An window to Indonesia, Bali is a magnet for international tourists with arrivals above 2,7 million in 2011 according to the Central Statistic Agency (BPS). Traditional arrivals from the Netherlands, France and Germany have been superseded by Asia. Arrivals from Australia alone accounted for more than 790,000 in 2011 with almost 1 in 3 visitors to Bali now carrying Australian passports. Second and third place went to the People's Republic of China and Japan. The cruise ship terminal at Benoa Port welcomes some 13 international cruise ships from around the world.
Speak to the visitors and you'll hear many stories about the pull of this island paradise inhabited by friendly people and a vibrant society with unique arts, culture and ceremonies. The magic of island spirits, ribbons of pristine beaches, cultivated rice terraces, impressive volcanoes and enchanting temple ceremonies keep tourists coming back again and again.
Regularly voted as one of the world's favourite destinations, Bali manages to keep everyone happy with its exotic blend of culture, beaches, food, partying and pampering. Here are the top 5 ways to enjoy Bali and immerse yourself in the island fever.
Balinese Hinduism, a religious and social framework that exists in Java and nowhere else, permeates just about every aspect of daily life on the island including the arts and culture. For example, classical dance dramas based on the old Hindu epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabarata from India are mixed with pre-Hindu animist belief and peculiar local folklore.
Pura" or temples are the centrepiece of Balinese beliefs and they are everywhere. Besakih, situated on Mount Agung is the mother of all temples dating back to the 8th century. Revered ancient sea temples include Tanah Lot situated on a craggy rock outcrop north of Seminyak and Uluwatu perched on Bali's southern cliffs.
Temple festivals are commonplace and each village conducts some sort of colourful religious ceremony several times a year. The 16th century Pura Dalem Petitenget, one of Bali's most sacred temples, is where visitors can watch colourful Hindu ceremonies.
Uluwatu Kechak Dance / Photo by didiz rushdi of Flickr
Bali offers visitors a rich assortment of beaches, each with its individual charm, ranging from wide white sandy coasts of Kuta, Nusa Dua and Sanur in the south to undisturbed coves in the north and west. The most famous of Bali's beaches is Kuta Beach which serves the nearby resorts of Tuban, Legian and Seminyak. It offers a wide range of accommodation types, dining, bars, nightclubs, shopping and surfing.
Early morning is where the waves are best and its sandy bottom sea and easy waves of the 7 kilometre coastline of Kuta Bay make it ideal for novice surfers. Surf schools like Odyssey Bali Surf School and Bali Learn to Surf School offers affordable packages including hotel transfers, equipment and hot showers. Families can enjoy the resorts, shopping, golfing and attractions of Nusa Dua and swimming and snorkeling at Padang Padang Beach and Lovina Beach.
Dreamland Beach surrounded by limestone cliffs some 25 minutes south of Kuta is a popular spot for romantic sunsets. Visitors looking for private beaches with blue lagoons can hideaway at Padang Bai Beach and the famous Jimbaran Bay located on Bali's southwestern coast of the narrow isthmus connecting the Bali mainland and the Bukit Peninsula. The beach and the bay of Jimbaran offers secluded and exclusive celebrity haunts framed by tropical forests and luxury hotels like the Four Seasons Resort and the InterContinental Bali Resort & Spa.
Bali is party central for visitors all tanned up, young and energetic, hopelessly in love or drop-dead chic and gorgeous. Irregardless of your taste, style and budget, this island of entertainment has hot spots for everyone that make White Night Melbourne seem bland.
Seminyak, the island's most sophisticated entertainment enclave is the ideal spot for sunset cocktails with swanky crowds. Not to be confused with the similar named joint in Singapore, Bali's Ku De Ta is one of the world's most iconic beach clubs and its daybeds, fine-dining, house music and signature cocktails using fresh local ingredients make this venue a jetsetter's haunt for mango-hued sundown rituals and parties. For a refined gentlemen club-like bar adorned with leather club chairs and chandeliers with quirky cocktails and a post-dinner tipple, check out Mama San. Cocoon while smaller than its competitors is another ultra-modern beach club with poolside cabanas, daybeds, pool and DJs.
Potato Head Beach Club / Photo by neeravbhatt of Flickr
Visitors searching for a night of revelry can soak up the upmarket atmosphere at Petitenget Beach. A 3-storey nightspot, WooBar at W Retreat and Spa, features big party nights on Fridays and Saturdays with international DJs. Hu'u Bar great for dancing to DJ tunes till the sun comes up. Located next to Petitenget Beach is Potato Head Beach Club where guests can party up with the likes of star DJs Fatboy Slim and Mark Ronson in a setting that boast an infinity pool, daybeds, an open-air lounge bar and bistro, lawns, 2 top-notch restaurants and stunning sunsets.
