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There are varied reasons why people are drawn to the Indonesian island of Bali. Ever since Eat Pray Love released, every woman wants to follow the footsteps of Elizabeth Gilbert (both the author, and Julia Roberts as Gilbert) in her journey of self-discovery. Like it or not, you can’t go very far in Bali without finding references to the book and the movie, and make you wonder if there is a way to experience Bali in a different way.
Well, I am not really a movie buff, so I haven’t watched Eat Pray Love but I have read the book. So, in a way, while I had read about Bali, this was my first visit. Coupled with the fact that I had just finished reading a book about Mata Hari and her time in Java (fictional and otherwise), I really wanted to experience Indonesia firsthand. Though Bali is very different from the other Indonesian Islands, the tropical feel and cultural references were a big draw.
So, my husband and I set out to seek our share of enlightenment. Here is my recommendation for things you must tick off your list. If you’re headed to Bali for a short getaway, you won’t be able to do it all, so take your pick. *Note: The prices in the article are mentioned in Singapore Dollars for your convenience. They have been converted from IDR and are correct as of Nov’17.
1. Relax at the Islands and Beaches
Beaches and Beach Resorts! The biggest draw for those looking for a short getaway to Bali, from Singapore, and rightly so.
In Bali, there are a lot of sandy and rocky beaches. Choose the beach that catches your fancy, book yourself into a nice hotel or resort, indulge your love for surfing and water sports at a fraction of the price that you might pay in another corner of the world.
If you don’t really care much for adventure and sports, a stroll in the evening by the Jimbaran Bay comes with perks of food and beer. You can watch planes flying in to Ngura Rai International Airport and feel like a kid with no worries.
Take a trip to Nusa Lembongan off the coast from Sanur. We booked our transfer from the hotel to the island and back with Rocky Fast Cruise for S$67. A forty-minute ferry ride away from Sanur, as you approach the island, it is impossible not to be awed by the clarity of the sea water. Ride to the other side on a pickup truck and a boat will take you to the magnificent mangroves. A romantic escape, the beautiful trees on either side and the clear waters you ride through make it a surreal memory you will revisit frequently.
We also went on a tour in the glass-bottom boat and missed our kids dearly. The amazing variety of marine life we could actually see due to the crystal- clear waters is impressive, something kids would absolutely love. For both the Mangrove Tour and the Glass-Bottom Boat Tour, the prices are not very steep and you can easily cover both activities for S$80, including the return trip to the ferry in the pickup. So instead of going with a group, I suggest hiring a private boat, all to yourself.
When on Lembongan, make sure you have a meal at one of the cafés overlooking Dream Beach and ace the photo-op by the fascinating Devil’s Tear. Devil’s Tear is a rock formation jutting out into the sea and can be reached by walking for a few minutes north of Dream Beach, on the southwestern coast of Lembongan. The waves crashing into the side of the island give rise to water plumes several feet high that spray you with sea water. We stayed there for about an hour, would have stayed longer but for the risk of missing our ferry.
2. Visit the Temples and Attractions
Even if you don’t want to see many temples, Tanah Lot and Pura Lahur Uluwatu (popularly known as Uluwatu Temple) still make the cut. Not only for the historical, religious and cultural significance, but also because they are spectacular. With tales abounding about the temples that any taxi driver you choose to commute with will narrate with varying degrees of similarity, you don’t really need a guide (unless it is something you really want to do or are there for a month-long break).
Tanah Lot is not possible to reach after high tide sets in, and makes for a picture postcard place to take oodles of digital memories back.
Uluwatu Temple, in complete contrast, is perched atop a cliff and affords magnificent views of the ocean. What some might consider a nuisance, I thought was an applause worthy performance by monkeys. Every five minutes they would run off with sunglasses and bags with temple keepers in tow, trying to recover the goods through a series of entertaining antics.
The Ubud Palace, where the royal family resides was another attraction we saw. It was nice, yet we found it a bit underwhelming and humble for royalty. If you’re staying for more than a couple of days, the Goa Gajah caves might be more visit-worthy. Also known as the Elephant Caves, these are not just a popular tourist attraction, they are also an important archeological site in Bedulu village close to Ubud. The entrance is through the open mouth of a stone demon.
If you’re looking to get a peek into the local ways, an interesting place to visit might be the Penglipuran Village. The beautiful place in East Bali is known for its well-preserved heritage. There are well maintained gardens and a stone paved street runs through the centre of the village with arched entrance gates in front of houses. Walk through the village and maybe visit a household.
3. Pamper Yourself at the Spas
Balinese massage is renowned the world over and being in Bali is definitely a good enough excuse to relax with a good massage. I know you already knew this. So, I’ll tell you a couple of great places to get that much needed pampering.
