Do you remember Redgum’s tongue-in-cheek song “I’ve been to Bali, too”? It may be a shock to learn that song was released over 30 years ago in 1984.
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Even then it was regarded as fair to take the position that the Island of the Gods had been damaged by its own popularity. It’s a refrain still heard today. Yet there’s a constant stream of Australians flying there, many on an annual pilgrimage.
Bali has multiple personalities. There’s the Kuta-Seminyak strip of shops, restaurants and bars and that’s in direct contrast to the spas and tranquillity amongst the rice fields of Ubud. From world-class design and cuisine to Bintang t-shirts and stubbies, it’s a holiday destination that caters to all needs.
Bali combines a vibrant party scene with intriguing history
You just have to get your holiday decisions right. If you are seeking spiritual enlightenment in the footsteps of “Eat, Pray, Love” (the Hard Rock Hotel in Kuta is not for you. Indeed, even some places in Ubud won’t be – Naughty Nuri’s Ribs (now the Hog Wild Bali) sold T-shirts cheekily declaring “Eat, Pay, Leave” within months of the film being released. Alternately, a resort of tiered pools and wide-ranging massage treatments is unlikely to provide a club atmosphere come Saturday night.
The area of crossover provides much of the island’s fascination. Dodgy bars and T-shirt shops still put out carefully crafted offerings to the gods each morning. Every time I return I'm surprised to find that the island is as beautiful as I remember, the people are still talented and friendly, and the mist rising from tiered rice fields remains a glorious sight.
Indonesia is made up of 13,677 islands so one may wonder why the world's attention is focused on this one. A few reasons, cultural and physical, immediately come to mind.
It's not hard to see why Aussies love Bali!
Indonesia is predominantly Muslim but Bali is Hindu with a great wealth of fable, ritual and custom behind it. There aren't many destinations where tourist brochures proclaim “if there is a funeral on, don't miss it”. Bali's cultural treasure trove is centuries old: Hindu royal houses moved here from Java when Islam expanded to Indonesia in the 14th century. Arts flourished in this island of plenty. Indeed, the elaborate carvings that feature in every Balinese home shows the blending of art and craft lives on in everyday life.
The volcanic landscape, the lush fields and good beaches add to the allure. Even now, Bali embodies the mystique and intrigue of the exotic east to most of the world. Because it's on our northern doorstep we tend to take it for granted.
I think everyone argues that Bali has been ruined since their first visit in an endeavour to stake a symbolic claim to the island. It's almost as if we each discover Bali as an Eden, frozen in time until our arrival. Unfortunately, the serpents set to destroy the idyll are on the flight with us. I think of the 1970s as the early days of tourism to Bali yet up to 100 visitors a month were arriving in 1930, Bali was a stop for cruise boats from 1940, and the airport opened in its current location in 1938.
The unique Balinese culture is worth the trip to Indonesia
I bet when that inaugural flight touched down someone greeted those pioneers with the words “you should have been here last century – when Bali was still unspoiled”.
12 don’t miss Bali highlights
- Tiers of rice fields around Ubud, Tegallalang or Jatiluwih
- Infinity swimming pools extended over rice fields
- Indonesian cuisine
- A cold Bintang beer at the end of a hot day
- The volcanic peak of Gunung Agung above the clouds
- A wellness retreat or lengthy spa treatment in Ubud
- Sunset drinks in Seminyak
- Shopping for clothes, crafts or furniture
- Sunset over Pura Tanah Lot
- Staying in a stylish hotel or villa
- A festival at Besakih temple complex
- A dance performance of the dramatic Kecak or the beautiful Legong
Travelling outside school holidays offers more chance for bargains. When resorts or hotels have spare space you may find very good deals in the travel section on sites such as allthedeals.com.au.
How do you think Bali has changed over the past few decades? Join the conversation below.