Bali, Indonesia

Sometimes thought of as a small or even tiny island, possibly to give the idea of an almost deserted tropical island hideaway, Bali is larger than many people might imagine.

Compared to neighbouring Java, with a huge area and large cities including Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, or Borneo, it is relatively small, but there are countless Indonesian islands of lesser size.

In Brief

The island of Bali is also a province of Indonesia, some 1100 miles southeast of the capital Jakarta. Bali is covered by a network of varying width paved roads, often winding but easily navigable with some care.

There are many hills and mountainous areas, but dual carriageways exist in most urban areas, as well as along part of the east coast of Bali. Although self-drive car rentals are quite popular, most tourists prefer a local guide to drive them around in a comfortable mini-bus.

Bali is small enough to enable day return trips between most places, but overnight stops should be considered as a more relaxing way to see everything the island has to offer: quiet, virtually unpopulated beaches as well as busy, crowded ones with surfers and jet skis, mountains (volcanoes even), lakes, rice fields and terraces and magnificent views.

Accommodation is varied too, from cheap home-stays, modestly-priced guest house accommodation, right up to five or six star luxury resorts and spas costing hundreds and even thousands of dollars per night. Bali has rooms in every price bracket.

Vacation Rentals in Bali, with or without flight included

For families and small groups, an alternative to staying in a hotel is a vacation or holiday rental. These are usually well-appointed villas and larger houses, ideal for a few days or longer stay.

A popular area is Canggu near Kuta beach, where there are many available property rentals or book a flight/accommodation package; the cost per person will work out much cheaper than staying in an equivalent hotel or resort. Click below to see more and get full details.

The population of Bali is in the region of 3 million, made up of 85% Hindus (unlike the rest of the country which is 85% or more Muslim). Indonesia is the world’s most populated Islamic nation with 213,000,000 inhabitants.

As it’s primarily a tourist location, there is a significant number of foreigners at all times, made up of visitors and long term residents from other Asian countries as well as Australia, North America and various European nations.

What’s in a Name?
(Article reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Dr Bruce Pohlmann.)

For many years and for many people, the name “Bali” says it all – warm seas, soft sands, cold beers, vibrant colors, exotic sounds, friendly people, large smiles, laughing children, a multitude of inexpensive small hotels and home-stays.

This is perhaps more true for Europeans and Australians than for Americans. For Australians, Bali is a relatively short flight over to a world which is different, but not too different, in order to taste something of the exotic and leave inhibitions behind in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne or Cairns.

Europeans, particularly the Dutch, may have read of Bali in school books or heard stories of Bali at the knees of their grandparents, or in the case of some of my friends, spent their early years there in the days of the colonial government.

Americans, for the most part, know of Bali from their introductory anthropology courses or a special on the Discovery Channel.

Bali. A land of wonder and magic set in the warm waters of the Bali Sea and the Indian Ocean. Bali. The tourist-ruined, money-soaked island sucking in foreign dollars for the Indonesian government.

Hand planted rice, homemade religious offerings, vibrant cloths used in ceremonial clothes. Noisy motorcycles, howling dogs, pesky sellers, a glut of guides speaking broken English. 

Gamelan orchestras practicing in the warm nights under a brilliant moon, fishing in a traditional prahu chasing tuna and tongkol, the mystery of a wayang kulit in a village with the children laughing, the men gambling, and the women making comments on their husbands’ performances or lack thereof.

A busload of drunken tourists on a bar hop in Kuta puking out the bus windows, fake gold and silver, more cheap watches than you could wear in a lifetime, the inevitable Bali Belly.

A quiet walk through luxurious ravines teeming with birds and butterflies, the hypnotic chant of the village priest, the cry of the jamu seller in the tropical sunrise, the aroma of sate sizzling over charcoal-filled grills.

Bali. Which one is it? The answer is that there is no answer – it all depends on what you bring to Bali and where you take it. There are foreigners who have come to Kuta and have never left. The excitement, opportunity and midnight rush have seduced them into finding a way to build a life there. Close to the commercial capital Denpasar is Sanur, with nice beaches and many hotels; also just a twenty minute ride from Kuta (once a small relaxed village catering to generally more upscale tourists) a free-for-all ‘madhouse’ of shops, bars, restaurants, hotels or privately-owned guest houses and vacation rentals. Then, too, there are the tourists who come and drink, dance, spend and flee looking for one more country or island to “do”. Accommodation is available in all price ranges as you can see. Click on any property for full details:

Go up through the mountains to the north coast and you can find boredom or bliss. Quiet sunsets on Lovina or Anturan beaches, serene walks in scenic villages. Stop off at Ubud, the fabled center of Balinese culture, and you may find fantastic artists and musicians, thrilling performances of ancient dances and plays, or you may find rabid dogs, muddy pathways, cold showers and down market backpackers and ageing hippies.

Candidasa is a village with beaches, hotels and restaurants on Bali’s east coast, accessible by a new highway, and ideal for a few days diving or snorkelling. Amed is further north and offers much the same.

Have the Balinese sold out? Depends on what you mean. They like motorcycles and tv’s and t-shirts and jeans. Western music is quite popular but so is dangdut, Indonesian pop. The Kuta cowboy knows a few good gamelan songs as well. He is a Balinese ‘muscle/leather macho man’, essentially male prostitute, often with Harley-Davidson or similar ‘big bike’, available for ‘falling in love with’ or at least servicing lonely middle-aged European women in Kuta. 

Is Bali pristine? Is Chicago or London or Phuket? It’s a real place in real time with real people who generally want the little pleasures of modern life. Even in the village where I first settled fourteen years ago, they now have electricity and television and a paved road. Bali is part of Indonesia, and Indonesia is a developing country with all of the developing country problems that you might want to find – incipient pollution, too much traffic, unsafe drinking water and suspect meat and dairy products.

Bali for Foreigners

If you are planning a holiday on the island, tourist numbers are less now than before and there are excellent Bali vacation deals to be had. We can also recommend a first-class Balinese driver and tour guide named Ariawan and you can learn about him and even meet his family at

Bali is wonderful for a break or vacation, but we are ‘on-the-fence’ about recommending long-stay for expat business or retirement in Indonesia (including Bali) for Westerners, especially Christians. However, there are two sides to every story and there are several thousand foreigners of different nationalities living and/or running businesses in Bali, apparently without too many problems.

One area of concern is the Jakarta government trying to impose Sharia Law (strict Muslim moral and legal code, with bans on pornography and the so-called ‘promiscuous’ dress and behaviour of tourists) over the whole of Indonesia. For Bali particularly, this will make life more difficult for the vast majority of Hindu inhabitants, let alone foreign visitors and residents. There is evidence of some anti-Western feeling, particularly towards American and Australian communities, encouraged by local Islamic extremist groups whose actions have already been felt in Bali in recent years.

Photo of author


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