The island of Bali is truly dreamlike. The jungles are lush, the volcanoes high enough to touch clouds, and the warm Indian Ocean surrounds the gorgeous beaches of the island that offer superb conditions both for surfing and other water sports. “The Island of Gods” is by far the most popular travel destination in Indonesia, and one of the most famous islands in the whole world.
Bali charms its visitors with its uniqueness, cultural diversity and abundance of activities.The island is bohemian, friendly and vitalizing for all senses, whether it is finding your spiritual side, experiencing some of the best surfs in the world or eating the most extraordinary things.
Bali can be without a doubt described as a paradise. In addition to the beautiful landscape, the people in Bali are friendly and the lifestyle breezy. The lucky ones are able to stay in Bali for a bit longer and truly absorb the Balinese spirit and might also be better equipped to handle the Western achievement-oriented lifestyle when returning home.
- Bali as a study abroad destination
- Facts and history
- Bali today
- Geography and Areas
- The best of Bali
- Climate, nature and wild life
Bali as a study abroad destination
In recent years, Bali has become a popular destination for study abroad semesters. Asia Exchange students have praised Bali as a superb location to study at and described the experience they have had there as one of the best of their lives.
Despite being luxurious, Bali isn’t too expensive. Those things you might not be able to afford at home are well within reach at Bali. Your monthly rent for your student flat at your home country can in Bali translate into a villa, with a swimming pool and a cleaning staff.
The largest and most distinguished university on the island is the Udayana University which hosts as many as a thousand international exchange students every year. Asia Exchange and Udayana University started their cooperation in 2009 and Asia Exchange has sent, by now, hundreds of students to Bali from around the world.
Our students come from various fields of studies. The number of courses taught in English is constantly growing, and at the moment, you can take courses, for example, in Economics and Business, Culture, Tourism and the Indonesian language. Many consider the study abroad semester to be an excellent time to explore fields outside their own major as well.
Facts and History
Full name: The Republic of Indonesia
Government: Constitutional Republic
Population: 3,3 million in Bali; 235 million in Indonesia
Capital: Jakarta (Denpasar in Bali)
Area: 5 561 sq km (Bali)
Major languages: Balinese, Indonesian, English
Major religions: Hindu (84.5%), Muslim (13.3%), Christian (1.7%), Buddhist (0.5%)
Life expectancy: 75 years (women), 69 years (men)
Currency: Indonesian rupiah (IDR)
Main exports: oil and gas, electrical appliances, plywood, textiles, rubber
GNI per capita: US $8,420 (World Bank, 2011)
Time Zone: GMT/UCT + 8
Even though evidence of Stone Age inhabitants has not been found in Bali, there were definitely people on the island already during the Bronze Age, 3000 B.C. There are many traditional ways of life that have existed for hundreds, maybe thousands of years, and still continue to be an important part of the Balinese culture. Rice cultivation, for example, a life line for the islanders, was very developed from early on, with complicated irrigation systems and other farming techniques that aimed at ensuring the harvest’s size and quality. In addition, the local arts and culture developed in their own cocoons in Bali, blossoming into a completely unique and rich cultural tradition that is still viable and cherished today.
The first contact with Europeans happened in 1597 when a Dutch explorer Cornelis de Houtman and his crew arrived on the island. The Netherlands surmounted the island during the colonial wars of 1846-1849 and took the northern parts of Bali under their control. The most dramatic event in Bali’s history, though, are the suicides by the local royalty in 1906, the so called ‘Puputan’. The tragic suicides were a ramification of the Dutch crushing the Balinese resistance in the capital city of Denpasar. Even though the royalty in Bali disappeared, the vivid Hindi culture endured; being nurtured and nourished by the robust village communities.
After World War II, Bali became a part of the East-Indonesian Republic and in 1948 a piece of the independent Republic of Indonesia. There is a fair bit of violence and trauma in the Balinese history, as in most nations’ past, but Bali has been able to embrace its best bits and turn them towards the world. The phenomenon of international tourism, which started already in the 1920s, has flourished in Bali for decades, bringing it wealth and stability.
