Bali, Beyond beer and beaches

First time tourists

Many tourists first arrive in Bali with a bulging wallet of Rupiah and plans for 10 enjoyable days of shopping and relaxation on the beach of Kuta.  Countless end up overindulging in Bintang and sunshine, arriving home with a hangover and severe sunburn. Whilst others arrive home having enjoyed the sun on their face and sand in their toes, but with a thirst to see more.

Bali is not all beer and beaches. The scenery is different away from the hustle and bustle of Kuta. Where entire families ride together on one scooter, traffic is chaotic and the markets busy with tourists bartering for ‘special morning price’ on knock off sunglasses and ‘Gucci’ bags.

Bali’s popularity is huge, regarded by some as the ultimate holiday destination. Although it lacks in physical size (just 140km’s or 90 miles from East to West), this does not imply choices are limited.  It’s a wonderful place to explore and experience a unique culture alive with food, arts and spirituality.

Beyond Kuta

In Bali, beyond the beer and beaches, you will see why this island is famous for its beautiful landscape as you head away from Kuta’s commotion towards Ubud.  You will be surrounded by steep green hillsides and picturesque terraced rice paddies. You’ll find sacred temples within the grounds of lush tropical forests inhabited by monkeys.  Awaiting your visit are traditional villages producing intricate batik, superb silver jewellery, beautiful paintings and stone or wood carvings.  There are pristine lakes, fast flowing rivers and deep ravines.

Tropical flowers, fruits and coffee

The wide variety of tropical plants is surprising. From huge banyan trees in temple grounds, tamarind and clove trees in the north and mangroves in the south. To roadside plantations of coffee, banana, cacao, coconut palms, bamboo and fragrant spices.

We visited a coffee plantation with a difference. I’m sure most have heard of Luwak coffee, the most expensive coffee in the world and a very unique brew. The staff explained how the beans are roasted and ground.  After, we got to sample the coffee which is a prime choice of coffee around the world.  Whilst there, we also got to sample a variety of coffees and teas along with an explanation of the medicinal health benefits. Amongst the flavours tasted were Mangosteen Peel, Lemon, Ginger, Red Ginger and Lemon Grass teas and Bali, Ginseng, Vanilla, Coconut and Luwak coffees and Cocoa Spice and Bali Cocoas.

Bali has very fertile soils full of fruit, vegetable and flower gardens.   We saw frangipani, orchids, hibiscus, bougainvillea and water lilies used everywhere. They were used as decoration in temples, on statues, as offerings and worn by dancers.  We even had a waitress with a frangipani flower behind her ear.  Nothing evokes that tropical feeling more than their sweet scent and sheer beauty.  The freshly fallen blooms look sensational floating in a pool and the perfume from these flowers fills the air in Bali.

Balinese dance

No visit to Bali would be complete without seeing a Balinese dance, an ancient art form which narrates myths, legends and religious rites.

Barong is probably the most well known dance.  It is a story telling dance, narrating the eternal battle between good and evil. A classic example of acting out mythology, resulting in myth and history being blended into one reality.  The girl represents a servant of Rangda, a mythological monster and demon queen. Barong is the lion like creature, King of spirits, leader of good and enemy of Rangda.

Legong is famed for its angular movements and rhythms.  Balinese dancers dressed in elaborate costumes of gold, jewels and heavy makeup convey the character of the dance with very precise body movements. They carefully maneuver their feet, hands and head, shrugging shoulders, twisting hands, fingers and toes to narrate the legend.  But it’s the facial expressions, the stunning eyes in particular, that draw you in and narrate the myths, legends and religious rites.

Kecak and fire dance is the most unique dance. It is not accompanied by an orchestra or gamelan but a choir of seventy men wearing checked cloth.  Uluwatu Temple is a traditional place to see these performers as they utter “Ke-chak” repeatedly. Together they chant in trance while seated in a circular formation, moving their hands and arms, depicting a battle.

Spiritual rituals

The Balinese are very gentle, humble and spiritual people.  You will find small offering baskets that the Balinese offer to their Gods three times a day. It is a ritual of giving back what has been given to you by the Gods. A sharing based on gratitude to the richness of life. As you stumble upon these exquisite little offerings left all over the island, you learn these offerings are to bring prosperity and good health to the family.

