If you want to have the quintessential Bali experience these days, there are a number of prerequisites. 1. You must get stuck in traffic. 2. You must go to a sublime temple. 3. You must complain to yourself that there are too many tourists. And, 4. You must eat some lovely Balinese food.
We ticked off all these typical experiences in a fun couple of days in Bali.
Our main mission was to see a temple that we'd not visited before – Pura Ulun Danu at Lake Beratan – a mission which allowed us to tick off the first three pretty quickly. It's a 2-hour journey to get there, the first hour of which is spent getting around the congested motorbike hell that is Denpasar, and then you pass into the real Bali – the island of beautiful rice terraces and traditional villages.
The lake itself is gorgeous – a volcanic lake up in the mountains at an altitude that takes the heat off the day, while the temple sitting out in the lake is probably the most photogenic of all Bali's supremely picturesque temples (it even features on the 50,000 Ruppiah note). This being Bali, there were a few too many coachloads of tourists there to share it with us, but the gorgeous scenery ensured that it still retained a serenity that those tourists couldn't spoil.
We then went down to our favourite town on the island – Ubud – a place that gets a little bit more westernised and more commercialised with every visit. We went to a lovely café/restaurant called "Spice" (by the same chef behind the fabulous Mozaik Restaurant), and sat and watched the new and the old Bali collide, as a million motorbikes whizzed by, but were held up by a funeral procession, where the (strangely floppy) corpse, wrapped in a sheet, was loaded onto a cart that was paraded down the street, with all the mourners dressed up in their finery, laughing and joking as if they were going to a wedding.
Our second day was slightly mucked up because a Regent cruise ship had foolishly managed to run aground, so was hogging the port, which meant that we had to spend extra time tendering in and out. However, we managed to get to our old backpacking haunt Sanur (a place, like the rest of the island, that seems to have developed exponentially in the last 20 years, but has just about kept its attractions) – stopping in for some essential servicing (a haircut, a massage and some good food).
Every year that I come here, I question whether Bali is losing its soul – but, every year I come here, I see enough of its traditional virtues to know that it will (just about) stay true to itself.