Despite the increasing globalization and the floods of tourists Bali welcomes every year, Bali has been able to cling on to its priceless cultural heritage and preserves it carefully. Hinduism is the most popular religion in Bali and there is no other characteristic that better defines the Balinese people than their own unique version of the Hindu religion.
Still, the island itself has, unfortunately, been mostly associated with surfing, fusion kitchen and raves – based on the typical tourist’s experience of Bali. After only a few weeks on the island, though, a visitor will be able to capture the real spirit of Bali and studying abroad in Bali is an excellent way to enjoy the island in its full scope.
Up to 80% of the revenues in Bali come from the tourism industry. This is both a good and a bad thing. When things are well, the tourism industry creates wealth and employs people, but when there are fewer visitors, all the people completely dependent on tourism have it rougher.
The biggest employer at Bali, however, is not tourism but agriculture. Cultivating rice and coffee as well as fishing and other forms of agricultural employment are immensely important indigenous ways to make a living. In addition, the Balinese art that is being exported around the world creates an important portion of the island’s income.
There are about twenty thousand foreigners living in Bali permanently.
Geography and Areas
Southern Bali – The Holy Grail of Tourism
Kuta and its surrounding areas are by far the most diverse, lively and international holiday spots on Bali. Kuta, originally a little fishing village, started growing when an American couple opened an Inn there in 1936. The airport was completed in 1969, propelling the development of the area further. Today, Kuta is the largest and most happening place in Bali and the right choice for those wanting to live in a place where there are no off days. The nightlife, as well as the day time fun, is always bubbly.
Kuta also features excellent shopping opportunities. There is everything from extensive shopping malls to little street stalls. The best finds from Bali are hidden in Kuta; whether you are craving clothes, music, handicrafts or souvenirs. There are also plenty to choose from food wise. You can find American chain restaurants as well as local, excellent but cheap cafes, restaurants and bars in Kuta. There are also plenty of clubs and pubs with live music and dancing. There is a wide selection of hotels at Kuta that cover different budgetary constrains well, from luxury resorts to home stay accommodation.
Kuta is also famous for its three kilometer long Kuta Beach which is both a superb hang out and an excellent spot for surfing, especially in the autumn. There are different surf schools there, too, and the beach gets good enough waves for both beginners and more experienced surfers.
The norther part of the Kuta area is called Seminyak which is especially famous for its luxurious paradise hide-aways and absolutely delicious food in some of the fanciest restaurants in Bali that alone convince you to spend breakfast, lunch and dinner there.
Denpasar is the capital city of Bali as well as the most concentrated inhabited area on the island. Denpasar doesn’t attract very many tourists due to its land locked location but there are services there not found elsewhere in Bali. Denpasar is worth seeing precisely since it is not one of the tourist beehives and you can easily observe the true local life and street style on its less crowded streets. One of Udayana University’s campuses is located in Denpasar.
Jimbaran, just south from Kuta, is a pilgrimage for fish food fans at night when the catch from the morning is on the grill. Many flock to one of the many seafood restaurants on Jimbaran’s beaches where you can sample the freshest fish and seafood dishes. There are more than 50 different seafood restaurants in Jimbaran, making the selection of venues and dishes absolutely mind boggling. Often you even get to pick which fish you want from the fish tanks at the restaurant. Add the delicious food to a beautiful sunset, cold drinks and live music and you have a night out that is difficult to top. This is a far cry from cup noodles and tuna, and luckily, since Udayana University’s other campus is in Jimbaran, students get to enjoy Jimbaran’s nutritious dishes, filled with those good oils that help you study, throughout their exchange semesters.
