Bali is one of my top favorite destinations in Southeast Asia, surrounded itself with sandy beaches and a tropical climate all year round. Apart from its beautiful beaches, Bali has a richness of culture and history, which makes the island very distinctive than any part of Indonesia, with more than 80% of the island population adheres to Balinese Hinduism.
Drive beyond the city to discover Bali’s beauty with the stunning natural scenery of active volcanoes and rice terraces, enjoy Balinese performances, enjoy a cup of coffee in the coffee plantation, discover shrines and ruins, and most of all, Balinese Hindu temples.
Getting Here and Around
Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) is the main airport of Bali. The island does not have any rail networks, therefore the best options to travel outskirt are to hire a scooter or a car with a reliable driver who is well familiarized with the island and tourist spots.
Around 8 am, my driver picked me up from my hotel and make my first visit to Bale Kulkul Bali to watch Barong Kris Dance. The place is situated in Batubulan, next to the beautiful green paddy fields. The people here preserve their culture, living in their indigenous Balinese traditional home decorated with original Balinese cravings and customs of various colors.
Their performances tells the story of the eternal battle between the good and evil spirit. Barong, a mythological animal represent a good spirit and Rangda, a mythological monster represents an evil spirit.
Tips: There are leaflets available in different languages and take one English copy to read through before the show starts to get an understanding.
After the end of the performance, I made a quick one hour stop to visit Celuk Silver Village to see how the finest artwork of jewelry is made by the silversmiths and also to Batuan Village, filled with famous Balinese artwork and printings. Hundreds of paintings were drawn by local artists and they illustrated many stories about religion and Bali life.
We drove up to a village called Kintamani and the journey takes more than an hour to pass through this narrow and curving road. The traffic was very heavy because many trucks and tourist vehicles were using the same path which believed it is the only route coming from Denpasar. Kintamani is known for its Mountain Batur, an active volcano partially surrounded by a large Lake Batur.
My guide recommended to one of the local restaurants that served lunch buffet and a la carte menu, either local fried rice or fried mee hoon. Since I had a heavy breakfast beforehand, therefore my choice of the day will be the fried rice with a glass of ice lemon tea. The taste of the food was just average, but the price was above priced. However, I can’t complain much, given that the location of the restaurant offers wonderful scenery of the volcano and the lake.
Heading back downhill, it was so cloudy and was thinking if we still can visit three more tourist spots as planned. My next stop is Tirta Empul, a Hindu Balinese water temple founded in 926 A.D. and is dedicated to Vishnu, who is the Hindu God of water. Its name actually means ‘holy water spring’ in Balinese.
Being welcomed by a local guide from the temple in the entrance, he took me through four sections of the temple and explains the history behind it. According to legend, the Balinese people believe that there is an epic battle between a powerful and magical king named Mayadenawa and God Indra. The king has the spiritual power to change himself into any form he wants but he becomes reckless and used black magic. A priest named Sang Kulputih prayed to God Indra to put an end to the king. So, God Indra and his army defeat the king’s troops, leaving him and his remaining troop running for their life.
Later, the king returned to Indra’s camp and created a beautiful but poisonous pond when Indra’s army was asleep. Indra awoke the next morning to find out that many of his men dead and others got sick and dying. God Indra used his staff to pierce the ground and create a sacred healing spring of holy water known as Tirta Empul. The king knew that his attempt failed and at last transform himself into a boulder. He was eventually killed by Indra with an arrow and his blood is believed to have formed the Petanu River. Balinese honor the death of Mayadenawa every 210 days in their traditional calendar, where Virtue triumphs over Evil in the ritual ceremony called Galungan.
The temple is divided into four sections and takes me 45 minutes to explore around it. The sections are Jaba Pura (central courtyard), Jaba Tengah (main area), Jeroan (inner courtyard) and The Koi Pool. The temple is located right below the Presidential Palace, built in 1957 by former president Soekarno and now host for important guests.
After the end of the tour, I get change with a green sarong for the cleansing purification. At first, it was raining heavily and so we wait for a while before it drizzles. After all, I will be getting wet in the pool. I was lucky to be the first one to get in, which usually has a long queue.
So, I begin with a flower offering as a prayer to the gods and the water spirits to grant permission to enter the pool (just say the name, nationality, the purpose of performing, and a ‘thank-you’). The temple guide explained that there are 13 water sprouts in the first pool used to cleanse our mind, completing the same routine at each except the 11th and 12th. Those two are for rituals for the dead.
