A small Hindu outpost in the midst of a Muslim country, the island of Bali enjoys a queasy coexistence with the vast and overpowering nation of Indonesia, with its population of more than a hundred and ninety million followers of Islam. Though there are many direct flights, most tourists arrive here from Indonesia’s capital, Djakarta, and that itinerary is a metaphor for the subordinate role that Bali plays in the Indonesian story. It is utterly remarkable that the Balinese have nevertheless preserved their own independent culture.
They present that culture best to the visitor who stays in the interior of the country and not on the coast. I find the atmosphere in Bali’s beachside resort areas to be somewhat harsh and un-Balinese, and that is perhaps because my own first introduction to Bali was on a stay in the central uplands of the island, near the town of Ubud. To move from Ubud’s gentle people to the far more commercial atmosphere on the coast is often a shock, but perhaps not to the tourist who has stayed only on the coast.
Within that central interior a vacation in Bali is an exquisite joy, a privilege. One stays among a people who go about their own distinctive ways, and lead their own lives, and practice their religious rituals, almost wholly unaffected by tourism (even though a great many tourists are always in evidence). They perform their dances and march down the roads in colorful religious processions not for the entertainment of tourists but for themselves. And yet they are not bothered by the presence of tourists. They are quite obviously proud of their culture--which possesses an almost overwhelming beauty--and proud to share it with the outsider.
Do as I have done. Upon arriving at Bali’s Denpasar International Airport take a taxi to Ubud, the center of a thriving crafts industry. Go to the tourist office on the main street, peruse its bulletin board, and then book yourself into any of the many private homes or small guest houses that advertise on it. You’ll pay some of the cheapest lodgings rates in all the world of tourism, for a stay in the very center of the arts, crafts, music (gamelon concerts), religious rituals, and awesome nature of Bali.
Within a half hour of Ubud, in almost any direction, are other crafts villages of Bali, each specializing in a different product, all of them priced at bargain levels. Some produce batik-designed cloth and clothes, some wooden statuary, others paintings, some metalwork, and you’ll will surely choose an item to bring home as a permanent reminder of a joyous stay in Bali.
The alternative is to stay in the south, in the capital city near the sea, Denpasar, or in the beachside resort areas of Sanur Beach, Nusa Dua Beach, and others, and then take occasional trips into the central highlands and to its many crafts villages. If bathing and sunbathing are tremendously important to you, this course will also lead to an enjoyable Balinese vacation.
But Ubud and nearby are more authentically Balinese, an unforgettable experience.
And incidentally, let us all hope that democratic elements will eventually come to power in Indonesia, replacing an ugly government whose misdeeds and current authoritarian rule should be condemned by all sensitive citizens of the world (Indonesia, ironically, is a darling of foreign investors). The Balinese are only one of the groups that suffer under that rule.
1. You must go on more than one night to watch traditional Balinese dances, to the music of a gamelon orchestra. You have a choice of the slick presentations put on by the big hotels, or the more authentic ones out in the villages (one such presentation takes place almost nightly in Ubud, another on the same frequency in the nearby village of Peliatan). The one-hour-long "legong" and "barong" dances are the most frequently performed, but the most famous Balinese spectacle of all is the Monkey Dance, with as many as 100 men in a circle chanting part of the Ramayana Hindu epic, all marvelously arranged, the "monkey" voices rising and falling in crescendos of sound. Finally, you’ll want to attend an evening of "shadow puppets" outlined against the light created by a roaring fire, of which one is usually presented in or near Ubud.
2. Visit some of the Hindu temples, such as Besakih ("the mother church") on Mount Agung, scene of a disastrous eruption of lava in 1963, when thousands were killed.
3. See the royal palaces, or one of them, where Balinese royalty lived (and—in one famous instance—committed suicide, refusing to submit to the authority of the Dutch colonialists).
4. Visit an artist’s home (or more than one) to see how the distinctive Balinese wooden sculptures or other artifacts are created. The Ubud tourist office is a good place to get started on this.
There are too many luxury hotels, not enough moderately priced ones, on the shores of Bali. Luckily, if you want to live simply, there are plenty of guest houses and pensions in the small inland villages, most famously in Ubud. The latter appeal to that minority of visitors interested in the authentic Bali; the great majority prefer incredibly, to lie on the beach, or even play golf while they’re here (which they could easily do in their home cities), and are satisfied with that smattering of Balinese culture obtained by watching a short dance presentation while they eat dinner. So they stay at the big hotels.
