There you are sipping a thick, exotic blend of coffee in a café while gazing through the window at people walking or biking around the street while monkeys roam freely like it’s no one’s business. A sun-tanned Caucasian haggles for a shirt printed with the words “I love Bali” when you then realize you are in a middle of a daydream that stars this picturesque Southeast Asia tourist haven—Bali in Indonesia.
This idyllic paradise of an island wouldn’t be a consistent top travel destination in the region if not for its distinct charm that comes from its warm and friendly people, rich culture, artistic and spiritual appeal, breathtaking sights, and plethora of activities that delight the body and nourish the soul. Bali’s beauty continuously lures individuals from all walks of life and from different nations across the globe to visit, come back, or even stay there for good.
But for a “Bali virgin” like me, my knowledge of this Indonesian province was limited to snapshots, secondhand information, and, of course, from what I’ve seen in the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love memoir.
Bali was nothing but a hazy and enchanting daydream that finally became a reality and conveniently accessible for those hungry to find what Gilbert found there, courtesy of Cebu Pacific Airlines.
A smile away
Bringing Filipinos closer to this tropical retreat, CEB recently launched its direct flights from Manila to Denpasar (capital of Bali), the second in Indonesia after Jakarta and also its 20th international destination.
“The addition of this twice weekly Manila-Denpasar service to the ever-expanding Cebu Pacific network reinforces our commitment, to provide air travel to destinations not previously easily accessible to our passengers,” said CEB vice president for marketing and distribution Candice Iyog during the send-off ceremony for the airline’s inaugural flight at the NAIA Terminal 3.
She said CEB’s broad Filipino market will find Bali as a convenient and affordable option for leisure travelers, honeymooners, groups of friends and families.
“I am seeing this momentous occasion as an opportunity not only to enhance economic growth of Indonesia and the Philippines through the travel industry, but also to bring people from both countries closer,” said Indonesian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Kristiarto S. Legowo.
“I am as excited as everyone else, because finally – one of the world’s most renowned tourist destination is just within your reach. With Cebu Pacific’s promise to give low fares yet great value to all Filipinos who wanted to fly, Bali is just a smile away,” enthused Legowo.
Feasts for the eyes and soul
Wearing comfortable clothing—suitable for Bali’s 30+ degree Celsius temperature—and armed with an urgent desire to get to know the island paradise skin deep, I together with other national press members immediately toured the province’s must-see places right after the nearly four-hour flight we shared to Denpasar and a quick Starbucks breakfast in Ngurah Rai International Airport.
While initially taking in that Bali feel during our bus ride, our local tour guide, Rudy slowly walked us through with information about the province which we were then witnessing simultaneously.
Ten minutes of land travel, I already quite understood what the so-called Bali charm was; it’s how its citizens adhered and continuously keep their age-old traditions despite the modernity passed years have brought, thus providing a stark contrast of old and new.
Being the bastion of Hinduism in Indonesia (85 percent of Bali’s population is Hindu), major and even minor streets are lined with Hindu temples. Instead of metal gates, houses and villages are concealed by intricately carved pillars accentuated with several Balinese symbolism.
Rudy later explained to us that the reason why Bali’s roads abound temple after temple is because every Hindu family and every village has to have their own temple where they can offer to the Hindu gods.
Meanwhile, if you take Bali by feet, you would notice the tiny offerings on a tray made of palm leaf that are virtually everywhere—outside and inside shops, at the doorstep of inns, on a tiny shrine on the street, and even at local watering holes. Called canang sari, these simple household offerings contain flower petals, rice grains, biscuits, and coffee beans, and are made throughout the day as a form of gratitude to the supreme god of Indonesian Hinduism, Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa for the peace he had given to the world.
Looking around, I also noticed that Bali locals were not at all crazy over the trendiest of outfits, unlike most of us, since majority of them still wear their traditional Balinese clothing.
Not your average monkey business
A great prelude to every Bali tour is a visit to the sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud. Thousands of crab-eating macaque monkeys inhabit the place, guarding temples inside the area, and living like their normal selves.
You can take a photo of them or with them, and some would even gladly pose dramatically, but be very wary as these mischievous forest denizens are always ready to jump at you or get your stuff, especially when its dangling and edible.
Before entering the area remove your accessories and glasses, always hold on to your bag, don’t bring food (because, yes, they can smell those), and never intimidate or challenge the monkeys unless you really intend to see their sharp fangs while scowling at you.
Further, a trip to Bali would not be complete without seeing the province’s postcard-worthy temples.
First stop is the one of the most popular and photographed temple in Bali, the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan or Pura Bratan. This water temple sits right at the edge of Lake Bratan and was dedicated to Dewi Danu, the goddess of waters.
The temple, which is located 1200 meters above sea level, is truly photogenic beyond compare, with its classical Hindu thatch-roofed meru reflected in the lake and beautifully silhouetted against the cloudy mountain backdrop. It actually felt like it’s a sin not to take a snap if you’re bringing a camera or your phone has one.
