Travel Guide to Bali

For many visitors, Bali is the ultimate tropical destination with idyllic beaches, lush green forests, and fragrant rice fields that seem to cascade down the hills. Yet there is more to Bali than its natural attractions. The warm hospitality of the people and the rich cultural diversity of this beautiful island of Indonesia greatly add to its exotic appeal.

Surrounded by the Indian Ocean in the south and the Bali Sea in the north, Bali is blessed with exquisite beaches, which are perfect to soak up the sun and indulge in water sports during the day or take in the beauty of the setting sun in the evening.

Bali is also a haven for adventure enthusiasts. Take up the challenge of misty treks amidst active volcanoes or snorkel and dive the crystal clear waters of the northern coast from Amed to Pemuteran. Walk through the tranquil valley of Gunung Kawi to see some of Bali’s most ancient monuments or simply laze away the days doing nothing in Lovina without noticing the time slipping away.

Often referred to as the ‘Island with the thousand gods’, Bali charms visitors with its mystical temple ceremonies marked with traditional dance and drama that throw light on the Balinese culture and beliefs. Centuries old shrines set amidst the deep dark forests invite you to seek nature’s serenity and experience its healing touch. Rituals and prayers are an integral part of Balinese life and you can witness these during the mesmerizing temple ceremonies that take place through out the year.

These are some of the most obvious qualities of Bali. A visit to this most friendly island in Indonesia means that you can treat the body and senses to hedonistic massages, indulge your taste buds to a sumptuous cuisine and dance away the hours on starlit beaches. Visit Bali and discover why this small island—you can drive around the entire coast in one day— has such a towering reputation for being one of the world’s most amazing tourist destinations.

Natural Attractions

Bali holds true to its reputation for being the ‘last paradise on earth.’ Resplendent with spectacular natural attractions, wildlife parks, scintillating waterfalls, and beautiful temples, Bali promises adventure both on water and land, immense shopping opportunities, and an exciting nightlife. The warm all-encompassing culture and the gracious people make the stay all the more pleasant.

Gitgit Waterfall: This spectacular waterfall, near Singaraja town, is a major picnic spot in Bali. See the water gush down the 40 meters high Gitgit Waterfall and take a dip in its crystal clear pool.

Banjar Hot Springs: These hot water springs in Banjar are believed to have healing powers. The curative powers may be subject to debate but one thing is for sure – these springs in their beautiful surroundings are sure to rejuvenate and refresh the mind.

Gunung Agung: The trek up the mountain is a must for the adventurous. The climb is challenging but the spectacular views are worth each step you take. You can also opt for a leisurely walk along the woods through the shortest route from Selat or Muncan up to Gunung Agung Mountain. April through October is the best time to take up this challenge.

Wildlife Parks: The Bali Bird Park houses not only birds from Bali and Indonesia but also from far off places such as Latin and South America. Besides, if you are lucky you could spot the Bali Starling, the world’s rarest bird. Then there is the Butterfly Park where you can admire a vast variety of brilliantly colored butterflies fluttering around intricately landscaped gardens. The Rimba Reptile Park is also is well worth a visit.

Temples

The Bali word for temple is pura. Though most temples in Bali are dedicated to Hindu gods, there are many in deference to the spirits that are an integral part of Bali’s religious beliefs. Some of the temples and buildings in Bali date back to the 11th century. The intricate wooden carvings and sculptures are a treat to the senses. Temple celebrations are an integral feature of the Balinese life and are marked with much gaiety, dance and dramas with religion and Bali mythology as the central themes.

Besakih Temple: Also known as the “Mother Temple of Bali”, the Besakih temple is considered to be the holiest of all Hindu temples in Bali. Perched on the lofty slopes of Mount Agung, at a height of 1,000 meters (3,000 feet) the temple has eighteen separate sanctuaries around the three main temples, which are dedicated to the Hindu Trinity – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The history of the temple dates back to megalithic times. To admire the scenic surroundings in silence, it is best to visit the temple before 9 am in the morning for after that the tourist buses begin to arrive.

Pura Luhur (Uluwatu) Temple: Located on the south westernmost precinct of Bali, the Pura Luhur Uluwatu is dedicated to the spirits of the sea. This architectural wonder is crafted in black coral rock and stands high on a cliff top at the edge of a plateau, 250 feet above the Indian Ocean. There is a traditional Balinese dance, the Kecak dance which is held every evening.

