Cerebral Shangrila

Monday, January 04, 2010

Bali - Travel Diary ( Travelogue)

The island of gods, beaches and handicrafts offers a unique experience for travelers. Bali is famous for numerous things - Ruined temples, sun kissed beaches, lush rice fields, breathtaking volcanoes, Music & dance and above all people.There is always something for everyone who visits Bali.

I had been intending to visit Bali for a long time but the terrorist attacks in 2005 made me cancel my trip and am glad I finally " been there ; done that".

HISTORY : Indians started arriving in Bali from as early as 7th century A.D and Hinduism still exerts a powerful influence . Hinduism is the dominant religion in Bali island with close to 95% of the population being Hindus. The Hindu way of life permeates across the culture of Bali by deeply influencing its dance, music, spirituality, food and living.

The only international airport at Bali is in Denpesar. Bali has excellent connectivity to most parts of Asia Pacific, Europe & North America.

VISA DETAILS : Most nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival (including Indians) . It costs US$ 10 if your stay is for 7 days and US$25 if the stay is 8-30 days. No photo is required for Visa on arrival.Make sure that you carry the exact amount of US dollars ( not any other equivalent currency else you may get a poor exchange rate).

Tourists flock year-round to Bali. Bali has a typical tropical climate - hot and humid. The best time to travel is from April to September when its dry. December can be very rainy and crowded.
Be prepared to come with plenty of Sunscreen lotion since it could quite hot during most part of the year. Bali can also be quite dusty and filled with insects. As a caution, bring anti-allergy tablets and general purpose medicines.

The Currency of Indonesia is Rupiah . There are foreign exchange counters all over. The best exchange rates can be obtained away from tourist centers in Bali rather than your home country ( The exchange rate at Changi airport was 6250 Rp, 6400 Rp at Denpesar airport and 6600 Rp inside Bali ). At the time of writing, 1 USD = 9,700 Rupiah.

Bahasa Indonesia is the most spoken language in Indonesia. People in Bali speak Balinese Bahasa that is quite unique to the island. English is spoken quite haltingly in tourist places. Make sure that you speak English slowly and clearly when conversing . In the rural areas people speak only Bahasa.
All road signs are in English, aiding tourists in Bali.

Indonesia is in the ASEAN region and is close to Singapore & Malaysia. Bali is one of the 17000 islands that makes up the archipelago nation of Indonesia. Bali island is around 144 Km X 80 Km.


Buses: There are hardly any public buses in Bali and hence its not a preferred mode of transport ( unless you are relying on tour operators).

Taxis : Taxis are the most relied form of transport although metered taxis are quite rare. Make sure that you agree on the price ( always after haggling) before embarking on the trip.

Cars / Bikes : Can be rented and is a good option if you know the island well. The road directions in Bali are quite poor and hence one needs to be careful about this option.

Bemo : A form of mini bus that plies between key towns in Bali. Is quite cheap although the reliability isn't very convincing.

Bali is GMT + 8 hours.

Hotels range from extremely cheap ( as low as $5 / day ) to really expensive depending on where you stay.

If you are a beach person, stay at Kuta ( the most popular), Seminyak, Jimbaran, Legion or Sanur.

I stayed at Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali. Ubud has some fabulous resorts that are extremely tranquil & serene.

Bali has an eclectic choice of restaurants. The best restaurants are found at Kuta, Seminyak. Being a vegetarian is hardly an issue in Bali since most restaurants serve some kind of Veg food.

The good Indian restaurants are :

a) Bumbu Bali, Ubud : Is located opposite to Ubud palace. The limited Thali costs Rp41,500 ++ and is a good "deal". The food isn't typical Indian but a mix of balinese & Indian. I would rate it 6/10.

b) Indian delities , Ubud : Is located close to ARMA museum in Ubud. Authentic Indian fare and a meal for two would cost around Rp200,000. I would rate it 7/10.



Kuta : The most popular beach in Bali and a great place for nightlife & water sports. There is also a water theme park in Kuta for kids & adults.

Kuta has suffered over the years due to its popularity. The scar of 2005 bombings are yet to heal and the place is also a constant traffic nightmare during tourist season.

Legian : Is a little less quieter than Kuta and is further up north.

Seminyak : Is the "high end" place filled with flashy lifestyle and western style malls. I wouldn't recommend staying here - its expensive, phony and boring.

Jimbaran : Lies just south of Kuta and is much quieter and a decent place for families.

Sanur : This beach lies on the east side of Bali, which means you don't get to see the fabulous sunset. Beach isn't that great either.

Temples :

Most temples in Bali are ruins and hence set the right expectation before you visit.

Pura Luhur Ulu Watu : Is one of the nine directional temples of Bali and lies in the southern tip of the island perched majestically facing the ocean. The sunset view from the temple is amazing and don't miss it. The temple has a lot of mischievous monkeys so pls be very careful about your belongings ( Don't have any loose items including spectacles - I saw a monkey grabbing the specs of a person next to me).

