Bali is an experience by itself. If you enjoy a laid-back vacation, filled with luscious greenery, gastronomical treats, intricate architectural beauty, heavenly massages and let’s not forget warm hospitality, then you are in the right place. The pictures online do not do justice to the place.
Bali is an experience you have to go through by yourself. The Ngurah Rai International Airport at Denpasar, Bali, itself is so quaint that it charms you with its simplicity. Whether you go for a week or a month, it’s never enough; that’s the magic of Bali. I’ve listed down 20 Must-do things at Bali you must absolutely not miss; there’s a lot more to do and that I’m sure you find a way to squeeze into your schedule!
Located in the heart of the city, the Ubud Palace is a must-visit to understand and feel the place’s rich history. The ornate gateway at the Ubud Palace gives one the feeling of entering a portal and getting transported into another realm. Though not a very huge property, it makes up for it with its architectural beauty. A part of the palace is off-limits as the royal family resides in it. The part open to the public has the common assembly area and the courtyard where the major festivals are celebrated together. And, in this courtyard, a dance program is held every day in the evening. For details, please check up on the schedule for the day in case there are any changes.
The Monkey Forest is a sanctuary for the long-tailed Balinese macaques. It’s a nice comfortable walk through the winding roads of Ubud to the Monkey Forest. There are regular shuttle buses also available from the city centre at regular intervals.
The dense greenery at the Monkey Forest provides a perfect environment for the monkeys which are known to get aggressive with visitors. So, in your best interests, follow the instructions given in the brochure and enjoy a pleasant walk through the jungle. There’s a wooden trail – just follow that and you won’t get lost. Also, if you want to visit, there are three Hindu temples built during the reign of the Gelgel dynasty in the middle of 14th century.
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
A short drive from Ubud, you will reach the Ceking rice terraces which offer one of the best views of the green rice fields. The terraces are clearly outlined and can be reached using the steps made down the slope. You can park at the ‘Sentral Parkir Ceking Terrace’ and purchase entrance tickets from there to avoid hassles. The walk down is comfortable and picturesque. If you want to walk in the rice fields, be prepared for the bog and slush.
Trek to Mount Batur
Sunrise from Mt Batur is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The trek is moderate in difficulty level (depending on your fitness level also) and challenging. It’s approximately a 5-hour trek. Mt Batur is undeniably Bali’s most sought activity. The trek starts off at 4 am from the base of the mountain. The climb is steep in most places and it’s advisable to be geared up appropriately.
Also, in case you don’t feel like hiking up to the summit, dirt bikes are available for hire throughout the way. It’s a narrow ledge on top and crammed with eager hikers wanting their fair share of the surreal sunrise. You can walk around the top of the crater and go towards the side from where you can see slivers of smoke billowing from the fissures.
Tirth Gangaa Park
Originally a sacred wellspring revered by the locals, the Tirta Gangaa was developed into a beautiful park by the king of Karangasem in 1948. The wellspring is surrounded by lush tropical gardens and fountains and koi ponds.
What a view! The view from the Uluwatu temple complex is something out of the world, with no words doing it justice. The temple is important to the locals and is situated on the southwest corner of the island. It is one of the temples constructed along the coast to protect the island of Bali. The Uluwatu temple is decorated with images of Lord Ganesha and other local deities. At sunset, the Uluwatu temple is bathed in the colours of the setting sun, which is a spiritual experience by itself. All visitors have to wear a sarong or a sash during the visit, which is provided near the ticket counter.
The Kecak dance show starts after sunset at the Uluwatu temple complex and is a must-see. A troupe of about 75 men enter the stage accompanied by the chorus of ‘chak, chak’ sound. The Kecak dance is based on the Ramayana and keeps changing pace according to the story. All the audio effects are produced by a choir of men, gamelan suara, who do not use any musical instruments. The Kecak dance is not only magical but keeps one totally engrossed.
A visit to Bali is incomplete unless you enjoy its pristine beaches and clear blue waters. The tourist attractions of banana boats, fly fish, snorkelling, parasailing, scuba diving, glass bottom boat and jet skis are available at various water sports centres. A visit to Turtle Island can also be organised from there. What I discovered new was the fly jet, haven’t seen it before but loved it. Also don’t forget to go for either the sea walk (for the uninitiated) or scuba diving, which is available for everyone, from amateurs to experienced divers. Only remember – go to the place which offers you insurance along with the cost of the activities.
Tanah means land and lot means sea and that explains Tanah Lot in short. It is one of the many sea temples that have been made along the coast to honour the gods and goddesses of the ocean. Tanah Lot is located on a beautiful stone outcrop in the sea. A visit-worthy destination if you are in the southern part of the island. Tanah Lot has withstood the ravages of time and tide and offers its visitors a calming experience with a surreal view of the sea and sky melting and creating the most awes-piring canvas on the sky.
There are specific villages where one can explore the culture of Bali. In the Batuan village, one can see the traditional Balinese painting styles which were expressions of religious and mythological stories and characters. This has undergone changes with time and influence from other cultures. Due of the confluence of ideas and expressions, traditional Balinese paintings can be now seen showing the different elements of nature and society.
