The word paradise is used a lot in Bali, and not without reason. The combination of friendly, hospitable people, a magnificently visual culture infused with spirituality and (not least) spectacular beaches with great surfing and diving have made Bali Indonesia's unparalleled number one tourist attraction. Eighty percent of international visitors to Indonesia visit Bali and Bali alone.
The popularity is not without its flip sides — once paradisical Kuta has degenerated into a congested warren of concrete, touts and scammers live on overcharging tourists, and the island's visibility has even drawn the unwanted attention of terrorists in 2002 and 2005 — but Bali has managed to retain its magic. Bali is a wonderful destination with something for everyone, and though heavily traveled, it is still easy to find some peace and quiet if you like.
The first Hindus arrived on Bali as early as 100 BC, so it's easy to understand why the island has had some time to develop its own culture. Divided among a number of ruling rajas, occasionally batting off invaders from Java to the west and making forays to conquer Lombok to the east, the north island was finally captured by the Dutch in a series of brutal wars from 1846 to 1849. Southern Bali (Denpasar area) was not conquered until 1906 and eastern Bali (Klungkung) did not surrender until 1908. In both 1906 and 1908 many Balinese chose death over disgrace and fought en masse until the bitter end, often walking straight into Dutch cannons and gunfire. This "fight to the death" is known as puputan. Victory was bittersweet as the images of the puputan highly tarnished the Dutch in the international community. Perhaps to make up for this, the Dutch did not make the Balinese enter into a forced cultivation system as had in Java, and instead tried to promote Balinese culture through their policy of "Baliseering" or the "Balinization of Bali".
Bali joined the new republic of Indonesia in 1948. In 1965, after the failed 1965 coup d'etat, allegedly backed by the Communist Party (PKI), state-instigated, anti-communist violence spread across Indonesia. In Bali it has been said that the rivers ran red with the reprisal killings of suspected Communists — estimates of toll vary from 50,000 to 200,000. Most estimates say 80,000 - or 5-8% of the population at the time.
The current chapter in Bali's history began in the seventies when intrepid hippies and surfers discovered Bali's beaches and waves, and tourism soon became the biggest income earner. Despite the shocks of the terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005, the magical island continues to draw crowds and Bali's culture remains as spectacular as ever.
Unlike any other island in largely Muslim Indonesia, Bali is a pocket of Hindu religion and culture, although Balinese Hinduism is so far removed from the original Indian variety that the casual eye will be hard put to spot any similarities. Every aspect of Balinese life is suffused with religion, but the most visible signs are the tiny offerings (sesajen) of flowers, glutinous rice and salt in little bamboo leaf trays, found in every Balinese house, restaurant, souvenir stall and airport check-in desk. They are set out and sprinkled with holy water no less then three times a day, before every meal.
Balinese dance and music are also justly famous. As on Java, the gamelan orchestra and wayang kulit shadow puppet theater predominate. Dances include:
There are an estimated 20,000 temples (pura) on the island, each of which holds festivals (odalan) at least twice a year, meaning that there are always festivities going on. Funerals, called pitra yadnya, are another occasion of pomp and ceremony, when the deceased are ritually cremated in extravagantly colorful rituals.
There are some large festivals celebrated islandwide, but their dates are determined by two local calendars. The 210-day wuku or Pawukon calendar is completely out of sync with the Western calendar, meaning that it rotates wildly throughout the year.
The lunar saka (caka) calendar roughly follows the Western year.
Nyepi is a very special day to the Balinese as this is the day that they have to fool all evil spirits that no-one is actually on Bali - hence the need for silence. If this can be achieved, then it is believed that the evil spirits will go looking elsewhere for their prey and leave Bali island alone for another year. Balinese people are very religious and life is full of ritual - Nyepi is one of the most important days in their calendar. Police and security are on hand to make sure that everyone abides by this rule.
Nyepi also serves to remind the Balinese of the need for tolerance and understanding in their everyday life. In fact, Hinduism on Bali is unique because it is woven into and around the original Balinese animistic religion. The two now have become one for the Balinese - a true sign of tolerance and acceptance!
All national public holidays covered in Indonesia also apply, although Ramadan is naturally a much smaller event here than in the country's Muslim regions.
Bali is always warm, humid and tropical. The April-October dry season and November-March rainy seasons are only relative, with plenty of rainfall around the year, but the Balinese winter is cloudier, more humid and with a higher chance of thunderstorms.
