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 wasnt 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 dont
mind a little risk
lets 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
So the answer to their puzzlement is: no,
our choice of destination is not propelled by a search for danger. Rather,
its 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 Ive learned during my stays
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. Balis
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.
Jl. Dyana Pura (Abimanyu) Seminyak Kuta - Bali
Tel 62 361 730869 Fax 62 361 730 868
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 Mades Warung,
also in Seminyak . Its 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.
Warung II BR. Pande Mas Kuta
Tell 62 361 732 130
Web site www.madeswarung.com
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." Its 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. Its
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.
Br. Nyuh Kuning, P.O. Box 165 Ubud, Bali
Tel/Fax 62 361 974 629
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
When going to the North coast, be prepared
to be disconnected from the telephone network. Amed doesnt 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.
Lipah, Bunutan, Abang
Tel 62 361 431 273
Fax 62 363 229 58
Mailing Address P.O. Box 121 Amlapura
Paradise serves food, but we preferred walking a couple hundred yards
to Wawa-Wewe, a restaurant popular with scuba divers and backpackers.
Its 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
The food was very good, so we had all our meals right there; and there
is an artificial reef in front of the hotel thats great for snorkeling.
Sari Bali Cottages
Desa Pemuteran, Gerokgak
Tel/fax 62 362 932 64
I recommend hiring a boat to Menjangan Island from Labuhan Lalang, a half-hour
drive to the west of the hotel. The islands reef is superb. Its
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.
Flo in Sandy Hook, NJ and Hong