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Travel & Holiday

Isle of the gods

Bali is full of mystique and the beauty of nature is found all over the island
The Straits Times - April 22, 2012
By: Nicholas Yong
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Isle of the gods Chill out at the Rock Bar. -- PHOTO: CHAN REN JIE

Living in Bali is 'the exact opposite of Singapore', says Mr Chan Ren Jie, 28, who moved there last year to set up an advertising agency.

'Life is slower and more peaceful, and the people are friendlier. Here, I have time to enjoy the simple things in life, such as food, culture, scenery and nature,' he says.

Denpasar, where he has settled, is the capital of Bali province in Indonesia. The city has a population of almost 790,000, and its famed, white sandy beaches are popular with tourists.

Mr Chan, who is sharing a rented apartment in Sanur, on the eastern coast of Denpasar, with his Indonesian girlfriend, 25, runs his business from home.

BEFORE YOU GO

Tell us one little-known fact about the island.

Unlike many places in Indonesia, which is the biggest Islamic country in the world, the majority of people in Bali are Hindus. The Balinese are known for their strong cultural and religious beliefs. This is why Bali is called Pulau Dewata in Bahasa Indonesia, which means The Island Of Gods.

The best time to visit is...

April to September, during the dry season. Less rain and sunny days mean cleaner beaches and clearer sea water, perfect for sunbathing. As the sky is less cloudy, you can see beautiful sunrises and sunsets almost every day.

You could also visit from June to August, when still sunny Bali receives winter winds from Australia. This is when it is most comfortable.

You should never visit during...

Bali has a tropical season similar to that of Singapore, so it is enjoyable all year round. You might experience a little rain here and there, but it usually comes and goes quickly.

But do note that during Nyepi, or the Balinese new year, which usually falls in March, the airport will be closed for a day. During this period, no one can go outdoors and all lights must be turned off - except in hotels - until 6am the next day.

The eve of Nyepi is the exact opposite though. There is an ogoh-ogoh (papier-mache statue) parade around town, complete with Balinese orchestral music, which ends at midnight with the ogoh-ogoh burnt to ashes. This is to symbolise getting rid of evil.

What is one item you must take along?

Rupiah, as it is wrong to think that the US dollar is the currency of choice in Bali. Other essential things such as sunscreen and beachwear can be easily bought here.

GETTING AROUND

The best way to explore the city is...

By taxi, as public buses and trams are almost non-existent in Bali. Ask the driver to use the meter or agree on a fixed price before hopping in. A trip from the airport to the Kuta area should not cost you more than 80,000 rupiah (S$10.90).

Within the city, you can opt for motorbike taxis for short distances. They usually cost 50,000 rupiah a day excluding petrol. You can also rent a car, which starts from 150,000 rupiah a day excluding petrol, depending on the model. Getting a rented car with driver is a good option if you want to go sightseeing outside the city. It costs about 450,000 rupiah for 12 hours, including petrol.

Which places in the city excite you?

The beaches. Denpasar has numerous beaches, each with a different vibe. Most of them are within 20 minutes' drive from the city centre.

In the west, we have a long stretch of beach starting from the famous Kuta beach. A little up north, Seminyak and Batu Belig beaches are quieter and cleaner. Further up is Echo Beach, a quiet surfer beach with soft black sand. On the east side, laid-back Sanur beach has calm waters, suitable for a dip and mild water sports such as canoeing. Down south, there are many beaches as well, namely Nusa Dua beach or Geger beach, famous for its white sand, or Padang-Padang beach, which is popular with surfers.

FOOD AND WINE

Your favourite breakfast is...

Bubur ayam or chicken congee. Served with fried soy beans, crackers, chicken intestine satay and chilli sauce, this local street food costs only 7,000 rupiah. Wash it down with a bottle of Teh Botol Sosro (bottled jasmine tea, available for about 3,000 rupiah) and you will have a perfect morning meal. But it's not recommended for weak stomachs.

Your favourite eating place is...

Warung Naughty Nuri's (Jalan Batubelig 41, Kerobokan, tel: +62-361-847-6722). It serves huge and juicy pork ribs to die for. I usually order the ribs with potato wedges on the side. Other dishes such as nachos, grilled chicken and pork chop are good too. Try their martinis - the waitress dances while serving it.

This eatery has a warm interior with a naughty sex and alcohol theme, with illustrations of pigs on its walls. A meal of pork ribs, sides and non-alcoholic drink costs about 150,000 rupiah a person.

Don't leave the place without trying...

Babi guling or Balinese suckling pig. Available all around the island - just look for signage with the picture of a roasted pig - it is a dish of suckling pig meat with Balinese herbs, various fried intestines, lawar (Balinese style minced vegetables), a piece of crackling and minced fish meat satay. These are served with white rice and spicy clear soup on the side. Prices vary from 15,000 to 30,000 rupiah a set.

The coolest place to chill out at is...

Hands down, it has to be Rock Bar (Ayana Resort, Jalan Karang Mas Sejahtera, tel: +62-361-70-2222, http://www.ayanaresort.com/rockbarbali/wp/), which is in a luxury resort. It overlooks a cliff and you have to take an outdoor elevator to reach the open-air bar. The view is stunning, especially during sunset. Be prepared to queue, as it usually starts to get packed at 4pm and hotel guests have priority.

At night, the cool breezy air, the moonlight reflected on the sea's surface, plus the starry sky are equally great. Drinks start from 70,000 rupiah.

CULTURE FIX

What is a big no-no in your city?

Try your best not to step on fresh offerings to the Hindu gods. You will find plenty on the road, in front of shops or even at the beach. They are made up of different flowers, sometimes accompanied by biscuits, sticky rice or a clove cigarette, presented in a basket woven from leaves. But if you accidentally step on them, no one will reprimand you for a genuine mistake.

What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?

The food and scenery. There is a great selection of international cuisine as well as food from all over Indonesia. Besides the beaches, there is plenty of nature around the city such as mountains and lakes. The laid-back vibe is also a good change from the concrete jungle of Singapore. Imagine paddy fields by the road, a dreamy sunset sky and the mountains in the background as your daily view.

What is one place you always take your friends to when they visit you?

Legian Street. A long stretch of road right at the back of Kuta Beach road, this is where the party starts. There are rows of shops, money changers, bars with live music, restaurants and night clubs, some open 24 hours. Best explored on foot.

SHOPPING

What is worth buying in your city and where is the best place to get it?

Balinese products such as organic handmade soaps and scrubs, rattan bags, sarongs and drift wood furniture. For a traditional shopping experience, head to Ubud market, about 30km from the city centre. To avoid the hassle of bargaining, I suggest the 24-hour souvenir supermarket Rama Krisna (Jalan Raya Tuban No. 2X). As a rough guide, snacks cost 10,000 to 50,000 rupiah, beauty products such as handmade soaps and lotions will set you back 8,000 to 50,000 rupiah, and other items such as T-shirts and sandals cost 20,000 to 500,000 rupiah.

FESTIVALS

Are there any festivals that travellers should look out for?

There are a lot of festivals and traditional ceremonies in Bali. For example, the Sanur kite festival in July, where kite-flyers representing each area in Bali come together on Sanur beach to compete.

Galungan and Kuningan, representing the harvest months in Bali, happen annually. Galungan occurs every 210 days and is celebrated for 10 days, while Kulingan is the last day of celebrations. Streets are lined with janur, a traditional Balinese decoration made of coconut leaves, and penjor, which are tall bamboo poles decorated with long strings of palm leaves with offerings at the base. Many Balinese bring offerings of fruit to temples and slaughter animals as thanksgiving.

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