Pura Tanah Lot : Lies on the South-west coast and is one of the most photographed spots in Bali. The temple is an island in the ocean ( though the island is just 10 ms away from the beach!) and can be reached during low tide. The temple isn't much to boast about but the sunset is fabulous. Many consider this to be the perfect sunset spot in Bali ( Although I would rate Ulu Watu higher).

Pura Taman Ayun ( Mengwi) : Is a royal temple surrounded by a huge moat. The verdant green lawns add to the lustre of this place. I liked this temple a lot and would highly recommend visiting it.

Pura Tirta Empul: Beautiful temple located in North. There are natural springs that gush out and are supposed to have healing powers. The bathing place is quite clean and if you are religious, this temple should be on your "must visit" list.

Pura Masceti: Is located in the South east and is one of the nine directional temples. The temple is quite ordinary but the beach is good (and devoid of crowds) with black sand.

Pura Besakih: Is located in North and is considered the "Mother temple". It is actually a series of interconnected temples. The walk from the parking lot is about a km (though there are bike drivers willing to drive u upto the temple for a fee). I couldn't visit this temple since it rained continuously the day I went there.

Gunung Kawi : Located close to Ubud, this complex consists of 10 rock cut temples. The walk is quite steep and takes around 15-20 mins but the views are breathtaking.

Goa Gajah : Located near Ubud, this is a cave having Ganesha & Shiva idols. The entrance to the cave has a daunting figure that is supposed to ward off evils.

Monkey forest temple : Located at the heart of monkey forest. The temple is in ruins but there is a spectacular monkey demon statue and of course plenty of monkeys.

Dances :

Balinese dances are world famous and Ubud is the place to go for genuine performances ( The Kuta dances are mostly shortened version for tourists). I attended most dance performances at the Ubud palace in a open courtyard. Tickets normally costs Rp70,000 - 80,000 and can be purchased at the tourist office opposite to the Palace. Most performances start at 730pm and last for 90 minutes. Make sure that you take mosquito repellants with you.

Kecak Dance : The most famous dance performance held as a choir. Themes are often borrowed from epics and often accompanied by fire display.

Legong Dance : With elaborate costumes and performed by young girls, this dance is very graceful. I saw the "Mahabharatha" theme being enacted by the Legong dancers ( Don't expect the entire story of Mahabharatha, in most cases a small incident from the epic is illustrated).

Barong dance : Its the battle between good ( barong) & evil ( rangda). It is quite a spectacle with elements of suspense & drama.

Volcanoes :

Gunung Batur : Don't miss the Gunung Batur Volcano & Lake ( near Kintamani). The views, on a clear day, are terrific. I was extremely lucky here. It was raining cats & dogs when I landed near the Volcano. By the time I came back from Lunch, the rain had stopped and the sun smiled at me beautifully !

SHOPPING : Bali is a great place for shopping. Its famous for paintings, handicrafts and stone carvings. The " Pasar Seni", close to the Ubud Palace, is the best place for bargain hunting. The market starts at 9am and winds up by the afternoon. Be prepared to bargain (sometimes starting at less than one-third of what is quoted) if you want a good deal. I bought plenty of paintings, T-shirts, souvenirs here.

I would advise not to buy stuff near the tourist places as they tend to be expensive.

If you want to relax, get yourselves a massage - body/ foot.

How much would a trip cost ?

I went for 8 days to Bali from Singapore. I am a budget traveler ( I rarely stay in fancy 5 star hotels nor do I rent an expensive car to drive me around) who likes to backpack and travel with crowds. It cost me US$ 700 / person for the whole trip ( Includes Air travel, local transport, Accommodation, Temple entry fees, Food, Shopping , Departure tax , Visa fees, Misc ).

Do they speak English there ?

Most locals know a smattering of English that is enough for simple conversations. I didn't find the language to be a major issue. I had planned my trip well in advance and had the " Lonely Planet" guides and maps to tow me around. So the bottomline is, if you plan well , you should be able to manage.

Do I get Indian Food / Vegetarain food there?

Yes. I had already written reviews about the Indian restaurants in the "FOOD" section.
Getting Veg food isn't a challenge in Bali.

How many days are enough to see Bali?

Depends on what you want. Plan for at least 4 days.


a) Beware of street dogs. They are everywhere and bark constantly. Don't enter dark alleys alone after sunset.

b) Beware of touts who promise to be your tour guide or insist that the temple compulsorily requires guides.

People are extremely religious in Bali and I was often asked " Are you Indian?" or " Are you Hindu?". Irrespective of your religious beliefs, respect their culture and dress properly when entering temples.

FINAL WORD : Bali is a celebration of life and is a very unique place on this planet. It is where spirituality meets the surf and culture clashes with the malls. Most people would tend to love one of these contrasts.

At some level, you start wondering if Bali is over-rated - that is - if you haven't found your nirvana there.

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  • Kuta, Legian and Seminyak are the biggest, brashest, least traditional beach resort in Bali, located on the southern part of the island. The resorts continue to expand its epicenter on the coast of 10 kilometers southwest of Denpasar, the provincial capital of Bali.
    bali travel

    By Blogger watsonrodrig, at 3:11 PM  

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