Maldives, Maui, Bora-Bora, Bali - names that sound like a promise. Islands that are considered the epitome of paradise because of their dream beaches.
Bali has also been considered the island of the gods since time immemorial and still enjoys this reputation today, as the almost 5 million inhabitants have preserved a deeply spiritual, unique and peaceful religion and culture.
On the other hand, news circulates almost daily through all media that earthquakes are piling up on and around Bali with devastating tsunamis. Mount Agung, which shapes the island, regularly honors its reputation as an active volcano, most recently in 2018 with almost five kilometers of eruptions. The most up-to-date appearing on social media under the keyword Bali is almost only pictures and videos of garbage-contaminated beaches and of divers who have to find their way through a cloud of plastic waste in the water. Last but not least, 5 million Bali tourists a year - more than the island's inhabitants - seem to destroy hope for the deserted beach finally.
What can be there about the dream Bali?
More than you think if you come with realistic expectations and know the following facts.
Bali enjoys a special position in Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population worldwide. Most Balinese profess the Hindu Dharma religion, the very specific Balinese belief of Hinduism. Religious rites and festivals accompany people from birth to death and beyond. They are the basis of family cohesion and every form of community. Religious rites organize family life and are the ethical guidelines of a village community, indeed of the entire Balinese people. Holidays, personal events and general gatherings are always initiated by a temple ceremony, which is why Bali is rightly called the "Island of a Thousand Temples". Such village temples are usually elaborately designed, even in remote regions, and are hardly inferior in design to the important, central and famous temples on the island. In addition, each house usually has several temples of its own and at striking points (crossroads, town entrances, banyan trees, etc.) there are small temples or at least a sacrificial stick, which in extreme cases can be a simple stone.
The rites are always present in everyday life. This includes traditional clothing that men, women and children put on with genuine conviction and not as a tourist show insert.
Nevertheless, one can observe a softening of traditional behavior especially in Bali under the influence of tourism with the constant contact with foreign cultures and access to worldwide media (rather less caused by the drinking excesses of some Australian men or the string-thong outfit preferred Eastern European women). While strict Muslim laws still apply on the neighboring islands, a more emancipated image of women, for example, is beginning to develop in Bali, a softening of the centuries-old patriarchy, which is otherwise only present in large cities like Jakarta. Women do business, found start-ups, break up traditional dress codes and meet in confident discussion groups.
With its varied landscape of hills and mountains, rugged coastlines and sandy beaches, lush rice terraces and barren volcanic slopes, the island of Bali offers every visitor a picturesque and colorful backdrop. Of course Bali has beautiful beaches, which can sometimes be volcanic black, sometimes fine sand yellow, but you will definitely not find the most beautiful beaches in the world here. Those who come to Bali for this alone are more likely to be disappointed. The island should therefore not be reduced to its beaches, because it offers far too many other scenic facets for this. Even though the sprawl of many rice terrace areas is a hot political issue, the lush deep green of the terraces full of ready-to-eat rice plants alternating with jungle-like rainforest sections is breathtaking again and again.
The island's highest mountain, Mount Agung, which is just over 3,000 meters high, is often covered in clouds, but is undeniably the center of the island's landscape. Trekking tours to the summit at sunrise are among the attractions. The volcano is located on the Pacific ring of fire and likes to give life signs in the form of small clouds of smoke even in quiet phases. The Balinese appreciate and respect the god of the volcano and live with him. Up to a high altitude you can see the settlements up the slope. People also live with the occasional outbreaks, which are closely monitored and predicted by a professional team of scientists. At such times, security zones of 5 to 15 km around the volcano are set up on the 5,800 square kilometer island. Bali’s international airport in Denpasar is 80 km from the volcano. Flight cancellations were recorded in a short phase with an unfavorable wind direction at the outbreak of 2018. Life on the rest of the island goes its usual way during these times.
In contrast to other islands in Indonesia, Bali is extremely little threatened by tsunamis after earthquakes or seaquakes. Especially in the east of the island, other islands offshore have a protective effect. Smaller quakes are sometimes noticeable, but fortunately usually harmless. Unfortunately, there have been exceptions on neighboring islands such as Lombok in recent years. In such a case, the media like to use the awareness of Bali to make news more exciting. For example, in 2018 the headline "Heavy earthquake near Bali" referred to the island of Sulawesi, which is actually quite far from Bali (about 1,500 km north).
Delicious dishes at an extremely affordable price - that is also a hallmark of Bali. Every connoisseur's heart will beat faster on this island.
The selection starts at a small restaurant on the street, often run by Balinese families, known as a Warung, and goes from the culinary scale to high-class fine dining in an experimental kitchen - of course, mostly with local products.