In the Mas village, one can experience the intricate wood carving. Some of the wood carvers have been in this trade for generations and even as they speak to you, they effortlessly carve out unbelievable statues from the block of wood.
At the Celuk village, one could see the innovative gold and silver craftsmanship of the local artists. The artists have adapted to the changes in the market and have developed designs and patterns which are unique and exquisite.
There’s also a Weavers’ street where one can find the local weaves of Bali like the Ikat and silk. The designs are traditional patterns, but you can also see the confluence of modern and tradition in the variety on display.
Most of these villages are located on the road from Denpasar to Ubud.
Lempuyang is considered one of the holiest temple complexes in Bali. It is a complex of seven temples set in the verdant surroundings of Lempuyang. From the parking, there are small open buses which take the visitors to the main temple complex. Sarongs are a must for everyone and are included in the entry fees. From there, it’s a short, steep climb but worth every step. The view is spectacular as your eyes gaze over the hills and forests. The iconic symbol of Bali, the Gateway to Heaven, is a must-do photo and has a long wait period.
Ulun Danu Beratan
This picturesque Balinese Hindu temple is located on the banks of the Beratan lake and is surrounded by cloud-covered hills on all sides. There are four temple complexes located together in Ulun Danu Beratan temple complex. The local deity is worshipped as the source of fertility and prosperity.
Also called the Tampak Siring temple, Tirth Empul is a hot water spring temple. It is believed that the water coming from the underground spring has properties to heal and hence has been blessed by the gods. A series of ornate spouts make this holy water available to the devotees who must bathe in each of the spouts to be cleansed of all ailments. One can also see the President’s Palace on the western side of the Tirth Empul temple complex.
Goa Gajah is located between two rivers. The cave temple was initially a hermitage for the Buddhist monks and has been mentioned in old scriptures. The entrance to the Goa Gajah temple looks like a cave. Murals and have some words written in the Kediri script from the 11th century decorate the walls of the cave. Inside the cave, the idols of the three main deities are placed in the many niches which have been carved into the cave walls.
The Besakih temple is the most revered and sacred of all the Hindu temples in Bali. The temple has found mention in the ancient scriptures from even before the influence of Hinduism. Built on the principles of cosmic balance, the impressive Besakih temple complex is a perfect amalgamation of the ancient Indonesian traditions and the later Hindu culture. One can see the majestic Mount Agung in the background, standing tall as a proud sentinel protecting the temple and its deity.
Ubud Art Market
The Ubud Art Market is a world in itself. It offers everyone who visits something to take back. The kitschy handicrafts, the colourful masks, the delectable collection of rattan bags and hats, and handcrafted wooded items like bowls, spoons, serving platters and chopping boards are awesome. A great place to pick up souvenirs and gifts for back home.
Though most of the wares at the Ubud Art Market are displayed outside, don’t forget to peek into some of the small shops selling beautiful paintings by local artists. The prices are negotiable, so don’t forget to bargain! Thumb rule is to start off at 50% and then arrive at a rate agreeable to both sides.
If you are visiting Bali, it’s impossible to miss the beaches. And it’s even more difficult to decide which ones to visit. Some of the famous beaches are Pandawa beach, Dreamland beach, Padang Padang beach (which is also a favourite surf point), Green Bowl beach, Jimbaran beach and the list goes on. Decide by yourself as you are going to be spoilt for choices.
The Saraswati temple is located right opposite the Ubud Palace. It is open to the public and only those worshipping can enter the main temple. The temple complex is serene and has pools of water filled up with lotus blossoms. Earlier it used to host the dance performances in the evening but post-Covid, the venue has shifted to the Ubud Palace. So check up on the timings and location and book your tickets in advance.
Campuhan Ridge Walk
The Campuhan Ridge Walk is perfect for an exciting evening walk. The pleasant stroll through the rice terraces and valleys with the gurgling sound of the stream in the background is how the day should end. The view from the Campuhan ridge is breathtaking. Even those not used to the physical exertions will find climbing up the ridge not so difficult especially after they get to witness the surreal experience of the setting sun. Keep to the paved blocks and don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes.
Social media is inundated with pictures of the Bali Swing, gliding over the rice fields. An unmissable iconic image of Bali. The Ubud Swings is just on the outskirts of the city. It is a well-planned layout with ample scope for photography. There are different types of swings to try out and long flowy dresses of different colours are available for rental for the perfect photo shoot. You’ve to buy the package and then you can sit on all the swings and get clicked by your friend or family (professional photographer is extra).
Word of caution – many of the rice terraces have begun to offer the swings experience. Check up on the safety measures and infrastructure, and most importantly if they include insurance cover. We don’t want the vacations turning into a nightmare while saving on a buck!
Plan your trip well and have a wonderful time in Bali! Just make sure you take the necessary precautions. And more importantly, get a hang of the forex, it’s mind-boggling with everything costing millions!!
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A good ready reckoner to plan your trip to Bali.