BALI, Indonesia — If you let your mind run wistfully through a fantasy list of faraway places that have beckoned you to pay them a visit, sooner rather than later this gorgeous island will surely rise to the surface.
For most of us, Bali's name has always rung most of the chimes: romance, unbridled beauty, handsome and happy people dressed in riotous colors, palm trees, pristine beaches where swimming by moonlight washes away any thoughts of another world.
Bali's weaving rivers, docile volcanoes and terraced green rice paddies form a tapestry of subtle colors. Little wonder that the Balinese truly believe their island is a gift from the gods, this island of 18,000 temples.
Balinese have made the classic Hindu-Javanese dance forms part of their lives since the 15th Century. Yet none of the many formal dances is more striking than the sight of a temple procession, often as many as 50 women walking single file with gifts of fruit, cakes and flowers arranged in bright three-foot-high cylinders balanced on their heads, solemn and stately.
Here to there: Garuda Indonesia flies to Bali without plane change, Qantas with a change in Sydney, other airlines to Jakarta for a change to Garuda.
How long/how much? A week at least to really experience Bali. Lodging costs are moderate, dining from moderate to very inexpensive.
A few fast facts: Indonesia's rupiah was recently valued at 1620 to the dollar; always exchange for them in banks for a better rate. Many visitors rent a Jeep for getting around the island, cost moderate. Or flag down and board a bemo, a minibus that plies the main routes and costs a pittance. Best time to visit is May through September, wettest November through April, hot and humid most of the year but sea breezes are a blessing. There's a $5.50 departure tax. Drink bottled water at all times and, all hail, no tipping anywhere!
Settling in: Nusa Dua Beach Hotel (Box 1028, Denpasar, Bali; $75 to $85 double) knocks your eyes out with its entrance alone, twin temple-like towering stone gateways, Balinese style. From then on it gets even better: lobby and public rooms filled with wood carvings, native frescoes, dramatic fountains; dining inside or beside pool; classical Balinese dancing every evening, then a lively disco. There are also a health center, tennis courts and plenty of beach activity.
Tandjung Sari (Box 25; $68 to $83) is a beachside tropical park sprinkled with bungalows of absolute privacy. Bungalow rooms enormous with batik cushions and antiques about; baths with tubs big enough to swim in overlook a private courtyard. A personal gazebo in your garden, pool, indoor-outdoor dining accompanied by the soft sounds of a native bamboo xylophone that caused Anais Nin to wax poetic in her diary. This is the place to get lost and love every minute of it.
Hotel Sanur Beach (Box 279; $65) is another luxury choice, with beach, pool, nightly entertainment and modern rooms with balconies overlooking gardens.
A big step down in price, but not in Balinese feeling, is Melasti Beach Bungalows (Box 295; $35 B&B double). All the beach-resort activities, motel-like rooms with basic amenities, dining room has a gorgeous painted ceiling, huge round tables where you are sure to meet your fellow guests.
Regional food and drink: Indonesian food is a marvelous melange. Some of the favorites: nasi goreng, fried rice with bits of vegetables, meats or seafood; bakmi goreng, fried egg noodles with the same bits and pieces; gado-gado, boiled vegetable salad with peanut dressing, and kerupuk udang, the ever-present shrimp crackers.
Babi guling, roast suckling pig stuffed with Indonesian spices, is the specialty of choice for both natives and visitors, while bebek betutu, duck roasted in banana leaves, runs a close second. And satay, skewered meat served with peanut sauce, is as popular here as in most of the East Indies and Indochina.
Rijsttafel, the most internationally known Indonesian collection of dishes, can be found in hotel dining rooms but seems scarce elsewhere. Desserts are frequently fresh island fruit, jeruk, a tart orange-like juice, sometimes drunk with meals. Light-pilsner Bintang is best local beer.
Moderate-cost dining: Every visitor sooner or later dines at Kintamani (in village of Penelokan) overlooking Lake Batur. Large, ornate decorations of bright batik umbrellas, stone carvings, flowers hanging in great garlands. The noon buffet of island specialties is a formidable array, price about $6.
Abian Srama, a small hotel at Sanur Beach, boasts a 14-course, roast-suckling-pig banquet, plus music, native dances and a souvenir. Tour groups love the place, but the more the merrier. At $6 per it's an excellent value, and as for the souvenir, don't ask.