Bali stands apart from the rest of the country as being the only Hindu-majority province in this predominantly Muslim country. It’s laid back and easy-going vibe feels like a million miles from the hustle and bustle of the traffic-choked streets of Jakarta.
Most likely the first spot you will channelled after arriving in the Balinese capital of Denpasar is the tourist destination of Kuta. While the town itself and Kuta beach is pleasant enough, it’s something of a tourist trap with touts and vendors plying their wares along the coastal strip. Kuta often tends to be overrun with Australians – it’s one of the country’s top travel destinations – who are often in Bali to party, as demonstrated by the occasional rowdy late-night scenes in Kuta’s pubs and clubs.
The tranquil town of Ubud is less than an hour away from the more popular Kuta, and is the ideal place to begin your exploration of authentic Balinese culture. Legend has it that Ubud was founded in the eighth century by a Javanese priest, Rsi Markendya, who sought out the serenity at the joining of great two rivers – considered lucky by Hindus. He is believed to have founded the Gunung Lebah Temple, and it remains a popular pilgrimage site.
It is a centre that has long drawn artists keen to immerse themselves in the beautiful and authentic setting, and has numerous arts and craft shops for curious visitors to explore. Over the decades it has attracted a host of famous people including Charlie Chaplin, the playwright Noel Coward and sci-fi novelist H.G. Wells.
Its cultural credentials have been further boosted with the advent of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in 2004. It is held annually in October, pandemic restrictions permitting. Ubud has a backdrop of steep and dramatic mountains is the gateway to Bali’s famed rice terraces.
2. Tegalalang Rice Terrace
Indonesia is one of the world’s greatest producers of rice, so it’s hardly surprising that it also has some of the planet’s most spectacular rice paddies. Bali is especially famed for this and its verdant and lush rice terraces are well worth a peek. The elevation makes for some truly breath-taking views.
These closest of such elevated attractions to Ubud is the Tegalalang Rice Terrace. It is one of the island’s most stunning, with the steps imbued with rich, emerald green hues. However, it can be a little crowded – especially around the middle of the day – so for a more chilled out experience it’s worth going further afield.
3. The Munduk Rice Terrace
The Munduk Rice Terrace is a case in point. Nestled cosily at 1000 ft above sea level it offers respite from the tropical heat below. If exploring the rice terraces whets your appetite, try a hot bowl of bakso – a tasty Indonesian meatball soup – at one of the area’s warungs.
4. Jatiluwih Rice Terrace
For those wanting to make more of a trip, the Jatiluwih Rice Terrace is the ideal spot. One of the largest in Bali, and just over an hour’s drive from Denpasar, it affords spectacular views of rolling rice fields, in the shadow of Mount Batukaru. Make the most of it by spending the night in one of the region’s guesthouses or hotels. The Subak irrigation system used in the rice paddies of Jatiluwih, led the area to become a UNESCO heritage-listed site in 2012.
5. Watch the Wayang Puppet Show
A must-see during your trip is to attend a showing of the Wayang puppet show. The Wayang Kulit is a traditional Indonesian art form. The show is a performing art of moving shadow puppets, set against a background of stretched white cloth.
It’s easy to catch a performance in the evening of days special significance for the Balinese, such as the temple anniversary (odalan), weddings and the intriguing tooth filling ceremony (metatah). The Balinese version of the Wayang is centred on two legendary Hindu fables, Ramayana and Mahabarata.
Key to the performance is the puppet master, known as the dalang. He is required to perform with dexterity and skill while depicting numerous characters in a story. The puppet master must be able to create their own puppet sets, have a wide vocal range and musical timing – all the attributes required to be a showman to breath life into the puppets.
6. Snorkling at the Blue Lagoon
No trip to Bali would be complete without an exploration of its coastal beauty – both above and below the water. The former Dutch colony is part of the Coral Triangle, which boasts the world’s highest biodiversity of marine species, especially fish and turtles. It’s estimated that in this area there are more than 500 reef-forming coral species. To put this in perspective, it’s seven times as many as in the whole of the Caribbean.
For anyone interested in doing a little snorkelling or scuba diving, you are spoiled for choice. A good spot for newbie snorkellers and divers alike is the Blue Lagoon. This shallow coral reef is a perfect site for beginners, with its tranquil waters and vividly coloured corals. While the dive point offers something more for the more experienced underwater explorer – with rare marine species floating by, including the Spanish dancer (a gastropod mollusc) and leopard shark. But don’t worry, the latter is harmless to humans.
7. Lipah Bay
Another recommended spot is Lipah Bay, where a Japanese patrol boat from World War II sank and rests at the bottom of its crystal-clear waters. The wreck of the boat has become a habitat for many creatures – and supports many stunning corals and marine animals. The wreckage sits just 40 ft below the surface.
8. Pos Dua
For the more adventurous is Pos Dua on Menjangan Island, around three hours from the main island of Bali. Here, experienced divers can explore a breath-taking abyss that creates a magnificent wall covered in different species of corals.