Last updated 4 March 2021
Why do tourists keep going back to Bali?
Bali is about a thousand simple experiences and endless natural beauty.”
As I was contemplating visiting Bali, I quizzed my friends who’d previously travelled there, why is Bali so popular?
Their unanimous response was, “Oh, you will love Bali.” This was closely followed by, “Once you’ve been, you will want to go back.”
It’s not just my friends who are frequenting this place. Numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics* indicates Indonesia is the second most popular destination (behind New Zealand) for short-term resident destinations. (1,012,800 Aussie visitors travelled to Indonesia in 2013/14.) Although the stats don’t reveal the breakdown for Bali, a large percentage of those Australians would have Bali, as the stamp on their passport.
So why is Bali such a popular destination for Aussie holidaymakers?
I approached regular Bali visitor, Tracy Dobbin, questioning her about Bali’s allure.
“Bali, is about a thousand simple experiences and endless natural beauty,” said Tracy.
Watching as her face light up, it was apparent – Bali hooks people in.
Bali has plenty to offer most travellers including:
- world-class surf at breaks like Ulu Watu;
- the diving and snorkeling in the pristine waters of West Bali;
- the cheap accommodation, alcohol and party atmosphere in Kuta;
- the up-market beach resort experience in Seminyak;
- spiritual journey in the artist’s town of Ubud.
With time and not necessarily an endless stash of money, tourists can immerse themselves in a Balinese experience of their choice.
Ubud – the culture centre
My wish was to immerse myself in the Balinese culture and village life. So for my first trip, I chose to steer clear of the Seminyak / Kuta Beach (party) area, instead selecting Bali’s epi-centre for culture – the Ubud Region. An area renowned for art, culture, and also for healing and medicine (anyone who read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love” will know the Love section was based in and around Ubud.) Numerous spas and healing places offer massage and pamper treatments, at very reasonable prices. Ubud is also jam-packed with fabulous cafes and restaurants.
Bali’s weather rarely varies from tropical and hot, for much of the year. As Ubud, is situated higher in the mountains, it usually has slightly cooler temperatures (sounded appealing.) But it can rain at any time. The rain often lasts for an hour or two and usually cools things down. The only inconvenience, (as I discovered) is the rain may force you into one of the many bars or restaurants around town, where you just have to relax with a drink or two while waiting for the shower to pass.
Over a few days, I explored the town of Ubud, indulging in many fine eating areas, spa treatments and shopping trips. Murni’s Houses was the perfect location for my first couple of nights in Bali as it was central to everything in Ubud town.
A retreat in Bali’ northeast
My next Balinese experience was in a small village, Singaparang, northeast of Ubud. I headed to a place called Ayung Sari Indah (Sharing Bali) a 30-minute taxi ride into the hills. Sharing Bali is run by Aussie Karen Willis and her Balinese partner Wayan.
Ayung Sari Indah is a “simplistic” retreat. Guests stay in humble bungalows, each with their unique, traditional Balinese style. And every private bungalow is cleverly positioned with a balcony facing the distant mountains.
Wayan travelled all over Indonesia to small, remote villages searching for unique bungalows. The houses, often in disrepair, are dismantled and shipped back to Ayung Sari, where Wayan, using his artisan skills, lovingly restores and re-builds them by hand.
“It is Wayan’s special way of preserving Indonesia’s beautiful architectural history and culture,” said Karen.
The bungalows are rustic and basic each with an outdoor bathroom (complete with a western toilet and shower). Karen and Wayan pre-warn guests to not expect five star treatment at Sharing Bali.
Following her Bali dreams
For the last 15 years, Karen has travelled back and forth from Australia to build her dream place with Wayan. She’s always wanted to create a place where guests can let go of the stresses of everyday life. She was part of the corporate culture. I met her when I worked at Colorado, a retail company whose head office was based in Brisbane. She was the marketing manager for the brand Colorado and I was the HR Manager.
Karen is the consummate host, happy to share with her guests many intimate and insightful stories. Her knowledge and understanding of the Balinese culture and people helps answer many of the niggling questions western guests and first–time visitors to Bali have. Karen would often join us at lunch and dinner, wherein conversation she helped unravel the mystique beneath the magic that is Bali.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served in the communal eating area (Ayung Sari Indah is all about sharing.) A collection of musical instruments, near the dining area, are available to the guests (musically inclined or not.) Attempts to bang the large ornamental gong or play the bamboo xylophone, seemingly summoned the staff who happily shared their musical talent. These gentle Balinese folk share their gift to create captivating music. Many evenings of fine dining at Sharing Bali were finished in this enjoyable manner.
“How’s the serenity” comes to mind as I relax into the abundant piles of soft cushions in the bale (pronounced bar-lay) hut. Sipping on delicious freshly prepared lemongrass tea, watching the storm clouds brewing – a memorable Balinese moment.