A more important consideration is the tourist season, as Bali can get packed in July-August and again around Christmas and New Year's. Australians also visit during school holidays in early April, late June and late September, while Indonesians visit during national holidays. Outside these peaks, Bali can be surprisingly quiet and good discounts on accommodation are often available.
Electricity is supplied at 220V 50Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travelers should pack an adapter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Bali.
Balinese is linguistically distinct from Bahasa Indonesia, although the Indonesian lingua franca is spoken by practically everybody. In touristy regions English and some other foreign languages are widely spoken.
See also: Indonesian phrasebook
Most visitors will arrive at Denpasar's Ngurah Rai international airport: Tel.: (62)(361) 751011. You can fly to Denpasar from major cities in Indonesia (Jakarta, Surabaya, Makassar etc) or from major cities in Asia and Australia.
In the low-cost carriet set:
Note that if you are flying internationally out of Ngurah Rai, you are then subject to the airport tax (100,000 Rupiah as at Jan '06) which you would need to pay for in Rupiah so save some bills for the trip out. ATM machines are available at Airport Departure Lobby which accept Cirrus and Plus cards for withdrawals. The domestic tax is Rp. 30,000.
Some hotels organize transfer from the airport. Approximate price for getting from Ngurah Rai to Legian is 40 000 IDR
There are direct bus services to Bali from all major cities on Java as well as Lombok, which use the ferries to cross over. These are cheap and easy, but slow.
Bali's a fairly big island and you'll need a method to get around if you plan on exploring more than the hotel pool. The traffic is chaotic. There is a daily traffic jam in Denpasar, Kuta, and tourist centres in Bali. Driving is on the left side.
For different excursions around the island sometimes it is more reasonable to buy a trip at one of the street agencies (they are seen everywhere in special tents "Tourist information"). One of the most trustworthy is MBA.
Once you arrive at your destination be prepared for difficult walking conditions if you need to walk along streets. Sidewalks throughout Bali are simply the tops of sewers and only 2 ft wide, which makes for extremely uncomfortable single-file walking as heavy traffic screams past. Often the sidewalk is blocked with a motorbike or caved-in section, necessitating dangerous darting into traffic. The island's streets are simply not pedestrian-friendly.
Metered taxis are very common in southern Bali up to Denpasar but not available elsewhere. The starting fee is Rp 5,000 for the first two km and the meter ticks up Rp 5,000 per kilometer afterwards. Waiting time is Rp 20,000 per hour. Trips outside southern Bali will incur an extra charge of 30%, as the driver has to go back empty — if day-tripping, it's often cheaper and more convenient to arrange for your driver to wait and take you back.
You may also rent a car with a driver for half a day or for the whole day in order to travel around the island. You pay appr. Rp. 375 000 for the whole day and tell him what you want to see. The price is fixed and to be discussed before your trip. Do not pay until the end of the day.
Bemos, basically minivans which serve as a flexible bus service, are Bali's "traditional" form of transportation, but they have largely given way to metered taxis in the south. Fares on shared bemos can be very cheap, but drivers will often insist that foreign tourist charter the entire vehicle, in which case they'll usually ask for taxi prices or worse.
By car or motorbike
Car and motorbike rental is available, but may not be safe for drivers used to more formal traffic rules. Consider hiring a car and driver as you can relax, be safe, and not get lost. If you rent a vehicle, good bargaining skills should allow you to rent a car for about Rp. 80 - 120,000 per day, depending on the length of the rental and the type of car. Newer, large cars will cost more, but are of dubious value on Bali's narrow roads. Motorcycles, typically 125cc, some with automatic transmissions, rent for Rp. 30 - 35,000 per day. A proper-fitting helmet should be included, and its use is compulsory in Bali. Guide books state that Bali is no place to learn to ride a motorbike, and this is good advice. In areas outside of the tourist enclaves of south Bali, a motorbike is a wonderful way to see the island, but in south Bali, with its crush of traffic, the chances of an accident are greatly increased. An International Driving Permit is required for vehicle rental, with motorcycle endorsement if renting a motorbike. The IDP is seldom requested by the person renting you the vehicle, but will be required if stopped by the police. An IDP is easily available from motoring clubs in your home country (AAA in the United States provides them for $10) and it is valid for one year.
Travel by bicycle is quite possible, and provides a very different cultural experience to other means of transport. You should bring your own touring bike, or buy locally – there is at least one well stocked bike shop in Denpasar, but with a racing/mountain bike focus. While traffic conditions may appear challenging at first, you can acclimatise after a few days, especially once you escape the chaotic heavy traffic of southern Bali.