From a temple on a lake, we went to see Pura Luhur Uluwatu, a temple perched on the edge of a steep cliff that towers above the legendary surf breaks of southern Bali. Regarded as one of the six most important temples in Bali, Uluwatu also houses species so familiar to us while we were in the province: monkeys, which, by the way, are way more aggressive than those in Monkey Forest.
While we were having our photos taken, a macaque monkey stole all the attention of people from the temple and swiftly snatched the gold earring of Manila Bulletin’s Ms. Crispina Belen. When Tita Cris tried to get her jewelry back, the monkey suddenly lost its innocent persona and glowered at her.
Suffice to say, the incident got the better of most of us who screamed and panicked. Luckily, the earring fell off from the primate’s grasp while he was chewing it and a tourist got it before the monkey could even run after it.
Provided that you follow all the precautionary measures and keep your senses altogether while in the area, there is no reason to be afraid and not go to these must-see places in Bali.
While in Uluwatu, make it a point to watch the Kecak and Fire Dance which is performed daily by the Balinese performers.
You can never have too
many sundresses in Bali
While in Bali, we put a different meaning to tour breaks: shopping!
With stores lining the street of Monkey Forest, arts and all things Bali at bargain prices in Sukawati Art Market, every-souvenir-shopper-haven Rama Krisna department store, and high-end Discovery Mall that has all your native and designer product needs, there is no way you’d leave this place empty-handed.
Haggling skills will come in handy in Sukawati, which is Bali’s version of tiangge, only cleaner and has more paintings and sculptures than clothes. Remember that when the sellers tell you the price of the product you’re eyeing, make sure to ask if they can give it to you less 50 percent or more of the price. You can even go 70 percent less; just be realistic and thoroughly check the quality of the stuff you’re planning to purchase.
We got authentic Indonesian paintings (mostly made in Ubud), earrings, key chains sundresses, blouses, slippers and other souvenirs at discounted prices. With the help of media friends-slash-shopping buddies, we combined purchases to cut off more of the total cost, used the “walkout technique” and “please-give-it-to-me-I’m-flying-home-tomorrow technique”. The negotiation took long but the feeling of getting a product at the price you want was so good.
Shops in Monkey Forest Street also offer tons of souvenir items, accessories, antique décors, and lots of bags and summer dresses that are authentic Bali. However, since the location was much more convenient and spacious, the prices were a little steeper and haggling was a little harder.
Rudy also brought us to Rama Krisna department store where all kinds of souvenirs are available. Prices are fixed but noticeably cheaper than those we earlier saw in Sukawati and Ubud.
But if you go for designer shops with Bali touch, the island’s largest mall, Discovery Mall in Kuta is the place to be.
Jungle resort or five-star hotel?
During our first night in Bali, we checked in at the multi-awarded Nandini Bali Jungle Resort and Spa in Ubud, where the air is fresh and cold and the view fills your longing for a good dose of nature. This idyllic resort, which was carved out of mountain slopes, is often the newlyweds’ first bet for honeymoon, as according to Nandini’s entertaining guest relations officer Iwan Suryadi, 99 percent of their guests are honeymooners of which 70 percent are Europeans.
The exclusivity and romantic set-up of Nandini has also won the hearts of celebrities who stayed there including actress Helen Miren, singer-songwriter P!nk, and our very own Christian Bautista who is making waves in Indonesia’s entertainment scene.
Asking Iwan, I found out P!nk stayed in the same room I was billeted in. It felt so priceless to know that P!nk and I shared a common denominator.
The rest of our nights in Bali were spent in the luxurious Le Meridien Bali Jimbaran. Only on its soft opening during our stay, the hotel proved its potential to be the next big thing in Bali. The hotel features a signature 1,300 square meter saltwater lagoon pool that is accessible from ground floor guestrooms.
Le Meridien emphasizes its French contemporary designs with touches of traditional Balinese here and there. It has 75 guestrooms, 35 suites, 4 penthouses, and 4 villas equipped with a Lagoon sundeck.
“Le Meridien Bali Jimbaran is destined to be more than just a resort, we wanted to let our guests leave with a new discovery experience of Bali,” said Le Meridien Bali Jimbaran general manager Simon Dornan.
When Elizabeth Gilbert’s Brazilian friend Armenia said in the movie that “everyone has a little love affair in Bali” I took it quite literally, picturing someone like Javier Bardem. That would be exciting.
But I didn’t meet a Felipe. Instead, I had a love affair with Bali and I’m sure I’ll come back to fall in love again with its distinct charm; to see more places, get to know more people and buy more sundresses.
Cebu Pacific Air offers direct Manila-Bali flights every Tuesday and Saturday, for the lowest year-round fare of PHP3,499. For the latest seat sales and bookings, go to www.cebupacificair.com, call the reservation hotlines (02)7020-888 or (032)230-8888 or follow them on Cebu Pacific Air’s official Facebook and Twitter pages.