Road To Bali

Map of Indonesia with Bali and Singapore highlighted

Indonesia is Singapore's neighbor to the south. It's Riau Island group is just across the Straits of Malacca. The closest island, Batam, is only 12 miles away. We can see it easily from the balcony of our apartment. And Indonesia is a big country. It is made up of over 17,000 islands. The largest - New Guinea, Sumatra and Borneo, are three of the six largest islands in the world. Altogether it's land area is about the same as that of Mexico. And it's population of 230 million is the fourth largest in the world after China, India and the United States. Although in such a large country there are many ethnic groups and languages, the predominant people are closely related to Malays and the official language, Bahasa Indonesian, is very close to Malay. I know a few expressions in Malay but I can't tell the two apart when I hear them spoken or see them written.

Now the reason for this story. Sandy had an important birthday coming up this September (yes, the big FIVE OH) so we planned a trip for that week. She picked Bali, an island in Indonesia, as a good place to go to relax and to celebrate. There are lots of nice resorts, beautiful beaches, and it's not too far away. She has had a tough time at work over the past summer so she definitely deserved a break. Nancy, her administrative assistant, had just been on a holiday to Bali recently and really liked it. She gave us some tips on what to see and where to stay.

Entrance to the Intercontinental Resort

85% of the population of Indonesia is Moslem. With its large population that makes it the most populous Islamic country in the world. But Bali is a mirror image - its population is almost 95% Hindu. Besides (or because of) the difference in religion, Bali has its own distinct culture. It is renowned for its highly developed dance, arts and crafts - especially wood and stone carving. The island constitutes one of Indonesia's 33 provinces and its capitol is the largest city, Denpasar. At eight degrees south, the island is about 70 miles wide and about 100 miles long with a population of over three million people. Only two miles to the west is Java, with its 130 million people the most heavily populated island in the world. To the west across a strait is Lombok, another island known for its resorts but not as famous as Bali. To the north is the Java Sea and to the south is the Indian Ocean. The highest mountain on the island is Mt. Agung. It is over 10,000 feet high and is an active volcano. It's last eruption in 1963 killed over a thousand people. The subsidiary peak of Mt. Batur is also an active volcano.

We stayed at the Intercontinental Resort in Jimbaran. The resort is right on the beach and looks out over the Indian Ocean. Jimbaran, just south of the airport, used to be a small fishing village but is now dominated by tourism. There are several five-star international hotels and clusters of seafood restaurants along the beach.

Jimbaran Bay

The resort was beautiful and done in traditional Balinese architecture. It has very extensive grounds with three pools and a number of lagoon areas. The grounds have a very open feel with a lot of space between the hotel buildings, pool areas and restaurants. The vegetation was very tropical but wasn't so dense that it affected the feeling of openness. The entire resort was decorated with Balinese-style statues and water fountains. It is hard to believe but the Balinese seem to be even bigger on water features than the Singaporeans. Although it was a large resort with a lot of people, with so much space guests were spread out and it didn't seem crowded at all. Some days we sat by the pool. Since we had been upgraded to the Intercontinental Club (maybe they knew it was Sandy's birthday?) we were able to hang out at the exclusive pool that had very few people and no kids, at least when people paid attention to the rules. Some days we spent on loungers on a small bluff just above the beach, partially hidden for privacy by the vegetation but still with a nice view over the beach and ocean. Our rooms were very nice but we didn't spend a lot of time there, although sometimes we sat on our balcony overlooking the lagoon in the evening.

Decorative pool at the resort

The beach was great. It was wide and had beautiful soft sand. There was moderate surf and some days the hazard flags were out on the beach, but we didn't do any swimming so it didn't matter to us. The beach curved around the bay for several miles. There are a few other international hotels along the beach but they are quite spread out. And people at the resorts don't actually sit on the beach itself but tend to be on the resort grounds just adjacent to the beach. There were always people walking on the beach though and we went for walks every day, sometimes twice. A ways down from our hotel were some old-style fishing boats that looked like brightly colored canoes. We sometimes saw the local fisherman coming in with their catch. They would throw the small fish from their nets into a bucket to take home or to the local market. When they found a large game fish they would grab it and carry it to one of the seafood restaurants along the beach and sell it to them on the spot. There were two clusters of these restaurants along the bay with one right next to our resort. They are quite famous for the view of the sunset over Jimbaran Bay. They had tables set right on the beach and were always crowded with tourists in the evening. We went out to try them one evening but decided against it. Although the idea of fresh seafood grilled over an open fire sounds good, the cooking is done over a fire of coconut husks rather than wood. Unfortunately this produces quite a bit of smoke and when the breeze dies at sunset this smoke rolls out over the beach and especially the seating area. We couldn't quite convince ourselves that we wanted to have dinner outside under conditions worse than the smokiest bar so we went back to our hotel. But every night the places were filled with tourists. In fact, the restaurants next to our hotel were hit by the terrorist bombing in 2005.

Traditional Gamelan during breakfast

The restaurants at the resort were very good and we ended up eating all our meals there. Breakfast every morning was included. There was fresh tropical fruit, cereal, fresh juices, breads, pancakes, waffles and cooked breakfasts to order. Sandy liked that since she is a breakfast person while at home I usually skip eating till lunch. Our breakfasts even featured live Balinese music or Gamelan. The term Gamelan is actually quite confusing. It technically refers to an ensemble or specific set of instruments for which a piece of music is written, but it can also be used to refer to a group of instruments and musicians (the way we in English use the term "band") or to the style of music written for the ensemble. Complicated. But every morning there was Gamelan during breakfast, in this case a pair of bamboo xylophones. They played an interesting non-melodic but very relaxing type of music known as gender wayang that was very pleasant in the background. It was certainly easier to listen to than to try to explain.

Sandy enjoying a birthday drink while watching the sunset

Later we usually had a light lunch like a salad served by the pool. One day we both ordered hamburgers and fries and they were very good. But then later I remembered that the Balinese are Hindu so I felt too guilty to order a hamburger again (although we did see several McDonald's on the island). For dinner we either ate at the main poolside restaurant where there was a band playing every night, or went to the Italian restaurant which had a great view of the sunset over the ocean. I had a lot of pizza and pasta while Sandy had lobster several nights. And at every meal we had outstanding freshly-baked bread - not usually a specialty in Asia. There was even local wine which was quite a surprise. There are several small wineries on Bali which buy grapes from wine growing regions in Australia and make wine on the island. We tried both a chardonnay and a sparkling wine and we both quite liked the chardonnay. Best of all, Sandy tried the "warm chocolate cake", which turned out to be molten lava cake, and claimed it was the best she had ever had. Since I know how she raves about the molten lava cake at Dan Ryan's Chicago Grill in Singapore, it must have been good.

Happy Birthday Sandy!

Additional pictures

Resort grounds