Bali's best-known attractions are its countless Hindu temples. Even the smallest villages usually have at least three, but the nine directional temples (kayangan jagat) are the largest and most important. Uluwatu, at the southern tip of Bali, is easily accessed and hence the most popular, with Tanah Lot a close second. However, for the Balinese themselves, the "mother temple" of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung is the most important of all.
Hot springs — There are several hot springs to be discovered in Bali. One of them, along the northern coast of the island, near Lovina, is Air Panjar where stone mouth carvings allow hot water to pass between pools which are set among a lush garden.
Spa — Bali is paradise for spa lovers and all sorts of treatments are widely available, but the Balinese lulur body scrub with herbs and spices — traditionally performed before a wedding ceremony — is particularly popular. Balinese massage is usually done with oil and involves long, Swedish-style strokes. In steep contrast to exorbitant Western massage fees, Balinese massage is an incredible value, and visitors should definitely avail themselves this luxury. In local salons, a one-hour full body massage will cost between Rp. 40 - 60,000, and the two-hour mandi lulur, which incorporates a body scrub and hydrating yoghurt body mask in adddition to the massage, will cost about Rp. 100,000. The curiously named creambath is a relaxing scalp and shoulder massage, usually lasting 45 minutes, in which a thick conditioning cream is worked through the hair and into the scalp. A creambath typically costs about Rp. 40,000. Note that these same services in an upscale hotel will cost many times more.
Bali has a huge variety of cafes and restaurants, serving both Indonesian and international food; see Indonesia for a menu reader. For better or worse, some American chains have established a presence here, although almost exclusively confined to the southern tourist areas. You'll see KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks Coffee. Interestingly, the menus are often highly adapted to the local tastes. The menu at Pizza Hut looks nothing like one you'll find in the U.S. Try the smaller local restaurants rather than touristy ones, the food is better — and cheaper. Be sure to try the ubiquitous Indonesian dishes nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles). These dishes should rarely cost more than Rp 25,000 (sometimes a bit more if you add chicken — ayam — or shrimp — udang), so their cost on a menu can be a good indicator of a restaurant's relative cost and value.
Some of the most authentic food can be found from roving vendors called kaki lima, which means "five legs." This comprises the three legs of the food cart and the vendor's own two legs. Go to the beaches of Seminyak at sunset and find steaming hot bakso, a delightful meatball and noodle soup, served up fresh for a very inexpensive Rp 5,000. You can season it yourself, but be forewarned: Indonesian spices can be ferociously hot. Go easy until you find your heat tolerance level!
Actual Balinese food, however, is comparatively rarely seen, and it has made few inroads in the rest of the country due to its emphasis on pork, which is anathema to the largely Muslim population in the rest of the country. Notable dishes include:
Not being Muslim, the Balinese have nothing against a drink and alcohol is widely available.
Indonesia's most popular beer Bintang is ubiquitous, but local brand Bali Hai is nearly as popular. Both are rather bland lagers, so if you want some taste in your beer look for the Bali-brewed microbrew Storm, available in several different flavors. Beer is, however, relatively expensive, though still cheap by Western standards: at Rp. 10,000 and up, a small bottle costs at least the same as a full meal in a “local” eatery. In tourist centres, happy hours are widely available before and after sunset, with regular bottles of beer going for Rp. 7,000 and the giant sizes for around Rp. 12,000.
Bali produces its own wines, with Hatten being the most popular brand, available in white, red, rose (most popular) and sparkling varieties. Quality can be inconsistent, but the red is usually OK and at least it's cheaper than imported wines, which can easily top Rp. 100,000 per bottle. Wine aficianados are better off bringing their own bottle in from Singapore or other countries from which they fly into Indonesia. Imported wines are readily available in Bali, but are very expensive relative to everything else. Nicer restaurants will let you bring your own bottle; some will charge a (very modest) corkage fee. Smaller establishments likely won't mind, but neither will they have a corkscrew!
Bali's traditional drinks are arak, a clear distilled spirit that packs a 40° punch, and brem, a fermented rice wine sold in gift shops in attractive clay bottles that are much nicer than the taste of the stuff inside.
Tap water on Bali is not drinkable, but bottled water is universally available and extremely inexpensive (Rp. 3000 or so per 1.5L bottle) and restaurants usually use purified water for cooking. "Filtered" water shops are also common, providing on-site treatment of the mains water to a potable standard. These shops are much cheaper than retail outlets, selling water for about Rp 5000 per 11-litre reusable container, and avoid the waste created by plastic bottles.
