Bali is the most well known of the islands of Indonesia for tourists looking for a tropical island holiday. With a vibrant culture, beautiful architecture,and friendly people, it’s easy to see why it is such a tourist mecca. And don’t forget about the crystal turquoise waters, swaying palm trees, sandy beaches, and all the shades of green you can imagine. As the only predominately non-Muslim island in all of Indonesia, it is more open and thus caters to western tendencies. This includes being more accepting of the tourists' less than conservative dress code and their indulgence in alcohol.
The most touristy areas are concentrated in the south part of the island. As such, there are fancy resorts, upscale restaurants and bars, and even malls! This is the party place in Bali. For the traveller looking for a different experience, there are still pockets of Bali that are unspoiled and more authentic, especially in the north and west. With 3 kids and a set of grandparents, we chose to stay in the more family and retiree friendly area of Sanur on the south-east side of the island (we heard someone accurately describe Sanur as the beach for people who take cruises!). While it was still very touristy with plenty of amenities to stay quite comfortable, it was a very chilled out place to spend some time. We did venture over to busy side for one day of surf at Legian beach. The waves were perfect for learning and the boys, including John, caught so many waves. The beach was wide and expansive but sadly, full of garbage. Unfortunately, this is a common problem in Bali.
After my parents left, we started touring the island a bit more. We moved inland to Ubud, famed for beautiful rice fields and abundance of artisans. It too was another tourist hot spot. We would have loved to have stayed on the outskirts of town amongst the rice fields, but without transport, it was difficult. We stayed in a wonderful secluded guesthouse in the centre that was a nice refuge from the hustle and bustle of the main streets. We did some great walks through the countyside, and even bought some art from some local artists in the area.
Our next destination was Amed, a super laid back fishing village on the east side of Bali. People come not for the beaches but rather for the diving and snorkelling. Great snorkelling could be had right from the beach as there is a huge reef extending along the length of the beach right off the shore. The water was warm and the snorkelling was fantastic. While John and I had gotten our PADI open water diving certificate while on our first RTW trip and hadn’t dove since then, we were not expecting to dive. But as chance encounters have a way of changing our plans…..we dove! We met a nice couple at lunch and struck up a conversation with them. They had just come from diving a wreck site in the area and raved about it. The girl hadn’t dived in years either and she said she did a quick refresher course and was good to go. The wheels started spinning in my head pretty fast and pretty soon we were signed up to dive the next day! We went on different days because of the kids but both John and I had a great experience. With a quick refresher, it all came back to us and we had no issues. Diving the wreck was really cool. There were loads of colourful fish, hard and soft coral, and I even saw a black tip shark and a sea turtle!
After Amed, we took a ferry over to Nusa Lembongan, a smaller island next to Bali known for white sand beaches and turquoise waters. It is also an area known for seeing Manta rays, and at certain times of the year the giant sunfish. It wasn’t the season for the sunfish but Mantas are known to seen year round. We did a snorkel tour hoping to see the Mantas, but unfortunately conditions weren’t favourable as the ocean swells had been quite big. We did see a bamboo shark, a Moray eel, and a Titan triggerfish though which were cool. The boys were quick to point out to me how vicious Titan triggerfish can be, and that it is featured on the Netflix special the “72 deadliest animals in Asia”. While Nusa Lembongan was certainly quaint and beautiful, we were a bit disappointed that the main beach with calm water and soft white sand was full of boats along the entire length of the beach. The other beaches had fairly strong currents making them not the most swim friendly. Something that surprised us was seeing the boatfuls of Chinese tourists that arrived daily from the mainland as day trippers. At one site, we were more enthralled watching the Chinese tourists with all their photo-posing, than actually checking out the site. The signature “peace sign” that they love to pose with may have snuck into some of our photos too.
We took a day trip to nearby Nusa Penida, which is a bigger but less developed island. There were about 4 main tourist sites featuring the rugged coast. While they were stunning, the driving around on the bumpy rutty roads was not! As most people come as a day trip to do the same tour, the traffic was horrible. It’s reputation as a tourist spot has outlived its infrastructure capacities, and it didn't
We wrapped up our Bali trip with a few nights back on the mainland in Sanur. This Indonesian island sure delivers on culture, architecture, natural beauty, tasty food, welcoming people, and skilled artisans, which we loved! It also pumps out a lot of heat and humidity, which we didn’t love. Even still, we enjoyed ourselves. Although a small island, Bali seems to have something for everyone.