The “Real Bali” Bucket List

Explore Bali | Written By, Edward Speirs |

When the world opens up again, there’s no doubt that travel will be at the top of the agenda. Being cooped up indoors for weeks on end will set those feelings of wanderlust alight, a heavy itch with only one remedy: get on a plane!

When that happens, Bali will be at the top of many people’s lists, especially those who have experienced the island of the gods before and are yearning for another taste. However, we at NOW! Bali have a suggestion – use your next Bali trip to discover somewhere new, immerse yourself in the unique offerings the island is known: culture and nature. Here we share a selection of destinations that will give you a true appreciation of ‘real’ Bali.

Trunyan Village

On an isolated shore of Lake Batur, Kintamani, on the opposite side of the dramatic Batur volcano, you’ll find Trunyan. This is a ‘Bali Aga’ village, where Bali’s ‘original’ people reside, continuing a legacy of ancient customs.

What Trunyan is most known for is its burial grounds. Here, bodies of the recently deceased are placed above ground under bamboo cages; skulls and bones of previously decomposed bodies stack the walls and scatter the grounds. There are no big Hindu cremations here, like those found around Bali, as the people of Trunyan retain their more animist roots. Surprisingly, the grounds don’t smell, as a grand Taru Menyan tree (some frankincense or olibanum type), locally nicknamed ‘fragrant tree’, bears the power to absorb the stench of decomposition.

A visit here may sound intimidating, but it is far from that. On the far side of the lake, the atmosphere is peaceful and quaint. You will have to take a row boat from Trunyan Village to the burial grounds, which takes you on a journey along the lake’s edge. The Batur caldera rises high above you, with the caldera walls crawling with thick forest and vegetation.

Visiting Trunyan is a great day trip, showcasing a different side of Bali and a peek into the island’s past. Afterwards, a tour around Kintamani, perhaps for a sunset view of the volcano, tops off the tour. We highly recommend going with Bali Edu Tours (baliedutours.com) who are very familiar with the area.

Bedugul

Whilst Bedugul is on the Bali travel map for some people, it still remains a fairly under-visited destination. Found in central Bali, this highland area is green and verdant, where rolling hills breathe a cool, crisp air. First and foremost, Bedugul is home to Lake Beratan, where you’ll find the ‘floating temple’ of Pura Ulun Danau Beratan. Whilst a hectic spot for tours, the temple area is actually open from 6am, when its quiet and serene. At this time you can enjoy watching the sun rise above the lake’s edge, creating a dramatic pink and purple backdrop to the main shrine on the lake.

Bedugul is also one of Bali’s most fertile areas – many restaurants on the island supply their fresh fruits and vegetables from here. These farmlands offer a unique experience, fresh strawberry picking! Technically found in Bedugul’s neighbouring area, Pancasari, you’re given the opportunity to wander through the strawberry fields and pick the juiciest and the ripest! A great activity for families as well. A favourite spot is ‘Petik Strawberry Segening’, a strawberry cooperative where a whole row of farms left and right cascade up a mountainside with great views.

Another highlight is the Bali Botanical Gardens, an expansive 157-hectare area where open grass areas, pine and bamboo forest, and flower gardens are your natural playground. This is a perfect picnic spot, too. Go for a stroll with friends or family, before finding a grassy area under the trees to set up lunch and soak up the fresh air. Spend the night to really take in the ambience of the area; our recommendation is Strawberry Hill Hotel (strawberryhill.com), a cute and cosy bungalow-style accommodation.

Klungkung Regency

This east Bali regency, wedged between the more popular Gianyar and Karangasem regencies, has long been a thoroughfare for travellers, not knowing the treasures to be found here.

In the 1300’s the Klungkung royal family were in fact the ruler of the island, leaving behind a heritage of art, music and craft in its wake. The best example of this can be found at what remains of the Klungkung Palace, the Kerta Gosa Pavillion, once the court of justice for the kingdom. Built in 1686, Kerta Gosa’s court room is an elevated gazebo with a rectangular table placed in the centre along with six chairs for three judges, who were priests.The ceiling of the halls is its most prized possession, it is an original Kamasan (or Wayang) style painting depicting a story of the Mahabharata epic. In the area you will find artists who continue this historical painting style.

Back towards the coast, you’ll find Pura Goa Lawah, the bat cave temple found in Klungkung. No, you won’t find the Dark Knight’s lair here, instead a well-maintained temple built around a cave filled to the brim with bats. The main prayer area is in fact right at the cave entrance, where the bats hang from the ceiling. At times, pythons can be seen, ready to strike a slumbering bat for dinner.

Just up the road on the beachfront you’ll find Bali’s natural salt farmers. Here you can watch or even try yourself the intricate process of making natural sea salt, done on the soft black sand shores found here. From carrying the sea water on your shoulders to scraping the salt off of drying racks, you can appreciate the hard work these farmers put in to produce this high-quality (and highly sought after) ingredient.

Tenganan Pegringsingan

Found 10-minutes inland from the seaside town of Candidasa, on Bali’s east coast, is Tenganan Pegringsingan Village. Home to the Bali Aga (ancient Balinese) who continue to live life like they did centuries ago.

Tourism has indeed seen daylight in Tenganan Pengrisingan. With that being said, the village still retains much of its centuries-old layout, and villagers, too, still maintain a strict cosmology and social organisation; thus, they must live inside the village and marry from within.

While change has come into the village, Tenganan is still remarkably intact. Culture prospers here, with ceremonies to observe one’s cycle of life and rites of passage commonly calling for colourful cerebrations. In addition to the rituals, the uniqueness of Tenganan Pengringsingan is due to its ongoing survival of traditional crafts. The villagers are known as fine makers of baskets and double ikat traditional woven cloth, as well as calendars that are written on palm lontar leaves.

To avoid just a day-trip to the east, why not luxuriate in the atmosphere of Candidasa; a quaint and sleepy beachfront town, where charming restaurants line both sides of the road.  A great stop off for divers on their way to Tulamben as well.

West Bali National Park

On the far, northwestern corner of the island you’ll find a fantastic natural escape. Bali Barat (West Bali) National Park is a 19,000 hectare protected area comprised of lowland rainforest, dry savannah, mangrove forest and also stunning underwater life.

This is where the sea meets the land as the national park sees a perfect transition between the biomes, from blue to green. The environment here seems different to the rich, dark green landscapes of central Bali, with its more bush-like flora that spreads through the land. Though don’t let its arid nature fool you, there is a treasure trove of animal life found throughout the park.

Firstly, it’s a bird watchers paradise, with 160 species of bird living in the protected area. The most important of which is the endemic Bali Starling, a gorgeous – though critically endangered – species that flutters with its bright blue and white feathers.

Other than that you’ll find plenty of wild deer roaming close to the waters edge, as well as macaques, wild boar, wild bull, large flying fox, and even leopard cats. Underwater the range of biodiversity continues, with 110 species of corals and hawksbill turtles making snorkelling and diving a great activity here. A favourite spot is The Bali Tower Bistro, a restaurant found at the centre of park allowing a bird’s eye view atop the tree-line – from here you can see crested serpent-eagles soar above the canopy.

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