There's a song that I grew up with in Australia called 'I've been to Bali too'.
The lyrics, some that I remember to this day courtesy of over-play by my Dad, include:
“And you can't impress me, 'cause I've been to Bali too.”,
...which I've always understood to mean both that Bali is Australia's Ibiza, before there was an Ibiza, and that it's a beautiful place to visit.
From that I assumed that Bali's a bit of a double edged sword – beautiful, but everyone knows about it. The rest of Indonesia I thought of as exotic, varied and beautiful, a place of tropical jungles, temples, beaches and friendly people, but Bali was always the place, though tropically idyllic, that people went where they could potentially run into someone from their street, eat the same brand of meat pies they could buy at their local shop, and get ripped off by tourist trash in English spoken with an Australian accent.
I've been to Indonesia several times. But I haven't been to Bali too. But a lot of people have a lot of nice things to say about it on World Reviewer so I might be starting to regret not having a more open mind about the island, which WR Expert Bonnie Pelnar proclaims magical, saying “Words and pictures alone can't describe this beautiful little island in the middle of Indonesia.”.
So this is the trip I would now take if I was going to 'do' Bali in a week, including the classic things to do in Bali, the cultural highlights and a bit of diving or snorkelling, done off a beautiful tropical island beach.
Part of Bali's poor standing in my eyes comes from the fact that no one ever talks about how beautiful the interior is, just about how drunk they got on Kuta Beach - which also has an excellent reputation with surfers.
There are plenty of options when it comes to how much you'll need to pay for accommodation, from backpacker hostels to luxury resorts but the first places to stay seem to be Legian or Seminyak, which is also where all the good shopping is, and the Jimbaran Bay restaurant, which is one of the best on the island.
Go out in Kuta.
Go surfing off Keramas Beach.
Go shopping at Denpasar's Markets. And get it all out of your system.
Then head into the interior to see a more spiritual side of the island.
The Ulawatu Temple is one of the places I wish I'd been. It sounds fantastic, perched on a 250 foot cliff overlooking the ocean, which it's supposed to protect the island from, and part colonised by a bunch of spirited monkeys. The Temple of Pura Besakih, with it's ancient and impressive pagoda structure, is Bali's most popular; and the Ulun Danu Temple on a tiny island in Lake Bratan below Mount Beretan also sounds interesting and beautiful.
If you want to break up your stay you might also want to consider staying in Ubud, which is set up as a cultural centre and is a good place to see some traditional Balinese dancing, batik printing and other traditional arts. Ubud is also a good place to try out a Balinese spa, and to wander the rice terraces, which will have you running out of words for the colour green, visiting ancient sanctuaries like Yeh Pulu, where there's a relief that was carved into this sheer rock face in the 14th Century, and Goa Gajah – 'The Elephant Cave'. The mistiest, most beautifully photographed rice terraces are those of Jatiluwih and around the temple of Pura Luhur Batukaru.
Pemuteran, Nusa Lembongan and the Gili Islands – Gili Trawangan being the most popular – are great for divers and snorkellers, so most Bali itineraries include a few nights in one, or several, of these spots.
Pemuteran's diving and snorkelling is mostly centred around Napoleon reef which is just off shore. At its shallowest it's five metres below the surface, but it slopes down to 30 metres under, so there's an excellent range of marine habitats, and marine life to inhabit it, including pygmy seahorses, spider crabs, porcupinefish and fields of clasping flower corals. Pemuteran is on the northern coast of Bali, west of Singaraja.
The island of Nusa Lembongan is reached by ferry from Benoa Harbour – it's only a half an hour trip. The water here is like glass, which attracted divers and snorkellers, who were followed by the tropical island resort construction crews. Surfers uncovered some watery entertainment of their own just off shore, in the breaks of Playgrounds, Shipwrecks and Lacerations. Some of the island's best snorkelling is off Crystal Bay. Jungutbatu Beach is one of the largest beaches on the Nusa Lembongan, and has some of the best accommodation, overlooking some of Bali's best views.
The three Gili Islands are Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Just off the coast of Lombok, these islands are dotted with small resorts, which are usually nothing more than a restaurant with a collection of huts around it – this is a place to come for peace and quiet. Cars aren't allowed on the islands so most people get around on bikes – or even horse drawn carriages; but while these islands started off as backpacker havens they've come to offer a bit more luxury – especially Gili Trawangan – as well as excellent conditions for divers and snorkellers. Divers and snorkellers come for the large numbers of sea creatures – some of which are pretty exotic, parrot fish, manta rays and green and hawksbill turtles for example. It's possible to snorkel right off the beach in some places but the currents can be quite strong so get used to the idea of 'drifting'.
Many people recommend hiring a driver in Bali instead of just hiring a car, so it's an option to consider if you prefer to travel independently and want to travel all over the island rather than stay in the main centres. One of the main problems reported by people who drive themselves are the difficult to decipher road signs, but some websites say there are still security risks for western travellers. Which reminds me that there's one more thing that I'd probably make an effort to see on a visit to Bali: the Memorial for the Bali Bombings. 'Cause Bali isn't quite the same as it was in the 80s when the song was written.
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There's more to Indonesia than beautiful beaches, watersports and colourful markets, there's also lush jungles blooming with wildlife and rich ancient