Endowed with a history of Hinduism within a country long dominated by Islamic rulers, Bali stands out as a starkly different place than the rest of Indonesia. Having fought off invaders from Java for hundreds of years, Bali only fell in the early years of the last century, when holdouts in South Bali fought to the death versus the highly lethal cannons of the Dutch in 1908.
With a fierce independent streak established in their past, the Hindu characteristics of Bali hold fast in the modern Indonesian Islamic state. This is one of the few places in this country where you’ll be able to find pork at the dinner table (indeed, one of Bali’s most famous dishes, is babi guling – suckling pig), and nightlife that is hard to find elsewhere throbs on in the famous nightspots of Kuta Beach.
While the island gets a reputation as a place overrun by tourists, there are many places on this large island where one can find their own strip of sand or mountaintop and feel at peace with the nature surrounding them. Those who crave tourism infrastructure will find themselves well catered for, as this island of four million people offers almost anything you’re missing from home, and has an overabundance of tour groups ready to show you the many highlights of this island, if you lack the gumption to do it on your own.
Whatever you seek, whether it is a rollicking ride through some of the liveliest nightlife in Southeast Asia, or a soul-affirming trek through the temples and jungles of the interior, or catching an epic wave on the many quality shore breaks surrounding this island, Bali stands ready to deliver the travel experience of a lifetime whether you’re enjoying nature or going for a cheap Bali massage. Let’s go over some of the highlights of this outstanding destination…
As far as Hindu temples go in Bali, you’ll be spoiled for choice at every turn, as the laws governing the island requires each settlement to have at least three temples – one for general worship (pura desa), one at the clean end of the village (pura puseh), and one at the unclean end (pura dalem). Every one of these temples has festivals surrounding them at different times of the year, meaning those wishing to experience the practice of Hinduism in motion will be in luck just about any time they visit throughout the year.
There are also larger temples at certain directional points on Bali, designed to protect the island from evil forces. Many of these directional temples are ones that are well known by travelers, such as the visually stunning Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. This temple is located in the central highlands of Bali, and is defined by its multi-tiered roof, and its proximity to a marvellously blue high altitude lake.
Another temple that you should make the effort to visit is Uluwatu Temple, perched atop a steep 70 metre high cliff on the Bukit Peninsula in the south of Bali. Be sure to visit at sunset for spectacular photo opportunities, but beware of thieving monkeys, as they will steal food and water from those caught unawares.
Tahah Lot is a stunning sight for those who love coastal beauty. Another directional temple situated on a sea stack just offshore, it can be approached up to the base at low tide, making for an unforgettable sight!
Visitors who have an immense appreciation for the visual arts should make a beeline for the cultural hotspot of Ubud, located in the hills northeast of Kuta Beach. With the greenery and mountains surrounding this quaint town, it has attracted many artists from across Indonesia and around the world to live here, leading to an explosion of art galleries on offer along its main street. As well, the markets have many unique crafts for sale, so this place grants the chance to purchase something special for your loved ones back home!
The natural wealth that has been gifted to Bali by nature is simply astounding, with mountains, pristine beaches, thick jungles, and other treats just waiting to be discovered by the outdoor enthusiast.
Those looking to pick up a new sport should spend some serious time on the sands and in the swells of Kuta Beach, where excellent wave conditions year-round have made this island legendary in surfing circles. This has spawned an abundance of surf schools, where one can learn how to pop up on your board in the water and maintain your balance long enough to ride a breaker before tumbling head over heels into the warm water of the Indian Ocean.
Those looking to get physical with the green interior of Bali should head to Ubud. Here, numerous outfitters can slap you in a neoprene suit and send you out on a white-water raft to negotiate the many frothing rivers charging down to the ocean from the mountains above, or to tackle the canyons higher up through the adrenaline pumping sport of canyoning (abseiling, sliding, and riding rivers down canyons with no boat!) Afterwards, be sure to have the knots in your muscles kneaded out of you after your intense day in nature at one of the many spas in town.
Finally, if you enjoy roasting in toasty waters, surrounded by the sounds of the jungle and alone with your thoughts, visit Air Banjar in North Bali. With little/no crowds, exotic garden plants setting the mood, and carved stone mouths pouring blue/green sulfurous hot springs water over your aching body, you’ll be convinced that heaven is a place on Earth … and its name is Bali.