For me, arriving at Bali was a travelers' delight. Nothing could beat travel fatigue better than the friendly, smiling Balinese faces at the Customs and Immigration at the Denpasar airport and the 'Visa on arrival' stamped on my passport for 10 USD in 15 minutes flat!
I had heard that Bali was an island of temples, dances, and age-old rituals; with over 95 per cent of the 3 million people practice a form of Hinduism. But nothing prepared me for the spot-on recital of 'Gayatri Mantra' by my taxi driver, followed by a song from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in the same breath. I was amazed by the Bollywood craze in this Far East city, so much so, that I was immediately labeled 'from Shah Rukh Khan's country' by every taxi driver and local I met!
Arriving at the airport, most tourists head straight for the beach areas of Kuta, Sanur, Jimbaran or Nusa Dua, I chose Kuta simply because it is still arguably the center of night life activities along with an array of shops, boutiques, and galleries- what more could I ask for!
Bali offers a vast section of hotels for all budgets, right from simple and cheap accommodation for backpackers to five star hotels with indulging spas for those seeking pure luxury. I stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, a stone's throw away from the Kuta beach.
At sunset, the Kuta beach comes alive, with people wanting to enjoy the stunning panorama. Teeming tourist, locals selling the colorful sarongs and batiks and a Balinese dance performance somewhere on endless stretch of the beach … and if you want to dance away into the wee hours of the morning, you wont be disappointed-pubbing is amazing in Kuta , with a wide choice of with pubs and discos that offer a vibrant nightlife.
The best way to enjoy Kuta is by simply asking the locals, who are very friendly an always ready to help you. I was lucky to have a very successful Indian friend in Indonesia- Kishore Pridhnani, who along with his wife Radha took me for a night tour of all the chic places in Kuta. The one that left a lasting impression on my mind was Ku De Ta, a fancy restaurant overlooking the beach. I absolutely loved the ambience in the night and would recommend this restaurant to anyone.
However, if your kind of vacation is to relax and chill out, head to the southern peninsula, with world-class, self-contained luxury hotels set on quiet stretches of beach of Sanur and Nusa Dua, as well as in Jimbaran Bay. (which is also very popular for very reasonable Sea food) These white sand beaches dotted by thousands of mangrove and coconut trees and sheltered by coral reefs, create an ideal haven for honeymooners or those preferring solitude.
To take a break from the hustle and bustle of Kuta, I headed for Ubud, which I must say has retained the feel of a cozy village retreat, despite the growing tourism industry. Ubud is the arts and crafts capital of Bali, so in addition to streets lined with lined with shops and workshops specializing in traditional crafts, there are a number of different art galleries and museums to visit.
The next I headed for a day-trip cruise from Benoa Harbor that took me to the Lembongan Island, a popular spot for surfers and scuba divers. (at approx. USD 60 onwards for the day-cruise inclusive of lunch, I think it's a worth a visit). Arriving on the white sandy beaches of Lembongan Bay, you can take the guided snorkelling trips and glass-bottom boat cruise or simply walk amid the native Balinese villages
If you want to take a break from the beach scenario, I suggest a trip into the cool mountains of Kintamani with its green rice fields, the placid Lake Batur that rests in a huge crater and the impressive Gunung Batur volcano that dominates the landscape. The evenings tend to get cooler, so carry a warm pullover or a shawl and make sure you have camera with you to capture the spectacular view of Mt Batur.
Bali is one of the Spa Capitals of the world where you can indulge yourself in a spa treatment at very reasonable prices. If you want to spoil yourself then you can sample from an elaborate menu of lulur massages, rice-paste exfoliations, flower petal aroma baths and indulgent cream baths. I would suggest you check some of the local spas that work spa therapies into your holiday schedule on a daily basis. And do not forget the traditional drinks made of herbs and roots- 'jamu', a local Balinese remedy for fatigue, headaches, aching bones or chills.
For the adventurous and sporty, Bali offers a host of adrenaline-pumping water-sports, both below and above water. Surfing, scuba diving, banana boats, snorkelling, parasailing, Jet Ski, Bungee Jumping, Bali offers it all.
Do try the river rafting on the Ayung River amidst a wild tropical forest. Ride the fast-flowing Ayung river as it carves its way with numerous hairpin curves and swirling rapids. A full day program would only cost you about USD 35 onwards and I found the experience thoroughly stimulating.
For those who love underwater world and always wanted to dive, there is spectacular scuba diving and snorkelling off the unspoiled coral reefs around the island, with the most amazing and colorful underwater life. There are even learner's courses by qualified professional instructors for the amateurs (you can take a day's course for less than USD 100)
And while you are on the beach enjoying the water sports, do indulge in the locals who cajole you into trying hair braiding, getting tattoo done or even have a relaxing massage.
If you are traveling with your kids, be sure to take them to the Waterboom Park. My kids and I enjoyed a day of waterslides and pools in all sizes with restaurants and snack bars within arms reach … good family fun for kids of all ages!
When you feel like venturing outside for a meal, there are lots of breezy open sided bamboo cafés serving authentic Balinese food as well as an array of sumptuous international cuisine. But for those who miss Indian food, I suggest you try out a delicious meal at the Queen's Tandoor in Seminyak, where the owners Puneet and Neeta Malhotra go out of the way to pamper you with personal attention.
Another big pastime here is shopping!
For those who do not want to wander too far from the beach, Sanur, Kuta and Ubud have more than enough to appease any shopper, from sarongs and sandals to wooden statues, stone carvings and iron and bronze works. But if you are keen on shopping, you can buy branded stuff fromalls like Mahatari or also look for Factory Sales of branded clothes.
You'll find the ultimate in open-air market browsing in southern Bali, where traditional Asian-style shopping still thrives. Do check out the local painting styles. I suggest, you always go in at less than a third of the price and even walk away, until you get the price you want. .
And before you leave Bali do not forget to buy their chilly sauce called Sambal (its one of it's kind and you can even pick it up at the duty free at Bali Airport.)
From the locals raving over Shah Rukh Khan to the colorful Balinese-Hindu culture, this tropical paradise lures Indians, not just by its natural exquisiteness but more importantly by its culture and the warmth of the Balinese people.
With Bali becoming more accessible and affordable, with cheap extension packages from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore and great deals from Garuda Indonesia Airlines that have daily flights connecting the Island for as little as USD 160 for a round trip ticket, I would defiantly recommend this island getaway as your next travel itinerary!
Copyright (C) Manoj Gursahani