Bali (Benoa), Indonesia
Bali really is as alluring as everyone says. This island, slightly bigger than Delaware, has it all: beaches, volcanoes, terraced rice fields, forests, renowned resorts, surfing, golf, and world-class dive sites. But what sets Bali apart from other nearby tropical destinations is Balinese tradition, and villagers dedicated to celebrating it. The hundreds of temples, dances, rituals, and crafts linked to their ancient Hindu faith aren't a show for tourists, but a living, breathing culture in which visitors are warmly received by the Balinese, who cherish their own identities. Snakes in the garden, including commercialism and traffic, diminish but don't destroy Bali's charm.
Bali's interior is mountainous and lush. At its edges, it is framed by thick mangrove swamps, sweeping white and black (volcanic) sand beaches, and lively coral reefs. The island also has a variety of ecosystems for wildlife such as mouse deer, monkeys, dolphins, giant turtles, and more than 300 bird species. Benoa Harbor, Bali's primary southern port, is within easy striking distance of southern Bali and is across the bay from Tanjung Benoa, a slender peninsula heading up from the exclusive Nusa Dua resort area.
Bali Bomb Memorial. October 12, 2002 was just another party-hearty Saturday night in Kuta until a pair of bombs detonated in rapid succession, the first inside a popular bar, the second in a van outside an even more popular nightclub across Jalan Legian. The blasts and ensuing inferno left at least 202 dead, 88 of them Australian tourists, nearly 250 more injured, and millions of lives charged. The memorial, located at the site of the first blast, was dedicated two years later with an elaborately carved Balinese motif inspired by shadow puppets towering above the marble plaque listing known fatalities by nationality. Flags of their 23 homelands are raised daily around the monument. Jalan Legian, Kuta.
Bali Safari and Marine Park. From white tigers to rhinos to northern cassowaries, the park's 60 species will fill in blanks on most bucket lists. It's Bali Aga extravaganza (daily except Mondays) has Disney-level production values, for an additional charge. Entertaining animal and elephant shows emphasize conservation themes. Most animal headliners are viewed only on the 30 minute safari tour, but there are elephants, camels, and birds around the park for photos and feeding (for a fee). There's also an aquarium featuring piranhas. Jalan Bypass Prof Dr Ida Bagus Mantra Km.19, Gianyar. Admission charged.
Bedugul-Munduk Lake Country. Bali's lake country highlands present breathtaking vistas at elevations above 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), two to three hours north of southern resort areas. Bedugul overlooks Danau (Lake) Bratan. Lakeside temple Pura Ulun Danau Bratan is rightly among Bali's most photographed spots. Vast Bali Botanical Garden (Kebun Raya Eka Karya Bali), mobbed on Sundays, grows palms to pines to pink roses, thanks to the elevation. Bedugul's market and countless hawkers sell famed local strawberries. The winding 16-km (10-mile) road to Munduk skirts Danau Buyan and Danau Tamblingan, with views of forested mountainsides that reach the sea. Munduk features hiking trails, waterfalls, Dutch colonial buildings, and coffee plantations. Weather ranges from sweltering sun to mountain chill, often changing dramatically within a couple of hours. Bedugul. Admission charged.
Gitgit Waterfall (Air Terjun Gitgit). With five waterfalls at four locations between Bedugul and Singaraja, Gitgit can be a confusing destination. Gitgit Waterfall is farthest from southern resort areas and down the mountainside toward the north coast. The waterfall is nearly 160 feet (48 meters) high and takes about an hour to climb down then up the 150 steps to it, and no guide is necessary. With a guide, it's possible to continue to smaller Colek Pamor, Twin, and/or Multi Falls. Visiting all four requires about three hours walking a hilly 2 miles (3 kilometers) through plantations and rice fields. Jalan Raya Singaraja-Bedugul Km 10, Gitgit, Bedugul. Admission charged.
Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave). This Hindu holy place dates back at least 1,000 years. The T-shaped cave interior has elaborate stone carvings and a statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha, which is a tribute to Goa Gajah name but not the reason for it. The courtyard outside the cave has sculptured female figures filling a pair of bathing pools. Jalan Raya Goa Gajah, Ubud. Admission charged.
