An Introduction to Bali Island, Indonesia
Bali is one of Indonesia's seventeen thousand islands and also a province. It is a very well-known holiday destination for visitors from both the West and the East. The island lies about 8 degrees south of the Equator, southeast of Singapore (a little over two hours flight time). While Bali is accessible by a short ferry crossing from Java, with Indonesia's capital Jakarta and cities, most visitors fly to the Bali capital Denpasar, near the southern tip of the island. The distance by air from Jakarta to Bali is about 1,000 km (600 miles). Overland, it's considerably more.
Foreign visitors to all Indonesian provinces, including Bali, need an Indonesian visa, available in most cases on arrival, or from an Indonesian Embassy abroad. Visa-free entry is granted to some (but not all) ASEAN nationals (Indonesia is an ASEAN Member) and passports of some other countries. See our Visa Page for more information on visa requirements for Bali, Indonesia and other Asian countries.
Vacation rentals in Bali are ideal for families and small groups, an alternative to what can be expensive hotel accommodation is a vacation or holiday rental. These are usually well-appointed villas and larger houses, ideal for a few days or longer stay. An example area is Canggu near the beach at Kuta, where there are many available property rentals; the cost per person per night can be considerably less than a good hotel or resort.
The island of Bali is a favourite vacation destination for tourists of many nationalities, especially Australians, including divers, surfers and others, both young and old, as other Western and Asian visitors. There is a sizeable ex-pat community too, some with their own businesses (usually joint ventures with an Indonesian partner), sporting and accommodation facilities to serve the many tourist activities. There are other nationals who have made permanent or vacation homes on the island, including British, American, Germans, Dutch and Italians.
Surprising to some is the size of Bali – an area of 5,600 square kilometres (2,200 square miles); Bali has a similar area to Brunei, one of Indonesia's neighbours; it's about half the size of the Big Island of Hawaii in the South Pacific or Cyprus in the Mediterranean. From north to south, Bali is about 90 km (55 miles) and east to west 140 km (90 miles).
Attractions and Accommodation in Bali
Accommodation all over Bali ranges from homestays and guesthouses to luxurious hotels and resorts.
Bali's Unique Hindu Culture
One of the chief attractions of Bali is Balinese culture with its Hindu religious ceremonies and rituals that are an integral part of the daily lives of most Bali natives. This is even more apparent in the outlying villages and smaller towns than in Denpasar itself, which as the main commercial centre, is inhabited by several different ethnic groups, including Muslim Indonesians from Java and other islands, Chinese and other nationalities.
Culturally, Bali differs from most of the rest of Indonesia which is the largest Muslim-populated country on earth with some 213 million of them. Bali is also a province, so has its own local government authorities, but the economy is controlled to a great degree by the Islamic-majority government based in Jakarta.
Bali ceremonies (including cremations) are a famous tourist attraction on their own, and many spectacular performances of dancing and local culture demonstrations are put on specially for the visitors. However, as a resident who has 'seen it all before' they can intrude into normal daily life; even be an annoyance, especially for those not really interested in religion or 'pagan rituals' like these offerings to the gods.
Art Galleries, Artists, Stone and Wood Carvers
Not all ex-pats come to Bali to find their 'inner spiritual selves', most preferring the beaches, water sports and nightlife. However, there are many that do and there is a smaller community some distance inland in the mountains that will suit these people better. It is called Ubud, a refuge for both foreign and local artists and art students, and where there are many art galleries with paintings and shops selling handicraft, handmade hardwood and cane furniture, and wood and stone carvings to tourists who flock there daily. The areas of Ubud and Payangan are also known for their luxurious and extremely expensive villas and spa resorts, with beautiful panoramic views over rice fields and over steep ravines, with even a Mt Fuji-type dormant volcano on the horizon.
While Bali appears to be idyllic in many respects, and visitors are invariably impressed when seeing it, especially for the first time, daily life for a long-term foreign resident can have its drawbacks due partly to poor infrastructure; utilities like electricity, phone and internet connections being among them.
Although hotels, guest houses and residential accommodation, restaurants and facilities for foreigners are mostly of a high standard, many exceeding those of other popular ex-pat locations, technological advances have been slow in reaching the island. Bali is near 'the end of the line' of Indonesian telecommunications (still government-controlled), including land and mobile telephones, fax and internet. Fast, reliable connections are not guaranteed even in the most populous areas. Indonesia, like most Asian countries still suffers from political corruption, both past and present. Much of it is still in evidence, but accepted by those who live there. Tourists are not really affected and will see little or no evidence.
Indonesian Government and Islam
It was thought (hoped) that the government of Indonesia under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, known by all as 'SBY' would bring in positive change on all fronts. Sadly this does not look promising. From 2006 to 2010, proposals continue in Jakarta to impose Sharia Law in Indonesia despite warnings that adopting it would adversely affect Indonesia's relations with other states. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population. Sharia law has already been partially implemented by the self-governing region of Aceh. Bali is unlikely to escape in spite of its high Hindu religious majority or the billions of tourist dollars generated there. Anti-pornography and promiscuity measures are likely to be imposed, highlighted by several recent cases which have received world publicity.
Bali is excellent for a holiday, vacation or romantic honeymoon
Bali is a popular honeymoon destination, with many hotels and resorts at beaches like Legian and Seminyak that cater to newly-weds and romantic couples. See local reviews and photos.
Getting Around the Island
Although it's easy to take a 'bemo' or taxi for short trips, hire a small self-drive jeep or car to go further afield, most couples and small groups prefer to have a professional driver who can show them the many attractions of Bali in a comfortable, air-conditioned minibus.
It's far more relaxing, and in this respect I can recommend my former personal assistant and driver, now with many years of experience as a licensed Balinese driver and tour guide (many of these guides are not actually from Bali.
Ariawan can be found at UbudDriver.com and Bali-Driver.blogspot.com where you can get details of his tours including a day trip to the Kintamani Volcano and Lake Batur. See many photos and comments from Ari's numerous satisfied passengers, some of whom have since become his friends.