Central Bali – Ubud and other villages
One of the most sacred places in Bali is located in Uluwatu. The Pura Luhur Ulawatu temple in the most south west corner of the Bukit peninsula has been built on tall cliffs and is an architectural marvel. The monkeys at the temple are intelligent little pick-pocketers when it comes to unaware tourists bringing snacks to the temple. In addition to the building itself, there is plenty of pro surfers and beautiful sunsets for you to look at. Padang Padang is the nearest beach to Uluwatu and is, dare we say, the perfect beach.
Nusa Dua, in contrast, is Bali’s most high class hotel resort area and entertains its wealthy customers with a large shopping center as well. The beach there is elite, too, and has plenty of water sport activities available for try outs. Dreamland has beautiful golden sand and big waves, as well as some excellent views. All of the above places are about a half an hour scooter ride away from Kuta.
The cultural capital in Bali is the village of Ubud. Even though the village has spread its tentacles to cover a larger area now, it has completely retained its artsy and charming vibe. There are rice fields, local arts and crafts, birds singing in gardens, as well as enchanting little dance performances by the locals. In Ubud, it is also possible to stay at someone’s home for a very modest charge; and the experience is not unlike going on your own homey summer cottage for a weekend.
You can also learn to paint batik clothes, cook Balinese food or try out one of the other traditional islander skills at one of the village’s workshops. There are also different ceremonies taking place quite regularly, including somber funeral parades, on the streets and temples all around the village. In addition to artists’ workshops, art galleries and temples, there are plenty of gorgeous views that overlook the nearby rice terraces. A walk trailing the edges of the rice fields is a must.
There is also a fairy tale like forest in Ubud where hundreds of wild monkeys live and lounge under the forest’s ancient trees. There are two temples in the forest, too, the Sacred Fountain temple and the smaller Pura Prajapati that is inhabited by both real monkeys as well as moss covered statues of monkeys. There is a modest entry charge for the forest area as well as the opportunity to feed bananas to the monkeys.
The shopping opportunities in Ubud are surprisingly plentiful. The artists at Ubud sell their own work, everything from wood carvings to paintings and a multitude of other beautiful little things to decorate your home with. The village is dominated by the central market, a two story building that has fruit, household supplies as well as plenty of souvenirs on offer.
Northern and Eastern Bali – Volcanoes and islands
Northern Bali as an area is drier than the rest of the island. It is known for being the harbor area that was, back in the day, frequented by merchants from Arabia, China and the Netherlands. You can still spot signs of the colonial past in the architecture; many of the building have recognizable Dutch hues. Singraja is the largest town in the North. Lovina is a beach holiday destination where you can witness dolphins taking their morning stroll in the clear blue waters, backlit by the rising sun. There is also the Pura Pula temple in the North as well as the Menjangan Island, one of the best places to explore the underwater world of Bali.
The most popular travel destination in the East of the island is the city of Amed, only recently discovered by tourists and the quickest growing area in Bali. Amed is especially desirable for its stunning landscape and nature. Also the beaches around Amed are much quieter than, for example, the beaches at Kuta or Uluwatu and Nusa Dua. There are also plenty of excellent snorkeling and diving at Amed.
Probably the most famous temple in all of Bali is the Pura Tahah Lot temple. The temple is perched on top of a steep rock that rises straight out of the ocean. The temple is only about twenty kilometers from the capital of Denpasar but absolutely stunning with regards to the solitary views. Check it out during a sunset while sipping a cocktail in the restaurant that provides panoramic views to the whole glory.
Gunung Batur is the most active of the volcanoes in Bali; though ‘active’ is still a strong word for the sleepy giant. The view from the edge of the crater, overlooking the lake in the crater, is magnificent. You can join a guided tour to the mountain, easily purchased in Kuta, or hike there on your own. Pack a pan and some eggs with you; when else can you make a scramble using the steam rising through the cracks of a volcano! There are also some charming villages around the mountain, for example the Kintaman village, resting at the edge of the crater, and Toya Bungkah a bit lower, bordering the crater lake.
