck is that there is a myriad of sea life hidden in the many crevasses and you will always be treated to something new.
Bali is the first place in Asia that surfing really took off, and it’s not hard to fathom why. It’s no coincidence that surfers from around the world flock to these shores in search of great waves. They are practically everywhere! Surf lessons are offered all along the beaches, rental mopeds come with carriers for your board and it’s definitely the easiest way to forge a conversation with a local or one of your fellow tourists.
Ok, so I’m branching off slightly here, but having found yourself in that part of the world, it would be a travesty if you didn’t visit the Gili Islands. Accessible by ferry or fast boat, you are only a terrifying 2 hour journey from shore to shore. The seas are notoriously rough in these parts and boy do you feel each wave. Once arrived though, the near death experience is easily forgotten. The boat pulls up onto the beach of the largest of the three islands and you disembark down a ladder into the shallow, crystal clear water. You have reached Paradise. As there are no cars on the island, a number of horse and carts wait to convey you to your destination. The majority of accommodation and night life is centred around this area with the more lavish lodgings on the opposite side of this incredible islet, allegedly the smallest island in the world with an Irish pub.
There is a thriving social scene here and you’re sure to encounter the same people every night which gives it a very intimate feel. The night market in the main square is a treasure trove, with cheap, lip smackingly delicious native dishes. Whether you enjoy paddle boarding, snorkelling, bike rides or relaxation, it is all attainable here.
Bali and Gili certainly engages all the senses and tick all the boxes irrespective of the type of holiday you’re after. One thing I will guarantee, is that a trip to these special islands, is an experience worth its weight in gold.