Grown from a small artists’ community, Ubud is still known for its thriving arts and crafts, and the town’s relaxed hippie vibe remains strong, a nice counterpoint to the beach parties on Bali’s nearby South coast.
A short drive inland from the island’s southern tip, Ubud is surrounded by lush forest and paddyfields. Relaxation here can be quite active - walks in the countryside, or white-water rafting, for example - or more restful, with excellent massage and yoga in the various independent spas.
The region is well known for its artisanship, with visitors invited to participate in classes as well as browsing the boutiques and markets. There are several interesting galleries and museums, ancient temples just outside town, and dozens of great restaurants. These range from unassuming cafes serving tasty Balinese classics, to fine French dining in the five star hotels; Ubud also boasts a diverse range of accommodation, from quiet guest houses to luxurious spa retreats.
This is where Bali’s reputation as a party island started, with miles and miles of golden sandy beaches backed with hotels to suit every budget. Nonetheless, there are still quiet stretches like Seminyak, with luxurious accommodation set back in the lush undergrowth, and excellent restaurants catering to guests who’d like to dip their toes in the South Coast beach party lifestyle without getting drenched by its less relaxing side.
Bali’s East coast has excellent facilities but a distinct lack of crowds, making it ideal for anyone who’s seeking a little solitude without leaving the stylish hotels and world-class dining behind. The shores here are sandy and beautiful, but the sea can be rough, so it’s more a place for taking a dip in your hotel pool before a day of leisurely strolls amongst nearby temples, and along the spectacular coastline, followed by fine dining on excellent seafood.
Bali’s north coast has a relaxed, exotic feel, with its dark beaches of volcanic sand lapped by gentle ocean waters that offer nice conditions for swimming, snorkelling and beginners’ diving. The pace of life here is slow; there are a few bars and clubs, but generally nightlife is very much low key, with the emphasis on just hanging out - on the beach, or by the pool - after a day spent in the water or exploring nearby temples and villages.
Very much off the radar for most visitors to the island, western Bali has great beaches and lovely landscapes, with a number of National Parks, conservation projects, intriguing old palaces and temple complexes to explore. Accommodation is somewhat limited, but if you see this as a positive sign - that the region remains reasonably undeveloped and off the beaten track - it’s likely that this region will feel perfect.
Balinese culture, well known for its artistic richness, was strongly influenced by Java's Hindu Majapahit empire, whose 15th century artistic elite migrated to Bali, bringing creative traditions powerful enough to sustain right up to the present day. Bali also remains Hindu, while the rest of Indonesia has become predominantly Muslim - meaning, amongst other things, that pork is on the menu, but beef is off it.
Balinese Hinduism has grown with its roots in more ancient local beliefs, infusing the orthodoxy with animism, ancestor worship and a sparkling sense of magic. The island’s gorgeous rural landscape is peppered with over 20,000 temples and shrines; religious festivals and processions are an integral part of Balinese daily life.
This spiritual culture is symbiotic with Bali's sophisticated array of performing arts, which includes famous ritual dances and distinctive musical styles, while the culture’s emphasis on self-care and natural health has resulted in an excellent selection of spas, retreat-style hotels, expert masseurs, and herbalists.