Bali has famously been described as the “morning of the world” and it’s a place that certainly lives up to that accolade. I’ve put together a beginner’s guide to Bali, to tempt you to visit and to help you get the most out of your trip there.
WHY VISIT BALI
The reasons are numerous: friendly people, delicious food, incredible sunsets and unique landscapes including the world famous rice fields. Bali represents great value for money yet offers a wide range of luxurious hotels, spas, and shopping. Have I persuaded you yet? Well read on and by the end of this I hope to have piqued your curiosity.
Bali has one international airport, Ngurah Rai, more commonly known as Denpasar International Airport, located in Southern Bali. There are direct flights with many countries including Australia, Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Qatar, Singapore and the United States. If visiting Java or Lombok as well as Bali, there are regular connecting ferries.
WHEN TO VISIT
The best time to visit is between April to end of September which is the dry season when humidity is lower. Accommodation is priced considerably higher in July and August, as well as during Easter holidays, Christmas and New Year.
WHAT TO PACK
Make sure to take plenty of loose clothing in natural fabrics as it can get quite humid. It’s a good idea to pack a sarong as you will need one to visit the temples – however if you forget, you can hire one at all the big temples for a very small fee. The roads in Bali can be quite uneven so it’s best to stick to flat shoes if going anywhere on foot. Anti-mosquito spray is a good thing to pack, as is a bite relief device if you do get caught out!
Hiring a private driver for excursions is very reasonably priced and makes sense considering the state of the roads in some areas. In Kuta, Legian and Seminyak it can get very busy with cars and motorcycles and if you’re walking along the narrow streets, expect constant horn beeping from taxis as they tout for your custom. If you do take a cab, insist that the meter is turned on or negotiate the price first.
A trip to Bali will give you a fascinating insight to Balinese culture. Art permeates every aspect of life here, from the intricate dances with their elaborate costumes to the carved wood masks and furniture. The main religion is Hinduism and the Balinese are particularly devout with over 10,000 temples. Most families have a temple in their house, and we didn’t originally realize that they were houses not temples as they were so impressive.
The currency is the Indonesian rupiah and with the exchange rate, you can easily feel like a millionaire as 1 million rupiah equals around 72 US dollars. In terms of etiquette, it is considered impolite to point with your index finger and you should also take off your shoes before entering a home or temple. It is fine to haggle the price of items in markets but not the done thing in shops. Bali is a very safe place on the whole, whether you are travelling solo, as a couple or a group.
WHERE TO STAY
There are so many wonderful places to stay, from private villas like the inimitable Kayumanis to luxurious hotels such as the Alila Ubud. If you’re looking for unspoilt beaches then Jimbaran and Nusa Dua are excellent choices, whilst Seminyak is perfect for a spot of shopping and some of the coolest restaurants on the island. Uluwatu is famous for its temple and displays of fire dancing, and is a favourite with surfers, as is the rather rowdy Kuta. Ubud is a must-see for everyone – the inspiration for Eat Pray Love and home to Ubud Monkey Forest. Tegalalang Rice Terrace is a picturesque UNESCO World Heritage site north of Ubud.
FOOD AND DRINK
It’s easy to find international cuisine in Bali as Australian, French, Italian and Greek cuisines are all well represented. However, the real highlight is the delicious Balinese cuisine. It’s worth visiting a local warung or café, going to the counter and ordering rice accompanied with meat, fish or vegetables. Nasi Goreng is an Indonesian dish of fried rice with chicken or prawns that you’ll find everywhere in Bali. Coconut milk makes for a refreshing drink whilst alcohol is readily available but expensive due to high import duties. Check out my guide of where to eat and drink in Bali for dining ideas.
WHAT TO BRING BACK
If you like wood carvings then you’ve come to the right place, particularly in the village of Mas near Ubud. Coffee fans may the droppings of the luwat or civet cat – the most expensive brew in the world. Textiles are very reasonable and there are lots of modern boutiques, particularly around Seminyak where a new shopping gallery is being built.
We picked up Snowing in Bali by Kathryn Bonella at the airport bookstore, it gives a fascinating insight into the darker side of the paradise island. And don’t forget the iconic memoir Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert for a feel-good holiday read.
Have you ever been to Bali? What tips would you give to first time visitors?