From Sumatra to Western New Guinea, Indonesia’s vast tropical breadth supplies an incredible spectrum of attractions, both in the cultural and natural realms. Bali ranks among its most fascinating provinces: This fabled island, which stretches from jungled mountains to teeming coral reefs, claims astonishing art—from stone carvings to dramatic paintings—as well as epic and elaborate dance traditions. It’s also richly endowed with historic wonders such as the Royal Water Temple of Pura Taman Ayun, part of the UNESCO “Cultural Landscape of Bali Province” World Heritage Site. As might be expected by its geographic position and Spice Trade legacy, Indonesia’s cuisine comes in a staggering (and mouthwatering) galaxy of flavors. From the country’s major hubs, you can easily hop over to neighboring destinations such as Singapore, which borders Indonesia along the Singapore Strait.
Bali differs from many of the other Indonesian islands in that its culture is Hindu rather than Muslim, though it’s a form of Hinduism quite different than that found in India. The version of Hinduism practiced on Bali is evident in the over 20,000 pagoda shaped temples spread throughout the island. Each temple holds festivals yearly creating plenty of opportunities for visitors to see some of the unique island traditions.
The backbone of Balinese culture is dance; many dances are closely associated with religion. Traditional Balinese dance performances highlight female dancers wearing beautiful purple silk sarongs and decorative golden headdresses in a traditional dance pose of half-bent legs.
Bali has a thriving handicraft industry. Bali’s batiks have become coveted around the world and most people cannot leave the country without being tempted to purchase a batik item. This craft uses a hot wax resist process for creating dyed patterns on fabric. Batik designs are very intricate and some patterns have been handed down for generations. Silver Balinese jewelry is another very popular souvenir item; filigree work is a common design technique. The village of Celuk has a long history of making silver beads which are carved into elaborate designs and used in necklaces and bracelets.
Two different materials contribute to the popularity of Balinese carving. Woodcarvers produce pieces representing heroes, demons and spirits painted in bright colors. Other craftsmen work in soft sandstone creating both animal and human figures. The craftsmen work in these materials, the techniques they use have been passed down through generations.
In addition to its craft heritage, the geography of the country makes it a natural for sports. As an island, diving and snorkeling are popular activities in Bali for local and visitors alike. Opportunities are available for both beginner as well as very experienced divers. Australians brought the sport of surfing with them to Bali in the 1960’s and the island remains a surfer’s paradise. Kuta Beach is a great spot for beginners to learn how to surf. Fans of fishing will enjoy getting to know the local catch and kayakers will enjoy the beautiful scenery they encounter. Travelers, who have tried river rafting and are looking for their next adrenaline rush, might consider trying ocean rafting when in Bali.
For those not into watersports, the island has three 18 hole golf courses and there are many providers of mountain bike trips, or simply head over to observe a local soccer or cricket match being played. Tourists can even request to join in on one of the soccer pick-up games always being played on the beaches. Practitioners of yoga will find plenty of yoga centers and retreats to practice moves like downward dog.
Overall, Balinese cuisine can be summed up as hot and spicy and often beautifully presented. Bali’s traditional dishes are rice based and often contain chili peppers. Palm sugar, shrimp paste and coconut milk are common ingredients. Two popular condiments are sambal matah, made of raw shallots and lemongrass, and tabia lala manis, a type of soy sauce with chili peppers. Some of the most well-known local dishes are fried rice and fried noodles, particularly nasi goring and mie goreng; both are filling and inexpensive. The most authentic versions of these two dishes can be found in modest outdoor food carts. A popular item at food carts and roadside stands is Tipat cantok, pressed rice that is cut into chunks and seasoned with chili, lime juice, peanuts and bean sprouts.
Unlike Hindus in other parts of the world, the Balinese do eat meat which can be enjoyed in some of the many popular grilled chicken dishes or roast suckling pig, such as a popular dish called celeng guling. Satay, slices of meat on a skewer served with spicy peanut sauce is a cheap and filling snack or meal. Vegetarians need not despair of finding vegetable dishes, gado gado a salad with peanut sauce is very well known and sweet potatoes are a common snack. Wonderful exotic fruits such as mangos teens, rambutan, and passion fruit are widely available in markets.
Fresh fruit juices are widely available throughout the island. A drink made with avocado blended with ice and water makes for a refreshing and exotic treat. For alcoholic beverages the choices range from Indonesian beers, arak, a traditional Balinese spirit, and a fermented rice wine known as brem.
The island of Bali is one of the 17,000 islands that are part of the Republic of Indonesia. Bali lies just south of the equator in the Indian Ocean. The islands are small enough that visitors can make various day trips around the island and still get back to their hotel room nightly. The majority of the population lives in the coastal areas of the south.
The geography of the island ranges from rice paddies and terraces, to fast flowing rivers, lush tropical forests, mountain ranges and rugged coastline and sandy beaches. Visitors are enchanted by the wide variety of tropical plants that give the island its lush appearance.
Denpasar is the capital of Bali and the center of government and business. Despite the modern center, the unique Balinese character can be experienced through its gardens, temples and the Museum Negeri Propinsi Bali filled with Balinese antiquities and cultural objects.
Located in the mountains, the town of Ubud is known for art. The rich culture and history of Bali is represented through the many museums and art galleries there. The town is also the home to traditional Balinese dancing as the royal family used to bring the most talented dancers, musicians and actors to Ubud to entertain the king. Traditional dances, including the lion dance, the monkey dance and the fire dance are still performed nightly in the area. Travelers will enjoy browsing for Balinese handicrafts including woodcarvings, textiles and jewelry as the town, and surrounding area, is considered a handicraft center. A zoo and bird park are both located in the vicinity of Ubud.
Nusa Dua is a world class resort area located in the southern part of Bali. Soft white sand and crystal blue waters attract guests in search of beautiful scenery and relaxation. Those who want to be more active can enjoy a round of golf or participate in a snorkeling or diving trip.
The surfs always up in Kuta, the most popular beach in Bali. The town is also the home to a thriving nightlife scene where visitors enjoy the energy at local dance clubs and pubs.
Most visited cities: Denpasar, Ubud, Kuta
Bali has been populated since pre-historic times, with many historians believing that the first settlers were Chinese migrants. Not much is known about the history of the island other than that it developed rice cultivation and a complex irrigation system very early in its history. More started to become known about Bali when it became a busy trading center.
In the 11th century Bali’s neighbor Java conquered Bali. Balinese who did not embrace these changes fled to remote areas in the island’s mountains. Even today the Bali Aga or ‘original Balinese’ live in separate villages where they try to maintain their traditional ways. The rest of the Balinese adopted Hinduism and a caste system was established on the island by the Javanese rulers.
Europeans did not even land in Bali until the 16th century. By the early twentieth century Bali was under Dutch control with the Dutch using their modern weaponry to take over the island. However, a growing sense of nationalism grew after WWI. During WWII the Japanese pushed out the Dutch and occupied the island. After the Japanese were defeated at the end of WWII, the Dutch tried to regain control of the island once again, but Bali declared its independence in August of 1945 and by 1949 it was recognized worldwide as an independent country. In the 1970’s Bali became a popular destination when surfers discovered the island. The natural beauty and rich Balinese culture has kept people coming back ever since.