On the road in Indonesia: Travelling Bali by motorcycle (part 3)

Bali is perhaps the most unique island in Indonesia and its blend of natural beauty and cultural identity has made it one of the world’s most iconic tourist destinations. In this, the biggest Muslim nation in the world, Bali stands out due to its strong tradition of Hinduism, which the people practice with great fervor.

Surfer rides a barrel in Bali. Photo by Trevor Murphy

Surfer rides a barrel in Bali. Photo by Trevor Murphy

On the road in Indonesia: Travelling Bali by motorcycle

The island is so small you can drive around its entire coastline in one long day on a motorbike, but it packs a big punch in terms of natural, spiritual and cultural significance. Gorgeous azure waters with some of the best surf in the world lie just off pristine, white-sand beaches where people spend days soaking up rays and sinking a few cold ones.

The spectacular cliffs of Uluwatu in the Bukit area. Photo by William Cho, Flickr

The spectacular cliffs of Uluwatu in the Bukit area. Photo by William Cho, Flickr

Around the coastline village life still thrives with the exception of the bustling southern coastline brimming with tourists. Towards the centre of Bali and Ubud you reach lush jungle, spectacularly green rice-fields, white-water rapids and a more culturally in-touch community. Bali truly is the ‘Island of the Gods’ and has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations with good reason.

From food to surfing, Bali has it all

Gilimanuk harbour on the west coast is where the ferry arrives. Photo by gus aik, Flickr

Gilimanuk harbour on the west coast is where the ferry arrives. Photo by gus aik, Flickr

Gilimanuk, where we arrive from Java, acts mainly as a coastal port and there isn’t much to be seen here, but one of Bali’s most famous dishes ayam betutu (spiced chicken slow-cooked in broth) originated here and it remains the best place to sample one of Bali’s culinary delights.

Once you have filled your belly and are ready to set out again it is a scenic 3-hour drive from Gilimanuk to Denpasar and the popular tourist areas of Sanur, Kuta and Seminyak.

Bali is predominantly famous for its beaches, surf, shopping and nightlife, which can all be found in the tourist-heavy areas of Kuta and Seminyak, along with Sanur, Canggu and Kerobokan to a lesser extent.

The central area of Denpasar is extremely hot and bustling whilst the knob of land at Bali’s southernmost point the Bukit boasts isolated beaches, towering cliffs and luxury resorts. It sounds like a lot to remember but South Bali is compact and just a few days exploring by bike will give you a level of familiarity.

Sunrise over the placid Lake Batur near Bali's centre. Photo by Matthew Kenwrick, Flickr

Sunrise over the placid Lake Batur near Bali’s centre. Photo by Matthew Kenwrick, Flickr

There are countless tourist operations offering everything from water sports to bar hopping to traditional dancing and if you only have a short amount of time in Bali it’s the perfect place to let your hair down. A great daytrip would be to drive up the western coast to the island temple of Tanah Lot, a cultural and religious icon that has become symbolic of Bali’s unique identity and exoticism.

Once you have had your fill of Bintangs on the beach it’s a good idea to take the easy and beautiful 2-hour drive to Bali’s cultural and spiritual hub, Ubud.

The traditional seat of the Balinese king lies on the rolling hills that lead up to the peaks of Gunung Agung and Gunung Batur in Bali’s centre and its higher altitude has created a cooler climate and more laid-back approach than in the coastal areas of Bali’s south.

Head up into the mountains in Ubud

Bali's cultural heart, Ubud is located in the cool mountains. Photo by Bali-Indonesia

Bali’s cultural heart, Ubud is located in the cool mountains. Photo by Bali-Indonesia

The rice-fields that gave way to commercialism there are more visible around Ubud and traditional art and craftsmanship remain stronger also. If the Balinese identity has become somewhat complicated by heavy tourism in the south, it remains mostly pure in Ubud.

Babi Guling (spit-roasted pig) is the traditional dish here and there is no better place to experience it than the local eatery Ibu Oka. Ensure to go before midday though as they are known to sell out in quick-time!

The drive from Ubud to Bali’s east coast is one of the best roads you can take in all of Indonesia. Picture a small road winding its way up and down small mountains and large hills. Around a bend the roadside foliage clears allowing a quick glimpse at the shockingly green rice terraces that cover the land opposite.

Eventually you reach a lookout point on the edge of a ravine. The river rages below but the atmosphere is serene as you look across to the little green steps of rice and the farmers that work them daily.

The temple of Tanah lot is a mystical place in Bali. Photo by Dida Melana

The temple of Tanah lot is a mystical place in Bali. Photo by Dida Melana

This road takes you through Balinese rural life and the amazing scenery that it takes place in, all the way to the eastern coast and charming villages of Karengasem and Padang Bai further south. Tourist development has taken place at a slower rate here than most other areas of Bali and as a result east Bali has retained much of its coastal charm.

There are some incredible eco-friendly places to stay in Bali

Most of the bungalows lining the beaches here are built in traditional Balinese style and the jukung (wooden boats) offering snorkeling and diving trips are just as authentic. From here you can get superb views across the Lombok Strait at the similar yet strangely different island of Lombok, our next destination.

Where you end up staying in Bali will depend entirely on the kind of holiday you are seeking. The southern part of Bali is the most popular tourist area, with Sanur, Kuta and Seminyak being the most popular places for people to stay throughout the year and each offering a range of accommodation from the cheap to the very expensive. Further south you reach the area of the land known as the Bukit and the luxury resorts at Nusa Dua.

Rice fields on Bali's east coast nearby Kareng Asem. Photo by Riana Ambarsari, Flickr

Rice fields on Bali’s east coast nearby Kareng Asem. Photo by Riana Ambarsari, Flickr

Ubud has a completely different vibe to the southern part of Bali with people seeking yoga retreats, organic food, and meditation more than beaches, nightclubbing and shopping. There are cheaper backpacker style hostels as well as luxury accommodation in Ubud and the area is growing more popular each and every year. If you are visiting Bali with a view to go diving, the northern coast is your best bet and development is making the area more tourist-friendly each year.

The small village of Pemuteran in particular is becoming a popular destination for divers and is a great place from which to visit perhaps Bali’s best dive spot, thesmall island of Menjangan.

There are two seasons in the rainforest: Wet and wetter

As with most parts of Indonesia, rainy season in Bali lasts from September until early February and the peak tourist season is between June and August. At this time of year the skies are clear, the surf is up and the nightlife is teeming, but many tourists complain about traffic and the general busyness of the peak season on an island where infrastructure simply cannot keep up with the rapid development taking place.

Fishing boats can be seen lining the beach at Padang Bai. Photo by Sunan Tara

Fishing boats can be seen lining the beach at Padang Bai. Photo by Sunan Tara

For this reason, more and more people are visiting Bali in the months from February to May when the weather is still exceptional and the tourist numbers are more manageable. The surf is not at its best and the white-water rapids are calmer than during the rainy season, but if this doesn’t concern you too much then this is probably the best time of year to visit Bali.