A week rediscovering Bali

BALI, 1 February 2018: I am visiting Bali to learn about new happenings, new experiences.

It’s my fourth visit during my quarter century as a resident of Asia, I’m still drawn by Bali’s distinctive character. I adore the statues; the umbrellas, the temples and architecture. I’m a city dweller so to be enveloped in an environment of nature’s greenery is sheer bliss.

The news here on the island has fleeting references to the Mount Agung volcano. 

Mount Agung has settled down and is drifting from the thoughts of the islanders as the no go zone around the crater is reduced to around 6 km. We are a long way from the mountain and recent observations suggest the volcano is stabilising, although the rumblings that send an occasional column of smoke sky-high continue to remind us why the mountain is so revered.

Travellers have few concerns. Long time expat residents shrug off talk of evacuations, They know that areas like popular Kuta and Sanur and the airport are 75 km from the volcanic outbursts. During my seven-day visit, last week, Mount Agung was much calmer and this gives way to confidence that should draw more tourists than ever in 2018.

To boost  confidence, Indonesia’s President recently visited Bali and two large conferences have also confirmed their annual meetings will be held in Bali – the IMF and the World Bank.

The trip to Bali started with a Thai Airways International Boeing Dreamliner flight from Bangkok that took three hours 50 minutes. It been years since I was last in Bali and since then two big improvements are evident.

Firstly the airport has both domestic and international terminals, which eases passenger flow and makes the airport experience much more convenient. And for the second improvement? Well, Bali is visa-free for 140 nationalities for a 30-day visit. A boon for travellers.


We headed for Sankara Boutique Resort in Ubud to start the holiday staying in a villa surrounded by forest. It’s the friendliest hotel I’ve come across and the kitchen delivered superb food throughout our stay.

Ubud is Bali’s cultural and artistic heart, it was the place of choice for artists from all walks of life and today the ‘art environment’ remains strong, although there is now an emphasis on wellness and spas. The streets lined with small local shops, restaurants and bars come alive in the evening. There’s a buzz about Ubud.

Gus Teja one of Bali’s most famous recording musicians with the author.

During the stay in Ubud we spent the morning with an outstanding local musician, Gus Teja, who entertained with a private flute recital. Meeting with one of Bali’s most famous  musicians was a highlight of the visit. He plays the flute from memory. He doesn’t read music and makes all his own instruments from wood.

To be connected and online throughout the day we rented a handy WiFi Router, which was waiting for us on arrival courtesy of our travel provider Khiri Travel.

Pocket WiFi Router.

It was small and compact and slipped easily into a pocket. It allows multi-users with a good range and one charge lasts all day. Great for keeping in touch on the move.

A unique cooking class was the next stop of the tour. We were invited to take part in a rare culinary experience at the home of a local celebrity. It opened a door to a world that is normally hidden.

We were introduce to Mr Dewa at his sprawling traditional Balinese home-cum-restaurant in Ubud. He only conducts seven classes per month reducing them to three in the low season. He believes in a simple lifestyle with little stress. He takes great pains to ensure his work ethos does not negatively impact his family’s well being and his own harmony.

Talented chef and entrepreneur Mr Dewa.

After our introductions we were invited to join him in a special cooking class culminating in lunch. It was no ordinary cooking class. Eight dishes were prepared. We chopped, sliced, diced, cooked and even wrote down the dictated recipe by hand.

It was serious work and we took great pride helping to prepare all the dishes meticulously under the clear instructions from Mr Dewa. He was a good teacher, explaining every ingredient and even the philosophy that ‘food is medicine’.

In Mr Dewa’s kitchen nothing is purchased from a supermarket. All ingredients are 100% organic and we knew it had to be true. Mr Dewa’s garden and farm was right on the doorstep.

We always hope to meet interesting local people when we travel. Meeting Mr Dewa at his home was one of those occasions, a real pleasure.

Our next venture was a visit to Kerta Gosa, or Hall of Justice. Beautifully laid out and surrounded by a moat, the hall was built in the 18th century in Klungkung.  It provides an exquisite example of the Klungkung style of architecture, which can also be seen in the ceiling murals.

The weather was wet and cloudy, but spirits were high as we headed to the bat cave at Goa Lawah.

The entrance to the bat cave.

The cave’s walls resonate with the sound of  thousands of bats that dwell in this holy place protected by a temple and shrines at the entrance. We saw hundreds of the small cave dwellers. There was quite literally a buzz in the air.

Tenganan is the location of  an original Balinese village, one of the few remaining Bali Aga villages with their own language; traditions and customs that date back generations. This includes its famed double ikat weaving. Mr Komdri was on hand to welcome us, bare-chested with purple hair; he was quite a character.

Komdri showed us various weave samples and explained the techniques for weaving the tie-dyed cotton strands. Each piece of cloth is for sale, a medium piece costs a few hundred dollars. It is considered magical and can ward off evil spirits.

For an overnight stay we returned to Ubud and checked-in to the Chedi Club Tanah Gajah Hotel. Set in a sprawling five hectares (13 acres) of land this low-rise five-star development has 20 rooms in private villas. So much was included in the room rate. Highlights were  complimentary afternoon tea, evening cocktails, laundry, car service into town, yoga classes, minibar and decanters of spirits.

From the resort, the Khiri  Travel tour guide, Mr Sana, led us to Jatiluwih with its picture-perfect rice paddies. This World Heritage site (bestowed in 2012) is a living museum showcasing the island’s traditional methods of agriculture, where clever land use and cooperative use of water and other resources turns almost vertical hillsides into lush, ‘postcard’ rice paddies. A photographers dream. Beautiful and pristine, the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces are spectacular. This is natural Bali at its best.

The line of volcanoes that dominate the landscape of Bali make for fertile soil. When combined with a wet tropical climate, the area is ideal for crop cultivation.

We drove south to Seminyak and en route stopped to visit Tanah Lot Temple, one of Bali’s most spectacular sites and one of the most photographed temples in the world. It is perched on a barren rock outcrop and at high tide is completely surrounded by the ocean. It is only accessible on foot at low tide.

During the low season (Jan-March) the temple is undergoing repairs and  maintenance, but the view from the hill-top down to the temple island is still spectacular. Well worth a visit and clearly very popular. (The temple complex was the busiest we had seen anywhere all week).

We checked into the Indigo Hotel (an IHG property) in Seminyak. It had just soft opened. It’s a beautiful five-star property with 270 rooms plus 19 villas a fine spot to round off the the week-long holiday.

About the author

English-born Andrew J Wood, is a freelance travel writer and for most of his career a professional hotelier. Andrew has over 35 years of hospitality and travel experience. To follow him or read other reports from Andrew click http://ajwoodbkk.com