Museum Le Mayeur. Explore the works of Belgian painter Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpes, who arrived in Sanur in 1932 at age 52. He shared the remainder of his life on Bali with Ni Nyoman Pollok, the 15 year old dancer that became his primary model and wife The couple's home, on a wide patch of beach, displays 88 of Le Mayeur's works, including early impressionist views of Europe, island watercolors on grass matting, and later rich oils that still influence Balinese artists. Original antique furniture, period photos, and elaborate stone and wood carvings on shutters and walls contextualize the paintings and the Le Mayeurs. Sanur Beach, 165 feet (150 meters) south of Jalan Hang Tuah, Sanur. Admission charged.
Neka Museum. Ubud is Bali's arts center, and this museum traces the island's painting history. Arranged like a family compound in separate pavilions in a garden, the museum illustrates the evolution of painting in Bali, including the influence of prominent foreign and Indonesian artists who have lived here. One wing showcases Java's Abdul Aziz, who evocatively depicted everyday Balinese. Upstairs, there's a veritable greatest hits gallery dedicated to Bali's resident international masters, including Antonio Blanco and Rudolf Bonnet. Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud. Admission charged.
Pasifika Museum. The museum's 350 piece collection, mainly paintings, includes big names such as Adrien Jean Le Mayeur, Theo Maier, Miguel Covarrubias and Donald Friend-the latter two perhaps better known for their writing about Bali. Rather oddly, artworks are arranged by the artists' country of birth, rather than chronologically or by subject or region depicted. Works from Pacific islands and Indochina are also displayed. Bali Tourism Development Corporation (BTDC) Area, Block P, Nusa Dua. Admission charged.
Pura Besakih. Bali's so-called "mother temple" exemplifies island Hinduism and, regrettably, tourism-driven greed. Some 3,000 feet (900 meters) up Mount Agung's southwestern slope, Pura Besakih includes 23 temples, interiors usually closed to visitors, about three hours from southern resort areas. Pura Pentaran Agung dominates, with six stages climbing the mountainside. Equally striking are lines of women worshipers in matching sarong and kebaya (form-fitting long blouse), swaying up temple paths, fruit offerings balanced on their heads, and views to the sea if clouds clear. Besakih hawkers and guides-some knowledgeable, most negligible-throng visitors; steer clear and accept no offers without setting a price first. Jalan Pura Besakih. Admission charged.
Sababay Winery. This local winery uses Bali-grown grapes, part of its commitment to grassroots partnerships. Visitors can see up to a half-million liters (130,000 gallons) of juice being processed into 10,000 bottles a day of its Black Velvet, White Velvet, and Pink Blossom varieties, formulated by Sababay's French winemaker. These so-called New Latitude wines are meant to be poured young, so there's not an oak cask in sight. Sababay aims to revitalize grape growing in North Bali through its Farmer Partnership Agreement, paying higher crop prices to planters that follow its agricultural methods. Visits to vineyards near Lovina can also be arranged. Jalan Bypass Prof Dr Ida Bagus Mantra No. 333x, Keramas, Gianyar.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Ubud's Monkey Forest is home to dozens of Balinese macaques. These long-tailed grayish primates mug it up and dive spectacularly into their pool when not taking refuge in the tall trees. But there's more to the forest than monkeyshines. Guides posted along the paths gladly expound on the site's history and temples, including Pura Perana, dating to the 14th century. Monkeys here are better behaved than their counterparts in Uluwatu, but still can get nasty. Remove anything they can grab (like hats, glasses and earrings) and all food from your person. Obey the many "Do Not Feed" signs rather than the sales pitches of banana and peanut hawkers. Jalan Monkey Forest, Padang Tegal, Ubud. Admission charged.
Resorts areas have plenty of shops for tourist needs and souvenirs. Surfing haven Kuta boasts several surf clothing shops popular with wave riders and wannabes alike. Pasar Kumbasari in Denpasar and Pasar Seni (Art Market) in Sukawati sell handicrafts, local costumes, and other local specialties. Along Ubud's main road there's a traditional market catering to tourists, plus dozens of shops crammed with high-quality, inexpensive textiles (in particular, beautiful batik work), clothing, carvings, household goods, kites, chimes, paintings, and kitschy souvenirs. Craft villages with particular specialties, such as a Celuk for silver, are good destinations if you're looking for particular items of quality.
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