Bali has a well-earned reputation as a tropical paradise. Tourists wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life can step into the relaxed atmosphere of this resort island with beautiful beaches and many attractions.
As soon as you disembark from your plane into Denpasar International Airport you are impressed by the cleanliness of the place. Janitors sweep constantly and the floors are shiny and spotless. When you walk out of the terminal into the tropical air you immediately see the influence of Hindu architecture – statues of strange beings stand guard along the archways of the corridors.
Bali is a volcanic island located approximately 8 degrees south of the equator. The daytime temperature averages 30°C (88°F) in the lowlands, but it is cooler in the mountains. The rainy season is from December to March, and the driest months are July and August.
Cars drive on the left side of the road like in Australia or England, but even if you have experience driving in these countries, it may be better to hire a taxi to get around the city because parking is difficult and the streets are narrow and under constant renovation. The traffic on the narrow roads is terrible. Motorcycles zigzag between cars and the only rule seems to be to try to avoid hitting someone else. The lane markings on the roadway may serve as guidelines, but they don't seem to have much significance for the motorists who frequently straddle lanes jockeying for position. Drivers and motorcyclists honk frequently to make other drivers aware of their presence.
Hotels and Resorts
Bali has many luxurious hotels where tourists can spend their time without venturing into the towns around the island. This is certainly what you would do if you came here to relax, although there is much to see in this island. The Grand Aston Bali Beach Resort and the Mulia Resort have swimming pools, spas, exercise rooms, restaurants and access to the beach.
Bali was the target of terrorist bombings in 2002 which killed 202 people. Another bombing in 2005 resulted in 20 deaths. Tourism dropped dramatically and the hotels instituted meticulous search of vehicles far from the buildings. The Hotel Pullman, below, has an iron gate that blocks vehicles until the trunks are examined and the underside is viewed with cameras installed at ground level. All large hotels have similar security screenings.
Chicken, duck and fish are the primary meat products consumed in Bali. Although there is a lot of Hindu influence, the food in Bali is typically Indonesian, rather than Indian. Ayam Bakar (grilled chicken) and Soto Ayam (Chicken Soup) are two very popular dishes. Indonesians like their food spicy, and hot sauces are a common garnish.
Hinduism is practiced by 1.7% of the total population of Indonesia, and by 83.5% of the population in Bali. Hindu influences reached the Indonesian Archipelago in the first century. Islam came to Indonesia in the 13th century and became established in the 15th and 16th centuries when Muslim militant campaigns attacked Hindu and Buddhist communities and imposed a jizya tax.
One of the attractions of Bali for tourists is that there is no prohibition on alcoholic beverages like in other parts of Indonesia which have a greater percentage of Muslim population.
Hindu homes and businesses in Bali can be recognized because they display religious offerings at their entrances. Tall bamboo poles called "penjor" with palm-leaf decorations proclaim religious devotion and the victory of Dharma (good) against Adharma (evil). These poles are set up during Galungan celebrations which honor the creator of the universe and for important ceremonies such as weddings, anniversaries and the inauguration of new stores.
Small offerings consisting of tiny baskets crafted from palm leaves are filled with flowers, grasses and snacks. When the offerings are placed, a prayer is said as they are sprinkled with water, and a stick of burning incense may be placed on top of them. Sometimes these offerings are placed on a sidewalk or in the middle of a driveway where people or cars will go over them. The food in the offerings is not wasted. I saw a kitten eating some cooked rice that had been placed in an offering by the foot of a statue of a deity.
Below is an image of a market stall offering colorful batik scarves, dresses and sarongs.
At the entrance to a market, offerings are stacked at the base of statue of Hanuman, a Hindu monkey god.
In a world where most souvenirs are made in China, it is good to see that Indonesia has artisans that craft souvenirs.
Most of the handicrafts produced in Indonesia are wood carvings or stone carvings. Indonesia has rich forests that produce a wide variety of lumber products.
