This famed “Island of the Gods,” with its hills and mountains, verdant rice terraces, rugged coastline, and warm, sandy beaches is often referred to as “paradise.” Combine all of this natural beauty with friendly and hospitable people, and it is no wonder that Bali is Indonesia’s number one tourist attraction. Eighty percent of international visitors to Indonesia visit Bali and Bali alone. In the fall of 2012, Ron and I became part of that statistic when the Timken Company held an Asian Distributor Conference there in mid-October. We left Shanghai a week before the conference so that we could have a look at this popular destination.
Nikko Bali Resort and Spa in Nusa Dua was the venue for the conference. Nusa Dua is located on the eastern coast of Bali’s southern peninsula. This luxurious resort is built on a cliff, and offers spectacular views of the Indian Ocean.
It was a bit of a journey to get there. We flew about 5.5 hours from Shanghai to Singapore, and then another 2.5 hour flight got us to Ngurah Rai International Airport near Denpasar. Then, an hour or so by car to the resort. Once there, though, it was all relaxation as we looked around the resort and lounged at the beach and by the pool.
The ocean water was warm and the beach sand was soft and squishy, like a pillow, so we spent a lot of time floating on the waves and searching for shells and rocks. We found some seaweed that made a nice head of hair for a beached coconut.
Our 12th floor room, with a view of the ocean, was wonderful, but it was hard for us to stay away from the Nikko club, where they served us awesome breakfasts, and delectable cocktails and hors d’oeuvres during happy hour.
My favorite drink was the Bailey’s Classic, a combination of Bailey’s Irish Cream, coffee liqueur, banana liqueur, fresh milk and banana fruit.
In the evening, we dined at on outdoor buffet at the resort, and watched beautiful Balinese women in a performance of their traditional dance.
It was a magical scene. We were seated under towering palms. Lanterns and torches illuminated the tables and stage, and balmy breezes lifted the table covers.
At breakfast the next morning, we were entertained by monkeys that ran across the roof tiles before settling in for their morning meal.
As tempting as it was to stay by the ocean, we also wanted to see something of the inner island, so we hired a driver to take us to a spot highly recommended by others…Ubud. Located in south central Bali, in the foothills of the central mountain region, Ubud is known for art and dance, museums, the monkey forest, and numerous arts and crafts shops.
Bali is one of the 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago, and is located about 1.5 miles from the eastern tip of the island of Java, and west of the island of Lombok. Home to about 4 million people, the island is about 90 miles from east to west and 50 miles from north to south.
Rapid development and aging infrastructure cause frequent traffic jams and chaotic travel around Bali, but there was always something eye-catching to look at as we made our way north from Nusa Dua to Ubud. One village folded into another with endless shops and homes and temples, interrupted now and again by a rice field.
The Balinese are master sculptors, so temples and courtyards, and even roadside parks abound with statues of gods and goddesses.
We stopped at the UC Silver factory and showroom where we watched the handcrafting and some machine work in the creation of their sterling silver jewelry. UC Silver was established in 1989, and has two design studios in operation, one in Bali and another in Bangkok.
We saw some rural scenes and passed through some pretty countryside on our way to our hotel in Ubud.
When we arrived at our hotel, Komaneka at Bisma, we were served a cold drink in the open air lobby, and our room was lovely, complete with a balcony that overlooked a rice terrace.
We had a luscious breakfast on the patio the next morning, complete with yummy banana dumplings garnished with toasted coconut and drizzled with coconut syrup.
We hired a local driver for the day, and he took us all over the Ubud vicinity. Our first stop was Teba Sari, an agro tourism farm that markets a distinctive coffee, called Kopi Luwak. Read the more precise account (below) but, in short, here we were able to sample coffee made from mongoose poop.
“A note on Kopi Luwak – Bali’s most expensive coffee
Kopi Luwak is coffee brewed on beans that has been through the digestion system of a civet – a cat like mostly nocturnal mammal. The civets eat the coffee cherries for their fleshy pulp, but the beans are left intact all the way through the digestion system. The enzymes inside the civet’s stomach extract the bitterness from the coffee, making Kopi Luwak smooth and mild with a sweet aftertaste.
Originally Kopi Luwak was made from beans found in feces from civets living in the wild, making the collecting process quite time consuming, which explains why prices can get close to 1000$ for a kilo of Kopi Luwak. Now a lot of Kopi Luwak comes from civets in captivity, which raises some ethical issues and shouldn’t taste as good as Kopi Luwak from civets living in the wild as wild civets apparently are quite picky animals when it comes to coffee and only eat the best berries, which guarantees quality beans quality.
Kopi Luwak can be found all over Bali, both in shops and cafés. Whether the taste of Kopi Luwak is worth the price several times higher a normal cup of coffee is debatable, but it is inarguably a unique experience drinking a cup of coffee that has passed through a furry mammal.”
A resident mongoose napping at Teba Sari.
There was more fun to be had at the plantation. Guides pointed out plants from which they extract cinnamon, chilies, coconut, and vanilla, to name a few.
In addition to coffee, we also sampled hot chocolate and a wide variety of tea.
Just being able to wander around under the shady vegetation was a nice relief from the hot sun. Bali is 8 degrees from the equator, in the southern hemisphere. Daytime temperatures vary between 68-93 degrees F year-round.
