Recently, I received an email from a friend. He and his wife–two spiritually enlightened New Yorkers, one a Buddhist dancer, the other a music zealot–were walking on a Balinese beach. They were on their honeymoon. Enchanted by the island’s beauty, they had failed to note the tide charts. They had walked around a headland and on their return journey, after watching the sunset, they discovered that the waters had risen. They were trapped. My friends spent the night on the beach, waiting for the tide to recede. In most places, this would seem like a misadventure. But after my travels to the island and recalling the island’s beauty and tranquil vibe, I knew that even in misadventure, they were enjoying the very best of Bali.
Whether you’re my impassioned friends or traveling atheists, you’ll be sure to recognize that there is something ethereal about Bali. Here are the best ways to find that spiritedness on Indonesia’s most visited island.
For me, I found the best of Bali and enlightenment in the surf. With some of the most phenomenal waves on the planet, Bali is the Mecca for wave riders. And of all the places I had surfed in Bali, Uluwatu, was the most incredible. The long left-hander stretched through the turquoise waters for what felt like miles.
Whether you’re a surfer getting shacked in the liquid temple, or a cliff-top onlooker viewing the expanse of wave that can break as far as Temples–the moniker for the spot farthest south from the village of Uluwatu, receiving the nickname from the famed holy site on the peninsula–it’s an incredible place to exist.
Of course, the pious consider temples the best place to experience spirituality. After ten weeks in Southeast Asia, however, I grew tired of visiting temples. They all started to look the same and there was only so much incense my lungs could handle. But Bali’s Bathing Temple, properly referred to as Pura Tirta Empul, is worth a visit.
At this holy water temple, the pious jump into rectangular fish ponds, where carp circulate above a loose stone bottom. The worshippers wash their heads under the twenty spigots, allowing the holy water from each spout to work its purported magic. Above each spigot sit myriad prayer baskets, which you’ll have seen scattered across Bali in front of every shop and beside every taxi meter on the island. These palm leaf trays are always filled with flowers, rice, and betel. And despite the incense burning at the Bathing Temple, the holy site was, at least, outside.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love and lauded the island for finding romance. But when I found the food on Bali, I blended those three verbs together. The island’s best dish is the slow-cooked roast pork, babi gulung. At Ibu Oka in Ubud, I fell in love with my pork platter and it had me praying for seconds. Whether you’re eating at this side of the road institution or some other renowned headquarters for babi gulung, you’ll feel like you’re in piggy heaven.
Two other ambrosial dishes were Bebek Goreng (crispy duck) and soto ayam, an Indonesian chicken soup packed with thin glass noodles, green vegetables, and fried onion. If done right, the duck is lean and tender, while the skin is crisp and juicy. And the soup tastes like my Grandma’s chicken soup, if, instead of growing up in a Jewish household in Poland, she had been raised on an Asian island.
Some Other Things That Highlight The Best of Bali
Bali offers some of the world’s most romantic resorts, where you can perform yoga overlooking the jungle canopy from treehouse studios. At these resorts you can also experience some of Asia’s most incredible massages in open-air rooms that hang over rivers. (But you can also find incredible, inexpensive massages outside of the resorts, sacrificing only the sound of rushing waters for a big savings. Bali had such good masseuses that I started tacking on extra half-hours to my sixty-minute treatments, bumping up the cost by five dollars.)
Though I spent all of my ocean time on a surfboard, I secretly wished that the ocean would have gone flat, which would have provided me with time to snorkel, which is renowned on the island. Bali also has stunning beaches, which my wife loved. (Though sitting in the sand makes me antsy.)
A visit to the cultural capital at the center of the island is also another best of Bali. You can read about the highlights of Ubud in one of my earlier posts.
The only thing about Bali that takes away from those feelings of paradise are the individuals that prey on tourists. (Not pray on tourists). If you want to avoid hassles–which I experienced when booking cars and trying to hike Mount Batur without a guide–you can tour Bali with my travel partner, Shoestring. They have a few great tour options around the island and Indonesia, allowing you to experience the best of Bali.