Gunung Agung is a holy volcano for the Balinese and rises up to three kilometers in height. Even the beds in Bali are aimed to point at this spiritual landmark. It is very important to understand how to behave at Agung and, thus, it is recommendable to only go on a guided tour there. You can also admire the volcano from the sea if you’re on your way to the Gili Islands.
The small and peaceful island of Nusa Lembongan is only a hop and a skip from Bali. It is the perfect spot for exploring an even deeper level of relaxation. The paradise island is only eight square kilometers but offers accommodation options at every price range. There are white sandy beaches, astonishingly clear blue waters, awesome waves for surfers, as well as some of the best diving in Bali. Cars are not allowed on the island; mopeds take care of the transportation needs. Lembongan is located off the coast of eastern Bali and, thus, offers some spectacular views of the Agung volcano as well. There are three types of boats that travel to Lembongan multiple times a day and the prices range from 5€ – 30€ depending on the speed of your vehicle.
The Best of Bali
Bali is famous for fantastic year round surfing. It is indeed considered to be one of the best places in the world to surf and is frequented by pro surfers. With over forty different excellent surfing spots at Bali, the waves will cater for every level of talent. You don’t need to wear a wet suit here either, the temperature of the ocean hovers steadily around 26-30 C ° degrees. The tallest waves hit the beaches from July to September and that’s when you need to know how not to steal someone else’s wave and wait nicely in the queue. If you’re interested in combining your studies with surfing, you can check out our Surf and Study -page. You can also read our former exchange student’s surfing tips here.
Snorkeling and diving
Bali is also a splendid spot for both snorkeling and diving due to the turquoise waters and very rich underwater culture with plenty of colorful fish and corals; if you’re lucky a turtle or two, too. Snorkeling is easy and everyone can do it, granted they know how to swim. With diving, though, it is recommended you complete a four day course before hopping in on your own. Best snorkeling and diving spots are around Amed as well as on the islands of Nusa Lembongan and the Gilis where spotting giant sea turtles is the easiest. The southwestern island of Menjangan is worth a visit with your goggles, too. There are two different types of snorkeling spots there, one with packs of fish and the other one with blasting Technicolor coral forests. You need to visit the island with one of the park rangers.
The northeastern fishermen’s village of Tulamben has an especially intriguing diving spot. There is a shipwreck of an American USAT Liberty lying at the bottom of the seabed, still only at 30 meters deep and not more than 50 meters from the shore. Getting into the water is challenging, though, since the shore is covered by a black, stony floor. If it is a calm day, you can see the shipwreck even when snorkeling, though, since parts of it are only about 5 meters from the surface.
Trending in Bali, as in much of Asia, are spas. Though by ’spas’ we don’t mean those kid friendly, few heated pools and a steam room -spas but complete serenity, luxury and relaxation. All the high end hotels have their own spas but there are also Day Spas scattered around Bali into which you can pop in for a day of pampering and noticeably smaller pores. The treatments vary from an hour to four hours and it’s always guaranteed me time. There are also very inexpensive options at different beauty salons; mani-pedis and haircuts that won’t leave a gap in your budget, even hour long massages for a few Euros!
In addition to the original Balinese art work, wood carvings and other beautiful souvenirs, Bali has great clothe shopping. A Balinese sarong, a type of wrap around skirt is an essential: you can cover yourself up when visiting temples and use it as a beach towel. Go to the little galleries and street vendors for art shopping; the larger art galleries where tourist groups are taken have gorgeous pieces but are often a bit overpriced.
There are also large, modern, air-conditioned shopping malls in Bali. Kartika Discovery Mall in Kuta and Bali Gallery Mal on the Sunset Road are among the best and feature stores by Guess, Prada and Gucci, along with many other international brand boutiques. The center of Kuta is also an excellent shopping spot for books, clothes – pretty much anything, really.
