Bali for Beginners or the Disenchanted, part 1.

My guide to Bali is based on 36 years of visiting this beautiful island. Naturally, it will reflect many prejudices that I hold. I feel compelled to put this list together to aid those who may be travelling to Bali for the first time, but also for those who may wish to return but feel ambivalent about the place based on a previous negative experience. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bali has many diverse districts and travel cultures. It is important to choose the district that suits your interests and lifestyle. If you get this wrong, your view of the island will be tainted and your holiday won’t be so pleasant. The main tourist areas can be grouped as follows:

  • The commercial district, hotel and nightclub area around Kuta/Legian/Seminyak. These beaches suit surfers: they are broad but lack natural shade. Commerce is ever-present and you may find it difficult to politely shrug off unwanted sellers. At times this will become extremely annoying but you must remain polite. Prices for restaurant food, nic nacs, and other services ¬†including massage,¬†pedicures, transport and so on will be higher and the level of negotiation will be more intense. Night revellers and other travellers may enjoy this area: if you don’t like loud night life or intense commerce, you may find this area really annoying. The very young gravitate towards Kuta and Legian. It’s a party town so beware! Accommodation options are diverse, from the super cheap to very expensive. The restaurant scene is lively here: many Australian restaurants have set up branches in this district. You can still eat local food but the style will be more Western, catering for a foreign palate.¬†I stopped going to this district in the mid 1990s.
  • The beach area of Sanur. The oldest tourist district in Bali, Sanur still maintains a village feel in the back streets away from the beach. ¬†The beach area in Sanur has deep shade along the five kilometre tourist promenade. The beach is not a surf beach, although intrepid surfers go out on the reef. At low tide the reef can be exposed and there are some safe swimming spots here and there. There is plenty of commerce in Sanur but it isn’t so intrusive. A polite ‘no thank you’ or tidak usually works. The prices are generally cheaper for most goods and services. Accommodation ranges from the very cheap to the hideously expensive. The restaurant scene is diverse also.There is a large expat community living in this district – Australian, Dutch, Scandinavian. This area is often favoured by older people, people with young families and young Europeans who flock here for the water sports provided (diving, snorkelling, surfing lessons, trips to the island of Nusa Lembongan, kite surfing). The night life winds up early. There are down sides to every district. Some of the grand hotel development along the water front is obscene. The water use in five-star hotels is around five times that of a whole Balinese family’s average of 200 litres a day. More about this issue in another post. I go here to relax but intersperse my stays with trips to other islands in Indonesia.

    Waiting for Customers - fancy a beach massage? Sanur.
    Surf school sets up on Sanur Beach
  • Northern beaches of Pemuteran and Lovina.Pemuteran is very quiet and dryer than the south. The sand is black and not so suitable for sun baking. This is classic old Bali. Tourist commerce is minimal but there are about 10 or so small resorts offering beautiful accommodation and food, a few good restaurants along the main street, and many diving operators. There are also some fabulous large private villas available for rent facing the sea. The area is known for diving and snorkelling as the reefs are intact or being restored and the local turtles are protected. The car trip from Denpasar area orSanur may take 5 hours, crossing a steep mountain range with stunning views of rice terraces. During our last stay, the town celebrated a mass Balinese funeral to which the tourists were invited.¬†¬†Photos taken around¬†Pemuteran below. Eating is on the agenda!
  • East coast beaches of Amed¬†and Candidasa.¬†I have visited both these places but never stayed long. The east coast looks very dry. There are many small backpacker places as well as newer flash- packer accommodation. Amed is the newest development in Bali and is too cool for school. The swimming and snorkelling are good and it is also a jumping off point to go to the Gili islands off Lombok. Candidasa seems to be in decline due to¬†unscrupulous development. The once golden sandy beach (1980s) has been destroyed¬†and concrete groynes have¬†been installed in an attempt to reclaim some of the beach. The beach is impassable at high tide.
  • Ubud is¬†the artistic and cultural centre of Bali. Away from the busy commercial centre, long walks through verdant green rice terraces can be wonderful. The restaurant scene in Ubud is quite¬†innovative. It is also a place to see authentic versions of Balinese Dance and hear gamelan orchestras. The major art galleries in Ubud offer a good introduction to Balinese art through the ages. Again, the over development of this area is a worry and the commerce along Monkey Forest Road can be overwhelming. Each time I visit Jalan Bisma, I am shocked to see yet more rice paddies disappear.
  • Other areas. It is possible to rent a house in the middle of the rice paddies in central Bali. This is a great option if you enjoy isolation, speak a little Bahasa Indonesian and wish to learn more about Balinese life.

