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Bali has long been equated with an exotic paradise, a picturesque vision of green rice fields and plantations, soaring volcanoes, cool lakes and rushing rivers, lush forests and palm fringed beaches. It is Indonesia's number one tourist destination and as a result suffers from commercialisation and overcrowding, but this is confined to a few main areas. The original charm of the 'Island of the Gods' and its smiling people is still very much in evidence, especially in the many small rural villages and fascinating places of the fertile interior.
What makes it distinctive from the rest of Indonesia is the prevalence in Balinese Hinduism, which incorporates the ancient Indonesian animist conviction that natural objects are inhabited by good or bad spirits into every aspect of local life on the island. Scattered around the island are thousands of Hindu temples and places of worship. It is evident in their ceremonies, daily rituals and attitudes, visible in the offerings of flowers and food that adorn the roadsides, the charms hung inside taxis, and the numerous vibrant festivals that occur throughout the year. It is perceptible in their reverence for the Holy Mountain, the soaring volcanic cone of Gunung Agung, which is the spiritual centre of the Balinese universe. Art is also an integral part of daily life and every village has its artists, from the internationally acclaimed painter to the aspirational young cow herder. Ubud, the cultural centre, with its streets lined with art and crafts shops, also has performances of traditional Balinese dance and music. Art, together with tourism, is an important source of revenue for the island.
With its fine beach, the popular resort of Kuta is the most visited destination, but there are numerous other beach resorts around the island, and many more peaceful settings on the east coast at Candidasa, Sanur and the fishing village of Padang Bai, and on the northern coast at Lovina. There are a number of good diving sites and reef snorkelling close by.
Despite the shock of terrorist attacks a few years ago, Bali is still the tropical paradise of rich culture and beautiful land and seascapes that has attracted those in search of an idyllic vacation for so long; however visitors are still advised to contact their foreign office for the latest travel advice before travelling to Indonesia, and Bali in particular.
Lying just south of the equator, Bali has a tropical monsoon climate with two distinct seasons: wet (November to March) and dry (April to October). The dry season has hotter temperatures, but the humidity levels are much higher during the rainy season. The height of the summer season also brings cool breezes to temper the hot weather. The average annual temperature is about 86°F (30°C).
Bali is the ideal holiday destination for children, and if you look beyond the sun-drenched beaches you'll discover there's a multitude of attractions and activities for kids of all ages to enjoy in Bali. Take the kids to the Bali Butterfly Park in Tabanan, or to discover the Ubud Monkey Forest, or for a more exciting encounter with some of Bali's wildlife, take the kids on an elephant safari to explore the Bali Elephant Safari Park of Desa Taro, north of Ubud. The wonderful forest and parks also provide plenty of open space for kids to let off some steam while the Waterbom Water Park is also the ideal place for kids to spend the day cooling off. Or for a seriously lazy day, pack the bucket and spade and head to any one of Bali's beaches to relax in the sunshine. On days when outdoor activities are not an option, take the kids to see a shadow puppet play - an unforgettable and unique experience.
Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, but many dialects are spoken. English is widely understood in Jakarta and tourist resorts.
Rupiah (IDR) is the official currency and is divided into 100 sen. Foreign currency can easily be exchanged at banks, hotels and money changers in major tourist destinations; US dollars is the most accepted currency. Cash often yields a better exchange rate than travellers cheques, which are not always accepted. It is recommended that travellers cheques also be in US dollars. Most major credit cards are accepted at hotels, restaurants and stores catering to the tourist trade. ATMs are available in main centres. Small change is often unavailable so keep small denomination notes and coins for items like bus fares, temple donations and cool drinks.
The nightlife in Bali is mostly centred round the busy resort town of Kuta, where everything from karaoke bars and pubs to discos and clubs can be found bustling until the early hours. Enjoy sundowners at a rustic beach bar followed by dinner and a pub crawl until the bass lines thump and the party animals start crawling out of the woodwork around midnight. Hot spots include the Paparazzi Lounge or Double Six in Kuta, or the Bounty on Legian Road in Legion Beach area is the place for rockers. Club Peanuts on Legian features a huge open-air disco and there are events like full-moon and half-moon parties taking place frequently - just look out for the flyers. Seminyak also pulsates after dark and countless clubs, bars and sexy dancers can be found. Head to Sunset on Seminyak or Hu'u Bar for a great night out.
Lovina, Nusa Dua, Ubud and Sanur offer a more low-key variety of night time entertainment which is mostly confined to restaurants and hotels but there is always something happening to keep the young at heart entertained.
Many travellers like to stop past the Bali bombing memorial site outside Paddy's Pub, which was destroyed in the 2002 bombings, to pay their respects to the victims. Paddy's: Reloaded was reopened further down along Legion Street and sees many travellers from across the globe coming together for a toast!
Shopping in Bali is much like shopping in any south-east Asian country: there is plenty of fake designer wear and the usual tourist knock-off goods, and plenty of haggling is necessary. There are also wonderful local batik designs, plenty of bikinis, swimwear and surf wear for shoppers to indulge in while in Bali.
In Kuta, the streets are lined with stalls and shops selling clothing, leather goods, pirated DVDs and handicrafts, as well as great art shops selling Balinese crafts. Kuta Art Market, next to Kuta Square, is the place to go for local arts and crafts or for something more western. Discovery Shopping Mall on Jalan Kartika Plaza offers fantastic shopping opportunities with its department stores, cafés, bookshops, home accessories, jewellery and international brand outlets such as Sogo, Guess and Esprit.
Denpasar's 3-storey Kumbasari Market near the river is a great place to shop for clothing and spices while Seminyak is the place to go for trendy boutiques, unique furniture and ethnic chic couture from the corner of Legian Street to Laksmana Street.
For good local souvenirs such as hand-made jewellery or traditional wood and stone carvings, head to the surrounding villages, such as Ubud, where some of the best quality can be found. The Bukit Mungsu traditional market in Bedugul is a good place to find dried spices and coffee, which are also popular Bali souvenirs.
Sightseeing in Bali is a somewhat relaxing undertaking, with many of the island's best attractions centred round the breathtaking beaches, but step away from the sugary white sands and warm turquoise waters to the verdant and tropical interior or the island to discover much more to this popular island than meets the eye. Kuta beach is without a doubt thebeach to go for sun and surf, but plenty others are also worth exploring, such as Legian and Sanur beach, while Seminyak beach is the place for art lovers to peruse the tiny shopping galleries. Nature lovers will have a great time exploring Bali's waterfalls, such as Gitgit and Blahmantung Falls, while the very fit will love a sunrise climb to the top of Mount Batur, or one of the other volcanoes that form the island's peaks. After a long day of exploring, the hot springs of Banjar will rejuvenate tired muscles. See Bali's wildlife up close at the Sangeh Monkey Forest near Sangeh, or the Bird Park in Singapadusuch. For something a little more exciting, book an elephant safari.
Aside from the natural wonders available, Bali has many cultural gems as well. Every village is required to maintain at least three Hindu temples, including the largest on the island, the Nine Directional Temples. Pura Luhur Uluwatu, perched on the cliffs above Uluwatu, is regarded as the most spectacular. There is also a wealth of local art, best showcased in Ubud's museums.
Indonesia spans three time zones. GMT +7 (West, including Java and Sumatra), GMT +8 (Central, including Bali, Sulawesi and Lombok), GMT +9 (East, including Irian Jaya).