Bali 101: The Island Of The Gods

Conjuring images of a spiritual, exotic island set resplendent in azure seas and basking in rays of sun, Bali is a popular, exotic getaway for tourists from all around the world.
There are said to be over 20,000 temples in Bali, and a great sense of Hindu spirituality is still alive and well on the island, permeating everyday life. This means that visitors will undoubtedly experience a religious festival, ceremony or simple offering at least once during their stay, adding to the magic of the trip. The locals are friendly and welcoming to those from all walks of life, and the service standard in every establishment is impeccable. From the smallest roadside warung café to the loftiest hotel, people go above and beyond to make visitors fall in love with the island. 
Connected to the world by its eternally bustling airport, Bali is a seven-hour direct flight away from Shanghai, or a longer slog on low-cost airline via Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. The island is easy to travel around by taxi, rented car or motorbike, and is a relatively cheap South East Asian holiday destination. Thanks to the strong influence from Australian holidaymakers, the island is abounding with trendy cafes, brunch spots and juice bars. Rather than just Indonesian food, every restaurant seems to offer a fusion menu of Western and Eastern delights, and do not be surprised to see even the smallest hole in the wall cafes offering burgers and pizzas along with the traditional nasi goring.
The first stop on any grand tour of Bali should be the surfer town of Canggu, a 45-minute drive from Ngurah Rai International Airport. Less developed than other parts of the island, this is a true haven for backpackers and surfers alike. Unlike Seminyak, there are many local stalls on the beach offering cut-price sun loungers, food and drinks as well as surfboard rental and surf lessons. Set back from the beach, and less pretentious than the beach clubs and resorts further up the stretch of shoreline, are cool cafes and restaurants, offering respite from the sun and a place to hangout and meet other travellers. Pop into Old Man’s for a gelato and spend a couple of hours on one of their beanbags looking out towards the surf.
Just along the coast from Canggu is Seminyak, an upmarket beach town with some of the best bars, restaurants and shops on the island, not to mention some of the trendiest hotels. Stay at the Alila Seminyak, peacefully set slightly away from the main strip, yet within easy reach, this property boasts an impressive beach and excellent Beach Bar for sunset cocktails and people watching. Although the popular beach clubs of Ku De Ta and Potato Head are nearby, we preferred staying at the hotel’s bar for the excellent drink deals, personalised service and down to earth vibe. After sunset, head out to the aptly named “Eat Street” to feast on fabulous Asian fusion dishes at Mama San and drinks at raucous, Mexican-inspired restaurant and bar, Motel Mexicola.
Uluwatu, an hour’s drive from Seminyak, yet a world away from the party town, is a peaceful peninsula and the most south westerly tip of Bali. Less developed, the area is populated by small villages and boutique resorts. The Banyan Tree Ungasan is one such resort, an exceptional hotel with intimate, spacious villas and large private plunge pools, situated on the jutting coastline and looking out towards the Indian Ocean, ideal for a romantic getaway.
A short drive from the Banyan Tree is Uluwatu Temple, one of the holiest temples on the island. Go just before sunset to admire the temple, balanced atop a dramatic cliff, and buy a ticket to the Kecak Fire Dance in the same complex, which tells the fateful story of Rama and Sita. This traditional Balinese dance is preformed as the sun sets behind the silhouette of Uluwatu Temple, before the dancers light their fires to dramatic effect. The show is busy, so get there earlier to grab a seat facing west, towards the temple and sunset.
Continuing the peace and tranquillity of Uluwatu, head over to Manggis, on the East Coast of the island. This untouched beach resort is an undiscovered gem, which showcases the beauty of the island’s traditional culture and architecture, set against steep, green Mount Agung, which dramatically slopes down towards the black volcanic sand of the coastline. Spend a few days getting lost on a mountain bike and stay at the boutique hotel, Alila Manggis. This hotel is an affordable, well-appointed property, with great service and unexpected extras, such as a pop-up outdoor beach bar every evening. Take the hotel’s traditional jukung fishing boat out before sunset and head east to witness a spectacular, unobstructed sunrise over Lombok Island.
After the tranquillity of the East Coast, head inland to Ubud, the island’s spiritual and cultural hub. Although Ubud town centre is a busy affair, crammed full of bars, restaurants, motorbikes and monkeys, just a few steps away from the main strip are unspoilt rice terrace fields, temples and authentic Balinese villages, so you really can get the best of both worlds. There are some awe-inspiring hotels and resorts in this part of the island, for example, the well-established Four Seasons Resort Bali, Sayan, offering a magnificent wellness and spa concept, with luxurious private villas and suites set amongst the backdrop of jungle and rice terraces.
The newly arrived Mandapa, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve is also an impressive and lavish complex. With magnificent views of green rice terrace fields and jungle as well as a fantastic finedining restaurant, Kubu, with intimate bamboo, cocooned dining spaces. An alternative option is OneWorld Retreats Kumara, an unassuming holistic retreat that helps guests achieve their wellness goals, whilst also discovering the best of what the local area has to offer.
When in Ubud, do not miss the opportunity to white water raft down the Ayung River or visit The Green School and Tirta Empul, a sacred water temple. The Green School allows guests to tour the property in the morning, along with members of the school community. It is an inspirational look into the future of “green” teaching around the world. Tirta Empul, located in nearby Tampaksiring, is one of the holiest temples on the island, where locals and tourists alike can purify themselves by bathing in the holy spring water flowing through the ancient temple.
Finally, end the tour by heading back towards the airport, to the traditional fishing town of Jimbaran. The famous shoreline is home to a few resorts, however, none are as famous as the magnificent Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay. This OG hotel recently underwent extensive renovations and is undoubtedly the most luxurious in the area.
Hangout at the hotel’s beach club, Sundara, or Coconut Grove, where you can try a variety of water sports including surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, windsurfing and sailing. As the sun sets, head down the beach towards the small village, where the local warungs set up tables and chairs on the sand and serve grilled seafood from the local waters. Enjoy the final night of your trip with a Bintang Beer as the waves lap against your toes and the sky turns many shades of red, purple and blue.