All the higher-priced hotels we list are in the beach areas of the southernmost tip of the island, around the airport. We list only a single small hotel up in the mountains, near Ubud, simply because of the volatility with which small hotels, guest houses, and even guest-accepting private homes, go in and out of the lodgings business. Simply visit the tourist office of Ubud, or any similarly sized town, and they’ll assign you to rooms with pleasant facilities, at some of the cheapest prices on earth. At least a dozen such, ultra-low-priced establishments are found up and down the Monkey Forest Road in Ubud; any passerby will point the way to it.
Note: There is a 21% tax and service charge levied against most lodgings, but in a few hotels this charge is included in the price. Be sure to ask.
FOUR SEASONS RESORT AT JIMBARAN BAY
Four Seasons Resort, Jimbaran, Denpasar, Bali 80361, 15 minutes from the airport, phone 62/361-701010, fax 62/361-701020, www.fourseasons.com/jimbaranbay. Year-round rate for a one-bedroom villa is US$575, a one-bedroom villa with oceanfront view US$650. Two-bedroom villas are available. (Ask about their specials, which can discount these prices significantly.)
An all-villa hotel of 147 elegant, Balinese-style units, each more than 2,150 square feet in size, counting both the indoor and outdoor living spaces clustered around your private courtyard. Each villa also has a secluded outdoor shower in a private garden. There are separate sleeping, bathing and dining pavilions in each such villa and a private plunge pool. All these are scattered about 35 acres of terraced hillside above Jimbaran Bay. Other hotel facilities include tennis, gym, spa, three restaurants and two lounges.
The Oberoi, P.O. Box 3351, Denpasar, Bali 80033, or Legian Beach, Jalan Kaya Aya, Denpasar 80033, Bali, 30 minutes from the airport, phone 62/361-730-361, fax 62/361-730-791, www.oberoihotels.com. Year-round rates: standard garden view rooms (1 or 2 persons)begin at US$260. Peak season 10% surcharge from January 1 to 7, July 21 to August 20 and December 20 to 31. Discounts for long stays.
This has to be anyone’s first choice among the deluxe hotels of Bali, simply because it is the smallest, with only 65 lanai cottages (grouped four around each garden pool) and 15 villas. With their thatched roofing, the buildings in the complex are all of one or two floors, scattered about 15 acres of tropical gardens, with pools and raised pavilions for outdoor dining. Cottages have large private patios and sunken bathtubs in garden bathrooms, and some of the villas have their own swimming pools. All villas are behind private stone walls. The Oberoi is on the beach, of course. Public facilities include tennis, gym and beauty salon.
BALI HILTON INTERNATIONAL
Bali Hilton International, PO Box 46, Nusa Dua, Bali 80363, nine miles from airport, phone 62/361-771-102, fax 62/361-771-616, www.balihilton.com. Year round rates: single US$165 to US$230, double US$180 to US$260. Rates go up by US$30 during the month of August, and up by US$75 for New Year’s week.
A big (537 rooms) hotel, the Hilton has confined its main structures to a maximum of four floors, and much of the hotel is a series of smaller pavilions, with Balinese-style red roofs, making the complex look more intimate than it really is. On about 25 acres of landscaped garden on the beach, the size of the hotel is further minimized in appearance by its many Balinese-themed courtyards between the buildings. But guest rooms are good-sized, and each has a balcony. There are five restaurants, a pub and a terrace lounge. On some evenings, you can dine outdoors and watch "cultural events," usually dancing by local young people or children. There’s a fitness club, outdoor pool, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, squash courts, water sports, a nearby beach, and an 18-hole golf course next door.
SHERATON NUSA INDAH RESORT
Sheraton Nusa Indah Resort, P.O. Box 36, Bali 80363 or Kawsan BTDC Lot 2, Nusa Dua Beach, Bali 80363, connected to the Convention Center and seven miles from the airport, phone 62/361-771-906, fax 62/361-772-049. Year-round rates, single or double, are US$205, but promotional rates and low-season rates can take that down to US$90 or US$100.
