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Bali Renaissance

24 July 2006, 10:37:48 (1840 clicks) Send this article to friend Print this article

Tanya joslin rediscovers the beauty of bali.
IT DIDNT TAKE LONG for any underlying concerns to disappear. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment when I felt 110% convinced that going back to Bali was something I had left too long: the second I walked out of Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar. As the familiar smell of teak and incense heightened by the humidity hit me, and a flood of memories poured back, I knew I was falling under Balis spell again.

Like many Australians, Bali had been one of my favourite and most visited destinations for years, and as we made our way from the airport, I tried to quell my excitement at being back so I could absorb the ever-changing scenery. We passed through the hustle and bustle of Kuta, eventually finding ourselves looking out at buffaloes grazing by the roadside. Behind them, farmers toiled in emerald green rice paddies, while towering mountains dominated distant perspectives, looking as if theyd been hand-painted on to this glorious scene.

So many parts of Bali are so visually arresting that they alone lure travellers back, time and time again. The island enjoys an incredibly diverse and beautiful topography, including mountains and rivers, volcanoes, beaches, and dense jungle. Sunsets are incredible here; the sun seems bigger, redder, and certainly more brilliant than anywhere else. Witnessing a sunset from Tanah Lot a temple that is hundreds of years old and sits perched on a rock formation in the ocean is an experience everyone must enjoy at least once. As this temple and the thousands of others on the island attest, the Balinese are a deeply religious people. Their beliefs are called Hindu Dharma, which, although based on Hinduism, is far removed from that practised in India. Hindu Dharma is believed to have arrived on the island in the 11th century A.D and today, religion still dominates all areas of life from family and community customs, to the arts and culture. You will see temples and shrines everywhere - on mountains, by the seaside, and in the ever-present terraced rice fields. Its as if the spirituality of the Balinese people thrives on the beauty of the island itself.

Besides all of the natural glories, there are also enticing man-made attractions that set the island apart, in particular the huge range of luxury accommodation. All the big names are here: Le Meridien, Sheraton, The Hilton, Conrad (the new luxury sister-brand of the Hilton), The Grand Hyatt, Intercontinental and Ritz Carlton, just to name a few. Incredible accommodation, unsurpassed service, international fine dining at its best ... a holiday in one of the premier hotel brands in Bali has to be experienced to be believed. The island is also a spa afficionados dream destination, with magnificent settings and to-die-for treatments proving worthy of a range of coveted awards.

The term boutique resort seems to have been created especially for Bali. Highly regarded names, such as AmanResorts, Oberoi, GHM and Alila (a relatively new brand, boasting the expertise of directors previously associated with Aman and GHM), have all made their mark here, but dont discount or underestimate the many lesser-known, one-off boutique resorts that also abound. Either way, these resorts are always smaller (never more than 50 rooms or villas; many with much less) and often exclusive, providing a holiday experience in which traditional Balinese architecture and attentive staff experts in the art of satisfying even the most discerning guests are just some of the appealing trademarks. Then there are the private luxury villas. Bali has set the pace when it comes to this style of accommodation, and the rest of the world can only aspire to the standards set by villas found virtually everywhere amidst rice fields, on the beach, behind shopping precincts. With private pools or lap pools seemingly a prerequisite, many villas also come with their own staff who, if not staying in their own compound within your villa, are usually only a phone call away, ready to attend to your every whim. Feel like a massage? Most villas are able to arrange for a masseuse to visit your room, or direct you to a high quality outside establishment. Feel like making the most of the grand surrounds of your private luxury villa for the night, rather than venturing out for dinner? No problem - staff are often able to visit local restaurants on behalf of their guests, and deliver an affordable restaurant meal to the villa (Ive even stayed at villas that send staff in to clean up after your meal! ).

Youll also be struck by Balis unique take on hospitality if youre holidaying on a budget. Establishments of four stars or less are so often in a different league to similarly-rated establishments in other parts of the world, thanks in no small part to the genuine warmth of the Balinese people, who seem to do everything from the heart.

Just as all of the accommodation options in Bali possess their own unique charm, so too do the different regions of the island ...

Ubud is where the heart of Balis artistic culture lies. Ever since early last century, when this highland region first caught the attention of Dutch painter, Ruldoph Bonnet, lovers of art and culture have made their pilgrimage to beautiful Ubud, with the awe-inspiring Mt Ayung towering in the background. Today, the artistic personality of the area is still very evident, with quaint art galleries and shops featuring artworks ranging from paintings and carvings, to textiles and sculptures. Ubud is also well positioned for day trips to Mt. Batur and Lake Batur, as well as the botanical garden in Bedugul.

