Bali had never been a place that held much appeal for me. When I was a teenager, it seemed like everyone was going there. To me, travelling to a place full of Australians and New Zealanders just didn’t feel that exotic. Add the 2002 Bali Bombings and the Schapelle Corby trial into the mix, and I just wasn’t that fussed on visiting. However, when Emirates started flying a Dubai – Auckland route with a layover of 24 hours in Bali, Matt decided to bid to fly it. As it turned out, this was the last flight I travelled with him before coming back to New Zealand for six months.
I have to admit, my knowledge of Bali was always pretty limited. For the longest time, I thought it was actually a separate country. Oops. I can now confirm that Bali is an island and province of Indonesia. It is commonly referred to as The Island of Gods or The Island Of Thousands Temples, which makes sense when you consider the many temples we passed! Balinese culture has, over the years, been heavily influenced by Indian, Chinese, and particularly Hindu culture. It has also developed as a result of the colonialist occupation of Indonesia by the Portuguese, and later, the Dutch. Bali was finally included as a part of the Republic of the United States of Indonesia when the Netherlands recognised Indonesian independence in 1949.
Because I didn’t know too much about Bali, I went into the experience pretty open-minded – but unsure what I was to come across. Even with our short visit, we were able to whizz around the island. By the time I left, I’d learnt a few new things – and reconfirmed that Indonesian cuisine is mighty tasty!
There is a huge Hindu population
I had always assumed that Indonesia was entirely Muslim. The island of Bali, however, it mainly Hindu. There are huge numbers of Hindu temples everywhere, and the beautiful little street side shrines where you can make offerings to the gods. Out of the 34 provinces of Indonesia, only one of them applies Sharia law: the Special Region of Aceh.
It’s not just about the beaches
One of the other misunderstandings I had about Bali was that it was all beaches and rickety bars. I couldn’t have been more wrong. With tourism making up 80% of the local economy, there really is something to please everyone in Bali. The area I found most beautiful in Bali were the rice paddies. These hold a special place in Balinese culture, with the Sebak system of irrigation even being recognised as a UNESCO heritage site. With its origins in 922AD, there are special festival and temple rites held throughout the year in accordance with the rice growing cycle.
The food is amazing
You have probably already caught onto this one – but the food is great. It’s cheap, plentiful and fresh. Even if you’re a bit of a timid eater, make sure you try some of the delicious satay, roti breads, and nasi goreng, so you can compare the authentic dish to your local back home!
Indonesia is huge, and Bali island is quite large!
I’m not sure where I got the idea from, but the island of Bali is actually pretty big. If you are planning on visiting, you’ll need to take this into account – especially when you consider the state of some of the roads. While I knew Indonesia was big population wise – it is home to over 250 million people – I had no idea it consisted of over 17,000 islands. That’s a lot of coastline!
Where did we visit?
Due to our short layover, we were staying at the Novotel at Denpasar Airport (which was surprisingly well appointed, and comfortable – highly recommended for a short stay!). However, we hired a driver to take us for a bit of an adventure. Even for a quick visit, I suggest you investigate getting a driver. The roads are chaotic and I feel like hiring a scooter is just asking for trouble. You’re better off travelling with someone that knows the shortcuts, and will help you maximise your time.
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
I’ve discussed my lack of trust in wild monkeys before. Instead of visiting the Monkey Forest, we decided to visit the Tegallalang rice terraces. These are the terraces you seem to see in every single photo of Ubud – but luckily, it wasn’t too busy when we visited.
The terraced rice fields were carved by hand over many years, using only basic tools, and have generally been maintained through successive family groups. They are beautiful. You can still see Balinese people collecting rice today, which looks like a very tiring and low-profit enterprise. A kilogram of rice earned something like $1USD (3AED) – so you can see why many people turn to tourism. We spent about half an hour hiking up and down the terraces.
If you want a refreshing break, you can grab a delicious, fresh coconut at the top of the terraces. I think it cost around $2NZD (5AED). This is best enjoyed while watching people pay some ridiculous sum to get an Instagram shot on the swing located in the area!
Jl. Raya Tegallalang, Tegallalang, Kabupaten Gianyar
The jury is still out on whether this place was a tourist trap. Given we only paid $7NZD (17AED) for a cup of Kopi Luwak coffee, I don’t really feel like we were too badly ripped off.
Bali Pulina is a small eco-plantation that hosts an array of animals, plants and spices. The guides were friendly and happy to show us around. Even though the cage was a little bit small for my liking, it was pretty exciting to see the famed civet cat up close. It was, predictably, chomping on coffee fruit. The civet is a funny little cat-weasel creature, with a habit of picking out the most delicious coffee fruit, which it then digests. The beans – still protected in their shells – are then retrieved and roasted, creating Kopi Luwak.
While outside of Indonesia, this coffee is incredibly expensive, it is comparatively cheap (for tourists) in Bali. Matt tried some, but he actually preferred the coffee available on the free sampler provided by our hosts. I enjoyed the lemon tea so much that we actually bought some afterwards. Okay, so that was a little pricy – around $11NZD (26AED) for a box – but if it helps to support the attraction, which was well run, clean and friendly – we didn’t mind too much.
Sebatu, Tegallalang, Gianyar
We opted for lunch next, and on the recommendation of friends, visited Indus Restaurant. As well as offering a delicious menu, the view was gorgeous. We admired the Tjampuhan Ridge and Mount Agung whilst enjoying a tasty lunch of Indonesian delicacies. It claims to have one of the best views in Bali, and I’d say it’s a fairly accurate claim. Our lunch cost around $35NZD (85AED) for two.
Jalan Raya Sanggingan No. 88X, Kedewatan, Ubud, Kedewatan, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar
Tanah Lot is a popular temple in Bali. The whole place was pretty chaotic. Surrounding it was hundreds of cheap market stalls and restaurants, where we saw – amongst other things – poor bats out in the daytime. They didn’t look like they were enjoying it. There were a few smaller pretty temple complexes around the site, but the whole area was extremely busy. It reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing in terms of visitor numbers. When the intensity level is equivalent to domestic Chinese tourism, you know you’re in trouble.
We arrived at the wrong time of day. You see, Tanah Lot is only accessible at low tide. At high tide – when we arrived – the temple could just be admired from a distance. Regardless, online the Balinese – for which the site is highly revered – are able to enter the temple. We stood amongst the crowds of many, many people and admired it from afar, but we only stayed at the stop for about 20 minutes.
Apart from seeing some epic kites on sale (the Indonesians love a good kite!) and some dodgy looking guy advertising a ‘magical snake’ to visit, there wasn’t an awful lot else to see. In case you are wondering, we did not view the snake.
Beraban, Kediri, Tabanan Regency