Another low high-rise, this time with four floors of 353 rooms, the Nusa Indah is not far from its pricier, but smaller, sister, the Sheraton Lagoon Nusa Dua. Rooms are of average size, and there are four restaurants (serving Balinese, Italian and Japanese cuisines), and two lounges with live entertainment. The fitness center and its related activities include four lighted tennis courts, a pool and many water sports. Finally, the hotel is connected by a covered walkway to the Bali International Convention Center, and you won’t be surprised to learn that the Nusa Indah has a large business center, too.
SHERATON LAGUNA NUSA DUA BEACH
Sheraton Laguna Nusa Dua Beach, PO Box 77, Nusa Dua, Bali 80363, six miles from the airport, phone 62/361-771-327, fax 62/361-771-326, www.sheraton.com. Year-round rates, single or double, are US$175 to US$235, suites from US$323 and up.
The Sheraton is a low high-rise, only four floors tall, but even that height seems a bit much on Bali. It consists of 270 rooms and suites. Among the ultra civilized perks are seated check-in, a welcome drink and cold towel, complimentary afternoon snacks and tea, and personal butler service on every floor. In addition to the hotel’s fitness center there is a pool and a swimming lagoon, tennis and water sports, a full, 18-hole golf course nearby. You can choose between the pool restaurant or main restaurant and coffee shop, and there are the usual "cultural performances" by amateurs from the neighborhood.
BALI IMPERIAL HOTEL
Bali Imperial Hotel, P.O. Box 3384, Denpasar, Bali 80001 or Jalan Dhyana Pura, Legian Beach, Bali, 80001, five miles from airport, phone 62/361-730-730, fax 62/361-730545, www.bali-imperial.com. Year-round rates: single or double from US$154 to US$188 for a superior room, from US$171 to US$206 for a deluxe room, and from US$245 to US$280 for a suite. Extra bed in room is US$25. Rates include breakfast, tax and service charge.
In a switch of design, this three-story building manages to look bigger than it really is. There are only 110 rooms, plus 11 suites and 16 villas. Guest rooms are quite large, views outstanding (over Legian Beach, one of the better ones in Bali), and all of it is set in nicely landscaped grounds along the beach. Add three restaurants, indoors and out, two pools, two tennis courts, and an exercise room.
BALI INTER-CONTINENTAL RESORT
Bali Inter-Continental Resort, P.O. Box 35, Nusa Dua, Bali 80361 or Jalan Uluwatu 45, Jimbaran, Nusa Dua., Bali 80361, near Nusa Dua Convention Center, phone 62/361-701-888, fax 62-361-701-777, www.bali.indonesia.intercontinental.com. Year-round rates: single or double standard rooms (which they call "superior") US$145, deluxe US$165. High season supplement of US$30 from July 15 to September 15, and December 20 to January 10. Extra bed US$30. Children under 14 free (max. one child) when sharing room with parents. Rates include breakfast and use of spa.
We’re talking serious hotel business here, about a four-year-old giant of 425 large and luxurious guest rooms, of which most have ocean views from their balconies. Set in 35 acres of grounds, the Inter-Conti has 1 tennis and 2 squash courts, a shopping arcade, water sports on the beach, four restaurants (including Indonesian and Japanese cuisine) and a business center. It is surprising that a hotel of such architectural quality (many aspects of it are breathtaking, and thoroughly Balinese) should have decided not to match the rates of other deluxe hotels, and for that we should all be grateful. Make a point of touring the hotel even if you’re not staying there.
Bali Hyatt, P.O. Box 392, Sanur, Bali, 20 minutes from the airport, phone 62/351-281-234, fax 62/361-287-693, www.bali.hyatt.com. Year-round rates: single or double US$110 garden view, US$130 ocean view, US$150 Regency suite US$150.
Set in 36 acres of gardens on the famous Sanur Beach, the Bali Hyatt (not to be confused with its more expensive sister, the Grand Hyatt), has 390 rooms in a low-rise complex of Balinese-style buildings. Rooms are average in size, but the public facilities are remarkable for such a moderately-priced establishment: five restaurants (indoors and out), shopping arcade, two outdoor pools, jogging track, tennis and badminton courts, and water sports, including deep-sea fishing aboard boats available to guests. Classic Balinese dancing is presented at the open-air Purama Terrace restaurant.