Seminyak is approximately ten minutes drive from Kuta (depending on traffic), but much more sophisticated. While Kuta is often associated with loud tourists enjoying a pub crawl, Seminyak has developed a reputation for being quite hip. Much of the shopping and dining here is of an international standard, and there are establishments in Seminyak that will make you think youre sitting at a chic bar or restaurant in the trendiest part of any major Australian city ... with a different view, of course! A restaurant and bar revolution is taking place in Bali, and with its incredible plethora of great dining experiences, Seminyak seems to be leading the way.

Legian, just south of Seminyak, also offers great shopping and dining, as well as a beautiful surf beach.

Nusa Dua is thought by many to be the most glamorous beach area of Bali, and certainly this seems to be the opinion of high class hotel developers, with an impressive range of sumptuous hotels located here. The beaches are wide, great for snorkelling, and most are reserved for the guests of the enviable mix of luxury brands. Jimbaran was once a sleepy fishing village and today, one of the delights of staying or visiting the area is the freshly caught seafood, barbequed on the beach and offered for a fraction of the price you would pay at home.

Sanur is a top spot to watch the sun rise, and is a favourite destination for families because of the sheltered swimming it affords.

Candi Dasa, located on the other side of the island, was a relatively unknown area as recently as a decade ago. It has managed to retain much of its village atmosphere, and is somewhat quieter than the southern areas of Bali. Located on the black sand coast of Bali, many visitors to this part of the island come for the snorkelling and scuba diving.

Id love to tell you that I was up early every morning on my long-awaited holiday, ready to step out and see and do as much as possible. But as this had been my modus operandi on numerous other trips to Bali, I felt comfortably free from the need to explore from dusk til dawn it had been too long since I had had enjoyed a holiday, and some serious down time was in order. As such, we did nothing more than bask in the luxurious surrounds of a five-star hotel out at peaceful Tanah Lot for four nights, before moving into a luxurious private villa in the busier area of Seminyak. Heaven!

Splitting our time this way was a great way to enjoy two very different holidays in one. We had the full service and facilities of the hotel, where days were spent relaxing around the resort and the stunning pool areas, with quick trips out to the small village at nearby Tanah Lot, before enjoying cocktail hour by the pool, beautiful sunsets and memorable evening meals.

Once ensconced in our private villa, it was tempting to simply hide away there and enjoy our luxury surroundings, but the hip and happening Seminyak proved irresistible, and we spent much of our time dining at Ku de Ta and The Living Room, with plenty of shopping in between.
And what shopping it was truly better than ever! If its homewares youre after, Bali has an endless array of shops offering decorator items for at least half the price theyd sell for at home, while the quality of shoes and clothing has improved tenfold, both in style and durability: gorgeous sandals for less than $10 a pair that would easily sell for $50 at home; intricately beaded wraps for around $5 (their Aussie twins would cost at least $40); and fun little beaded silk handbags for $5-$10 that would easily retail for $30 or more, all made their way into our suitcases.

For childrens clothes (think Christmas presents for nieces and nephews if you dont have any children of your own), Matahari Department Store was great, with Disney sneakers costing around $10, and other brands of shoes as little as $5. Matahari also stocks the famous Osh Kosh brand, and a two piece velvet outfit that would have cost a small fortune at home was less than $35. The ultimate proof of their durability? Regularly putting them on my two year old daughter ... six months later, they are still going strong!

The two questions I have been asked most since returning from Bali are: Did you feel safe? and, Has Bali changed much?. The answer is a resounding yes on both counts. For me, safety concerns in Bali were on a par with catching the train to work at home, or attending any event in the world that draws large numbers. And as for change, I am happy to report that Bali has changed, but definitely for the better. Its always offered luxury accommodation, exquisite scenery, quality shopping and great dining options not to mention a fascinating and vastly different culture so close to Australia but now theres also a noticeable change in the vibe, and an infrastructure in the midst of major upgrades to ensure it keeps abreast of this buzz.

Bali has grown up and grown into her beauty, and she is undeniably more confident and more sophisticated than ever before. H4C

Article from Holidays for Couples magazine - 2004/05 Collectors Edition
Text by Tanya Joslin

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