In search of Bali
Some good and alternative tips for first time visitors
to Indonesia's most popular destination
Text and photos: Erik Pontoppidan , Copenhagen, Denmark
Beyond any competition, Bali is the most visited place in the Indonesian archipelago. To many westerners, the island represents the dream of the tropical paradise with palm beaches, rice fields, handsome people and a harmonic, simple life style.
During the last decades, Bali has been overcrowded by hordes of tourists, who have primarily come in order to fulfil this dream. However, I am sure that most of them has got a mental chock after the landing in Kuta International Airport. When they leave the airport they find themselves in the middle of one of the world's major tourist centres. The area around the airport is covered with tourist hotels of all categories, the traffic is overwhelming, and the numerous advertising plates contribute to the destruction of the expectation of Paradise. Bali is often called "The Australian Mallorca", and frankly, that comparison is not so bad at all. At many places in the southern part of the island, the degree of tourism is at least as high as Mallorca and Costa del Sol.
In spite of that, I consider Bali as a "must" for first time visitors to Indonesia. The culture is beautiful and exciting, and it's surprisingly unspoiled by the heavy tourism. Leave Kuta and Den Pasar behind, and you will find many of the things you were dreaming of, but you have search a little for them.
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I have been travelling a lot all over Indonesia, and I have visited Bali several times. In the following, I would like to suggest some good things to see and do for first time travellers to this island, hoping that this may give them some good experiences. Most off the suggestions are based on my personal experience, so they may be a little casual and alternative.
The Indonesians are very friendly and hospitable, and they are one of the main reasons for the great attraction of the country. As a westerner, you feel welcome almost everywhere. This photo is from the tourist Mekka in Kuta, where I spent a whole night talking with these young Balinesians.
And finally: Indonesia is a marvellous country! When you have been to Bali, you should go back and visit some of the other islands. The people are friendly and hospitable, and the country itself has a countless number of strong cultures and religions. Bali itself has a unique culture and religion mainly based on Hinduism, but most Indonesians are Moslems. However, it's a mild form of Islam, very different from the way it's practised in the Moslem countries of the Middle East. And as a tourist, you feel welcome almost everywhere in a nice and relaxed way. You may read more about my travels to some of the other islands by using the links at the bottom of this page.
Ubud and surroundings
Try a visit to the town Ubud in the central highlands. The soul of Bali is told to be found somewhere in the hills around Ubud. You won't get rid of tourists here either, but the landscape is beautiful and there are plenty of things to do. Rent a bicycle or a motor-bike and take a ride on the small roads between the rice-fields.
Young Balinese dancers from a dancing school are practising outside the royal palace in Ubud.
Every night, there is a performance of Balinese dancing at this place. In the real performance at night, the music is played by a genuine gamelan orchestra, and the dancers are wearing the colourful, traditional clothing. The dances are derived from ancient legends and myths.
Or you may take a walk in the hills around the town. Ask for "Bali Pathfinder", which is the name of a small map and a pamphlet with good suggestions for treks around Ubud. The landscape is green and fertile. If you like art and handicraft, you will find an abundance of paintings, batik and woodcarving everywhere, produced in the surrounding villages. Every night, there is a performance of Balinese dancing with traditional gamelan music at the royal palace in the town centre. If you like exotic food, Ubud is a good place too, with plenty of excellent restaurants.