Bali has many Hindu temples throughout the island. When visiting the temples, visitors are asked to wear a traditional Balinese sarong as a symbolic gesture of respect. A sarong is a large length of fabric that is wrapped around the waist and worn by men and women throughout much of South Asia. Balinese costumes use bright and contrasting colors.
Elephant Cave (Goa Gajah)
Goa Gajah is located in Bali near the town of Ubud. The structure was built in the 9th century and served as a sanctuary.
Elaborate carvings decorate the entrance of the cave. The interior of the cave is not very deep. Adjacent to the cave is a bathing temple that had been buried and was excavated in the 1950s.
Penglipuran - Balinese village
Penglipuran Village and its surroundings have been preserved with very little influence of modern life. Chickens forage freely along the sidewalks and the courtyards. Many of the buildings have roofs made of split bamboo rather than the more common thatched grass roofs. A bamboo forest is preserved behind the village.
At the entrance to the Monkey Forest there are signs warning visitors to protect their glasses, hats and jewelry from the macaque monkeys that live in the area. The monkeys have learned that if they steal something from a tourist, they can get rewarded with bananas for returning the objects.
High cliffs border the Monkey Forest. Signs warn tourists to stay within the fences, but some people ignore the signs and walk along the precipice where a stumble or a false step could result in a fall toward the rocks below.
Kecak Ramayana and Fire Dance
An amphitheater near the temple on the cliffs of the Monkey Forest provides the setting for a ritual dance based on a Hindu epic in which a monkey-like forest creature helped Prince Rama fight the evil King Ravana. A chorus of performers dressed in checkered sarongs chant rhythmically providing the background for a pantomime about the battle of the literary characters. The lyrics of the chant consist only of the word "Kecak", pronounced kechak, repeated over and over, which after many repetitions sounds like "chakke chakke chakke chakke ..."
Tanah Lot Temple
Tanah Lot is a rock formation on the shore of the Indonesian island of Bali. Erosion by sea tides has carved large caves at the bottom of the rock and the pilgrimage temple Pura Tanah Lot is at the top of the rock. The Tanah Lot temple was built in the sixteenth century and is one of seven sea temples around the Balinese coast.
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is a major water temple on Bali. The temple complex is located on the shores of Lake Bratan in the mountains near Bedugul. The temple was built in 1663 and it is used for offering ceremonies to the Balinese water goddess Dewi Danu. This temple can be visited during a day trip from the resort areas in the south of Bali.
Percussion instruments made of bamboo, such as the anklung and the calung, are used in folkloric Indonesian music. The traditional way of playing these instruments is reminiscent of the sound of wind chimes. Unlike western music which has a melody, the musical themes played on these bamboo xylophones appear to be random but harmonic sequences of notes and chords.
This percussion orchestra performed in December of 2014 during a Hindu festival at the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan Temple.
Weddings and Funerals
During one of our day trips, we came across a Hindu cremation ceremony. An altar with offerings had been built along the side of a mountain road. A group of musicians played some gongs and drums, and the instrumental beat was accompanied with chanting from the participants of the funerary ceremony.
Many people choose to be married while vacationing in Bali, and there are many wedding planners in the island. Arrangements can be made for the wedding ceremony with traditional Balinese costumes and the catering of wedding banquets.
First-time visitors to Asia are sometimes shocked or puzzled by the toilet facilities away from the luxury hotels. In Indonesia, the men's restrooms are usually marked "Pria" and the women's restrooms are marked "Wanita". Many restrooms use the international signs found in airports, but you can also signs such as the following.
Squat toilets are common in Asia. They are considered sanitary because there is no contact with the body. The sides of the toilet have ridged edges for placing the feet. In Indonesia, usually there is no toilet paper in the squat stalls. There is an adjoining cistern and a small bucket with a handle. To flush the toilet, you must get water from the cistern and pour it into the toilet. To clean yourself, you pour water from the ladle on your rear end while washing your butt with the other hand. Then you pour some water on your hand to wash it.
Places that have European sit-down toilets sometimes post instructions on their use for people who are not familiar with them.