Below. the photos were taken in outer Ubud on walks around that district.

Have you been to Bali? What was your experience like? Do you plan to return? Join the discussion, your comments are valued.  Bali for Beginners and the Disenchanted, Part Two will deal with food, restaurants, transport, culture, problems and more so stay tuned.

Tradition and Change in Ubud, Bali. Canang Sari.

Canang Sari at the Honeymoon Guesthouse, ubud.

Morning Canang Sari at the Honeymoon Guest house, Ubud.

Ubud,¬†nestled in the lush hills of Bali, a two hour trip by car from the sea or Denpasar airport, is often referred to as the cultural and artistic heart of Bali. ¬†Ubud is pronounced¬†‘oobood’ as in the same way as the ‘oo’ sounds in ‘good’, but not the ‘oo’ in ‘mood. Despite its frenetic commercial centre, tourist restaurant precincts and overcrowded shopping strips, including a Starbucks outlet, traditional Bali is not far away. Just walk away from the tourist traps, jalan jalan into the outlying areas, or visit the temples (respectfully dressed), hike in the rice paddies and rain forest, or employ a driver to journey into the lush hills for a day trip. ¬†It is remarkable how resilient Balinese Hindu traditions are: they have survived years of foreign influx. I would suggest that some Balinese rituals have become more pronounced in the 35 years of my journeys around this remarkable island. The practice of Canang Sari is an example of this.

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Ubud offers the photographer a visual feast on every corner away from the commercial hub. Leaving the food porn to others, I often spend each day photographing morning floral offerings, the Canang Sari of Ubud.  The canang is a small palm-leaf basket used as a tray, consisting of two syllables ca (beautiful) and nang (purpose). Sari means essence. Balinese women in tiny alleyways and shops spend their spare time weaving these little baskets, not only for their own family offerings, but also to make a little spare cash. If the tourist business is slow, a little local trade on the side is important for the local economy, as well as providing a small supplement to these women who make very little.

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Canang Sari are offered to give thanks to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa in praise and thanks. They can be seen on Balinese temples (pura), on family or communal shrines, on the ground in front of shops, on pathways, and on the prows of boats (in Sanur).

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Some tourists barely see these little trays, and if they do, they disregard them or step on them, not knowing much about the work that each one entails. A little delving reveals that these daily ephemeral tributes consist of the following elements:

Peporosan or the core material is made from betel leaf, lime, gambier, prestige, tobacco and betel nuts. The material of peporosan symbolizes the Trimurti, the three major Gods in Hinduism. Shiva symbolized by lime, Vishnu symbolized by betel nut, and Brahma symbolized by gambier. Canang sari are covered by ceper (a tray made from palm leaf) as a symbol of Ardha Candra. Raka-raka is topped with sampian urasari, which are in turn overlaid by flowers placed in a specific direction. Each direction symbolizes a Hindu God:

  • White-coloured flowers that point to the east as a symbol of Iswara
  • Red-coloured flowers that point to the south as a symbol of Brahma
  • Yellow-coloured flowers that point to the west as a symbol of Mahadeva
  • Blue or green coloured flowers that point to the north as a symbol of Vishnu.

1-IMG_6086Then they become more personalised, and this is where the interest lies for tourists who wish to learn more about Balinese culture. Cigarettes, wrapped lollies, rice, food, incense sticks and all sorts of bits and bobs are added. As the morning opens up and the heat sets in, dogs and birds steal the rice, tourists unconsciously kick the offerings and by mid afternoon, they are swept up in a pile and burnt, as new baskets are prepared for the following day, and the cycle begins anew. Flower dealers trade at local markets early each morning, selling frangipani, hibiscus, marigold and other assorted leaves and flowers, as well as all the other ingredients required for making Canang Sari.

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On each visit to Bali, my fascination with Canang Sari is renewed. Beautiful art lies at your feet each morning. What could be more enchanting?  Courses are offered to visitors wishing to learn this traditional practice.

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