8 degrees south of the equator
By Eric Ladd
Bali is an island of contrast.
Denpasar, the capital, is a bustling city with traffic-choked streets. Amed, a hidden group of villages on the island’s stunning eastern tip, is home to fishermen, local craftsmen and diving. From Starbucks to fresh fish markets, seaside surf towns to 3,000-meter peaks, nightclubs to sacred temples, thatched hut resorts to the finest five-star hotels in the world – contrast defines this island paradise.
A province in the country of Indonesia, Bali is 2,147-square miles, the 12th largest in the archipelago of 18,000 islands. Ninety percent of the 3,891,000 Balinese are Hindu, and the rest Muslim.
Made famous for its beaches, culture and laidback vibe in the 1970s, its popularity has grown in the last decade, drawing tourists for its surf, arts, night clubs and appearance in the film Eat, Pray, Love.
Dubbed “Island of the Gods,” Bali has several distinct regions.
The southern part is considered the island’s heart, and here, a bustle of trendy resorts, packed beaches, entertainment, shopping and nightlife abounds.
Verging on a step back in time, the eastern region is much more low-key, lending itself to relaxing days spent exploring the rugged beaches, temples and mountainous terrain. Many locals here make their living fishing from traditional outrigger boats and tending to rice paddies by hand in the shadow of Mount Agung, the island’s highest and most sacred volcano.
Although many parts of Bali are nearly bursting at the seams with trash and scooters, and it’s had trouble evolving with the rapid increase in tourism, the country still holds amazing getaways for adventurous travelers.
A visit there could be compared to a less refined Hawaiian island experience, with a rich culture that will leave even the most seasoned traveler in a sense of … ahh.
Where to stay and what to do:
Surf Camp: Padang Padang
This premier boutique surf camp will introduce you to some of the finest breaks in the world – and also a social experiment worthy of reality TV. Located on the southern end of the island, this small spot is hidden in the jungle off a dirt road. The lodging is quality, and breakfast and lunch are served family style. Seasoned guides teach surf sessions twice daily. At night, guests typically go out for dinner together in neighboring villages or sit around the pool in hammocks reliving the day’s adventures. Bring good surf booties, a rash guard and a book. Tip: A minimum four-night stay is required to book, but longer is suggested. Request Tina as your instructor.
Boutique Luxury Resort: Desa Seni
An eco-friendly resort with a beautiful soul, Desa Seni is an oasis in the chaos that is Bali. Its grounds are manicured down to the hand-trimmed blades of grass, and its vibrant sounds and colors are exactly how you would imagine an Indonesian resort. Located in the western Bali village of Canngu, it’s a relatively small place focused on yoga, meditation and organic foods. The vast majority of food served is harvested from the property’s gardens. In the center of the resort is a saltwater lap pool surrounded by refurbished historical buildings dating back hundreds of years. Within a day the staff will know you by name and know your favorite cocktail. Tip: A daily regimen of yoga in the outdoor studio, organic food and Thai Massage is just what the doctor ordered.
Located in the back streets of Ubud, the artist village Ubud Green was made famous by Julia Roberts. A medium sized resort with a focus on being environmentally friendly and low-key, it’s just five minutes off the ‘strip’ of Ubud. An escape with luxury accommodation overlooking rice paddies, its modern rooms have private pools and butler service. The in-house restaurant provides quality food in a dining area overlooking the resort and jungle from a third story deck. Tip: Have the in-house Ubud drivers get you to and from the markets. Try Lotus Café for a nice meal.
Sojourn Ventures has quite possibly one of the finest homes in Bali available for rent, Villa Paradiso. Located in Amed, a fishing village on the eastern shore of Bali, it’s owned by an ex-pat couple that has mastered the art of entertainment. Staff can arrange meals, daily adventures, private poolside Balinese dancers and shuttles to any island location. Making you feel part of the village family, they ensure you leave with a happy but pained smile (who would want to leave?!). The beaches are rocky, so get ready for spending time poolside. If you are a snorkeler or scuba diver, you’re in luck because it’s home to some of the finest in the world. Tip: Get the fish curry and spring rolls at Apa Kipar, and go play music with the staff at Pazzo’s.
10 tips and suggestions for a trip to Bali:
1. Minimum of 14 days suggested; try to fly through Los Angeles to Singapore for most direct option.
2. Plan two days to go to the Gili Islands. Avoid the magic mushroom shakes unless you’re ready to spend all night in the clubs.
3. Bring a water bottle. Bali relies on bottled water, and the plastic pollution is substantial. More than 50,000 bottles of water are thrown away monthly. Don’t be part of the problem.
4. Get ready for wheeling and dealing with the taxis. It’s friendly but intense.
5. Wi-fi is everywhere.
6. Bintang is the beer of choice.
7. Get a past-life reading! Yep, it’s for real: Find out who you were in another life. Learn more at baligoddessretreats.asia.
8. Go whitewater rafting. Details at alam-amazing-adventures.com.
9. Don’t miss beers and sunset at the Single Fin Bar.
10. Visit Uluwatu Temple – it’s crowded but worth it. Sarongs are required and available to rent for the day.