Tanah Lot Temple: Built in the 16th century, the royal Taman Ayun temple is situated on top of a huge rock and is surrounded by the sea. It is considered to be one of Bali’s most important sea temples. Poisonous sea snakes in the caves at the rocky base are believed to guard the temple against evil spirits.

Accommodation

Bali offers a vast assortment of accommodations. You can choose from family hotels with recreational facilities for children and secluded villas with private pools to low-end guest houses. One common characteristic that binds all lodging facilities is that they all are beautifully landscaped to enable you to experience the best of Bali’s natural attractions.

Renting vacation villas is becoming increasingly popular because they allow you to soak up the local flavors in privacy and comfort, away from the usual tourist crowds. Some vacation villas worth checking out include Begawan Giri Estate at Payagan, fronting the Ayung River, Wantilan Golf Villas at Nusa Dua, The Pavilions at Sanur and The Villas at Seminyak.

South Bali is the hotbed of tourism as many popular beach resorts are located here. Areas include Jimbaran, Tuban, Kuta, Legain, Seminyak, Canggu, Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, Sanur, Nusa Dua and Candidasa. Nusa Dua, better known as Bali’s high-end resort, comprises of high end luxury resorts which are blissfully cut away from the realities of everyday life. Another high end option is The Oberoi hotel and resort. In fact the resort is so popular that the entire stretch between the hotel and Seminyak is now known as Oberoi.

The biggest tourist attraction in Bali is Kuta, which draws exceptionally large crowds mainly because it promises the most happening nightlife on the island. Here you can find accommodations ranging from top end and midrange to budget.

Dining Options

No other place on earth is as well represented by its cuisine as is Bali. By eating in Bali, you actually imbibe the very essence of the island. The presence of rice in all dishes reflect the island’s fertile landscape and the exotic spices that go in creating these dishes, represent the warmth of the people.

Never miss an opportunity to dine at the home of a local. Outside the homes, you can relish traditional Balinese food in the warungs or the open air stalls serving fresh seafood that you can see being prepared in front of you. Popular Bali dishes include lawar (chopped coconut, garlic, chilli along with pork and chicken meat), bebek betutu (duck stuffed with spices, wrapped in banana leaves and coconut husks and cooked in a pit of burnt embers) and babi guling (spit-roast pig) stuffed with chilli, turmeric, garlic and ginger.

Kuta: Whether you are looking for traditional Balinese food or some old favorite, you are sure to find something to suit your taste and budget. The budget travelers can find innumerable options in the local food stalls along Legian Beach and opposite Hard Rock Café in Kuta. Some good budget restaurants in this region include Poppies, one of the oldest restaurants in the area, TJ’s for Mexican food, and Nusa Indah Bar & Restaurant. For a unique dining experience you can visit Joni Sunken Bar and Restaurant where you can enjoy your meal semi-immersed in a swimming pool.

Candidasa: You can find numerous restaurants dotting the main road offering fresh seafood. For dining in quieter surroundings, you can try out the waterfront restaurants. For the budgeted traveler there are plenty of food stalls lining the road leading to the sea. Lotus Seaview, located on the shore of Candidasa, is a great place to savour Asian and international dishes and seafood fresh from the local market. Visit Dewata Agung to feast on typical traditional Indonesian and Balinese cuisine and enjoy the stunning views of the Candidasa lagoon.

Jimbaran: If you are in Jimbaran don’t miss the opportunity to taste the sumptuous sea food on sale in the warungs along the sandy beach near the Bali Inter-Continental Resort. If you are looking for fine dining options, you can try KO Japanese Restaurant or Singaraja restaurant, well-known for good food and excellent service. The Ritz-Carlton’s Padi garden restaurant is best known for its authentic Thai cuisine.

Sanur: You will find distinct German and Scandinavian flavors in the menus in Sanur reflecting the influences of the visitors. You can dine in any of the breezy cafes along the waterfront or eat out at the upper end restaurants and hotels. Café Batu Jimbar, a casual sidewalk café, is a popular destination for meeting people for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Kafe Wayang is an air-conditioned café good for relaxing in an indoor tropical garden setting and enjoying exotic Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. Gateway of India is a must visit for those who love Indian food.

