Colossal waves waiting for you at the beach? Check. Aussies everywhere? Check. Artisan stuff here and there? Check. A strong exotic air, but no part spared by malls and their international brands? Check. Is pure vegetarian food close to inaccessible? Check. Water sports at the Indian Ocean? Check. A population of over 4.225 million that’s friendly and speaks in English? Check. Hindu temples? Check. An amazing airport? Check. Congratulations, you’re off to Bali, Indonesia. Here’s a guide.
1. THE SHOPPING
Like in Bangkok, everybody ends up shopping here, even if they didn’t originally intend to. The currency is cheap (10,000 Indonesian Rupiah = ₹511 = US $7.660) but, somehow, money isn’t so valuable (they mint coins worth Rp. 1000), which doesn’t lower down the prices magically. Anyway, criticism aside, they have some matchless paintings, handmade jute bags, fridge magnets and accessories in the Ubud Art Market. The females do most of the shop-and-stall work in Bali. Actually, where else do you get women who ask you to bargain if you’re against the fares?
As I mentioned earlier, international brands are not alien to the Balinese, and you’re bound to find at least one U.S. Polo/Calvin Klein/Speedo/Pull and Bear showroom in nearly every mall. Coming to the malls, I won’t be doing this article justice without mentioning the Beachwalk Shopping Centre (also known as the Kuta Beachwalk). Architecturally, it’s indescribably beautiful, with apparel stores, book stores, cosmetic stores, a whole floor dedicated to kids’ stores, restaurants everywhere, and a green, plant-adorned terrace. The Discovery Shopping Mall isn’t too bad, either, and has a flea market inside, et cetera, et cetera. The roads cease to be jammed with Mini Marts, Coco Marts and Guardian Pharmacies if you happen to go to Seminyak, and the streets will be the lifeline of all shopping.
The Kuta Square, quite near to the beach, is good, with apparel stores, restaurants, ice-cream parlours, and the Matahari departmental store (their Big Bazaar).
2. THE FOOD
Bad news for all vegetarians wishing to go to Indonesia: thank your lucky stars if you get your food anywhere. The better part: if you’re well acquainted with the spicy Indian cuisine, then you’ll enjoy at Queen’s Tandoor, in both Kuta and Seminyak. They’ll serve the darling comfort food (attention: comfort food, not fat-free food) you were probably missing since ages. If not, then you’ll have to survive on chocolates, tea, coffee, French fries (minus burgers), corn, salad and authentic Indonesian cuisine (only if you like it).
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If you’re ovo-lacto vegetarian (vegetarians okay with eggs), then go for Mie Tek Tek (i.e., stir-fried noodles) with eggs, which is available at the Sports Bar Café in Kuta.
Obviously, you’ve never heard of it, so I’ll tell you that it serves way more than a fistful of appetising Western dishes. As the name suggests, you’ve got the luxury of watching a football game while having your food; they display those on this huge projector. Oh, and the food’s mostly non-vegetarian.
News flash- Be sure to try these vegetarian dishes at a restaurant that serves Indonesian food: Mie Tek Tek (the eggless version), Tahu Bacem (pieces of tofu made to sit in a marination of sugar, coconut milk and a dozen spices for a few hours to soak all the flavour; it’s fried right before it’s served and is very inviting) and Bakwan Jagung (deep fried corn fritters served with rice and chilli sauce). And there are Greek cafés, too (which, of course, aren’t exactly divine for shudh shakaharis). They have some very nice feta cheese salads (they may cost you a fortune).
And there’s always that mall with those international brands which will act as a saviour.
And if you happen to be vegan… it’s up to you.
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- Bali Pulina Coffee Plantation. Bali’s exotic, traditional air mingles well with the modern, futuristic one. The Bali Pulina Coffee plantation, near Ubud, is mind-blowing and a wonderful exposure. Just in case you didn’t know, Luwak coffee is made from the digested coffee beans in the excreta of the Luwak, which is a cross between a ferret and a raccoon. It’s the costliest variety in the world. It’s produced here, right in front of you. It’s known to be excellent. Try to avoid the those risen eyebrows and wrinkled noses. To add to the list, they have mango, eight or ten different varieties of tea (which you can try for free in the canteen), lemon grass, flower, star fruit, cocoa, legume and coconut plantations as well. It’s possible to find roosters and hens in cages. It’s hygienic and well-maintained, with a friendly, sociable staff.
- Bali Zoo. No particular description needed. But if you do want one, they let you have breakfast with orang-utans and be a mahout and a zookeeper for a day. And maybe you could spend the night at the zoo.
- The adventure junkie’s sweetheart. Mount Batur, an active volcano that last erupted in 2000, is close to Ubud. Most of the time, it’s open for trekking, but if the authorities suspect an eruption, they wouldn’t allow you. It measures 1,717 metres. Mount Agung, on the other hand, is the highest point in Bali. It’s still active, and erupted last in 1963. It looks wonderfully conical (though this fact doesn’t dismiss the dangers that come along with trekking it). It’s an “ultra-prominent” peak (or so does Wikipedia say). As with all the other volcanoes, you wouldn’t be allowed to climb it if they sense danger. Mount Merbuk, 1,386 metres high, can be considered the shortest, if we don’t count Bratan (Bratan is a volcanic complex, not a volcano). These were some of the most famous ones; there are many more in Bali.
4. THE PEOPLE AND THEIR CULTURE
For those in Kuta, I have only three words – friendly, sociable and cheerful. A complete stranger might give you a tour of Kuta and the areas around it. Waiters, especially those near the Hard Rock hotel, will turn out to be sweet enough to diagnose you with diabetes. Kuta is quite a lively city, with a great night life. The Seminyak-ian crowds cease to be quieter and more peaceful, and maybe not as nice as the Kuta-n ones. This city seems to have retired for good, after working tirelessly for uncountable years. No pun intended.
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90% of the population of Bali follows Hinduism. So finding innumerable shouldn’t be a huge co-incidence or your eyes trying to prank you. Ironically, Indonesia is a majorly Muslim country. But this doesn’t seem to affect Bali.
As I said in the introductory paragraph, most of the tourists that come here are Australian. Finding an Indonesian local roaming the streets is an occasion that ought to be celebrated, as the Aussies have outnumbered the Indonesians.
However, all pun and baseless jokes and disapproval aside, Bali has that light, breezy air, which can never be replicated or wrecked. You will never regret coming to this island.