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There is no place like

by Michael Morcos

Known as “The Island of the Gods”, this paradise offers great beaches, perfect waves for surfing and wonderful natural locations to visit and explore. In addition to these natural wonders, Bali is blessed with gifted artists and colorful ceremonies that will take your breath away.

But Bali is much more than that, and there is something special about the island’s ambiance that is difficult to describe. It has inspired visitors from all over the world and the Balinese themselves have added to this mystique with their warm and welcoming character.

Bali is the most popular and most well-known travel location in Indonesia. It has a large new airport and many international airlines arrive daily, making it a great starting point to explore the rest of the country.

We were in the mood for a bit of luxury and decided to stay at one of the many fully serviced luxury villas in Bali. As usual, there were cooks, maids, and drivers who care for our every need and our hosts truly made sure that our stay was perfect. We were impressed at how surprisingly affordable it was.

There is an unbelievable range of restaurants, spas, activities and shopping to do and it is all nearby and available at very fair prices. In fact, the number of things to do in Bali will astonish visitors and keep world travelers coming back, as Bali is that rarer of places that are both deeply spiritual and filled with fun things to do.

Our trip started with the activities that anyone would associate with Bali – Scuba Diving. Indonesia is world-famous for its diving, and Bali is the perfect place to start exploring in this fashion. Diving here comes in many styles, from ridges and drop-offs to relaxed bommies and shipwrecks, including the magnificent Menjangan natural park and the famous wreck of the USS Liberty. Enjoy coral, tropical fish and even giant Manta rays while swimming in the crystal clear waters of this diver’s dreamland.

For Golfing enthusiasts, Bali is where Indonesia comes to play. There are several internationally designed and professionally managed golf courses, with State of the Art services which allow you to come to the driving range at night. Carefully designed greens, exciting courses with well-maintained putting surfaces, helpful caddies and stylish restaurants are there welcoming you to an unforgettable golf holiday.

For families and others interested in the natural world, Bali features world-class animal, parks. The Bali Zoo is filled with many local and exotic animals, and coupled with the Bali Bird Park & Reptile Park, any animal lover will be happy!

I was particularly impressed with the Ubud Monkey Forest, a unique nature reserve and temple complex whose full name is the Padangtegal Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. The complex houses approximately 605 Crab-eating Macaque in four groups, each occupying different territories in the park. The Sacred Monkey Forest is a popular tourist attraction visited by over 10,000 tourists a month. The Monkey Forest contains the Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal temple as well as a “Holy Spring” bathing temple and another temple used for cremation ceremonies.

 The Padangtegal Wenara Wana Foundation manages the Monkey Forest and maintains its sacred integrity to promote the sacred site as a destination for visitors.

There are many more parks and locations where you can enjoy yourself, including the botanic gardens, hot spring baths etc, and all of them are well maintained and affordable.

All these are wonderful reasons to visit this exotic local, but our trip here was for a specific reason – to visit the Uluwatu temple and witness the Kecak dance.

Bali has hundreds of temples, and though Uluwatu is a small one with not much significance, there was something special about it. Found on a magnificent cliff by the sea, we were amazed with the view while walking around. The area offers acres of walking trails, but we were never tired since there was so much to see. As a funny aside, we were warned to keep all hats and sunglasses in our bags as the monkeys in the temple roam freely and will snatch anything they can get their paws on!

Just before sunset, we walked through the monkey sanctuary and up towards temple. The view out over the ocean was amazing as the waves were more powerful than those of our resort. As we made our way to the auditorium, the sun was starting to set. After an afternoon of walking, with the red cliffs standing out against the blue sky, we witnessed the most astonishing sunset I’ve ever seen. The temple on the cliff, the sunset, the ocean… It was definitely worth the effort of walking all day.

We sat down to enjoy the Kecak Fire Dance is performed in a semi-circular theater that holds almost 1000 people. When we purchased our tickets for the show, we were given a leaflet explaining the dance and that the only music would be made by the 70 person male choir. The performers chanted “ke-chak, ke-chak” rhythmically while they beat their chests, clapped their hands, and stomped their feet. The women were exceptionally colourful and exotic, dancing as counterpoint to the men.

The fire dance is a dramatic retelling of the story of Ramayana, featuring characters like Rama and Sita, the demon king Rhawana, the monkey king Hanoman, and evil giants, all wearing elaborate costumes and carrying out complicated choreography. The physical prowess and the dancer’s athleticism are remarkable.

We found that the artists were quite connected to the drama, and we could see how the repetitive Kecak chant could easily induce the trance like state for some of the men. The drama was well performed with exquisite costuming and the background, the open air theatre, was enchanting. It felt like we were back in the Stone Age! I felt more connected to the cultural life of the Balinese after this visit. It was quite hypnotic and I have never seen a performance quite like it. But don’t leave too soon – you’ll miss the fire kicked around at the end.

The whole experience was quite magical. Spectacular mountain scenery and beaches with warm and friendly people there to help added to the vibrant culture and out of this world resorts appeal through its sheer natural beauty of looming volcanoes and lush terraced rice fields. The dramatic dances and colorful ceremonies, arts and crafts, just add to Bali’s exotic island mystique.