When I tell my friends about Bali, their eyes glaze over like I’m talking about visiting Mars or Timbuktu. Bali conjures up exotic images of crystal blue waters, dancers and temples, and it seems so far away. Well, yes it is far away, but it’s not that expensive to get to, and once you’re there, you’ll want to keep coming back. Bali has it all. Now is the perfect time to go. It really is. Let me tell you why.
1. The Volcano
Bali’s volcano just became a little more active since November 2017. Ash spewed out for a few days and the cone has been smoking ever since. The airport closed for a couple days, tourists panicked and trips got changed and canceled. No one died. The only thing that really changed was that Bali’s beaches and hotels got empty and prices went down. Bali is still very safe as long as you don’t try to go too close to the volcano. Mount Agung is at least a five-hour drive from the main tourist area so you’re unlikely to see any ash or other effects. If you’re a thrill-seeker, you’re allowed to get within 6 km to take that great volcano picture.
Who doesn’t love monkeys? Bali has lots of them, but probably the best place for your simian encounter is the Monkey Sacred Forest. Ubud is about an hour-and-a-half drive from the Denpasar airport and is a beautiful village with rice fields, mountains and forests and what might be best described as a monkey sanctuary. The primates run around playing with each other, jumping on tourists and looking for goodies. They congregate near the entrance, so you’ll see all the monkeys you ever thought possible within a few moments of your arrival. Most of them are good-natured, but you do have to be careful with your belongings and how you deal with them. Watching them interact with each other and caring for their babies is about as cute as anything you can imagine.
3. The Best Coffee in the World?
Some claim that Luwak coffee is the best coffee in the world, and in the U.S. (if you can find it) you’ll pay $50 for a cup. The secret of the flavor? A jungle civet swallows the best coffee beans, digests them, and then the animal droppings are collected, the coffee beans sifted, cleaned, husked and roasted. No, I’m not kidding. What happens in the animal’s body to change the taste is the big question (second big question: who tried it first?), but java connoisseurs swear by it. There are several coffee factories where you can learn about the process, buy the coffee (for much less than $50 a cup) and sample natural teas created from local herbs and fruits. I compared the “special” coffee to the regular coffee, and the cat-poo-chino won with flying colors.
4. Exotic Fruit
Have you ever bought a mangosteen at the grocery store? Probably not. They’re illegal to import into the U.S. for fears of transporting the Asian fruit flies that love them. You’re unlikely to find durian fruit, custard apples, and half a dozen other delicacies that grow in Bali in a normal grocery store. I’ve tried fruit all over the world, but I just discovered snake fruit that was in a complimentary basket in my hotel. It doesn’t grow many places other than Bali, and that’s the best place to try this exotic fruit that resembles dragon eggs more than the tasty treat it really is.
If you could afford to have a massage every day, would you? For $6, you can get an hour massage with no appointment on practically any street in Bali. For $4, you can get your feet rubbed for an hour. I fall asleep almost as soon as they start, so they usually softly slap my leg to signal that the hour is over. I loved bragging to fellow travelers about all the massages I got with “slappy endings.” A massage is a great way to end a day of temple hiking or shopping.
6. Cheap Prices
My 4.5-star hotel came with breakfast for two, free parking, and tons of amenities for $35. Prices are low in most of Asia, but Bali’s low prices include great quality and service. A dinner that you’d pay $100 for in the U.S. might cost $15 to $20. Drinks aren’t as big of a bargain, but souvenirs, food, transportation and lodging can be ridiculously cheap. I rented a motorcycle for 24 hours for $6. It might cost you a bit more to fly to Bali than Florida, but you’ll save a fortune on your daily expenses.
7. Eat, Pray, Love
It was easy to find the home of Ketut Liyer, the medicine man featured in the book and film Eat, Pray, Love. Once we walked into the courtyard, we could see that it was also the filming location for all of the scenes involving Liyer. In the film, Ketut claims to be 100. Doing a little math and knowing the film was released in 2010 , I wasn’t sure if I should bother asking if the medicine man was around or not, but I had to. “No. He dead,” was the immediate answer. Following Balinese tradition, Liyer had been cremated, but his home has little tropical cabanas for rent. It’s a beautiful space with cages of birds that look like the ones in the movie, peaceful tropical gardens and a relaxed vibe that may help you change from medication to meditation.
8. Temples and Amazing Photography
The Balinese religion is a proprietary fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism with a temple on every corner. Early devotees brought their stone carving techniques from India, and now you’ll see intricately crafted statues and temples that come in all shapes and sizes. The residents offer a small tray of flowers and food to the gods thrice daily and you’ll see these little packets everywhere. They get stepped in and driven over, but they add a bit of personality to the mix—and when there’s a volcano about to erupt, paying off the gods may not be too bad of a choice. Wherever you go, you’ll see an endless array of photo opportunities.
Why in the world would anyone fly to Bali and and then visit a taco stand? The truth is, you can only eat so much satay and nasi goreng before you start craving some good old American-made Mexican food. Johnny left Georgia and set up his tiny kitchen on a side street in Kuta. He whips out some seriously good Mexican-inspired holdovers and has plenty of tequila shots available to wash them down. It’s a tiny little place, but everyone’s friendly and if you buy Johnny a shot, he’ll tell you his story. I did, then I forgot to listen to it. I didn’t forget about the tacos though and his guacamole passed the test. Need I say more?
The Balinese are about the friendliest people on the planet. In their culture, guests come first and they’re truly happy to make you welcome. You’ll find great value for your tourist dollar and no visa is required to visit. You might even want to stay and open your own taco stand.