DUBAI: Bali – an island off the coast of Indonesia — might just be the most famous tourist spot in Asia. It’s beloved by tourists from the West, particularly, who want a taste of the tropical island life. I went there partly because people can’t stop talking about it. And now I understand why.
One of the first things I noticed on arrival is how strongly the locals adhere to their culture in this tropical paradise, which adds to its distinctive identity. Around 90 percent of the locals in Bali practice Hinduism, unlike the rest of Muslim-dominated Indonesia. So, you’ll see intricate sculptures of Hindu gods, as well as patches of flowers and incense ash scattered across the streets.
A trip to Bali from the Gulf can be quite pricy if you want to travel directly to Denpasar, the capital city that serves as the main gateway to different parts of the island. Budget travelers can longer travel times on smaller carriers though.
Even an expensive flight is okay, though, because it will be offset by how cheap the cost of living is in Bali. You can book quality accommodation for as little as $40 per night, the delicious local food — such as nasi goreng (stir-fried rice with meat and/or vegetables) — is easily affordable.
The first thing I did when I landed was to ask locals which hotel I should stay at. I wouldn’t recommend this level of spontaneity though, simply because Bali has seemingly infinite options. It’s pretty overwhelming. I ended up staying in Kuta, a resort town in the south of the island, because a local told me: “It’s where the young people go.”
That’s another great thing about Bali — its different areas offer different vibes, so you can really choose what you want the focus of your trip to be. Kuta — one of Bali’s first tourist developments — is famous for its party-centric atmosphere. Places in the eastern part of the Island are centered more around cultural trips and meditation. If you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to plan your ideal trip.
Aside from the laid-back beach life in Kuta and Seminyak (with those famous bean bags on the shore), it’s worth enjoying a private culture tour (check TripAdvisor for recommendations) in which a local guide will take you round several of the island’s most-popular tourist spots.
The first was the “untouched” Virgin Beach in eastern Bali (a long, long drive from my hotel). It was worth the journey though, because the beaches in the south can get really crowded. I could count on my fingers the number of people I saw at the Virgin Beach. The water was a bit rough for swimming — I visited in August — but it was a lovely place to just relax and listen to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
Then we headed to Tirta Gangga (literally “water from the Ganges”) Water Palace, a picturesque location with tiered fountains, open gardens, and stone sculptures spouting water into bathing pools. It was previously a royal palace originally built in the 1940s.
We stopped by a coffee plantation to try out the local coffee — Kopi Luwak — made partially from coffee cherries digested by the Asian palm civet. Farmers collect the animal droppings and turn them into coffee beans. It tastes much better than it sounds.
The highlight of the tour was a trip to one of Bali’s many magnificent temples, Lempuyang, home to the famous Gates of Heaven. A staple of any Bali visitor’s Instagram feed, the temple is located over a thousand meters above sea level, giving visitors a breathtaking view of the island.
It is a must-visit for first timers in Bali. Looking through the vertically split gate reveals a silhouette of Mount Agung behind translucent puffs of clouds, making it the perfect spot for a souvenir picture.
There’s much more to Bali than I was able to see in my three-day stay: The famous Bali swing, dolphin watching, submarine tours, and other activities. I would recommend staying for at least a week to have time to try everything out. But even for a quick weekend getaway, you really can’t go wrong with Bali.