After completing the ritual in the first pool, I cross over to another pool to do the same for the cleansing of the soul from its three sprouts. Upon exiting the pool, I ended with another prayer to thank the gods and the water spirits. I feel really blessed to be able to visit here, cleanse myself with the holy water, and gain spiritual experience.
Tips: Another green sarong with shawl tie can be rented for extra IRD 10,000 to perform the cleansing purification and IDR 20,000- 30,000 for a guided tip.
Next stop is Pura Gunung Kawi Temple. Walking down the 300 slippery stairs with the view of the long paddy terraces and green valley, I made it to the west side of the river to see Bali’s most ancient shrine. Four of the seven-meter high shrines were used to buried the mistresses of King Udayana at the west side of the river. Whereas on the eastern side lies another five tombs, where this Balinese King along with his sons and his assistant were buried.
What amazes me is how these tombs were well-carved into the rocky hillside without using any modern technology. During this time after the rain, the shrine is very quiet and can hear the birds singing and the flow of the river, coming down from Tirta Empul Temple.
Before the end of the day, I still manage to visit the Tegalalang rice terrace in Ubud. It is usually a great place for photography with cool breezy temperature. However today, the place is pretty misty, yet just see many tourists wandering around the rice paddles
My first attraction of the day was Taman Ayun Temple (Mengwi Royal Temple). It was built in 1634 by Raja Mengwi, Gusti Agung Putu on a land surrounded by a big fish pond with a beautiful garden. Inside this Balinese Hindu temple’s third and most holy courtyard lies the most important shrines with each Meru built on five, seven, nine, and eleven tiered. The compound of the shrine is only accessible during important religious ceremonies and visitors can only view from the outside.
It’s been a long drive on the road and almost fell asleep. Thankfully, we reach to a coffee plantation, Tegal Sari, famous for its most expensive coffee in the world called Kopi Luwak. I was invited by their friendly host, as she introduces and let me taste a variety sample of coffees and traditional herbal tea. The sample of Kopi Luwak costs 50,000 rupiahs (USD $4) and a pack of 250g of coffee powder costs 700,000 rupiahs (USD $50). The rest of the coffees and herbal teas are sold starting from 120,000 rupiahs (USD $9), where is get myself a pack of ginger tea.
The process of making this expensive coffee starts from the fermentation of the red ripe coffee cherries and beans after eaten by a small civit-like animal named Paradoxurus, locals called them Luwak. These mammals live in trees and feed on this fruit during the night. After their digestion, the fruit remained intact and collected from the forest floor. It will be cleaned, roasted, and ground just like any other coffees for an hour.
Freshen up after taking a few cups of sample coffee, I am now totally awake and now heading next to Ulun Danu Beratan Temple, another popular tourist spot in Bali. It was a perfect time of the year and is a privilege to witness such an event where the locals come here to perform their ritual when Nyepi festival is just around the corner. Balinese Hindu people from every village will gather at the temple during the Melasti ceremony to pray and dress in bright clothes.
The ladies will carry tall offerings of fruits, cooked rice, and natural foods on top of their heads. The men will walk along by holding a long sheet of yellow and white cloth that symbolizes the Bridge of God. Each group from different villages will take their turn to perform the spiritual purification, with the ceremonies that usually last until early evening. (Click here to read full story)
Moving on to my next stop before lunch is Jatiluwih Rice Terrace, a village with a splendid view of 22.3 square kilometers paddy fields and earned its place for UNESCO Cultural Heritage. Its surrounding was very cooling because it is situated in the highlands at the altitude of 2,270 meters above the sea level on the second highest peak in Bali after Mount Agung.
The path is very easy to walk, allows me to explore slowly and admire this fascinating paranormal landscape of the rice terrace with the back view of Mount Batukaru. It is fun to observe how the farmers manage the huge land of the plantation just by using seven traditional irrigation systems (subak) with each system coordinated by one master water controller (Pekaseh).
Dine-in at Billy’s Terrace Cafe, right in front of the green fields with a lovely atmosphere. The waiter took some free time to chat with me and later knew that the rice served here are mixed with both red and normal rice, making it so delicious. The paddy of the red rice takes five months before they can be harvest and sold three times higher than the normal packets of rice in the supermarket at 30,000 rupiahs. The normal rice only needs only three months before the farmers can harvest and its size of the grain is smaller than the red rice.
