Bali has it all. Beaches for sun worshippers, surfing for adventurers, temples for culture fanatics, yoga for spiritual seekers and everything in between.
On arrival in Bali*, the air is hot and heavy with the scent of clove cigarettes and incense. Tourists wear tank tops, drink Bintang and cruise around on scooters. The unlucky ones display their scrapes and grazes from falling off on Bali’s busy roads. It’s tropical, exotic and a little intoxicating.
Kuta, the closest resort to the airport, is a tourist hub and attracts a young crowd with multi-level bars and cheap accommodation. The beachside city is bustling with activity but feels like the Indonesian version of a tacky Mediterranean resort. It’s impossible to walk down the street without vendors trying to sell fake designer goods or being approached by bar reps.
For those seeking a more upmarket experience, head to nearby Seminyak instead. The district has boutique hotels and the stylish Potato Head Beach Club, where guests arrive early to lounge by the infinity pool for sunset views, cocktails and electronic music. Another entertainment option is an authentic Balinese evening at Uluwatu to watch the Kecak Fire Dance. The cliff-top temple overlooks the ocean and the traditional ceremony takes place as the sun goes down. The captivating performance provides a glimpse into the Hindu religion and the history of Bali’s culture.
Island living and yoga culture
If thoughts of Bali conjure images of a remote paradise with clear waters and sandy beaches, then the Gili Islands are the place to go. Easily accessible from Kuta, the Gilis are an archipelago of three tiny islands where locals use horse and cart or bicycles to get around. The pace of life is slow and life on the mainland is quickly forgotten. Fresh fish can be sampled at the nightly markets on Gili Trawangan and drinks can be enjoyed in a tree house bar overlooking the beach. Divers flock to the islands to explore the underwater world within the warm waters, and yoga studios offer authentic Balinese teachings. Without wanting to sound cliché, the Gili Islands are a tropical paradise and a million worlds away from the frenetic resort of Kuta.
Back on mainland Bali, Ubud is the spiritual centre of the island, known for its yoga lifestyle. It was also made famous by the movie, Eat, Pray, Love with Julia Roberts. Apart from yoga, Ubud is home to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, a nature reserve and temple. The resident monkeys are regularly spotted scrambling across the town to steal food from hotel balconies, but are generally harmless. Despite their cheeky antics, the atmosphere in Ubud is serene with patios looking out across rice fields, pretty Hindu offerings scattered along the streets and friendly locals looking for opportunities to practice their English.
Indonesia may be tucked away in South East Asia, but is worth the travel for its culture and beauty. It’s been four years since I visited Bali and the Gili Islands but it still remains one of my favourite trips and is a part of the world I hope to explore again one day.
*Some information may be outdated – this trip to Bali was in 2012.