For the adventurous, there are numerous activities to stimulate energy levels. One highlight was the Sunrise Volcano Climb. Mt Batur, the third-largest active Volcano in Bali rises 1,717 metres above sea level. An early start (3 am),from Ayung Sari and an hour’s drive, brings us to the meeting place at the base of Mt Batur.
It’s an eerie climb for the first hour in the dark, with only your personal torchlight illuminating each step. The terrain is steep and rocky at times, which is challenging. A better than average level of fitness, will ensure you arrive at the top with less huffing and puffing. But whatever your level of fitness, the friendly guides walk at your pace and your fellow walkers keep the spirits up. The early start and the effort are quickly forgotten as you reach the peak.
“There is a massive overwhelming sense of achievement when you get to the top,” said fellow walker Sarah Thompson. Despite our sunrise being obscured by heavy cloud cover, our group felt this was a special moment.
“We climbed this geographical monument and felt incredibly accomplished,” said Sarah.
At the summit, we find a lonely tent where you can purchase a coffee. We sampled eggs, boiled by the guides on a naturally steaming volcano vent. It’s not every day you eat a breakfast cooked by volcanic steam!
This active volcano’s rugged beauty makes it one of the most attractive and (relatively) easy to climb in Indonesia. Karen advises you can also climb Gunung Agung (the highest on the island at 3,142m). The local guides indicate that climb is more challenging and risky.
Karen, (who joined us on our climb), kept our spirits up by telling us it would all be worth it, not just for the view and the sense of achievement, but for the soak in the hot springs after. She was right (again). The hot springs were perfect for our sore and aching joints.
The following day we explored neighbouring villages by bike, with an organised tour run by Eco and Educational Cycling Tours. Breakfast was at a hotel overlooking the majestic Mount Batur. The lava flows (where we climbed) were easy to see from this vantage point.
The bike tour through villages involved cycling mostly downhill – no need for gear changes. We visited a coffee plantation and were entertained by the guide’s animated voice and swift explanations.
Tamarind, cinnamon, and cardamom trees in their natural state look very different from their processed, bottled form in my pantry. I saw my first Luwak (Asian civet.) This cat-like animal literally “poops” the most expensive coffee beans in the world. Luwak beans cost around $65 AUD for 125 grams.
Cooking class at Sharing Bali
Karen and Wayan provide a truly authentic Balinese food experience. All meals at Ayung Sari Indah are made from fresh, locally grown ingredients cultivated in their own land or sourced at nearby farms and markets. The food is prepared by hand using traditional methods. For Westerners used to buying ingredients at the local supermarket, it was enlightening to be reminded of the food cycle. Over the course of the week, I’d seen farmers toil in the rice paddies and in paddocks using the same farming methods of many previous generations. When I open my packet of rice bought from the supermarket, I have a very different appreciation of its origin and the labour that has gone into it being in my hands.
Participating in an open-air cooking class, provided a greater appreciation of how labour intensive and time-consuming the food production is at Ayung Sari. A labour of love and tradition, something Karen indicates the younger generation is no longer interested in. I’d seen a few fast-food “kitchens” on the back of small trucks and motorbikes in Ubud. Bali it appears is also experiencing a generation preferring instant gratification over tradition.
The authentic food at Ayung Sari with its intense flavours, freshness and variety makes it hard to stop eating, (thankfully it’s also extremely healthy.) Each meal is accompanied by the staple commodity rice and a variety of sambals (spicy sauces – in some cases very spicy!) The chicken coconut satays; green beans in peanut sauce and the Bali Sambal were personal favourites. But a word of warning – your body is about to experience a natural detox. The high fiber content of the food we’ve been consuming creates quite a bit of stomach gas!
Let’s just say I was happy the bungalow design includes an outdoor private bathroom (and to be among friends!)
Sharing Bali is all about personal treatment. Karen would join us at mealtimes. Her stories about Balinese village life, helped us as outsiders better understand the Balinese culture.
The rustic bungalow accommodations are bespoke and abundantly charming. Wayan’s selection and placement of sculptures, water features, carvings, and idols throughout the resort add a special touch to this tropical oasis.
“You can immerse yourself in nature here and leave feeling as though you’ve received a personal experience, not a tourist connection.” said fellow guest, Sarah Thompson. “It is Sharing Bali in the most natural and gentle way.”
Framed by rice paddies, watching swallows swoop and dive, it is impossible not to be caught up in the calm that is Ayung Sari Indah. As the days pass, the peacefulness envelops, leaving you with no other choice than to slow down and leave the western world stresses far behind.
My stay here felt like a stolen precious moment.” Sarah
Ayung Sari Indah is Sharing Bali as the gentle Balinese people sincerely intended. An experience you won’t forget and will most likely want to repeat.
It also gave me an understanding of what is Bali’s allure and why travellers sign up for repeat experiences.
*Note I was not sponsored for the trip or any of the activities. All opinions expressed are my own.
Ayung Sari Indah, Singaparang Village, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org