Very cheap (Rp. 10,000) are fresh juices or their mixes (it can be watermelon, melon, papaya, orange, lime, banana or any other possible juice). In Bali, avocado (alpukat) is used as a dessert fruit. Blended with sugar and ice — and sometimes chocolate — this is a beverage you can rarely get in any other locales!
Bali has, without a doubt, the best range of accommodation in Indonesia, from the $3-a-night losmens on Poppies Lane in Kuta to the $4,300-a-night residences at the Begawan Giri in Ubud. Backpackers tend to head for Kuta, which has the cheapest if also dingiest digs on the island, while many (but not all) five-star resorts are clustered in Nusa Dua. Seminyak, Sanur and Jimbaran offer a fairly happy compromise if you want beaches, nightlife and some quiet, while Ubud's hotels and resorts cater to those who prefer spas and cultural pursuits over surfing and booze. Legian is situated between Kuta and Seminyak and offers good accomodations. For rest and revitalization visit Amed, a peaceful fishing village on the East Coast with some good hotels and restaurants.
One accomodation option for which the island is becoming increasingly famous for is private villas complete with staff, although not every place sold as a "villa" actually fits the bill. Prices vary widely: some operators claim to go as low as $30/night, but realistically you'll be looking at upwards of $200/night for anything with a decent location and a pool, and at the top of range rents can easily go north of $1,000/night. Competition is fierce, but one of the island's oldest villa agencies is Elite Havens .
For long-term stays, it's worth considering long-term rentals, which can be as low as US$4,000/year including a driver. Western-run agencies include the Moran Fraser Group . Restaurants and bars frequented by Bali's sizeable expatriate community, particularly in Sanur and Ubud, are good places to find information about long-term rentals. Look for a bulletin board with properties' advertisements tacked up, or pick up a copy of the expat's local publication, The Bali Advertiser. It's not hard to find a nice house in the $350-450 range for a month's stay.
Bali has been the scene of lethal terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005, both waves of attacks targeting nightclubs and restaurants popular among foreign visitors. Security is consequently tight in obvious targets, but it is of course impossible to protect fully against terrorism. If it is any reassurance, the Balinese themselves — who depend on tourism for their livelihood — deplore the bombings and the terrorists behind them for the terrible suffering they have caused on this peaceful island. As a visitor, it is important to put the risk in perspective: the sad fact is that Bali's roads are, statistically, far more dangerous than even the deadliest bomb. It is still prudent to avoid high profile western hang-outs, especially those without security measures, and the paranoid or just security-conscious may wish to head out of the tourist enclaves of south Bali to elsewhere on the island.
Bali is increasingly enforcing Indonesia's harsh penalties against importation, exportation, trafficking and possession of illegal drugs, including marijuana, ecstasy and heroin. Several high profile arrests of Westerners have taken place in Bali since 2004, and a number have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms or execution. Even the possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use puts you at risk of a trial and prison sentence if searched. Watch out for seemingly harmless street vendors looking to sell you drugs (marijuana,cocaine, etc.). More often than not they are undercover police and will try to sell you drugs so that they can then get uniformed officers onto you and demand a bribe (anything from Rp200,000-1,000,000) to let you go.
The midday sun in Bali will fry the unwary traveller to a crisp, so slap on plenty of suntan lotion and drink lots of fluids. However, don't carry liters of water as you can buy a bottle virtually anywhere. The locals tend to stay away from the beaches until about two hours before sunset, when most of the fierceness has gone out of the sun.
Boat services run regularly to Lombok, Flores, and islands further east. Combined bus and ferry service will take you to Java destinations such as Yogyakarta, though the trip can be long on winding jungle lined roads.
Less than one hour, at the south-east of Bali lies Nusa Lembongan. From Sanur a ferry service can take you to this small and beautiful island. This island is a good place to go one or two days, if you want to get out of the touristic area from Bali. Along the beach you can find many small and cheap Homestays. Be aware you get wet feet getting in or out the ferry. And the island doesn´t have a Money Machine or Bank. Many people on this island live from farming seaweed. And the acres with the different coloured seaweed, just under the sealevel, makes a beautiful view.
International phone operators: 101. International Direct Dialing prefix: 001, 007, or 008.
Tourist information centre:
Hospitals with 24 hours emergency room (ER):