PACUNG MOUNTAIN RESORT
Pacung Mountain Resort, Jalan Raya Baturiti, Pacung, Bali, in central Bali, north of Ubud, phone 62/361-262-460, fax 62/368-21043. Year round rates for two persons US$100 to US$150, bungalows are US$200. Discounts for singles.
There are only 34 rooms in this small motel-like structure about 40 miles north of Bali’s airport, on the road to the Bedugul Mountains. There’s a natural hot springs about 15 miles away, easy access to Ubud and other crafts villages, and the same opportunity to visit the famous Puncak Monkey Forest about 10 miles away.
NOVOTEL CORALIA BENOA BEACH
Novotel Coralia Benoa Beach, Benoa Beach, Bali, north of Nusa Dua town, phone 62/361-772-239, fax 62/361-772-237, www.novotel.com. Year-round rates for standard single or double rooms are US$98 to US$118.
Set in tropical gardens along Benoa Beach (one of Bali’s finest), the Novotel has 192 rooms, three swimming pools, tennis courts and plenty of beach sports and activities. Fairly new (1996), and two three restaurants and a bar, naturally.
HOTEL SANTIKA BEACH
Hotel Santika Beach Bali, P.O. Box 1008, Tuban, Bali or Jalan Kartika, Tuban, Bali, one mile from the airport, phone 62/361-751-267, fax 62/361-761-889. Year-round rates for either singles or doubles start at US$85 for a standard room and US$120 for a superior room.
In several landscaped acres practically next door to the airport, the Santika Beach has 171 rooms and 11 suites, in a three-floor structure with modified Balinese roof style. Rooms are large, and have most of the amenities you would associate with a higher-category hotel. Suites have a private swimming pool. And public facilities include three restaurants (Indonesia, western and Chinese cuisine), three outdoor pools, tennis court and beach, with water sports nearby.
BALI DYNASTY RESORT
Bali Dynasty Resort, P.O. Box 2047 or Jalan Kartika Plaza, Tuban, South Kuta, Bali 80361, 15 minute walk from Kuta Village, phone 62/361-752-403, fax 62/361-752-402, www.balidynasty.com. Rates, single or double, for a superior room US$75, for a room with a pool view US$95, and for a suite US$195. Add 31% tax and service charge.
On the southern end of Kuta Beach, in the village of Tuban, the Dynasty is a comfortable and efficient hotel, but a bit too large (312 rooms and 12 suites) for the intimacy and personal service that some travelers desire. Still, the rooms are good-sized, and the hotel’s extensive public facilities include a pool, tennis court, game room, two restaurants (one is Chinese), an Irish pub, several shops, and even a medical clinic.
BALI GARDENIA RESORT
Bali Gardenia Resort, P.O. Box 133 or Jalan Dalem Tarukan No. 7, Nusa Dua, Bali, seven miles from airport, phone 62/361-773-808, www.baligardenia.com, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Year-round rates: one-bedroom suites US$60 to US$75, two-bedroom suites US$90 to US$105.
There are 353 suites here. Overlooking BenoaHarbour, the Gardenia is close to night life, shops and beaches. You’ll be three miles from Nusa Dua Beach, six miles from Kuta Beach, and about 30 miles from the artists’ studios and crafts shops of Ubud. The suites are in two-story landscaped buildings with terraces and balconies.
As earlier noted, a fine alternative for adventurous tourists is to lodge near the town of Ubud. Here you have the privilege of staying in a Balinese family’s home, or perhaps at one of the small pensions or guest houses run by local people. Take a taxi from the airport area, or, if you have a lot of time and strength, the bus. Go to the Ubud Tourist Office on the main street near the bus stop and they will help you locate a suitably priced establishment. There are literally dozens of such pensions and guest houses in Ubud proper.
VILLAS AND APARTMENTS ABROAD
Villas and Apartments Abroad, 1270 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, phone 212/897-5045, fax 212/897-5039, Web: www.vaanyc.com. A wide range of villas throughout the Caribbean and Europe with Anguilla properties starting at a bit under $100/day in summer.
A New York-based company called Villas and Apartments Abroad offers villa rentals throughout the Caribbean with some particularly good deals for the island of Anguilla. Villas are available on a weekly basis only and can start at as little as $1095/week (think of it as $150/day) for one-bedroom units with full kitchen, swimming pool and maid service. In summer, that rate plunges to just $625/week.