Nightlife in Bali will not disappoint you, even if you’re used to some quality clubbing. There are different options from surfer and beach parties to nice cocktails and girls in heels. Legian, the high street in Kuta, has the most clubs and pubs – and people. There are also fun spots at Seminyak, both classy bars and chilled out and cheap pubs. There is live music at almost every venue at some point of the day/night. The La Plancha beach party is organized once a month and definitely worth your time if you are in the area. There are also different kind of theme nights in some of the bars, e.g. Ladies Night where a female can drink as much as she wants for the night after purchasing a bracelet at the door.
The traffic at Bali can seem a bit chaotic at first and it is impossible to avoid occasional traffic jams. Getting around Bali is the easiest if you have your own wheels under you, whether it is you or a driver doing the steering. The public transportation in Bali is very cheap but getting from A to B might take quite a long time because of the wiggly routes.
Cars and motorbikes
You can rent a scooter or a motorbike from one of the various rental places around Bali, either for a day or even for several months. One day’s rental costs about five Euros and you can fill up a tank for a Euro. Wearing a helmet is mandatory and the police is especially keen on fining tourists driving around without one. In addition, tourists need to have an international driver’s license which is easy to get from your local police station at home.
There are also cars for rent, both at the airport and at rental shops around the island. A car will protect you from the weather, is safer and also won’t get too much police scrutiny. On the other hand, driving a car is more difficult in the busy traffic than being on a lighter scooter. A popular way to see the island is to rent a car with a driver. These mini buses are very affordable, and the drivers are friendly and happy to show you around the best bits of Bali.
The distances in Bali are never too long so taking a bus is a bit unnecessary unless you’re traveling across the entire island or to another island. Also, the buses usually go through one of the bigger cities and your ride could end up being really time consuming. Furthermore, the buses wait at the station till they are full enough and significant delays from the schedule are not uncommon. ‘Bemoes’ are smaller buses that drive between Kuta and Denpasar areas; they are quicker and a fun chance to meet some locals on the road.
Taking a boat from Bali to the neighboring island of Lombok is easier than flying there. Depending on the boat or ferry, the trip takes from three to five hours. Some of the ferries are in not so good condition so pick one that looks responsible enough. There are several different companies providing transportation from Bali to the Gili Islands; taking a speedboat is the fastest way to get somewhere. Perama –boat company has connections between Pendangbai and Sengigi, as well as between Sengigi and the Gilis.
Climate, nature and wild life
Bali is located near the equator, making the climate there tropical and warm year round. There is a rainy season from October to March and a dry season from April to September. The temperatures stay around 30 C ° degrees on the coast but the temperatures are wonderfully balanced by the cooler winds that blow over Bali at nights. Even during the rainy season the days are mostly sunny and always warm so you shouldn’t factor in the weather too much when deciding when to leave on exchange. If it does rain during the rainy season, the rain only usually lasts for an hour and most of the showers occur during evenings and nights, too.
Due to the tropical climate, the volcanic nature of the island, the rain and the heat, the biodiversity in Bali is remarkable. The rain forests are lush monsoon climate forests but there are also coniferous trees on the mountains. Bamboo trees and coconut palm trees produce edible harvest. Flowers exist in every imaginable color and shade and play an important role in people’s gardens, as well as the various ceremonies in the temples. The Batur Mountain has especially fertile ground and the crater there produces most of the vegetables for the island. The most popular thing to cultivate is rice which has been grown on the island for thousands of years.
The wild life in Bali has suffered due to the growing human population so, unfortunately, the rarest species can live only at the national parks there. There are different kinds of monkey communities in Bali, of which many are semi tame. The most famous monkey area is the Ubud forest but there are many other spots and temple areas inhabited by quite large monkey populations. There are also giant squirrels, ‘barking’ deers, wild boars, lizards and exotic birds at the national parks in Bali. One of the most extraordinary creatures on the island is the cat like Asian palm civet (Luwak). The cat is used at the coffee farms to produce the famous Kopi Luwak coffee. The Asian palm civet eats coffee beans and then defecates them after which the beans are dried and grounded to make coffee. Abroad, a cup of Kopi Luwak coffee costs as much as twenty Euros but in Bali, you can try it out for much less.
