Before coming to Bali, we were skeptical about the island and almost skipped it altogether in favour of Lombok and Gilis. However upon setting my foot on the island I immediately noticed a strike difference to Java. Apart from the Hindu influence, there was a sense of aesthetics and polish in everything. As if the locals were preoccupied with trying to make the environment they live to look more pleasing instead of just having a roof over one’s head and getting by. Once in search of a temple we wondered into a private house (a protip: never trust Google Maps while in Indonesia) and actually mistook it for the temple, until the owner came out and told us politely to get out. Indeed there is little point to see attractions around Ubud for example, as the surroundings provide enough eye-candy. Apart from the distinct architecture the Balinese culture is marked by its own dance and music styles. Unfortunately we have not had a chance to experience any of the dance shows, but gamelan music was served as a soundtrack everywhere in Bali. Repetitive and samey, but never got boring nonetheless. I wonder when Western electronic music scene will discover rhythm and patterns of gamelan.
Of course tourist development has left an ugly mark on the island and especially areas like Ubud. Nonetheless it is still magical and well worth a trip. We spent 11 days on Bali altogether, longer than in any other part of Indonesia, but there is something about Bali that makes me want to visit it again.
Having heard so many negative things about Kuta made me actually want to see it for myself. As it turned out it was not all that bad, at least for a quick in and out visit. It is all about eating, shopping and surfing. At times Kuta felt like a downtown of a metropolis with big brand stores, fancy restaurants and luxurious hotels. What makes Kuta stand out from the places of this kind is a spectacular, but way too popular (equally with surfers and hawkers) beach. It marked my first time swimming in Indian Ocean. No surfing this time, though. The horror stories of bulldozers cleaning the beach turned out to be true, but I could not see what all the fuss was. The beach of this caliber gets inevitably dirty and the fact the they clean it on a regular basis is nothing but a positive thing. This was my first impression of Kuta. On our second visit it partially lost its initial appeal, but not to the point of “never again”. It makes an excellent point of entry to and exit from Bali. Good food, even better shopping possibilities and cheap motorbikes.
Essentially Padang Bai is a transit village, where ferries and boats to Lombok leave from. We did not plan to devote any additional time to it, but ended up spending three nights there. Apart from the laid-back atmosphere of the place and regular horns of the ferries coming from Lombok, there is an excellent beach and decent nightlife (read live reggae music) for a place of this size. The beach, Bias Tegul (the hidden beach), got its name for a reason. You cannot see it from any place on the land, until you reach it. The waves are high and reach out almost to the highest point of the beach. It was fun to watch unsuspecting people camping on the beach only to get wet with a particularly strong wave. The beach is served by several warungs with surprisingly low prices given the remoteness and adorable staff. The award of the best fruit salad in Indonesia goes to one of the warungs there. Even hawkers are nice there. Polite and not a sign of pushiness. We felt actually bad about not buying exquisite wooden boxes from an older hawker with puppy eyes. Another guy spent a lot effort selling a single coconut and once sold switched to selling decent massage. The best beach in Bali, hands down.