Monday, May 29, 2023

Does Bali live up to its reputation of island paradise?

After returning from a visit to Bali, Indonesia, several people asked me if the island was as pretty and desirable to visit as it seems from pictures. Certainly, we didn’t see every part of the island, but over the course of several days, Larry and I did enjoy different and distinct areas ranging from south to north.

Beach at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Bali

Bali often ranks among the best island destinations in the world, according to numerous travel sites. It’s a province of Indonesia and part of the largest archipelago in the world (although one of the smallest islands). It’s part of the Coral Triangle, an area with the highest biodiversity of marine species. In addition to beaches and an idyllic setting most people expect to see, icons of the culture and a topography that ranges from sea level to mountains make Bali a desirable place to visit.

Beautiful scenery along cliff paths

Nusa Dua district is located at the southern tip of the island. It is home to many high-end hotels built on land that was not suitable for growing rice or other agriculture. Driving around this district one sees beautiful sandy beaches—I decided to wade in to feel the warm, welcoming waves--lush vegetation, Hindu temples, and monkeys. 

Beverly splashing in the ocean

Away from the seaside hotels, the land is very rugged with rocky ledges and emerald cliffs. Uluwatu Temple, which is built on a cliff, captured that scene well.

After a lunch of chicken satay and Bintong beer, the local brew, we drove to Padang Padang beach, a secluded but popular spot that has been featured in movies.

Larry wades into
Padang Padang beach.
Getting down to the water required walking down steep steps through a cave, but plenty of people had found their way.

Late afternoon we visted the GWK (Garuda Wisnu Kencana) Cultural Park, where we watched an outdoor music and dance program honoring Garuda, an eagle-like creature in Hindu mythology with human features. 

Garuda transported the god Wisnu
of Hindu mythology.

Garuda transported the god Wisnu who descended to earth in different manifestations. Garuda symbolizes the virtues of knowledge, power, bravery, loyalty and discipline and is honored with a statue that is 248 feet high.

Our cultural journey from south to north began with a performance of traditional dance and music at Barong Tanah Kilap. Bali is renowned for its strong belief in keeping traditions alive, so children are taught to play ancient instruments and perform dances that tell stories of the culture.

Dancers represent mythical figures in Bali's culture. 
The temple at Tanah Lot on the southwestern coast of Bali is remarkable because it is built on rocks in the sea. Here we saw the first of many “gate” structures, which have become popular picture spots for tourists. Driving northward towards the middle of the island, we came to Jatiluwuh, an area famous for massive rice fields terraced on hillsides. Fortunately, the rice was green and lush, so we marveled at beautiful scenes while enjoying a typical Indonesian lunch there.
Terraced rice fields at Jatiluwuh
Gate structures are common.

We were headed to the mountains for a waterfall hike next, but heavy rain changed those plans. Instead, we stopped at the Floating Temple on Lake Bratan. The temple is only accessible at low tide when boulders leading to it are exposed. This lake is fresh water in what once was a volcanic crater. There is a lovely garden and park surrounding Lake Bratan and plenty of things for families to do. Three worship centers—Hindu and Buddhist temples and a Mosque—are located in the park.

Temple at Tanah Lot is built on ricks in the sea.

On the way back to our hotel in Nusa Dua, we stopped at Tegal Sari, a coffee plantation where we sampled many different teas, all made from natural ingredients grown there. I also drank a cup of Kopi Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee  that is made from the poop of the cat-like civit.

You can find almost everything at the Badung Market
Badung Market, a traditional open-air market in Bali, is a different concept from supermarkets in the U.S. There is no air conditioning or refrigeration for meat or fish, fruits or vegetables, or even prepared foods that are sold by individuals. But it’s a very busy place since locals shop daily. In Denpasar, the capital of Bali, we visited the Bajra Sandhi Monument, Museum Bali, and Jagatnatha Temple.
Bajra Sandhi Monument in Denpasar, Bali

Lastly, we ended up at Singaraja, a provincial capital that was once under Dutch colonial rule, on the northwest shore of the Bali Sea. In the countryside we visited a farm near Bengkel village. Here the fertile volcanic soil is great for growing organic produce and medicinal herbs, as well as rice, a staple that has been harvested from terraces for 2,000 years. 

Larry samples an herbal tea and
medicinal herbs

From an elevated outlook, we gazed out over Tamblingen and Danau Buyan lakes, had lunch in the Munduk area, and made friends with a couple we’ve since visited with in Texas.

All of these sights helped us understand the allure of Bali for tourists and a new breed of digital nomads, young people who chose to live and work there for months or years because the cost of living is relatively cheap.

Lakes near the northwest shore of the Bali Sea.

Is Bali worth visiting? Yes, just as every place on earth is worth visiting for its own unique characteristics. We’re glad to had had the opportunity to spend several days there.

 Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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