I’d left the best until last for the final leg of my Far East tour – celebrating the New Year on the island paradise of Bali. I was flying in from Jakarta. While they’re technically part of the same country, the contrast between them couldn’t be greater.
The island didn’t give me the best first impression, however. On exiting the airport, standing in the pouring rain, a group of taxi scammers claimed they’ve never heard of the famous five-star hotel I’d booked and when that didn’t wash they insisted it was closed due to bad weather. “Luckily” for me they knew a good hotel where they could drop me off. Unfortunately, lying parasites are ubiquitous wherever naive tourists can be easily targeted, and the “your hotel is closed” scam is as old as the hills. I walked straight over to the official taxi stand, where there’s less chance of being screwed over.
There, queuing just a few places ahead of me, was an arrogant English boy, barely out of his teens, loudly complaining to his obviously bought-and-paid-for prostitute about how everything in Indonesia was terrible compared to back home. The stereotype is that it’s only fat, ugly old men from the West who visit the Far East for sex tourism. The reality is that there’s a diversity of losers making regular pilgrimage to their favourite hooker hotspots abroad.
Eventually, I managed to grab a legitimate taxi. And whaddayaknow the road to my resort hotel was nice and clear, despite the temporarily dreary weather. The Holiday Inn Baruna Bali had its own large and beautiful (almost) private beach and you could easily have spent a week inside the complex and enjoyed the amenities without complaint. I’m sure many do. But that isn’t my style. I like to walk. I love to wander…
While wandering the streets, nestled among the nail bars, massage parlours and souvenir shops, I came across many shops that offered to arrange tours of the island. As it’s far too big a place to explore while walking, it made sense to find one and haggle myself a decent price to join an organised one-day tour of Bali.
Parks and countryside in Bali
I know some people look down upon these tourist-y organised tours, but personally I think they’re a great introduction to a new place and as long as you aren’t getting ripped off, I’m all for them as a useful addition to your travel itinerary. In fact, I liked this one so much, I asked the same tourist shop what else was available and, having gone through the options, I decided to attend what they claimed was a “traditional” Balinese theatre show. Now, I’m not naive and was well aware this kind of thing is specifically put on for the sake of visitors and not the locals. But it’s better to just put your cynicism aside, appreciate the artform and enjoy things.
The show I saw was the “Story of the Barong”. A strange, but somehow compelling, play that tells a classic tale of good vs. evil from Hindu mythology. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it quite as much as I did, but they injected a lot of humour into it and the artists involved clearly love their work and care about entertaining their audience. Even though I didn’t understand a word it was still possible to vaguely follow the plot. To find out more, just search online for “The battle between Barong and Rangda”.
Anyway, those were the main highlights of my time in Bali. I did hang out in the beach bars of Kuta to see how the backpackers live, went (window) shopping in Denpasar, and even got a mani-pedi in a pokey little shop from a super-talented technician – who got a generous tip as thanks for her excellent work. However, the real highlight was spending the transition into 2011 with a candlelit dinner at the beach, kindly organised by my hotel. I can’t imagine a better way to see in the New Year.