Bali

April 8 2012

My first trip to Asia in five years was basically a return to the last place I had spent any time - Bali. Bali served as a convenient side trip weekend between the intensity of the Australian Lotus User Group and a few days of business meetings in Jakarta. Nonstop flights to/from made it a no-brainer choice, though with all the excitement of the democratic movement in Myanmar/Burma last week, I still regret that I couldn't find my way there. Another time.

My wife and I honeymooned in Bali five years ago, so going back without her was disappointing. I resolved that I was there more on a photography mission than anything else, and on that front I was successful. My Bali 2012 photos are posted here, though the pictures don't quite tell the whole story of course.

I used to think "an island is an island is an island", but Bali changed all that for me on our first visit. Yes, you can scuba/snorkel/sun bathe, but the Hindu Balinese themselves don't pay the water much attention. There are luxury, best-in-class hotels, but there are small bungalows as well. There are tourists drinking to excess and counterfeit goods to purchase, but thankfully these are mostly in highly concentrated areas.

For this trip I stayed at the Bali Hyatt in Sanur. TripAdvisor reviews said the place was starting to get a bit run down, but it was a great location for me and amazing service. The club level "lounge" was an outdoor thatched hut with free wifi, so I was able to Facetime my kids while chowing down on my favorite Indonesian food, mie goreng. I would stay there again.

Image:Bali

I hired a driver through the hotel for two days. I didn't want to do an organized tour, but rather had picked out a few places on my own to visit. On my first day out, I went to the village of Tenganan, home of the Bali Aga people. Some of the tour books described this place as "disney-fied", and it kind of was. But the photos weren't too bad. From there, I went to the water palace of Tirta Gangga. This was really awesome, a collection of sculpture, water features, and vegetation laid out harmoniously. One could even go for a swim there for about US$2, but I passed on that. My third stop that day was also a water palace, the very recently-restored Taman Ujung (mentioned in same wikipedia entry). This was a wonderful surprise, a lush home laid out right near the sea. There was a couple shooting their wedding photos on the grounds, and a few dozen other people, but it was very very quiet.

Image:Bali

In stark contrast, the next morning I set out for Tanah Lot, a temple built on a rock formation along the coast. Tanah Lot is relatively close to the main tourist cities of Kuta and Seminyak, so tourist come to Tanah Lot by the busload. It was ridiculous. I felt nothing special about the visit, and you can't even view the temple itself except from afar. It amazed me how busy Tanah Lot was -- set among row after row of crap touristy merchandise -- and how empty Taman Ujung was, all on the same island.

Image:Bali

So while Bali, like other Asian cities, has too much traffic and too little infrastructure, it offers the possibility of making it your own experience. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend a few more wonderful hours exploring it.

Image:Bali

Link: Bail 2012 >

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