My second week in Indonesia took me to the island of Bali, the Indonesian tourist hotspot known for its beautiful beaches, picturesque nature, and Hindu culture. From people with names like “Artha” and “Putra” to statues of Gatotgacha and Kumbakarna all over the island, Bali (in the words of my mother) felt like a journey back in time to ancient India with an Indonesian flavor! As expected there is a lot to do and see in Bali and while I covered quite a bit in my 4-day stay, there is still much to be explored.
A few things to note:
- Almost every attraction (including temples) has an entrance fee that usually ranges from Rp 10,000 to Rp 30,000
- All temples require visitors to be dressed appropriately (i.e. skin covered below the knee – for both men and women). Most temples let visitors borrow sarongs for free (included as part of the entrance fee), while others may require an extra donation for sarongs.
- Bali is extremely hot. Wear light clothing and comfortable shoes, stay hydrated, and apply sunscreen!
Without further ado, here are the top 10 must-see attractions in and fun facts about Bali!
- Tegallalang Rice Terrace
The staple food in almost all of Southeast Asia is rice. What is interesting and famous about the Tegallalang Rice Terrace is the cultivation and growth of rice in a multilevel fashion. This technique not only saves water but also provides a picturesque view of a productive agricultural process. The best view is from the main road across the rice terraces. The road is filled with markets, coffee shops, and painters inspired by nature to create works of art.
- Kintamani Volcano & Batur Lake
Kintamani is a small town located in central/somewhat northeastern Bali (see map below). While it is a bit of a trek from Ubud and the touristy beach areas in southern Bali, it’s definitely worth the 1.5 to 2-hour drive. For adventure junkies, there are options to hike up the active volcano. However, for those who are less inclined to climb, there are many restaurants with balconies along the main road offering fantastic views of the volcano and lake.
- Ubud Art Market
If you’ve been to outdoor markets in Phuket, this is a very similar setup, with small cobblestone pathways (for pedestrians and motorbikes only) lined with shops on both sides. Ubud Art Market has all types of products, from paintings and wooden carvings to sandals and batik clothing. You absolutely have to bargain with the shopkeepers, as they quote exorbitant prices. Typically, start the bargaining process by quoting 50% (or less) of the price they stated; eventually you and the shopkeeper will reach a compromise but it all depends on your persistence and bargaining skills! Shopaholics and tourists looking for nicknacks and souvenirs will love Ubud Art Market! Even if you’re not into shopping very much, stroll through the market to get a good idea of another aspect of Bali’s tourism industry.
- Coffee Plantation & Kopi Luwak
Bali, particularly the Kintamani area, is filled with coffee plantations that specialize in many variants of coffee. A particularly interesting type of coffee, called Kopi Luwak or Luwak Coffee, is very famous in Bali. Basically, a baby Luwak (Asian palm civet) is fed coffee beans, which go through the animal’s digestive tract and are ejected as feces. The seeds are then extracted, cleansed, and made into Luwak coffee powder. Supposedly, a reason for doing this is to remove any excess bacteria from the coffee beans before transforming them into coffee powder. Kopi Luwak is extremely expensive and being vegetarian, we didn’t taste it. At the end of the tour, Santi Coffee Plantation offered various teas, coffees, and chocolates to taste, with an extra fee to taste Kopi Luwak. Nevertheless, a coffee plantation tour is definitely recommended for tea and coffee lovers alike!
- Taman Ayun Temple
Located in the town of Mengwi, Taman Ayun Temple is a large complex consisting of temple structures in the middle and walking trails with small meditation huts all around. The main temple area is open only to devotees and closed to visitors but you can take a walk around the temple complex. Structured like a garden, Taman Ayun is one of the few temples with both open space and lots of greenery and trees. A beautiful spot for nature photo shoots!
- Padang Padang Beach
Known for its appearance in the film Eat, Pray, Love, Padang Padang Beach is one of the cleaner beaches in Bali that is filled with almost exclusively foreigners. Accessing this beach is a bit of a challenge – there is a narrow stairway path that has been carved through the rock cliff and as soon as you come out of it, you can see the pristine white sand and wide expanse of the clear blue ocean. In addition to picturesque nature, Padang Padang Beach is replete with beautiful men and women clad in swimsuits – a great place to spot eye candy!
- Tanah Lot Temple
Tanah Lot is a cliffside temple with multiple shrines. Since it is a highly dangerous area and was high tide when we went, no one was allowed to go to the actual temple structure but depending on the time of day and tide, you may be allowed at the base of the structure. Tanah Lot gets very hot during the day so the best time to visit is early in the morning or late in the evening. The temple faces the west so sunset watching at Tanah Lot is definitely a must on the Bali bucket list!
- Krisna Souvenir Shop
Located in the capital city of Denpasar, Krisna is the best one-stop shop for all souvenirs and random nicknacks in Bali. While the quality of goods is not great here, all products are sold at local fixed prices so everything is extremely cheap. Things you find at Ubud Art Market might be seen here at half the price but remember that they may also be half the quality. Essentially, Krisna = Costco + Big Bazaar. Not necessarily an attraction but a must-see if you are on a tight budget or looking for cheap souvenirs in Bali!
- Watch a Balinese music/dance performance
What’s a trip to Bali without some cultural arts immersion! There are many opportunities to check out music and dance shows in Bali, especially in the Ubud area. Just like India has many different styles of dance, Bali too has various types, including Kecak, Barong, and Legong. The two shows we saw were Kecak and Fire Dance at Sahadewa Stage and Legong Dance at Taman Pura Saraswati. Both give different flavors of the cultural arts scene in Bali. Kecak and Fire Dance occurs everyday from 6:30-7:30pm at Sahadewa Stage, while Taman Pura Saraswati offers different performances on each night. Shows are generally ticketed and last about 60-90 minutes. For more details, check out my performance review of “Chandra Wirabhuana” at Taman Pura Saraswati!
- Pura Tirta Empul
This is a unique temple with a natural spring for devotees to engage in Hindu rituals and cleanse/purify themselves in the holy water. Apparently, Lord Indra created the spring to revive his forces when they were poisoned. Thus, it is believed that Tirta Empul has curative properties and is seen as a fountain of immortality. Since there is quite a bit of history associated with this temple, it would be good to get a guide when visiting this temple just to have an idea of the significance of the rituals the devotees engage in. We saw visitors wearing sarongs and getting into the spring, however it is best to confirm whether visitors are allowed to bathe in the water.
As always, for all you Bollywood aficionados, here’s an extra tidbit I learned as I was departing from Bali:
- Bali has an Indian radio station.
On our way to the airport, our hotel driver showed us a channel on the radio that plays Bollywood music 24/7 in Bali. As we were exiting the van, the radio station was just starting to play the song “Gerua” from Dilwale! Our driver also mentioned that he saw the film 3 Idiots and really liked it!
Check back soon for more updates on my travels through Indonesia!