The food culture in Bali, like its culture in general, is rich and interesting in its variety. Fresh vegetables, different meats and fish are combined with spices and fresh herbs to create absolutely delicious dishes. Indonesian food in general sometimes gets a bad rep for not being sophisticated enough but Balinese kitchen, in contrast, is world famous. Balinese food includes pork, too, which is different from the rest of Indonesia which is mostly Muslim.
The food in Bali is very affordable. A delicious, versatile meal won’t set you back more than a few Euros, including the drinks. The small local places are even cheaper; a fulfilling meal is priced only at 10 000 Rupiahs, or about 0,60 Euros. There is also Western food in Bali, all the biggest fast food chains as well as restaurants with both pizza, pasta, stake, hamburgers and Indonesian food. The prices there vary but are normally not too expensive (5 to 10 EUR).
Trying out new, local flavours should not be passed up. There are lots of food trucks on the streets, too, as well as small “warung” restaurants that serve rice with side dishes. Many are afraid of getting food poisoning from places too out of the way but usually these are the safest ones. Pay attention to where locals eat, they know it the best. Popular Balinese dishes are, for example, nasi goreng (fried rice with veggies, meat and fried egg), mie goreng (fried noodles with veggies, meat and fried egg), bakso (meat ball soup) and gado-gado (vegetarian dish).
Tourism has taken over parts of Bali but it doesn’t mean there isn’t authentic, robust Balinese traditions alive and well on the island, too. Spiritualism and religion play an important role at Bali and there are temples everywhere: some of them spectacular in size, and some of them smaller, fitting into people’s private gardens – even hotels have little temple areas. Religion and honoring it is showcased throughout the everyday lives of Balinese people; for example by leaving little flower baskets made by palm leaves in front of buildings, along streets and on shop counters.
In addition, there are several holidays in which religion is an essential component. Many things from birthdays to taking out your wisdom teeth are celebrated elaborately in Bali; even funerals are a cause for a proper festivity – after all, it is the time when the spirit of the deceased is bid farewell to. It takes days to prepare for one of the merriments and often the whole village, including visiting strangers, is welcome to join in. The biggest annual festivals are the Galungan and Kuningan. The Balinese believe that the spirits return home during Galungan and return back to heaven during Kuningan, ten days later.
You can exchange your local currency to Indonesian Rupiah (Rp.) at banks, money exchange offices and large hotels. Most often it is most expensive to exchange money at hotels and at the airport. One Euro is approximately 14,000 Rupiahs.
You can withdraw cash from the ATM’s with your credit card. ATM’s are common in larger cities. Pay attention to the currency rates, though. Sometimes when the Rupiah is cheaper it is better to exchange money at an exchange office.
Paying with a credit card is safe at the larger shopping centers and hotels but be cautious in smaller places because credit cards can sometimes be copied. Small stores and taxis only accept cash.
Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and Tetanus-diphtheria are should be kept up-to-date. Hepatitis A is recommended. Malaria prevention medication may be recommended to some travelers, but this can be bought after arriving in Indonesia. Some travelers may also be advised to take vaccinations for Japanese encephalitis, Hepatitis B, cholera and typhoid fever. Find out more about vaccinations from here.
Generally speaking, traveling in Indonesia is safe. Beware of pick-pockets and keep an eye on your luggage.
Even though Indonesia is a seismically active area, Bali is located far away from the boundaries of the tectonic plates. Still, natural disasters cannot always be predicted. Earthquakes or tsunamis caused by an earthquake are, though, extremely unlikely in Bali. When thinking about security, it is good to keep in mind that getting into a traffic accident anywhere in the world is always much more likely than being the victim of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.
Find out more about general safety guidelines at out destinations from here.