Shopping

Bali is a treasure trove of fine art and handicrafts, paintings, wood and stone carvings and jewelry; it is little wonder then it is considered to be a shopper’s paradise. Shopping in Bali is also about testing your bargaining skills, the more you can bargain, the more you can shop!

Kuta: The main road is lined with a stream of shops where you can find a wide variety of products ranging from clothes and handicrafts to electronics, furniture and leather goods. If haggling is not your style, you can check out the upscale shopping centers such as Kuta Square and Kuta Centre. There are a number of chic boutiques in the north of Legion Street where you can shop for local designer clothes, antiques, furniture and lifestyle goods.

Ubud: The place is a haven for the art aficionados. You can browse through innumerable art galleries within Ubud and its neighboring villages such as Peliatan, Penestanan and Pengosekan, where you will find an ethnic collection of paintings, handicrafts, jewelry and antiques.

Kamasan and Tenganan: Kamasan near Klungkung is famous for traditional Balinese paintings. Tenganan specializes in producing a special cloth called ‘Geringsing’ which is really unique and is a must buy for those who appreciate finer things in life.

International Car Rental Tips

Need wheels for your next trip abroad? There’s more to consider than driving on the “other” side of the road. From international driving permits to liability insurance, renting a car in a foreign country can be a bit more complicated than renting one at home. Here are some tips for getting a great deal, making sure you have the right documentation and driving safely while abroad.

Booking Your Car
Book in advance. Rental rates are almost always higher at the counter than they will be over the phone or online, even just 24 hours before pickup. If you have time, comparison shop. Visit the websites of several rental agencies and search for identical cars on your travel dates.

Whenever possible, make all car rental arrangements, from booking to payment, before you leave your home country. Doing it this way generally makes the process cheaper, easier, safer and less likely to include hidden clauses. Once you are overseas, shifting exchange rates, unfamiliar rental specs, language barriers and other cultural differences can cause unexpected problems.

Ask about weekend specials, late penalties and gas charges. Many unadvertised discounts and hidden costs will not be explained at the time of rental, and it may be too late by the time you’ve discovered them.

Ask what time a car is expected for drop-off. Many rental agencies begin charging for each 24-hour-period from the time of rental, and will bill a full day for cars returned after another 24-hour period begins.

Be aware that many countries have a minimum and maximum age for renters. Drivers under the age of 25 or over the age of 70 may face surcharges or not be permitted to rent at all.

Whenever possible, if you see an ad for a rental car special rate, clip the ad or write down the promotional code. Many of the best rates do not show up on agents’ computer screens without a little prompting.

Always ask about senior citizen, AAA, credit card and frequent flier program discounts or add-on offers.

When making reservations for car rental pickups at an airport, choose a smaller car than you would typically desire. Airport fleets are often stocked with larger cars, as they are primarily used by business travelers, and you will often receive a free upgrade from a subcompact booking. Be aware, however, that European cars tend to be smaller than their American counterparts; while this might be useful if you’re planning on driving on narrow country roads, it’s not so great for those who are extra tall, carrying a lot of luggage, or traveling with a family or large group. In these cases, don’t take a risk — be sure to order the size you need just in case you don’t get an upgrade.

In many countries, manual transmissions are the norm and you’ll have to pay a premium for an automatic. If you can drive a stick shift, it could save you money and hassles. Driving overseas can often be more strenuous than what you’re used to at home; roads may be poorly paved, winding, or precariously placed on a mountainside or ocean cliff. For this reason, it’s often a good idea to divide up the driving — so if not everyone can drive a manual transmission, consider looking for an automatic. Also, if you’re going to a country like England or Australia, be sure everyone’s comfortable with driving on the left side of the road — it can be challenging!

International Driving Permits
If you’re traveling to an English-speaking country, chances are you’ll be able to get by with an American driver’s license. However, many other countries will ask that you also obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP), which is basically just a piece of paper that translates your information into 10 different languages and is recognized by over 150 countries. If you are planning to rent a car abroad, you may be asked to present one along with your regular state license. You must be at least 18 years old to get an IDP.

There are only two agencies in the U.S. authorized to issue IDP’s: the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the National Automobile Club. Be warned that many other websites sell fakes — don’t be fooled.

