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‘Island of Gods’: Bali welcomes more tourists in search of earthly paradise

The island, with its remarkable natural wonders and thriving art scene, has long been a popular choice for visitors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 2:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 4:05pm

Bali is a magnet for sun lovers, adventure seekers and those who just want to get away from it all. It’s just a five-hour flight from Hong Kong, and is also the favoured destination for Australians.

The island’s economy is reliant on tourism and this January alone saw about 460,000 tourist arrivals – a 31.4 per cent increase from January 2016, according to the Bali Bureau of Statistics.

Bali fell victim to terrorism in 2002 and 2005, which affected the tourism sector, but the “Island of Gods” has made a healthy comeback.

Visitors are enamoured by the islanders’ following of the Tri Hita Karana philosophy, which emphasises the connection between God, man and the environment. This philosophy is about harmony and happiness and the Balinese practise this in their everyday life.

Bali Tourism Board is keen to promote community-based cultural tourism. In addition, the island is also keen to emphasise that it has embraced eco-tourism. Budakeling Village is one example of an eco-tourism destination in the Karangasem area in the eastern part of Bali.

Bali Community Based Tourism Association describes Budakeling as “a village of farmers, artists and craftsmen”.

Visitors are also thrilled by the prospect of having a destination wedding in this enchanting island paradise – and there are more attractions.The island’s beautiful natural landscape, Hindu heritage and thriving arts scene make it a unique destination.

Of its 11 mountains, two are active volcanoes – Mount Batur (1,171 metres) and Mount Agung (3,140 metres). The last eruption of Mount Batur was in 2000, shooting ash 300 metres above the crater. In 1963, when Mount Agung last erupted, it spewed ash miles into the air, causing massive delays to air travel.

Apart from nature’s wonders, Bali also has a thriving arts scene. Aptly dubbed Bali’s cultural capital, Ubud is famous for woodwork, paintings and handcrafted accessories. The island’s many art markets are key attractions.

The Ubud Art Market, or Pasar Seni Ubud, is one of the largest and stands as a landmark across from the Puri Saren Royal Palace. It gained further international exposure when Hollywood came knocking on its door for the filming of Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts.

There is also Tihingan in Klungkung, with its many talented producers of gongs and other traditional musical instruments.

The best volcanic rock sculptors are said to be found in Batubulan, a village in the Gianyar area, whose guardian sculptures have often been incorporated into Bali’s traditional architecture.

Elsewhere, the village of Mas is also known for its superb sculptures, furniture and antique reproductions.

Separately, another sort of art comes in the form of dance, such as the Arja dance, an opera-esque performance that dates back to 1820; the refined Legong dance or the Barong and Rangda dance, which represents a war between good and evil – with good triumphing. Adventure seekers are not left out as they can get the thrill of their lives from going white-water rafting on the Ayung River in Gianyar or Telegawaja in Karangasem.

Surf and diving schools are aplenty around Bali, especially in the Kuta area and in the sea of Menjangan Island and Pemuteran, west of Bali.

Bali is also a hot spot for those seeking a spiritual holiday, as there are more than 10,000 shrines, in addition to spa resorts and yoga retreats.

Tourism, however, has left a mark on Bali, with the local government having to deal with mountains of plastic and non-biodegradable waste on an island whose inhabitants only use organic materials.

According to the Rivers, Oceans, Lands, Ecology Foundation, southern Bali produces in excess of 240 tonnes of solid waste a day. But in a show of true Balinese spirit, two local sisters – Melati and Isabel Wijsen – made the headlines last year when their eco-campaign resulted in plastic bags being banned from Bali.