Bali has earned itself a long string of appellations, including the “Morning of the World,” “Island of the Gods” and the “Last Paradise on Earth.” Although recent development has changed some of its natural beauty, most of the island still deserves those accolades. The island's lush landscape, the colorful Balinese Hindu festivals and the friendliness of the people lure vacationers here again and again.
Arriving at the airport, most tourists head straight for the beach areas of Kuta, Sanur, Jimbaran and Nusa Dua. The latter is an isolated tourist enclave with scores of hotels, shopping malls and, of course, miles of white sand. Nusa Dua draws tourists wanting a more mellow vacation, with all the am enities of star-rated accommodation. On the other hand, Kuta is touted for its spectacular sunsets, superb surf breaks and a vibrant nightlife. It is chockablock with shops, restaurants, pubs and discotheques, Kuta forms a center for the young to congregate and dance until dawn. Jimbaran Bay, another place to watch the sun go down, prides itself for its seafood-on-the-beach eateries. The waters here are much calmer than in Kuta and therefore safer for children. Those with tamer tastes normally prefer the mild surf and quiet evenings at Sanur Beach.
The capital city of Denpasar bustles with traffic and trade. Sightseers enjoy visiting the Pasar Badung (a traditional market currently under renovation), Pura Jagatnatha temple, the Bird Market and catching a glimpse of Balinese culture at Bali Provincial State Museum. Other destinations include: Taman Werdi Budaya Art Center and the College of Performing Arts. One can embark on a shopping expedition at Jalan Hasanuddin and Jalan Sulawesi, both lined with gold shops. The latter street also sells glorious textiles of all sorts. For clothes at rock-bottom prices, check out Ramayana or Matahari department stores or Tiara Dewata.
Moving north out of Denpasar, one passes through several craft villages, starting with Batubulan. Previously a trove for real antiques, Batubulan now features shop s that only take custom orders for good-quality reproductions. One can also witness the carving of tufa statues and watch numerous barong dances. The Bali Bird Park makes for an educational and colorful trip filled with tropical birds and komodo dragons.
Celuk, the next settlement, packs countless silver and gold retailers, such as Melati Art Shop and Puspa Mega. Sukawati sports the Pasar Seni Sukawati art market, the ideal spot for tracking down woodcarvings, textiles, paintings and other handicrafts at bargain prices. This town is also home to most of Bali's puppet masters, such as Wayan Nartha and Wayan Mardika. Traditional Balinese paintings prove popular in Batuan village, where artistry runs high and the ancient gambuh dance-drama is a specialty. Many visitors also come here to appreciate relief woodcarvings such as those seen at shops like Dewata. Mas, a woodcarving enclave farther up north, showcases woodcarver Ida Bagus Tilem at the Tilem Fine Art Gallery and mask carver Ida Bagus Anom, among many others.
Ubud, once a sleepy artists colony, has evolved into an upscale tourist resort. With performances every evening and at least three major museums there is plenty to see and do. Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women and Pura Taman Saraswati temple on Main Street are equally engaging.
An excursion to Pejeng outside Ubud reveals numerous antiquities, including the fascinating reliefs of Yeh Pulu and a scattering of quaint temples: Goa Gaja, Pura Penataran Sasih, Pura Kebo Edan, Pura Samuan Tiga, Pura Pusering Jagat and Pura Agung Batan Bingin.
Many roads lead up to Kintamani. When passing through Bangli, stop by and admire the Pura Kehen and the ancient banyan tree in its courtyard. Pura Ulun Danu Batur, one of Bali's most splendid temples, overlooks Mount Batur and affords a breathtaking view of Lake Batur.
East Bali: Mount Agung & the Environs
East of Ubud lies Klungkung Regency and Karangasem Regency. The market in Klungkung Town boasts some of the best textiles on the island and a few antique stores along the main road. Within Kerta Gosa, the pre-colonial hall of justice, murals fill the ceilings, depicting punishments that await wrongdoers.
Some of Bali's most remarkable terraced rice fields abound in Sidemen valley, Karangasem. The great Pura Besakih, perched on the slope of Mount Agung, offers yet more enchanting panoramas. Many travellers also visit ancient villages such as Tenganan P egringsingan, which carves a niche in the production of geringsing—the sacred double ikat cloth—and tightly woven baskets. Northward in the tiny fishing settlement of Amed, brightly colored fish dart around offshore.
In the less-developed Tabanan Regency, one can drive for kilometers and see nothing but paddy fields. Dramatic landscapes characterize Jatiluwih village, like the thriving coffee and vanilla cultivation in the lush mountainous area around Pura Batu Karu. Similarly cool due to its high elevation, the area around Lake Bratan incorporates several highlights—Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Bali Botanical Gardens. The temple projecting out into the sea at Tanah Lot makes a perfect spot for a sundowner. Pura Taman Ayun, a garden temple in Mengwi, presents another lovely spot to drop by.
North Bali lies beyond the mountain ranges, across a much drier region better known for its influx of Arab, Chinese and Dutch traders centuries ago. Singaraja, to illustrate, holds remnants of Dutch architecture, bearing witness to its colonial past. Farther westward is Lovina beach resort, where dolphins can be seen at sunrise. Pura Pulaki, one of the island's most sacred temples, is believed to be the first built by the great itinerant priest Danghyang Nirartha. Contrasting architecture can be seen on a visit to Pura Medawe Karang.
Menjangan Island, a 30-minute boat ride from Labuhan Lalang, supports some of Bali's best underwater life. It forms part of the 76,000 hectare West Bali National Park, which provides refuge to the rare Bali Starling.
Text by Rucina Ballinger Photo by Leonardo Wisnoe Marmanto and Neezam Abdul Rahim