Located in the Southern Hemisphere, Bali is a destination which aims to mesmerise everyone that touches its shores. Hundreds of kilometres of sandy beaches encircles mountainous regions, waterfalls, forests, wildlife and volcanoes.
Whilst part of Indonesia, Balinese culture is very different from the rest of Indonesia. Bali is enriched by the influences of Hinduism which means temples with intricate carvings can be found at every turn. The Balinese are extremely spiritual, whether it’s a restaurant or a bank, offerings to the gods in the form of flowers are found on the doorstep of most establishments.
As Bali only has two seasons — wet and dry, expect high temperatures of up to 30 degrees with added humidity. I visited at the beginning of November, the rainy season had started but it didn’t rain once!
I stayed in Sanur (with my husband and three children) which isn’t too far from Ubud — the cultural heart of Bali or Kuta —where all the nightlife is. Bali isn’t a huge island (only spanning 112 kilometres north to south) but it can take a while to get around because of the windy mountainous roads and traffic.
A good way of experiencing the culture is to watch the mythical Barong dance which represents the fight between good and evil. This is expressed through theatre featuring an orchestra of musicians playing traditional instruments. Although it is mainly in Balinese it’s not hard to understand the concept of the dance. The Barong show can be seen in venues all around Bali.
There are many things to do in Bali, or if you like — do nothing at all but lie on the beach and enjoy the beautiful views. I would suggest a good dose of both. Well worth visiting is the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud which homes over 300 monkeys. Now these monkeys are cute and cheeky, but can also be vicious if provoked. They’re ultimately after food so its worth giving it to them but if you hoard it they they might jump on you like they did on my son! He stayed remarkably calm whilst the monkey sat on his shoulder flinging nuts into his mouth. An experience my ten year old will never forget.
Indonesia is known for its coffee and produces the specialty coffee Kopi Luwak. Also known as civet coffee, which is where the coffee bean is digested by a civet (animal like a cat) and then excreted the other side. The beans are then washed, cleaned and dried and ready for grinding. It’s a novelty for sure and something weird and wonderful to try if you can stomach it (excuse the pun).
Authentic civet coffee is hard to come by but visiting a coffee plantation in Bali will guarantee that you are getting the real deal. Many types of organic coffee and tea is grown and processed at the Cantika plantation. The best part is you can sample different flavours of tea and coffee and if you’re a coffee lover like me it’s heaven on a tray. The tastiest was the coconut coffee and most memorable the turmeric tea. Other than coffee, many other fruits and spices are grown here like pink ginger, cloves and cinnamon but most interesting for my children — the cocoa bean.
Some of the natural beauty of Bali can be experienced by visiting one of the many waterfalls. One that isn’t situated in the highlands is Tegenungan Waterfall. The fresh cooling water is so welcome especially after the hundreds of steps you have to go down in the heat to reach it. Taking a swimsuit is a good idea as swimming is perfectly safe. The steps on the way up however are a bit of a killer, but not to worry as ice cream and cold drinks can be bought at the top. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what my children looked like once at the top— cheeks bright red, sweat dripping down their faces and very tired!
Being an island, Bali offers all kinds of water sports, from diving to parasailing to more innovative activities like sea walking (walking on the seabed) and fly boarding (hoverboard on the water). As well as this going for a Balinese massage is a regular activity for locals and tourists with beauty salons being found on every corner.
What about the food? Influenced by Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cuisine, Indonesian food is a mixture of fresh fish or meat cooked in aromatic spices, with coconut milk and rice featuring heavily. Satay chicken and Nasi Goring are typical Indonesian dishes which can be found at most restaurants as well as some of the spiciest Thai curries we’ve ever experienced!