Welcome - or as the Indonesians say,
selamat datang - to Bali. The moment you step off the plane, you will notice something special about the island. Not only is it spectacularly beautiful, it also has a wonderful spirit and amazingly warm people.
Many visitors return time and again to experience this; 2.8 million tourists from all over the world visited the island last year.
It's no surprise that Bali is one of Hong Kong's premier holiday destinations. Although it's just a four-hour flight away, it feels a world apart.
Hong Kong's affection for Bali has a long history. The Kuta bombing in 2002 marred its image as the perfect paradise escape and, for a time, the island fell into decline because of its heavy dependence on tourism for survival.
Today, the Indonesian government and Tourism Bali are working hard to rebuild the island's attraction with a number of new cultural and sports tourism events, including the new BII Maybank Bali Marathon every April and the Biznet Bali International Triathlon in June at Jimbaran Bay.
Bali is back and better than ever - from the mountains to the beach, it has something for all budgets.
Best running spot
Kuta Beach: Bali's most popular beach, covering more than 20 kilometres from Tuban (near the airport) in the south to Tanah Lot in the northwest. A wide and flat beach, it offers the only traffic-free running for those staying in the Kuta, Legian and Seminyak areas. Best early in the morning before the beach crowds arrive, it can be a bit of a monotonous run, as you can see for kilometres, so it's best to bring your mp3 player along.
Tanjung Benoa in Nusa Dua: this area offers the best running in Bali. The tree-lined boulevards and vast open golf courses make Nusa Dua a joy to run around, and both the Bali half marathon and triathlon courses go through this area. Cut off from the hectic residential areas, the Tanjung Benoa peninsula has its own beaches and the main road, Jalan Pratma, has minimal traffic throughout the day, making it ideal for running.
Tjampuhan Ridge in Ubud: The charming mountain village of Ubud is a world away from the Bali beaches, set among rice paddies and rainforest valleys. Avoid running in the Ubud streets, as there are stray dogs that enjoy harassing runners. Instead, hit the trails to one of the valley and ridge lines such as Tjampuhan Ridge. Starting at Pura Gunung Lebah, the Tjampuhan Ridge trail is a step back in time as you pass streaming rivers, ancient temples and the odd curious monkey that you will need to bribe with a banana before they will let you pass.
The main event: BII Maybank Bali International Marathon
The BII Maybank Bali International Marathon took place for the first time this year. It offers full marathon, half marathon, 10-kilometre and five-kilometre events.
The race starts and finishes near the Bali Safari and Marine Park and features a combination of flat road and rolling hills. The first 10 kilometres take place on a highway, after which the course weaves through the small villages, rice fields and farms of Gianyar province. The race organisers scouted out this route after years of conducting a half marathon in Nusa Dua.
The organisers are looking to build the race's international status and have injected big prize money to attract many world-class runners. This year's winner, Lilan Kennedy Kiproo, took home a US$20,000 cheque with a time of two hours, 16 minutes and 54 seconds.
About 2,500 people took part this year, and attendance is expected to grow as the race has been officially recognised by the Association of International Marathons for its organisational standards.
Next year's race is scheduled for Sunday, April 24.
Bali today has an array of activities for those wanting to do more than just sunbathe or shop:
• Get in touch with your wild side at the Bali Safari and Marine Park, a conservation park where you can get up close and personal with orang-utans, Sumatran tigers and leopards. You can take an elephant safari ride or even share your lunch with a pride of lions.
• Kick off your running shoes and jump in a tube as you slide down one of the island's river canyons, stopping only to replenish your thirst at one of the riverside bars.
• Bali's delicious cuisine is divine yet very affordable and fresh: just look for a place that is busy.
You can't go home without trying a
nasi goreng (I had seven in four days on my last visit); it's an ideal pre- or post-run meal of rice with an egg on top.
• Still got plenty of energy? Hit one of the many beachfront club lounges, such as the hip Ku-De-Ta or La Plancha in Seminyak.
Great Strides is part of a series of city running guides by Troy de Haas, a sports travel manager with Flight Centre who represented Australia in orienteering, mountain running and tower running