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Last January, when I was getting ready to take off for Bali to join my family on our Winter trip, a few friends questioned the wisdom of traveling to Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. It wasn’t the first time I was headed for a holiday in a political hot spot and had gotten the same look of bewilderment.
     I tried to explain that that we don’t mind a little risk…let’s say, anything short of full-blown civil war. And explain that the most dangerous place for terrorism is probably downtown Manhattan, where I live. And that the statistical chances of being caught in an attack are minute compared to driving a car or crossing the street.
     So the answer to their puzzlement is: no, our choice of destination is not propelled by a search for danger. Rather, it’s in pursuit of a vivid culture, fascinating botanic life, and great snorkeling. And on this quest, we have traveled all over the world. Even so, we often find ourselves going back to Bali, where my oldest brother spends a good part of his winters, anyway. Because of the current troubles, the usual mass of tourists has now become a mere trickle. Despite this -- or because of it -- I do believe it is an excellent time to consider visiting. Below are a few practical tips I’ve learned during my stays there.

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     Six centuries ago, as Islam marched across Java, the last great Hindu dynasty -- with its large court of craftsmen, artists and dancers -- took refuge on the island next door. So Bali inherited this great civilization. The Balinese are still mostly Hindu (70%) and very hospitable. Away from the main urban center around Denpasar, the island is a true tropical paradise.
     Traveling to Bali from New York means flying for at least twenty hours and a change of planes. Therefore, to make it worthwhile, I recommend visiting for a minimum of two weeks. Bali’s being virtually on the other side of the planet means one has the choice of either going through Europe or the Far East. This last time, I chose to connect through Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities. It is a fifteen hour flight (I flew Continental) and from Hong Kong, another five to Denpasar (on Cathay Pacific).
     Our family convened in the area near the main resort of Kuta, where we stayed a couple of days. Kuta has many hopping restaurants of all cuisines, internet cafés at every corner, and a bustling night club scene. It provides a good transition between western culture and the more isolated and exotic hinterlands of the island.
     All hotel room prices include breakfast, but not the taxes. I recommend talking with the hotel managers to bargain the prices down. In most cases we got the rooms for a discount of 50% to 75% (and this was last year, before the bombing in Kuta). Also, as a rule, we choose to stay in the best rooms of moderate hotels rather than the average rooms of upscale resorts.
     Seminyak, the area at the northern end of bustling Kuta, is where I like to stay. It is less congested, and the beach is cleaner. On this trip, we stayed in an inexpensive hotel popular with Europeans on extended business stays. The advertised rate is $80, but we got it down to $25 for a bungalow set in a lush garden, with pool, AC, and just 200 yards from the beach.

Puri Cendana Resort
Jl. Dyana Pura (Abimanyu) Seminyak – Kuta - Bali
Tel 62 361 730869 Fax 62 361 730 868

    If one wants to indulge, I recommend the Oberoi, also right on the beach in Seminyak. It has excellent traditional dance concerts at night.
     My favorite restaurant is Made’s Warung, also in Seminyak . It’s a hot, hip place run by Made Masih, a charming hostess. The Indonesian food is good, the music eclectic and the international clientele great fun to watch.

Made’s Warung II BR. Pande Mas Kuta
Tell 62 361 732 130
Web site

    To travel around Bali, there is the carefree option of getting a car with driver, or, for thrill-seekers, of renting your own vehicle. (Be warned: traffic can be maddening.) We rented two Kijangs, a fairly large, Indonesian-made, jeep-like car for around $100 a week.
     We first drove to the town of Ubud, the heart of "cultural tourism." It’s the place to see and hear traditional dance and music and to shop for crafts. Ubud is a two hour drive from Kuta, and I recommend stopping half-way at the Taman Burung Bali Bird Park (Tel 62 361 299 352). There one can see (and sometimes even touch) over 1000 birds, some housed in walk-through aviaries. There is also a good outdoor restaurant, perfect for a midday break. Right next door and also of interest is the Ramba Reptile Park, with some large Komodo Dragons, turtles and crocodiles.
     Ubud offers a wide range of accommodations with great value, from handsome budget inns ($10-20) all the way up to luxurious resort hotels like the Amandari ($500-1000). We chose the Alam Indah, where the bungalows are spread around a luxurious garden. It’s in an unspoiled rural setting with superb views over rice paddies and the river and only a fifteen minute walk through the "monkey forest" to the busy central shopping streets. The best rooms were $65.

Alam Indah
Br. Nyuh Kuning, P.O. Box 165 Ubud, Bali
Tel/Fax 62 361 974 629

     On our way to Amed on the Northeast coast, we drove up to the Gunung Batur Volcano. And on the way, we stopped at my favorite temple, Pura Sakenan. The road has some wonderful views over rice terraces. After the town of Amlapura, we stopped at the Royal Bathing Pools in Tirta Ayu for a little dip.
     When going to the North coast, be prepared to be disconnected from the telephone network. Amed doesn’t have landlines, just a public phone. In other places phones were working sporadically, and there was no reception for cell phones.
     Amed is a fishing village with a few inns with bungalows. The snorkeling is safe and accessible right from the shore. We stayed at the Hidden Paradise Cottages in their two-story bungalows right on the beach. Each was US$65 and had two bedrooms with terraces and AC. The compound also has a very picturesque swimming pool.

Hidden Paradise Cottages
Lipah, Bunutan, Abang
Tel 62 361 431 273
Fax 62 363 229 58
Mailing Address P.O. Box 121 Amlapura

     Hidden Paradise serves food, but we preferred walking a couple hundred yards to Wawa-Wewe, a restaurant popular with scuba divers and backpackers. It’s well worth it to order two of the great Balinese feast dishes a day in advance there: Babi Guling (spit-roasted suckling pig) and Betutu Bebek (duck slow-roasted in banana leaves).
     From Amed we drove along the North Coast all the way to the west end, where the snorkeling is among the best on the island. We did this four hour drive leisurely, making a little detour half-way to visit the Pura Dalem Temple, a little jewel. We stopped for lunch in Lovina Beach where there are a few restaurants on the beach.
     Taman Sari, our destination, was my favorite hotel. I had the top notch bungalow to myself (US$95). My terrace, facing the beach, was circled with a moat filled with carp. The cheaper bungalows were US$45.
The food was very good, so we had all our meals right there; and there is an artificial reef in front of the hotel that’s great for snorkeling.

Taman Sari Bali Cottages
Desa Pemuteran, Gerokgak
Singarja 81155
Tel/fax 62 362 932 64

     Also, I recommend hiring a boat to Menjangan Island from Labuhan Lalang, a half-hour drive to the west of the hotel. The island’s reef is superb. It’s best to go early in the morning. The boat ride takes an hour, so you can get there, snorkel, and be back for lunch.
     We headed back to Kuta for a brief stay before our final departure. On our way - a four hour drive - we stopped for lunch in Munduk where there are a couple of restaurants with panoramic views. We took the road that winds around the crater lakes in the center of Bali. Beratan Lake, the last one before going downhill, has the most charming temple, Pura Ulun Danu, completely surrounded by water.


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