Until my recent visit, the last time I came to Bali was 23 years ago and boy has it changed! Maybe the Eat, Pray, Love book and the film starring Julia Roberts are to blame. The South Eastern area of the island is where you’ll find the softest, whitest beaches…and the most tourists. This place buzzes night and day, so don’t come expecting solitude (except when you are enjoying massage and yoga at Bliss Sanctuary that is! – see my write-up of that gorgeous place right here).
That said, it is a beautiful island and once you are away from the resorts it is very possible to see how traditional the lifestyle still is. As you travel through villages you will see that every house has its own little temple, where offerings are placed daily. There are rice terraces, still being worked by hand by men and women in coolie hats.
The people here, or at least the ones I came across, are beautiful in every way – kind, gentle, spiritual. Bali is largely Hindu, unusual in Indonesia, where Islam is the norm.
I had come here to relax and be pampered, so I was not aiming to be ticking sights off a list, but I thought I’d share the things I did get out and do…
Seminyak – this big beach resort is jam packed with bars, restaurants, cafes and shops. It’s a great place to shop – and I don’t mean just tourist tat (although there’s plenty of that too if that’s what you want!). There are some fab little independent fashion and homeware boutiques selling divine designer buys and I scooped up some stunning photos of local people and landscapes from the Nacivet gallery (www.nacivet.com).
Temples – Oh come on…you can’t come to Bali without doing a bit of temple hopping. My choices were Tanah Lot, largely because it was an easy drive from Seminyak, where I was staying, but also because it provided so many perfect picture opportunities. I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t possible to enter the temple (and that it was so completely overrun with tourists – although guess I was just adding to them, eh?) but the location is undeniably incredible, perched on a rock in the sea. I came at sunset and, even on a cloudy day, managed to get a few good shots.
The second one I visited was the Tirta Empul Temple (aka Temple of the Holy Water) near Ubud. A sacred spring, said to have healing powers, flows here and you can see the source of the spring and bathe in the holy water. The whole changing/bathing/covering up thing is slightly complex – you need to cover your legs and your shoulders (you can borrow a sarong if you didn’t bring your own) but then you are wet and need to change, but the changing rooms are not really rooms at all, more a long corridor with pegs and lots of people, male and female milling around. My advice is to wear a bikini under a t-shirt and sarong, then bring a change of clothes that are easy to whip on over your bikini.
Ubud – The ‘spiritual heart’ of Bali has got much busier since my last visit but it still has a great hippie vibe and is also a good place for splashing your cash. The centre is stuffed full of art galleries, as well as craft shops. restaurants, cool cafés (including lots specialising in vegetarian and vegan cuisine), massage and yoga joints.
There are tiny hamlets on the outskirts of town, which specialise in particular crafts… silver, wood and stone carving, basket making, Batik and much more. Some now have proper showrooms and parking lots, others are simple workshops where you can see the craftspeople creating. There are organised tours available to many of them, but I’d recommend a driver (very reasonable prices) to whizz you around the ones you are most interested in. Some will try to take you to particular places because they are on commission to do so, so be firm about where you want to stop!
While I was in Ubud my driver offered to take me to the nearby Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Some of my fellow guests had been but I declined the offer of walking with the banana crazy cheeky monkeys (and apparently they really are!) .
There was so much I didn’t do on this trip – a great excuse to come back. Next time I’d like to explore some of the unspoilt beaches in the north of the island, climb a volcano and check out some of the palaces and museums in and around Ubud. Any other suggestions most welcome!