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Ports Of Call: Bali
By Mike Thiel

Bali is not the fanciful island of South Pacific fame. It's not in the South Pacific, and it's not Polynesian. But those realities aside, Bali is as romantic as a Hollywood set, and its culture is even more exotic than you might imagine.

This is a land of rice, religion, and tourism. Rice is raised in paddies on steep hillside terraces. Religion and religious ceremonies permeate every aspect of daily existence. And visitors have long come to the island's seductive landscape in search of the elusive Bali Hai. Despite their reliance on tourism, the Balinese seem to maintain a healthy separation between their economic and spiritual lives.

Although the Indonesian archipelago is predominately Muslim, most Balinese are Hindu, and signs of their faith are apparent everywhere—in carefully tended shrines and temples at every roadside corner, in markets, and in every family compound. Offerings are made daily, and visitors are welcome to observe processions and cceremonies, including cremations. Be sure to dress modestly, however, which means covering your legs.

For all its beauty and mysticism, some parts of Bali are incredibly touristy. The capital of Denpasar and the south-shore beaches of Kuta and Sanur are very commercial, and Nusa Dua—an enclave of upscale resorts, a golf course, and pretty beaches—is pleasant enough, but it's not Bali.

For the real Bali, head to the relatively undeveloped Legian Beach, Jimbaran Bay, the uplands around Ubud, plus the remote parts of the eastern shore. Here you'll find serenity in some of the world's most pampering hideaways.

Thankfully, the political turmoil in Indonesia has not been felt here, but the negative publicity has cooled tourism, making Bali a price-buyer's paradise.

Spring/Summer 2001

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