Although located just a few kilometres (3.2 kilometres or 2 miles) from the mainly Muslim Java, the majority of Balinese are Hindus, so their culture is radically different from that of most other Indonesians. Because they do follow the Hindu faith, religion is part of Balinese people’s everyday lives and this is obvious to everyone as there are temples everywhere, and people making offerings in shops and houses.
Not surprisingly, Bali is Indonesia’s most popular destination for tourists. It is blessed with some very fine beaches, a beautiful coastline, magnificent mountain scenery, but most of all it is the Balinese themselves that are so welcoming, and so generous in allowing visitors to absorb their culture.
Bali lies just 8 degrees south of the Equator, so the climate is generally hot and humid all year round, but it can get cooler in the hills. The main city in Bali is Denpasar, which is located on the south east of the island. Denpasar is very spread out, and its streets are both narrow and crowded, but it is not the type of city centre that attracts tourists. The most popular areas for tourists are confined to a long, narrow coastal strip which begins at the airport, in an area known as Tuban, and runs north as far as Seminyak, with the most popular tourist spots being Kuta and Legian.
Other popular areas include Nusa Dua, Jimbaran Bay and Sanur on the coast near Denpasar, Ubud in the hills and, further afield, Candi Dasa and Lovina, on the east coast and the north coast respectively.
I have been visiting Bali regularly for almost 30 years and have watched the tourist strip transform from a much laid back series of small villages to a fairly sophisticated urban area that is crowded with hotels, shops, bars and restaurants. Bali has bounced back from the two murderous bombing attacks by Muslim terrorists in 2002 and 2005 which badly affected tourism for a number of years. Although hundreds of people were tragically killed in these cowardly attacks, they also had a devastating effect on the local economy as tens of thousands of Balinese depend on tourism for income, and many were out of work for a very long time.
Now that several of the terrorist leaders have been hanged or killed in battles with police, there is a new confidence in Bali, as tourists flock back there. The rush to return to holiday in Bali is led by Australians, primarily West Australians whose proximity to Bali has always made it popular. Now that people are visiting in greater numbers than before much more infrastructure is being put in place and there has been a surge in the number of new hotels and shopping centres being built.
It used to be that wherever you went in the main tourist areas you would accosted by hawkers selling fake watches, perfumes and sunglasses. The shopkeepers put pressure on officials to put a stop to the hawkers, using the entirely reasonable argument that they paid high rent for their shops so shouldn’t have to compete with traders who wandered the streets for free. The hawkers have gone but, sadly, they have been replaced by other hawkers who flog time share units. This scam gets you in by offering you a free gift of a holiday if you go along to an information session. Once there, you can’t escape and it uses up valuable hours of your vacation time as you are pressured into buying timeshare that is probably over-priced. If you are interested in buying property in Bali, and that is getting easier thanks to changes in Government regulations, then go to a properly accredited real estate agent who can show you a variety of properties. Be kind to yourself, and don’t fall for the time share scam.
What you do in Bali depends on your interests. Most people do try to stay in the Kuta/Legian area, where there are lots of shops and entertainment, and where you get the foreign crowds. The hotels here are generally quite good, although very busy, but people stay there because they like it. Others prefer to head to Nusa Dua, which is a gated area full of five star resorts, all of which are splendid, but they don’t represent Bali. Having said that, if you just want to get away to relax, they would be perfect for you.
I don’t necessarily travel to foreign lands to mingle with my own type. I do prefer to enjoy a different cultural experience. To be honest, I hate Kuta, because it is too commercial and too busy for me, and I wouldn’t dream of staying at Nusa Dua, because it ain’t Bali. I do like Sanur, which is much quieter than Kuta, and more village-like (and the beach is, in my humble opinion, far superior to Kuta), or I usually head into the hills to stay in the Ubud area, which is more authentically Balinese.
The beauty of Bali is that you can make the choice to stay in an environment which best matches your vacation needs. There is a great deal of choice on the island, which does help to make Bali a perfect holiday destination.