The food in the Warung is often only served on a banana leaf, with a spoon and / or fork if desired. However, you should choose Warungs very critically or on a reliable recommendation, since the storage and preparation of the ingredients are not always compatible with a western digestive tract.
Vegetarians and vegans are in good hands throughout Bali. Since meat is often very expensive, it is not uncommon in Bali to do without meat in everyday meals. In addition, most curries are made entirely vegan with coconut milk.
There is also a huge selection of exotic fruits: mangoes, papayas, bananas of all sizes, mangosteen and durian, a cheesy-smelling stink fruit that many Indonesians swear by.
Rice is almost always and everywhere the basis of every dish (nasi = cooked rice). So a nasi dish is a must, whether as mixed rice (Nasi Campur), as rice with chicken (Nasi Ayam) or as fried rice (Nasi Goreng). Grill skewers (sate or satay) are also extremely popular. They are available in infinite skewer variations, for example chicken with peanut sauce, with tofu, fish or lamb. Watching the Sate master alone on the grill is a feast for the eyes.
A classic is Gado Gado, a delicious salad made from vegetables, sprouts - sometimes potatoes and eggs - tofu, deep-fried soybeans and peanut sauce, which is one of Indonesia's five national dishes.
There are persistent rumors that in some areas of Bali’s grilled or fried giant bats, fried dragonflies, cocktail skewers made from sago worms and bee larvae in a salad are served as a delicacy. Men in need and therefore ready for anything are said to swear by goat genitals or cobra blood as an aphrodisiac.
However - a cooking class in Bali is always an exciting and enriching experience and therefore a real recommendation.
TOURISM AND ECOLOGY
15,000 tourists land in Bali Denpasar International Airport every day. A second airport on the north coast is planned. The tourist infrastructure has grown in recent years, but especially in the form of new hotels. For the Balinese, the traditional profession of fishing has long ceased to be attractive, but at best it is still a hobby for domestic use. You work in hotels and restaurants or at best you can even afford a minibus at some point and become a "driver". Caring for tourists as a guide or driver is the dream job of most Balinese men. This in turn means that more and more Balinese people are switching from scooters to cars and contributing to the congestion of the main traffic routes in and around Denpasar or on the north-south axes every day. Unfortunately, decision-makers are not (yet) aware of this fatal development. We only think quantitatively in annual growth rates and not qualitatively in the preservation of the Bali gem.
Already more awareness seems to be developing in terms of pollution from plastic waste, primarily through international reporting and the noticeable echoes of tourists. However, it is inconceivable that many western nations (including Germany), who are aware of the plastic problem in Asia, export hundreds of tons of plastic waste to Indonesia year after year and thus has a massive impact in its cause. Corruption in the relevant government circles does the rest. It is a blessing to see how initiatives by young Indonesians (such as Trash Heros and Bye Bye Plastic Bags) do more for their country and their island Bali with a lot of conviction and commitment than their parents. All in all, fortunately, it is beginning to bear fruit. Many beaches show a reversal of the trend.
OVERVIEW OF THE REGIONS
WEST. If you are looking for a party and a lively holiday feeling, you are right in the south-west in Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu and Legian. Young travelers from Australia and from many western countries are particularly well represented in this region. The cultural-traditional Bali can be found here to a very limited extent only. The west coast, with its often strong surf, is particularly popular with surfers. It is not by chance that many surf camps are offered here. Since waves and currents occur much more intensely on the west side, the beaches are sometimes more heavily trashed by surf and wind direction. In Canggu and to the north of it, the main populace of expads gather here on the island, which is why there are a couple of luxury houses to rent in this area.
NORTH. The most natural Bali can be found in the northeast and north around Lovina and Singaraja, the former capital of Bali. Of course, urban life has also found its way here, but there are rice terraces, dense rainforest, hidden temples, rushing waterfalls and still quite original villages. A hike through the rainforest is a very special experience (for example to Mount Batukaru), as is a visit to Lake Tamblingan and Lake Banyan.
ISLAND CENTER. The core of the island is also very impressive. Ubud is the place to go for most tourists. Located in the middle of the rainforest and rice terraces, you can go cycling and hiking from here. Ubud is also known for the alternative, spiritual scene including yoga, massage, healers etc. But also for sculpture, pottery and painting. Unfortunately "Ubud-City" is very crowded depending on the season. So it is better to stay a little apart.