Driving another two kilometers to the foot of Mount Batukaru from the paddy fields is Batukaru Temple. The locals referred to this place as Pura Luhur Batukaru. The walled compound contains several shrines with tiered roofs, high ‘meru’ towers, and pavilions carved with ancient Balinese features.
The 11th-century temple was built to devote to the Hindu god Mahadeva, the master of the air, water, and plants The main courtyard has a lake and freshwater spring that was used as the holy water for prayers, ceremonies, cleansing, and purification rituals.
Lastly, arriving at Tanah Lot Temple right before the sky turns dark. Unfortunately, it has been raining throughout the day and had no chance to see the sunset at the beach. Strong winds and large waves continually crashing at its rock base and it was impossible for me to cross to view the inside of the temple.
According to the legend, a priest named Dang Hyang Niratha come from East Java to spread Hinduism here in 1489. He established a site to honor the sea god, Baruna, and shared his teachings with the Beraban villagers. The village chief was against this and gathered his loyal followers to oust Niratha. The priest resisted, incredibly shift the large rock he meditated out to the sea while transforming his sashes into sea snakes to safeguard its base. The original name of the rock, Tengah Lot, means ‘in the sea’.
As it comes to the last day of my Bali trip, today will take a free-and-easy way, so there is no rush to explore the island. The plan is to head down south of Bali to visit Bajra Sandhi Monument. This major landmark was built to dedicate the struggle of Balinese people during the war against the Dutch colonial who invaded and occupied the island. Its architectural design symbolizes the independence day of Indonesia on 17 August 1945 with 17 entrance gate design, eight main pillars, and 45 meters monument height.
There are fish ponds,, a library, administrative rooms and exhibition halls on the first floor. The second floor is the museum exhibiting Balinese history from prehistoric times, the development of civilization, development of the Bali Kingdom and Hindu religion, and the struggle of its people to gain independence. The highest floor allows me to get the 360-degree view of Denpasar. What I have noticed is that there are no skyscrapers in this island because given that the local government regulations and the influence of religious groups do not permit anyone to build any buildings taller than 30 meters (height equivalent coconut trees or Balinese temples).
Taking the quickest route down the southern part of Bali through Mandara Toll Road and get to Garuda Wisnu Kencana Culture Park. Sadly to say, the entrance fee cost 100,000 rupiahs and the main attractions here are only Visnu Plaza and Garuda Plaza, while the rest of them are still under construction. Did not spend a lot of time here and head straight for lunch.
Right after lunch, it is time to relax on the two most popular beaches at the southern Bali called Dreamland Beach and Padang-Padang Beach. Dreamland Beach is very huge, so there is plenty of places to share and most of the visitors here are Asian. Whereas Padang-Padang Beach is very small and a little packed with people, many of the tourists are Westerners instead.
Tips: Cars can be parked near the entrance of Dreamland Beach before hopping on the shuttle cars to the beach.
We drive another 30 minutes down to Uluwatu Temple from the beach. My guide advised me to get there as early as possible to avoid heavy traffic. Wild monkeys can be seen roaming freely at the entrance and nearby forest of the temple. Uluwatu is another place to catch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean and watch the Kecak dance performance.
Time flies as it is time to catch my flight back home at 1.30 pm. I need to arrive at the airport before 10 am before the roads start to close for the Nyepi ritual tomorrow. Shopping malls, tourist spots, bars, restaurants, and beaches will be closed from 17 March at 6 am to 18 March at 6 am. Local people also begin their journey back home to make the preparation with their families.
Both Balinese people and tourists are not allowed to walk around the streets. Noises and lights also need to keep to the minimal. Many travelers also do the same by flying out of Bali because the airport will also be closed at the same time as the malls.
This trip is one of the incredible moments of my journey to learn and experience the local culture. Driving through small villages, the streets and visit Ulun Danu Temple to see the Balinese Hindu people perform their ritual will be one of my most collectible memory and worth sharing. (Read more)
- Hire a reliable driver who is well fimiliarize with Bali to get you to the tourist spots. It is help you save time and get some travel advice from them as well.
- If hire a scooter, do carry a local driver permit and internationa driving license on the road
- Do give yourself enough time to travel from Point A to Point B. Although the distance shown in Google Map or travel guide map maybe close to each other, it will still take longer time to travel. There is only a single line on each side of the road and is difficult to overtake the car in front.
- Visitors are required to wear sarong when visiting the Hindu temple. They will provide one without or with a small fee.
- In some parts of temples are off-limits to visitors and non-pilgrims, so do follow the restrictions given as to respect and preserve their culture and belief.