The food in Bali is so fresh, made with simple ingredients, tasty and aromatic and always served with rice.

Rice

Rice is more than a staple food here, the rituals of the 3 monthly rice planting cycle through to harvesting enriches the culture. At the beginning of planting, through to harvesting, ceremonies are held and offerings presented in the little temples in the middle of the rice fields.  The water level in each section is perfect. Little streams of water flow effortlessly from the highest section on top of the hill to the bottom section, creating beautifully sculpted vistas.

Fishing

Fishing is a daily activity and the Balinese use Jukung for fishing and to make money by taking tourists offshore to reefs and neighbouring islands. The fishermen venture out in the evening, returning before sunrise to sell their catch at the local markets. These graceful, colourful traditional fishing boats line the beach in Kuta and fishing nets hang ready for the next days catch.

Bali Safari & Marine Park

We had a great time at the Bali Safari & Marine Park. We watched them turn poo into paper, saw the colourful Macaws, the sleek spotted leopard, rare white tigers, cuddled with Chloe the Orangutan, and visited the biggest baby in town. We also saw where the lion sleeps tonight, a creepy looking iguana and saw a tiger say argh!

Unique culture

Bali is a wonderful contradiction, alive with the manic whirl and commotion, calmed by the serene, spiritual tones. Once you get a feel for the atmosphere, the blend of traditional, peaceful and sacred with unconventional, chaotic, commercialism, it becomes a fascination.   Bali has an entirely unique culture, it’s a place to experience accommodation ranging from backpacker to luxury resorts, side by side.  A place you can enjoy a romantic seafood meal, while sitting on the beach watching the sunset. The cool atmosphere and caressing breeze make your dining experience truly memorable… along with the hundreds of other people sharing the same view on the beach!

For another perspective on Bali and a magical way to start the day, check out WanderlustChloe’s Mount Batur sunrise hike.

Have you been to Bali?  What does it mean to you?

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My first overseas holiday …

My first overseas holiday was, like so many from Perth, to Bali.  When I was at school I dreamt of going to Bali so learnt Bahasa for 2 years with the hope that once I left school, got a job, saved my hard earned money, I could go to Bali and mix with locals speaking their language.  Well it took another 20 years before I finally got there and all but the standard Selamat Pagi, terimah kasih, etc had left my memory banks. I got a few books and researched the areas.  Sanur, Kuta, Candi Dasa were all ruled out and I decided 14 days on Tuban, Ubud and Nusa Dua for my stay.  I did a little research on the culture, the ceremonies and of course the food.

Armed with my red cordial to ward off the dreaded Bali Belly I boarded the plane for my first ever flight.  4hrs later the plane landed after we were cleared by Customs, collected our case and made our way out to the crowd of taxi drivers, my first recollection was the incredible heat.

bali ubud street scene with people and rambutan

I was amazed how different the people were, so very humble and quietly spoken and nothing was too much for them.  Then there were the hawkers who were very determined to make a sale and bought some humour to our daily walks.  We did tours that took us to Gitgit Waterfall, a trip to Kintamani, Lake Bratan in Bedugal, the Silver works in Celuk, Monkey Forest, Barong Dance,  Ubud Market,  Ulundanu Temple at Lake Batur, Tampaksiring, Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah),  the woodcarvers of Mas Village, the Royal Family Temple (Taman Ayun), Botanical Garden, Fruit & Flower Markets at Candi Kunung, the beaches at Lovina, Batcaves (Goa Lawah), Tanah Lot, a night cruise with show and meal in Benoa Harbour and a trip in a traditional boat ride across to Turtle Island.

We went walking through the rice paddies, visited a local village and went to a family’s home where we were served afternoon tea while the children played traditional music for us.  We also spent a day at WaterbomPark.  The local food was amazing, incredibly fresh, mostly seafood, with spicy rice, freshly juiced tropical fruits, 1 litre carafes of cocktails, Bintang, even a French patisserie serving croissant and breakfast all we could eat, cooked on demand for $2.   Bali is a paradise island for those who want to experience relaxation on a grand scale.

Bali has it all, with its lush rice terraces, temples, rain forests, beautiful coast line, beach life, the great outdoors, culture, fabulous food and fun.  It’s a holiday destination for all the senses; this stunning place will make you want come back again and again.

Have you been to Bali? Does reading this post inspire you to want to visit?

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