Of all the more exotic destinations in Asia, the one that seems best able to combine spirituality with modern life is Bali, one of 17,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago.
Your mobile phone works, the roads are improving, and the tourism infrastructure is in step with demands for luxury, but all of that has not changed the island’s mystery and alluring exoticism.
With a hospitable people and natural beauty as well as attractive cultural traditions Bali is always at the top of my list of Asian destinations.
Bali is the most distinctive of the Indonesian islands. It has remained steadfastly Hindu ever since trade from India brought the faith to this tropical island, and hundreds of years later, Bali developed a particularly colourful and unique version of Hinduism. It has given Bali a culture rich in colour, craftsmanship and beauty.
The pure attraction of Balinese culture can still be experienced in its spiritual centre of Ubud, in the middle of the island, but the people’s gentle and open-minded demeanour is also very well-suited to the racier parts of the island, like the beaches of Seminyak and Nusa Dua in the south. There are many different facets to Bali, and each one has its own merit.
In the heart of the island, Ubud is green and jungly and authentic, and above all very spiritual. The northern coast is separated of the rest of Bali by a string of volcanoes.
The west coast has the best surf, the best restaurants and the best shopping. Seminyak, a beach town on the south west tip is for people who like some action with their tradition, as it’s where you’ll find all the clubs, bars, boutiques and restaurants including Ku De Ta, www.kudeta.net, a must for eating and drinking right on the beach.
On the southeastern tip you’ll find Nusa Dua which has the beaches but the east coast is still the most tropical and pristine. Gangga on the west coast has black volcanic sand and coral reef surfs.
There is tremendous variety on offer, but there is a definite must-do list for Bali. In Ubud you must see a temple ceremony, and for the more active traveller there is rafting down the Ayung River, which gives a first-hand taste of the extraordinary jungle landscape. A drive from Ubud to Pemuteran in the north would also be on my list, because it takes you through Bali’s dormant volcanoes — and a countryside that looks more like Switzerland — ultimately descending down to the black volcanic sand beaches of Bali’s northern coast.
The hotels in Bali are some of the best in Asia, not just because of their location but because of their service. The Balinese are unflappable — you will never find them grumpy or disagreeable, and they appear to have a permanently sunny disposition Here’s a pick of my favourite places to stay in Bali:
Puri Ganesha: Here you can enjoy your own private colonial-era villa overlooking the black volcanic beach, complete with your own butler, for the price of a normal business hotel room.
The Elysian: The Elysian offers private villas, private pool, private garden with a contemporary signature that is in keeping with Seminyak’s status as Bali’s most stylish area — all for the price of an average hotel room elsewhere.
Bulgari: Possibly the ultimate honeymoon destination in Asia, set in an extraordinary location perched on a cliff tops of Uluwatu, with an amazing view, and refined Balinese tradition all wrapped up in a signature Italian style.
Waka Nusa: Waka Nusa on Lembongan Island on the east coast is a laidback surfing and diving-friendly version of the way Bali used to be, simple, unspoilt and inexpensive with thatched cottages a few steps away from the beach.
Begawan Giri and Uma Ubud: Suspended from a green jungle clad ravine of the Uyung river, Begawan Giri is a spiritual spa sanctuary for the body and mind. Uma Ubud is Begawan Giri’s junior — hipper and cheaper.
Herbert Ypma is the author and photographer of Hip Hotels, a series of essential guide books to stylish and special places to stay.www.hiphotels.com.
Rounding up the best of Bali
Of all the more exotic destinations in Asia, the one that seems bestable to combine spirituality with modern life is Bali, one of 17,000islands in the Indonesian archipelago.