We arrived on south Bali island, a supposed Mecca of spirituality and serenity dating back 5,000 years. Well, not any more, or at least not all of it. Granted, the area has undergone a serious tourism boom over the past decade, but any tranquility in the Kuta/Legian area has been displaced by large stretches aggressive shop owners, taxi drivers for hire, spas galore, and children haranguing you to buy one of their little [insert cheap island souvenir here]. The stretches of beach are nice enough, but even then you have someone every 20 feet under an umbrella asking you if you want a beer, or surf lessons, or, in a more hushed tone, magic mushrooms. And it doesn't seem to make a difference which way you walk - it's a never-ending sea of commercialism.
Sandy suggested a few days on Gili Trawangan island, one of three islands comprising the Gilis - this was a whole lot better. The circumference of the island is completely walkable, and there is the perfect balance of everything and nothing. Any motorized vehicle transport has been replaced by horse guided rickshaw. A number of restaurants are peppered around the perimeter, a few bars, plenty of cheap and good accommodations, and even several dive shops. We essentially spent a few days on the beach unwinding, strolling the island, and went reef diving once (the sea and plant life was awesome).
Back to Bali island and further north to Ubud, and this is the Bali that I've read about. There is a fair amount of traffic in the town center, but a few steps off the main drags - and especially a short scooter ride away - takes you to tropical forestry, charming family run restaurants and shops, and rice plantation landscapes that makes you want to stay longer. In Ubud, we visited several temples, a sacred monkey forest, and thoroughly enjoyed hospitality that rivals anywhere we've been up to this point. Barring one of the strangest dance performances we've seen (Kecak dance), this marks a place we'll have to revisit - only 16,998 islands left to explore...
SS: Just the word Bali sounds majestic. Being on this side of the world and so close, Bali was a must stop but my initial impression was not the serenity that I imagined this mecca to be...yet.
Kuta/Legian area is crazy congested with hotels on top of restaurants that are on top of shops all located on twisting streets that hardly interlink. The beach is long and wide with near perfect waves coming in that both surfers and swimmers alike can enjoy. The only problem - it is sprinkled with litter and the touts are relentless. I'm happy that we experienced this area but now know that this area has had its prime and is not the peacefulness we were looking for.
Along our travels, any time we mentioned Bali people said to go to the Gilis and boy, were they right. The Gilis are made up of three tiny islands (Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan) just northwest of the next door, non touristy, island of Lombok - I can imagine that Lombok is what Bali once looked like. A long ride up to the north from the airport, we then caught the local boat (that only leaves when full) to Gili Trawangan - dubbed the party island. There were pure white beaches and turquoise water, just enough restaurants and bars to keep you entertained but not over bearing, a trail around the entire island that is walkable in under 2 hours, excellent little guest houses, price capped scuba diving outlets and areas of the island that were still totally untouched. Real raw island time.
Back to Bali island to see (and feel) what real Bali has to offer. Ubud is still commercialized but a quick walk through Monkey Forest brings you feeling at one with nature. Our guest house was amazing - located just off the main strip with a private balcony overlooking rice green fields with and endless supply of hot water for tea or coffee. We rented a scooter and headed out with no particular site in mind, just a leisurely ride through the countryside enjoying stunning rice field terraces, lush green forests, cascading cliffs and tiny towns with friendly people as we passed by. There are spiritual pagodas around every corner that make you stop and just admire intricacy and tranquility.
I could have spent so much more time in Bali, discovering all that it has to offer, but our days are on the countdown now.
Off to the Gilis ...