Don’t talk about Heaven if you’ve never been to Bali
Nope, I didn’t make that quote up. Indonesian syfy writer Toba Beta said so himself. Corny as it may be, I fully agree.
So this year I decided I wanted to be more adventurous than in past years, so I planned an impromptu trip to Bali with some close friends. That is one of the luxuries of living in Singapore – close proximity to so many beautiful islands and countries, and flights are relatively cheap especially if you fly budget. Now that I’ve returned from Bali with an uneven tan and a renewed vigor for travel, I’ve decided I want to talk a bit about this gorgeous island and some of the things it has to offer, so let’s dive into it.
The first thing that comes to mind when you think about Bali is the beach. It’s an island, it is impossible to avoid the beach. Now I would highly, highly recommend staying far, far away from Kuta Beach (it’s just way too crowded and populated with tourists) and checking out some of the quieter ones.
If you want to stay near the shopping/bars area, you can hang around Seminyak, which is sort of an upper scale Kuta and very family friendly, or you can take a trip to some of the lesser known ones such as Balangan beach in the southern part of Bali, or Perasi Beach in eastern Bali.
For the surfers, check out Padang Padang or Green Bowl (for the more advanced). All the same, you can be sure to expect beautiful sand and cerulean blue waters, as well as a breathtaking sunset.
One of the most famous Balinese dishes is Babi Guling, or roasted suckling pig. The best (arguably) suckling pig can be found in a restaurant called Babi Guling Ibu Oka. The restaurant is located in Ubud, Bali’s cultural hub, and serves a plate of rice topped with crispy suckling pig skin, grilled pork, and deep fried pork. Now I know it’s not very healthy, but you’re on holiday! Cut yourself some slack and hit the gym a little harder when you’re back home.
Another must-try dish is Balinese deep fried duck. Imagine crispy, imagine tender, imagine juicy and succulent. All the qualities a good duck dish should have. For the duck dishes, there are two restaurants that come to mind: Bebek Bengil and Bebek Tepi Sawah. The former specializes more in deep fried duck, and the latter does a mean smoked duck, also called Bebek Betutu. Both of these restaurants are in Ubud as well, which is not the easiest to get to, so hiring a driver would definitely help immensely with navigation.
Oh, before I forget… do you like coffee? I know I do. Bali is known for something called Kopi Luwak. The Luwak is an animal that many say resembles a cat – I myself think it looks much more like a mongoose. Here’s a picture of a Luwak for reference because why not, they’re actually cute little creatures.
Kopi Luwak is a type of coffee made from ground coffee beans ingested by the Luwak. Yep, you heard me. I had my reservations the first time I heard about it, but then I tried it, and man, was it the shit. Literally. Now I’m no coffee aficionado, but it tasted amazing. For those of you who aren’t up for Kopi Luwak, I highly recommend trying Balinese coconut coffee – regular coffee with coconut milk added in instead of usual milk/cream. The coconut milk really imparts a sweet creaminess and nuttiness that regular milk just doesn’t. Definitely something you don’t find elsewhere.
Balinese temples are at the top of the list when it comes to sightseeing in Bali.
The largest temple in Bali is Pura Besakih. To call it a temple would be inaccurate, as it is more a complex of 22 different temples grouped together, each serving a different purpose. Expect beautiful architecture, but also big tourist crowds. To avoid them, be sure to visit early in the morning (to avoid the sweltering heat too).
Another impressive temple worth visiting is Pura Tanah Lot. If you’ve seen a temple at the edge of a coast on postcards from Bali, this is probably the temple you’re looking at. Perfect to visit at sunset, and only accessible at low tide, Tanah Lot is extremely popular among those looking to indulge in their photography skills.
Pura Luhur, also known as Uluwatu Temple, is the opposite of Tanah Lot. This temple is perched atop sharp cliffs leading down to the Indian Ocean. People can enter the temple, but only Hindus may enter the inner temple. Again, the views are especially spectacular at sunset, which is also when the Kecak dance performance is held. Do take note that there are also a lot of monkeys at Pura Luhur, so be mindful of your belongings as they are quite daring and seem to like stealing sunglasses and other loose hanging items you may have on you.
One thing that is very important to remember is that these temples are religious grounds, and tourists should be very respectful and mindful of how they act and what they wear. Try to keep your arms and legs covered (a t-shirt and longer shorts will do), and if they provide you with a sari to wrap around your waist, do keep it on. Basically, practice basic courtesy towards the local culture.
#4. Outdoor activities
Bali, being an island, has plenty of outdoor activities for those seeking a more active holiday.
For those looking to stay in the sea, water sports are a sure bet. These can usually be found at any beach, and range from jet skiing to parasailing, from snorkelling to wakeboarding. Be mindful that the price will vary from activity to activity, but haggling is definitely possible. In fact, it is recommended. How hard you choose to haggle, however, that is up to you. Haggle or get ripped off, the choice is yours!
Another water sport that I got to try during my trip over the weekend is white water rafting. This is something I would definitely recommend for those of you who are looking to work your entire body while paddling, and not afraid to get wet or plastered in leaves and twigs (case in point: my raft sailed head first into a low hanging tree and got tangled; there were spiders the size of my palm, enough said). There are stretches of river that are so calm and serene, and the scenery is gorgeous. There are also plenty of small waterfalls that your guide will probably try to manoeuvre your raft under to get you wet. The entire experience is great fun as long as you don’t expect to stay dry and clean. Some tips: definitely bring a change of clothing (including underwear! This is important!), and do not wear shoes (flip flops are your best bet as your guide will probably tie them to the back of the raft).
Lastly, cycling. Have I mentioned how much I prefer the scenery of rice paddies to beaches and sand? Yep. I love the greenery, the sprawling rice terraces, the lush vegetation. All these are best experienced via cycling tours. On my first trip to Bali, my family and I cycled for half a day through small villages and rice paddy terraces in Ubud. Now it’s not just the scenery that makes cycling so fun. Sometimes the local village children will even join you for a short while on their bikes – they are adorable and so, so friendly. In fact, all the locals are! It is not rare for them to wave at you and shout “hello!” as you cycle past them. Of course, the tours aren’t all half a day long; there are also shorter cycling tours for those of you who are looking to fit it into a hectic schedule, or just aren’t that exercise-inclined. Lunch is usually also provided, and you’ll get to sample some amazing local food while enjoying beautiful scenery.
Bali is really one of my favourite islands to visit, and while it has become increasingly touristy, I find that it manages to retain its’ cultural integrity and soul. The Balinese are such a friendly people, it is so easy to make new friends there. Whether you’re a conservative traveller looking for something relaxing or someone seeking more adventure and adrenaline, there is always something to do in Bali.
Have you been to Bali? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!