Be sure to get your IDP before leaving home, as it must be issued in your home country. An IDP is not a license itself, merely a translation of the license issued in your country of residence. If you are stopped by law enforcement officials abroad, you must present both your IDP and your home country’s license. The only driving record you have, therefore, is within your home country, so obey the local driving rules! Any infraction or citation issued abroad will be waiting for you when you return home.

Check with the consulate or embassy of the country you’re visiting to find out their policies on international drivers.

Know Before You Go
Make sure you have a realistic idea of how much you’ll pay to fuel your car in the country you’re visiting. Generally, drivers in the U.S. pay less at the pump than drivers in most other nations. Leave plenty of room in your budget for gas expenses.

Familiarize yourself with the local rules of the road well before you actually get into the car. Study up on such details as which side of the road to drive on, who has the right of way in a traffic circle and whether you’re permitted to turn right on a red light. The best sources for this type of information are the country’s consulate or embassy, or an up-to-date guidebook.

Check with your auto insurance company to see whether a rental car abroad would be covered under your current policy. Unless you’re a U.S. citizen renting in Canada or Mexico, you probably won’t be covered under your existing policy, so you’ll need to purchase insurance from your rental car company at the time of booking. Be sure that your coverage, whatever the source, meets the foreign country’s minimum coverage requirements.

Don’t forget your map! Particularly if you’re planning on driving extensively, the security of having a detailed road map or atlas is more than worth the price you’ll pay for it. If you own a GPS, you can usually download international maps (for a fee) on your GPS provider website. But remember GPS devices aren’t always accurate; an up-to-date map offers you the greatest protection against getting lost.

Most car rental companies offer GPS rentals; check the GPS rental rates for your rental car before you purchase an international map from your GPS provider. Rates to rent a GPS are charged per day or per week; for a two-day car rental, you will be better off renting a GPS and paying, say, $12 per day than paying upwards of $100 for an international map download for the GPS you already own.

Top 10 Survival Tips for Holiday Travel

Wherever you’re heading, if you’re traveling during the holiday season, you need to realize that everyone else in the world is, too. But don’t let invasive security scanners, terrible drivers and long lines at airports get you down. We’re giving you tips to survive the holiday travel season without a Frosty the Snowman-size meltdown.

1. Do your research.

Plan alternative trips if traffic makes your way home too overwhelming. Is there a scenic drive that might be longer but have less traffic? Break up a long drive by finding a few places to stop that will get the kids more excited than a truck rest stop. When flying, make sure you check the airline’s restrictions ahead of time on carry-on luggage and fees for checked bags.

2. Stay connected.

Stock up on the latest travel apps before you leave home. Flight Status gives you real-time updates on delays, baggage numbers and more, and GateGuru gives you approximate times you’ll spend in security. Heading out on the road? Find the cheapest gas and cleanest bathrooms on the road with GasBuddy and SitOrSquat.

3. Pack light.

Avoid checking bags altogether if you can. You won’t have to wait for your luggage on the conveyor belt, and you won’t have to worry about your mom’s Christmas present getting lost in Logan Airport. If you do check luggage, make sure you have all your medications and important documents and a change of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost. Here’s a family packing list for more tips.

4. Pack earplugs.

Short of doing yoga in the airport, the best way to mentally escape your stressful surroundings is to turn the volume down. And the easiest way to do that is with earplugs. Crying baby next seat over on the plane? Earplugs. Sister’s music in the car driving you mad? Earplugs. And if you really want to check out for a bit? Bring an eye mask (as long as you aren’t driving).

5. Don’t get hangry.

When your tummy growls, your mind can’t think straight, and you could unknowingly get in the wrong line, take the wrong turn, or worse, upset an innocent flight attendant. Pack snacks and drinks, so you and your family will be fueled up for a road trip. If you’re flying, definitely get some grub before you board the plane (check our GateGuru’s Best Airport Restaurants), so you won’t have to rely on airline food if you’re sitting on the tarmac for hours.

6. Ship gifts or give gift cards.

TSA suggests to ship wrapped gifts or wait until you reach your destination to wrap them, as they might have to unwrap a present to inspect it. Ship gifts ahead of time or bring the gift that can’t go wrong: gift cards to their favorite store or an Amazon card.