SOUTHEAST. If you are looking for peace, a little more originality, mostly cleaner beaches and relaxation, the southeast between Ahmed and Sanur is suitable. The swell is mostly moderate here. This is ensured by the often upstream riffs, which also attract many divers. Padang Bay Beach, Blue Lagoon Beach and White Sand Beach have long been considered the most beautiful beaches on the island, but have suffered a lot due to being mentioned in all travel guides and due to environmental sins. Driving a rental scooter along the narrow and winding coastal road between Ahmed and Jasri is a real highlight.
NUSA DUA. The Nusa Dua peninsula in southern Bali has seen the most rapid development in recent years. In a few years, countless high-class hotels, often international chains, have sprung up here. This has made Nusa Dua an enclave of the rich and beautiful, but also the center of the emerging Chinese tourism. But no doubt Nusa Dua has its charms with small bays between steep cliffs. The Uluwatu Temple, located high on one of these cliffs, is another tourist highlight in Bali.
BEST TRAVEL TIME
On average, the rainy season in Bali begins in mid / late November and usually lasts until mid / late March. The rains occur mainly in the middle of the island and in the north of Bali, i.e. in mountainous terrain. The precipitation sometimes lasts only minutes or 1-2 hours, very rarely 2-3 days. However, a big „but“ must come at this point. As with many climatic changes worldwide, the rainy season can no longer be relied on. In some years it does not rain for weeks even in the rainy season and therefore in the low-precipitation June or July or at completely different times. The temperatures fluctuate almost all year round between 27 and 32 degrees during the day and 22 to 26 degrees at night with constant high humidity. So there is actually no ideal travel time for Bali. Depending on your own taste, Bali is a year-round destination. Central and Northern Europeans often prefer the months of June to September, because during this time a constant (sometimes even cool) wind makes the perceived temperature significantly lower.
Bali is different - different from everything else in the world and different than most people imagine and expect. Bali is globally unique due to its authentically lived culture to this day. If you want to get something of it, you should definitely add Bali to your travel bucket list as soon as possible.
However, if you are only looking for the most beautiful beaches in the world, imagine a palm-lined Maldives island and only want to travel to Bali for this reason, you should better avoid it. There are of course beautiful beaches too, but people just coming to Bali for these reasons, will be disappointed.
However, if you engage in Bali with curiosity, open senses and an open mind, you will still be amazed by the overall package of the tropical dream island of Bali.
A FEW PRACTICAL TIPS
VISA. For stays of up to 30 days for tourist purposes, for visiting, attending seminars or in airport transit, German nationals can enter without a visa if a return or onward flight ticket is available. The passport must be valid for 6 months upon entry (source: Federal Foreign Office of Germany Dec 2019).
LANGUAGE. The language of the locals is Basa Bali or Bahasa Indonesia, a very strange but relatively easy to learn language. English is very common in tourism.
MONEY. Major international credit cards are accepted almost everywhere on the island. You can get cash at the widely used ATMs. The local currency is the Indonesian rupiah, although the sums initially take some time getting used to (currently 100 euros are around 1.5 million IDR).
TRAVEL MEDICINE. Medical care in Bali has improved in and around Denpasar in recent years. Hospitals like the BIMC and the Siloam reached an international level. The Central European basic vaccinations should be up-to-date, ideally expanded to include vaccinations against hepatitis A and B, and at your discretion also against Japanese encephalitis. Dengue is widespread on the island and is transmitted by mosquito bite, Chikungunya occurs a little less often. So far there have been no vaccinations against either, but only intensive mosquito protection as a preventive measure. Rabies is also relatively common in animals (dogs, cats, bats) (especially in rural areas), so given the many dogs that roam freely, vaccination should be considered in advance. All these recommendations are non-binding and should be discussed with the family doctor. In any case, care should be taken to ensure adequate hygiene, i.e. liquid only from originally packaged bottles, extreme caution when preparing food unclear, especially at street stands. The so-called "Bali belly" is the most common gastrointestinal disease among tourists.
MOVING. Taxis are very cheap, but you should insist on using the taxometer and not get involved in a freely negotiated price - you always lose out. Uber has left the Indonesian market again, Grab and Go-Jek are the local transportation services that operate on the same principle. Rental cars are relatively cheap, but you have to get used to the local driving style and the rather opaque traffic rules - almost everything is allowed. Booking a vehicle with a driver is only marginally more expensive, which guarantees a very relaxed journey. Such drivers are almost on every corner or can be booked in the hotel. It is a special experience to discover the island on your own with the rental scooter. You also have to get used to the seemingly disorderly and random traffic. But as a scooter driver you are almost a local and you have your very own proximity to the people and the wonderful landscape during the excursions on the island.
© Text Travel-Edition, image fotolia & travelART by Ellen