Kuta is the centre of Bali's nightlife with special drink promotions, happy hours and free entrance to bars. The biggest night spot is the 61 Legian Sky Garden, jam packed nightly with a diverse crowd thanks to its fun, brash and affordable atmosphere. The more upmarket Hard Rock Cafe draws crowds on weekends with its music memorabilia and international guest bands.
The most spectacular of watering holes has to be the Rock Bar at Ayana Resort and Spa in Jimbaran. Anchored on natural rocks 14 metres above sea level, this open air spilt-level bar and lounge offering 360 degree views out to the horizon and down upon the waves crashing below. It is ideal for romance by sunset and under the stars.
Dining in Bali is as varied as the island's attractions and its visitors, from five star offerings to roadside stalls to restaurants geared towards foreign palates and authentic Balinese cuisine with intense flavours.
Made's Warung in north Seminyak is a long-time favourite for restuarant-standard Indonesian and Balinese cuisine including 'gado-gado' (a salad consisting of spicy peanut sauce over various vegetables and sticky rice), 'nasi campur' (serving of rice with chicken, beef, fish, tofu, vegetables and sambal), 'pepesan ikan'(steamed fish in banana leaves) and ginger ice cream. Nightly live entertainment accompanies the well –priced home-styled dishes.
French restaurant, Sip Wine Bar in Seminyak offers bottles of wine with steak haches and homemade pate with warm toast, while another French favourite, Metis, is popular for pan-sear foie gras with port and raspberry reduction, and views of the rice paddies. This open‑air 350‑seat emporium also houses a patisserie, bars, event space, an arts and interior shop, a jewelry boutique and a women's fashion boutique.
Lilin, located in the Potato Head Beach Club offers Southeast Asian tapas in a canteen style, semi-open communal dining. Sardine, located in north Petitenget evokes the spirit of old Bali with a terrace fronting paddy fields and the tranquil sounds of nature. The restaurant features an Asian and European influenced menu that changes daily depending on the availability of seasonal ingredients.
Spend a lazy afternoon at tea lounge-restaurant bookstore Biku in Petitenget, inspired by Indonesian culture and housed in a 150 year old traditional Javanese teak house or 'jolgo'. Enjoy the afternoon tea featuring 3-tier stands of home-baked cakes and pots of tea while browsing the antiques or order up a 20 minute tarot card session. La Lucciola on Petitenget Beach is a Sunday-brunch institution serving up glorious sea views with house-cured salmon and soft poached eggs on toasted ciabatta. Kitchenette and Café Sardinia offer alfresco, beach facing patios at Kuta's new Beachwalk shopping and lifestyle mall.
The everyday local fare can be consumed from makeshift stalls and "warungs" or 3-wheeled mobile carts that provide low cost hawker meals such as "lumpia", a type of fried spring roll, "pisang goreng" or banana fritters, "bakso", a meatball soup, "tupat" or steamed rice in coconut-leaf packages that are cubed with tofu, cucumber, spinach and sprouts and mixed with a fiery peanut sauce, and varieties of "Lawar", a local specialty made of minced pork, coconut and spices.
Home to some of the best spas in the world, there are simply too many 'spoil yourself' places to list in Bali where pampering and relaxation abound. A long day of touring, beach tanning and swimming is an excellent excuse for a relaxing facial and massage in one of the hotel or day spas around the island.
Set in the 10-hectare garden of Maya Ubud Resort & Spa and
bounded by rice paddies and the Petanu River is
the Spa at Maya. Nestled in the lush rainforest valley, the spa is a haven of peace and tranquility, complete with full-equipped private treatment pavilions offering a variety of rejuvenating treatments for the body and face.
Ayana Resort and Spa / Photo by trangiuj of Flickr
The 22,000 square metre Thermes Marins Bali Spa located in Ayana Resort and Spa is voted the world's number 1 Spa Resort in the Conde Nast Traveller Readers Choice Award 2010 is home to the world's largest Aquatonic Seawater Therapy Pool. Warm seawater from the Indian Ocean piped through 12 hydro massage stations with multi-level water jets deliver hydro-therapeutic and curative benefits. The spa overlooks Jimbaran Bay so guests can book the 2 hour pool access and time their visits to catch an amazing sunset.
Desa Seni / Photo by eoinfinnyoga blissology of Flickr
Desa Seni in the seaside suburb of Canggu is an eco-conscious village resort offering Indonesian cultural and spiritual experiences. It is also Bali's premier yoga resort with traditional yoga pavilions overlooking its organic vegetable garden. Guests can enjoy 90 minute lessons of Anusara yoga in the morning followed by detoxing herbal juices and Indonesian herbal drinks or 'jamus'.
The AWAY Spa located in the W Retreat and Spa is an all-hours haven that resembles a white spaceship. This 1,500 square metre retreat is popular for its Turkish bath or 'hammam', treatments that combine traditional Asian therapies and modern treatments and Chill Bar offering pre and post-treatment drinks.