The island of Bali, Indonesia has been a favourite among travellers for many decades and anyone who has ever been here – or even just seen a few photos – can see why. ‘Paradise‘ is a word that often comes up when talking about Bali… well that and ‘Drunk Australians‘ if I’m going to be completely honest. Neither description is without merit but thankfully the latter is quite easily avoided.
With my week-long holiday drawing to a close, I will admit that rather than traipsing around the island on this, my fourth visit to Bali, I have spent an inordinate amount of time doing, well, not a whole lot. I pepper my days of soaking up rays by the pool with the odd massage, a manicure, a second helping of lunch or bout of shopping. Yep, it’s been Rancho-Relaxo all the way… Bali’s pretty good for that.
While I’ve stuck to the south of the island this time around, my previous trips haven’t always been this indulgent and today I’d like to share a few of my favourite Bali destinations. So here, in no particular order, is this weeks Friday Five; Top 5 Bali Destinations
#1 Ulu Watu
Precariously perched atop a steep rocky outcrop on the southwestern tip of the peninsula, lies one of Bali’s most beautiful and indeed most photographed temples; Pura Luhur Ulu Watu. The 11 century Pura Luhur is the southwestern protector of the Balinese people from evil spirits lurking in the ocean and is one of the 6 most important temples on the island.
So picturesque is the temple and its jaw-dropping location, that crowds of thousands compete for space on the narrow walkways along the cliff-face in an attempt to capture the unfailingly stunning sun setting behind the temple. If you want to avoid the crowds (as I did), the daytime view certainly does not disappoint – and if you are lucky you may spot marine life including whales and dugongs in the striking turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean below. If sea mammals aren’t your thing, you can always watch the surfers braving the pounding waves to ride some of Bali’s most famous breaks.
Situated in the middle(ish) of the island, on the road to the central mountains, the town of Ubud is considered by many to be the ‘cultural centre’ of Bali; temples, art, craft, music, food and some of the most lush rice paddies and terraces you’re likely to come across are all famed in Ubud. As an added bonus, the surrounding hilly landscape brings cooler night temperatures – offering at least some respite from the heat of the coastal areas.
If you feel like a bit of a walk and/or some temple viewing or, in fact, a dose of rabies, then make your way down Monkey Forrest Road to, yep, you guessed it, Monkey Forrest – a lush, shady, swathe of jungle housing a sacred sanctuary for some seriously cheeky and kleptomanic Balinese Macaques. If I can give you just one piece of advice; hold on to your hats and glasses and arm yourself with a bunch of bananas or a big stick when walking through the forest path… or better yet, a local guide who will bring both of these things and swat monkeys away from you. No, seriously, it’s fun!
On the far less-frequented northern coast of Bali lies a cluster of a dozen or so black sand fishing beaches collectively known as Lovina. Surrounded by quiet villages and rice paddies, Lovina is a great budget accommodation option and an excellent place for snorkeling and dolphin watching (something you’ll be forcefully reminded of by tour touts within moments of your arrival).
Sitting upon the warm volcanic sands at sunset, watching the brightly coloured fishing boats push-off into Buluh Bay on the Bali Sea is undoubtedly one of Lovina’s finest charms, but if that doesn’t float your boat (pun intended), you can head to the nearby mountains for trekking or travel a few kilometers west to the Banjar hot springs (I can’t promise there won’t be monkeys at either).
Love it or hate it, Bali’s most densely populated tourist area is a sight to behold and an attack on the senses, if nothing else. Its busy streets and beach are the epicenter of night life, hotels, restaurants, souvenir markets, and more often that not, more loud, drunk, tattooed Australians than you can poke a stick at (Bali is close to Australia and we’re a country that enjoy a beer… what do you think is going to happen?).
On the long, stretch of sand that is Kuta Beach you have access to everything from food, drink and sunglass vendors, to surf lessons or ladies offering massages, manicures and hair styling (corn-row braids with beads are their undying trademark specialty much to the ongoing regret of many) – you can even score yourself a genuine fake Rolex on Kuta Beach if your heart so desires. Spend too long in Kuta though and you’re likely to go a bit crazy (or quite possibly have the time of your life), but if sun, surf and cheap drinks are what you’re after, it really can’t be beaten.
On a much more sombre note, Kuta is also now home to a large marble memorial dedicated to the 202 people (including 88 Australians) who lost their lives in the October 2002 Bali bombings – the most fatal terrorist attack in Indonesia’s history that targeted two popular tourist bars in the lively Kuta area. The memorial lists the names and nationalities of those who died in the attack and sits on the site of what was Paddy’s Pub – one of the two bars targeted that October night.
#5 Jimbaran Bay
Teluk Jimbaran (Jimbaran Bay), on the Bukit Peninsula just south of Kuta, is a seafood and sunset- lover’s paradise. Dozens of beachfront warungs (locally or family-run restaurants) selling a range of fresh, barbecued seafood, set their tables and chairs up on the sand affording diners prime viewing position for not only a glorious sunset but also the impressive display of engineering might and accuracy that is the landing of airplanes at the nearby Ngurah Rai Denpasar Airport on a strip of runway that juts out into the sea like an oversized jetty.