Throughout the day, we made it to several crafts shops, where we purchased wood carvings, jewelry, tee-shirts, and even a decorative egg.
Wood carvers at work…
…salesmen at work.
With an entrance like this, we just knew the jewelry would be pricey!
At an elaborately designed shop we found an elaborately decorated egg bearing the likeness of Ganesh, a Hindu deity.
By late afternoon, the humidity was oppressive, so getting back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and a cold drink was rejuvenating. I had a mango martini that was so refreshing, I had to have another! It went well with my snake fruit, too, a juicy, sweet and sour fruit with a citrus tingle. It was much more enticing on the inside than on the outside. Technically known as salak or salacca zalacca, snake fruit is native to Indonesia but is now grown and produced around southeast Asia. The fruit grows on the salak palm tree, sprouting off the base of the palm in little clusters.
Unlike any other island in largely Muslim Indonesia, Bali is a pocket of Hindu religion and culture. Every aspect of Balinese life is steeped with religion, but the most visible signs are the tiny offerings (canang sari, or sesajen) seen everywhere.
These leaf trays are made daily and contain all sorts of things: flowers, glutinous rice, cookies, salt, coffee, and even cigarettes. They are set out with burning incense sticks and sprinkled with holy water no less than three times a day. Every Balinese house, work place, restaurant, and souvenir shop will have one, and we saw them at the wood carving showroom, on cars, and even on the ground.
It is estimated that there are 20,000 temples on the island of Bali each of which holds festivals at least twice a year. Combine these with many other auspicious days throughout the year, and it seems as if there are always festivities going on. Of great importance is Nyepi, or the Hindu New Year, also known as the day of absolute silence. On this day the Balinese attempt to fool all evil spirits into thinking that no one is on the island, so that the evil spirits will go looking elsewhere and leave Bali alone for another year. Hinduism on Bali is unique because it is woven into and around the original Balinese animistic religion. This tolerance and acceptance has become a part of everyday life, and Nyepi serves to remind Balinese of the importance of these attributes.
We found some time to wander around in Ubud’s town center, and here we admired their ornate architecture, temples, and even an elaborate funeral conveyance. (below left)
People watching was even more interesting, though…
…especially when we came across some cute school children… and these ingratiating little chaps.
There is a beautiful open air restaurant in Ubud called Café Wayan, where tables are nestled under thatched roof pavilions, and pathways meander around lotus pools and palm trees.
Our friends, Don and Lingling, who were in Bali for the Timken conference, also took a couple of days to look around Ubud. We met them at Café Wayan one evening, and they treated us to a delicious buffet dinner of Indonesian and Bali specialties. Unlike Indian Hindus, virtually all Balinese eat meat.
Don and Lingling were planning to look around Ubud and outlying areas the next day, so we recommended our driver. He turned out to be helpful to Lingling in finding a well known “fortune-teller.” If you are familiar with the book and movie Eat,Pray,Love, you will remember that the author traveled to Bali and consulted with an aged sage who gave her advice on love. When Lingling asked if he knew where to find this man, the driver thought for a moment, and then told her that he knew of a person who receives a lot of visitors, and has a picture of Julia Roberts displayed at his house. When he drove Lingling there, she took this picture…
…which will look quite familiar to fans of the movie.
Before Ron and I left Ubud, we had one more stop, Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana, or Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. This nature preserve and temple complex provides sanctuary to nearly 300 long-tail macaques. Read this article for greater detail about the temples and the monkeys. Sacred Monkey Forest (Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana) Atlas Obscura. While the temples are certainly notable, Ron and I stopped there just to see the monkeys, and the $2 per person entrance fee that we paid was well worth the entertainment. We were on our guard and kept our belongings close in hand, as we’d been warned that the monkeys will become quite aggressive in their quest for food from tourists. There are many reports of visitors being bitten, and we did, indeed, witness a lady, who was carrying a banana, have her leg bitten by one of the impatient critters. The monkey pictured above is perusing a treasure trove of the canang sari (offerings).
We saw greedy monkeys, playful monkeys, feasting monkeys…
…acrobats and exhibitionists!
Some were pensive, and others were downright pooped.
The park was filled with families, human and macaque…
…and it was great fun to watch parents as well as youngsters, and my favorite, a very tired mother falling asleep on the job!
On our way back to Nusa Dua, we stopped at Daging wood carver showroom. Pictures were not allowed inside the showroom, but we were able to watch some artisans at work outdoors, and a sales lady showed us an intricate piece currently being created from the wood of a crocodile tree.
Once we were back at the resort in Nusa Dua, we enjoyed one more afternoon at the beach and a candlelit dinner beside the Indian Ocean.
The next day, I returned to Shanghai, and Ron stayed on for Timken’s three day conference, already set up to kick off at the beach.
Ron, who rarely buys souvenirs for himself, finally decided to buy mahogany Barong and Rangda masks at the Daging wood carver shop.
In Bali, Barong and Rangda are iconic symbols of good and evil, and Barong dances, well explained in this article, Barong & Rangda – Balinese Two Opposites, are an important part of Balinese culture. We both agreed that they would be a good reminder that, in a world of good and evil, choose good, and in a world of travel destinations, choose Bali. Nearly three million people do each year, and this small island still retains its charm, and its stunning beauty.