7. Travel on off-peak days.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year and can also cause you the biggest meltdown of the year. A better option is to leave early on Thanksgiving Day and avoid the record traffic the night before. Same goes with flying: if you fly on the actual holiday itself you’ll be avoiding the long lines and hoards of travelers.

8. Travel early or late in the day.

Flight statistics show that planes traveling earlier in the day have a better on-time performance. And if your flight is cancelled, you will have the option of taking a flight later in the day. Also, there will be fewer lines at security. Best time to hit the road? When every one else is asleep — early morning or late at night. You can always take a nap when you arrive at your destination or on the ride there (if you aren’t the driver, of course).

9. Plan for the unexpected.

Have only a half hour before connecting to another flight? Traveling to Rochester, NY, during snow season? Think ahead and plan accordingly. Leave extra time before flights to deal with security, extra time between connections and, for road trips, pack tire chains for snowy conditions, flashlights, and of course, a few band-aids never hurt either.

10. Inhale. Exhale.

The overly friendly person next to you on the plane, the cancelled flights, the luggage that fell off in the middle of the highway? All of it will make for great stories over dinner when you finally make it to your destination. After all, holiday travel stress is just as much of a tradition as pumpkin pie and regifting.

Nine Things to Do When No One Speaks English

You’ve always gotten by with your high school French or Spanish overseas, but what if you’re in a place so remote no one speaks anything but the local language and you haven’t taken the time to learn more than “hello” and “thank you”?

English is a common second language in many countries, particularly those that see lots of tourists or international businesspeople. But go off the beaten track, and English speakers aren’t as easy to find. In the jungles of Ecuador you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who spoke anything other than Spanish. What if you’re in rural China or Russia, or even a major city in Asia like Tokyo that has very few signs in English?

Below are nine tips that can help.

1. Don’t panic.

Logic and composure are your best friends. You might fret if it’s getting late and you can’t find an ATM or your hotel. Don’t worry; eventually someone will help. Stay positive.

2. Write it down.

Before you leave for the day, ask the front desk or concierge to write down the name of your hotel in the local language, or get a business card with the hotel’s details on it. That way if you get lost, anyone can point you in the right direction, and a taxi (your safest bet at night) will return you to the front door in a heartbeat.

3. Get an app.

If you’ll be using your smartphone abroad, download a translation app. Our favorite is Google Translate, which covers dozens of languages. You can have a local speak into the phone or point your camera at written text, and the app will translate it into English for you. The app will work offline if there’s no 4G or Wi-Fi available. It’s free for iPhone and Android.

4. Buy a phrasebook.

Remember that your smartphone may not work everywhere in the world — and if your battery dies, you may need a backup plan. If you’re headed to a place where power is limited and English speakers are hard to find, it’s worth investing in a phrasebook. Even if you can’t pronounce the words, you can show a local the page of the book with the phrase you’re trying to convey. Many guidebooks also have a list of common words if you don’t want to carry a separate phrasebook.

5. Go to a hotel.

Wherever you are, look for the nearest lodging, preferably a luxury or business hotel (which will be most accustomed to international guests). Hotels almost always have a person on staff that can speak English or will find someone for you who can. In the worst case, you can rest in the lobby and gather your thoughts.

6. Find a tourist office.

As with hotels, tourist offices are used to interacting with international visitors and will likely have multilingual people on staff.

7. Look for familiar franchises.

IndependentTraveler.com Editor at Large Dori Saltzman offers an unexpected tip: “Go to McDonald’s or another chain that you recognize from home. Because these places attract Americans, the staff often will know a little English — and even if they don’t, some of the diners might.”

8. Look for young people.

IndependentTraveler.com Senior Editor Sarah Schlichter recommends reaching out to younger locals: “I’ve found that people in their 20s tend to be more likely to remember the English they studied in school than older folks who haven’t practiced their second language in a few decades.”

9. Draw a picture or sign it out.

Hand gestures, sketches or even just pointing to a map can all get your point across if words fail. Be careful, though; seemingly innocent hand gestures in your own culture could prove offensive elsewhere in the world. We recommend reading up on taboos and hand gestures before your trip at guide.CultureCrossing.net.

Coping with Culture Shock

The main thing to remember is that people worldwide are generally helpful. Remember your charades and try to act out what you need. If nothing else, it will give the locals a good laugh, and when they are laughing they will be more inclined to help