Amo Spa is tucked in on the side of a busy street and once you enter, it opens up into a much wider space. The old-world charm of the place with beautiful chandeliers is perfect for relaxing. While waiting for the massage to begin, I was pleasantly surprised that there was an in-house cafe where I could order a chilled bottle of Bintang with peanuts. We chose a 90-minute Foot Massage for around S$23. On the way-out, you can browse through the handbags and knick knacks on offer.
For our second session of pampering, we decided to indulge at the L’OCCITANE Mango Tree Spa with a 60-minute couple’s Balinese Massage for approx S$ 120 per person. The interiors of the bamboo treehouse are painted a dull gold, and the mango tree spa room is just the place to unwind. The sound of the river flowing by and the massage itself made for a rejuvenating experience. Highly recommended.
Amo Spa: Jalan Petitenget 100x, Seminyak , Kuta , Bali – Indonesia 80361. P: +62 361 473 7943
Kupu Kupu Barong Villas & Tree Spa by L’Occitane: Jl. Kedewatan, Ubud 80571, Bali, Indonesia. P: (62) 361-3701033/975478
4. Shop Till You Drop
Don’t expect to find malls here and you won’t be disappointed. At one of the coffee plantations in Pecatu, pick up cocoa powder or Kopi Luwak for back home and also as gifts. On the way to Ubud, make a stop at Celuk to see how silver jewellery is made by hand. We stopped at UC Silver which had a huge showroom with a tempting array of silver jewellery and articles. At Gianyar, see how Batik is made and shop for some too.
In Ubud, paintings are the top-buy. Contemporary, traditional and everything in between, there is a huge variety and you will be spoilt for choice. Ubud is supposedly the cultural hub of Bali, and I thought the paintings and artwork alone justify that. As you cross Pasar Ubud, you might find yourself intrigued by the colourful bottle openers which are in fact wooden phalluses of varying sizes. Don’t be alarmed, you haven’t veered off into a shady region but phalluses have a deeper religious significance in the area.
UC Silver: Jalan Raya Batubulan, Gg. Candrametu No. 2, Batubulan, Gianyar, Bali 80582 – Indonesia. P: +62.361.461511 / +62.361.461800
Batik Factories: Jalan Gianyar, Indonesia
5. Take in the Island’s Natural Beauty
There is so much natural beauty in Bali that even the tiny island seems quite huge when you wish to explore all its facets. The terraced rice fields that you see pretty much everywhere, make for delightful scenery. If you want to sit and enjoy the views, stop at a café next to a paddy field and indulge in lunch and some rice wine.
The Kintamani area is in the central highlands of Bali consisting of three villages. If you are visiting the rice fields in central Bali, the Kintamani volcano or Mount Batur is a must visit spectacular place that is known the world over for its unparalleled views at sun rise. Although you have to start the trek really early in the morning to make it in time, it is absolutely worth it.
6. Enjoy a Cultural Performace
You haven’t really seen the soul of Bali till you have seen the Barong dance. A dance that tells a traditional story, it is a fierce performance revolving around a fight between good and evil. The dancers act out mythology, which is a surreal mix of myth and history. The impressive masks and costumes that the dancers wear are a part of the experience and are considered sacred. Many hotels and resorts arrange for you to visit one of the places where a performance is scheduled. Alternatively, there are other performances/dances you can enjoy such as the Fire Dance.
7. The Food & Drinks
Outstanding! I’m not entirely sure why Balinese food is not more famous. It is about as vibrant as the people, the flora and fauna, the costumes and the culture. Full of flavour, piquant and colourful – what’s not to love? Our dinner at Merah Putih, a Tasting Menu, was heavenly. While lunch at Made’s Warung was good, the desserts at Made Manis were absolutely fantastic. To try the world’s most expensive coffe – Kopi Luwak – head to Bukit Sari Pecatu Agrotourism enroute to Uluwatu Temple.
Among our most memorable time in Bali was the evening we spent at El Kabron where we were serenaded by a welcome glass of Moët & Chandon, followed by delicacies we could not find a fault with.
The legendary Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak, with its eclectic decor and relaxed ambience houses Kaum, where we had authentic Indonesian cuisine inspired by tribal cooking. A wonderful and indulgent meal, it was finished with a sinful chocolate dessert. Our Bird’s Nest breakfast at Kupu Kupu Barong – which is counted among the Top 50 World’s Most Amazing Restaurants With Spectacular Views and 32 Restaurants with Spectacular Views was the highlight of our trip. For a detailed review of food in Bali, read here.
With so much to offer, Bali is a complete holiday destination which you can visit many times over and still not experience it fully.