My first visit to Bali was just limited to a transit stopover from Lombok’s Gili as we were enroute to Surabaya. My second visit last October was a prize after winning an online contest sponsored by Tourism Indonesia. It is a culinary tour in this wonderful island by the Ministry of Tourism with the centerpiece of the visit a cooking class and a fine dining experience. Although not as exhaustive, here are eight things to do in Bali, listed here based on our tour for two full days.
Bali is just so beautiful and interesting that I am planning of going back and discover more.
1 Strolling at Sanur Beach
Although not a part of the tour, I went to Sanur Beach by myself, not really to swim but just stroll and look around. Balinese also love the beach and many people were swimming and frolicking although it was low tide. I was amazed at the many traditional Balinese doors that lined the stretch of beach. But the most memorable part was encountering a traditional Balinese procession. It was already late afternoon when I saw a line of women in white dresses carrying several offerings. Following them are men, some carrying images of Hindu gods with an ensemble of musicians tailing them.
It was a rather surreal sight: the spiritual and the mundane, as locals and tourists were there too, some watching, some in two piece bathing suits ogling at the procession. They started from a Hindu temple not far from the beach which, I presume was celebrating a feast as the temple grounds were busy with people chanting and musical instruments played, Balinese in traditional attire coming and going the split gate while a temporary canopy held several offerings of flowers and food.
2 Visit Uluwatu Temple and watch Kecak
A popular attraction, kecak was developed in the 1930s. It is based on a Balinese ritual that was then made into a dance drama. Central to its theme is a battle in the epic Ramayana, wherein the monkey god Hanuman helped Prince Rama defeat the evil King Ravana. The dance consists of several men wearing a checkered cloth around their waist. With hands raised, they chant cak as the main characters perform with colorful costumes and makeup.
Other than the Kecak, Uluwatu Temple at the southern tip of Bali is also famous for its scenic seascape, cliffs and notoriously aggressive monkeys. Late afternoons can get crowded as visitors come to watch kecak performed during sunset.
3 Walk around and shop at Ubud’s Art Market
Another popular place to visit in Bali is the Ubud art market where one can find several local handicrafts as well as souvenir items. It’s an interesting and colorful market with products displayed ranging from carved buffalo skulls, wood carvings, decors, paintings done by local artists in different sizes and media, clothing, baskets, and trinkets. Along the path are small cafes and Balinese altars. It’s better to go there in the morning when the sun isn’t too hot and you will see locals placing offerings while walking around.
4 Visit Ubud Royal Palace
Fronting the art market is the Ubud Royal Palace. While not as sprawling and grand as we might imagine, the palace ground and the buildings within are actually and almost like the usual traditional Balinese houses. But what it lacks in palatial size it makes up for the intricate decorations and motifs. Although visiting is permitted, visitors are only limited to the public spaces. Hidden behind the walls and the imposing split gate are the royal quarters. Fortunately for us, our guide, Mendra, was able to request access to the inner sanctum and was granted.
5 Fine dining at Mozaic Ubud
One of the best experiences I had in Bali was an amazing multi course fine dining lunch at Mozaic in Ubud. Owned by Chef Chris Salans, his restaurant, Mozaic, showcases his culinary skill, offering unique dishes using western techniques and presentation with mostly Indonesian ingredients. Many of these ingredients are very local and don’t even have equivalent English names. From these ingredients, he was able to come up with amazing food that not only fills but teases the senses. It’s a gustatory and sensory experience when you dine here! Mozaic in Ubud is known worldwide and has won accolades earning a place in The World’s TOp 50 Restaurants (San Pellegrino), Top 10 Restaurants in Asia (Miele Guide), Best Asian Restaurant (World Gourmet Summit 2015) and many more.
6 Cooking class at Rumah Desa
One of the great experiences I had in Bali was the Rumah Desa cooking class. Here, our group prepared traditional Balinese food under the guidance of their professional chef. But what I admire about the Balinese way of cooking is also the philosophy that comes with it. Presentation wise, it uses colorful ingredients and the resulting food has interesting flavor profiles that make the dishes delicious and unique.
The cooking class starts with a tour of a traditonal Balinese markets where our guide shows us the different ingredients and explains some of them. Cooking ingredients were introduced when we arrived in Rumah Desa. Then the actual preparation comes with each of us doing the chopping, paring, mixing to cooking. And of course, we ate what we cooked for lunch.
7 Dinner by the beach in Djimbaran
Coming from Uluwatu Temple, we had dinner at one of the beachside restaurants in Djimbaran. It’s a popular dining area with tables and chairs placed at the beach. Our host ordered Balinese seafood dishes which were really good and interesting. It has flavors brought out by local ingredients and condiments. Although some were really spicy that I had to decline some of the sambals. As you eat, planes come and go at Ngurah Rai International Airport which can be seen from a distance. A band of minstrels serenades diners here for a fee. Another thing, do buy those grilled corn, they’re quite delicious.
8 Shopping at Krisna
With tourism a major industry in Bali, Krisna has risen in popularity. The shop, locally called oleh-oleh is one of the best places to buy souvenirs and local items. Busloads of tourists, mostly Chinese crowded the shop when we arrived. There are lots of items for sale like handicrafts and trinkets, food like local delicacies and local coffee including kopi luwak, jewelry, decors and clothes.
Getting there and away
Tourists primarily enter and exit Bali through the sprawling Ngurah Rai International Airport. There are several full service and budget airlines offering cheap flights from several countries and domestic airports around Indonesia. It’s also possible to travel via ferry or boats from the adjoining islands of Lombok in the east or Java via Banyuwangi in the west.
Where to stay
Bali has lots of accommodations around the island catering to all sorts of budgets. You can choose a great varietyin Ubud, Denpasar and Kuta. There are bed and breakfasts, homestays, boutique and interational chain hotels.