5 Things You Never Knew About Bali
Featured destinations: Asia, Indonesia, Bali
Published 30 March 2016
We love to discover exciting new things and immerse ourselves in different cultures when we travel; often the surprises create the unforgettable memories.
Bali is one of Indonesia’s most popular islands, with visitors flocking to visit the iconic temples, catch the legendary surf or dive the stunning reefs. But there’s more to Bali than you might expect… Emma Brisdion uncovers the secrets of the Island of a Thousand Temples.
1. Bali is home to the world’s most expensive coffee
In North America and Europe you can find yourself paying in excess of US$100 for a single cup of Kopi Luwak coffee, and it comes straight from the heart of Bali. And you thought Starbucks was overpriced! What, was each coffee bean flown out of Bali in business class, you might ask? Not quite, but the beans have been on a long journey of their own.
The Asian Palm Civet, a cat-like mammal, feasts on the ripe coffee cherries and the beans pass through their digestive system unharmed. This process strips the beans of their bitterness and gives Kopi Luwak coffee its rich, unique flavor. I know what you’re about to ask; many locals actually make their living through getting their hands dirty and harvesting these precious beans, straight from the faeces.
2. One of Bali’s best beaches is covered in black sand
Think of Bali’s paradise beaches and you’re probably imagining gleaming white sands stretching as far as the eye can see. Well instead, here’s one for the intrepid traveller, take a trip down to Lovina Beach to see the shoreline carpeted in black sands. No, it’s not a gimmick or tourist trap, it’s an entirely natural (and absolutely beautiful) phenomenon. The sand comes from the cooled and broken black lava of the Mt Agung volcano, in much a similar way to the black sand beaches of Iceland – just a lot warmer.
3. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Bali is not Muslim
Home to over 12 percent of the world’s Muslims, Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. The people of Bali, however, are predominantly Hindu and follow a Balinese version of the traditional religion with incorporated Buddhist and Animist elements. Bali is a very spiritual island, dotted with thousands of temples – hence its nickname. One of the most spectacular is the Taman Ayun Temple, a postcard-worthy 18th century temple complex, which has recently been listed as Bali’s third UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4. You can visit the healer from Eat, Pray, Love
If there’s a well-thumbed, battered old copy of Eat, Prey, Love on your bookshelf, you might be interested to know that the healer featured in Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel is still alive, well and practicing the ancient medicine-man traditions in Bali. Contemplating career change, relationship quandaries, sheer curiosity or perhaps you’ve always wanted to recreate Julia Roberts’ journey; whatever your reason, Ketut Liyer can be found ready and waiting to heal, just a taxi ride from Ubud. He can’t guarantee you’ll fall in love with Javier Bardem, though.
Of course, there are many other spiritual healers to be found in Bali, so for a deeper delve into the Balinese philosophy (and to side-step the crowds that gather for Ketut’s) you can embark on your own personal spiritual cleansing journey with a local healer. After bathing in the water springs of a holy temple you’ll have the opportunity to ask those burning questions about life, seek advise from minds wisened through generations of healers, as opposed to your friends over cocktails, and learn the ancient rituals and traditions so integral to Balinese life.
5. Bali is home to a vast array of stunning wildlife
Many flock to the island for the ancient Buddhist culture, to catch a few waves in the world-renowned surf or to dive the coral reefs off the eastern coast. Deploy your snorkel and marvel at the plethora of vibrant marine life just below the surface. If, when you return to the beach you find yourselves wanting more (which you will!) then take to the waters once again on a boat trip from the little-known northern part of the island. Here, an experienced local guide will be happy to take you in search of Bali’s wild dolphins to watch a pod feed and play in their natural habitat. If you can bear to set an alarm on your holiday, catch an early boat at sunrise for a truly magical start to the day.
Nature-lovers can fill their days with treks through the luscious jungle to see the coffee bean-eating Civet cats and porcupines, lazy lizards and colourful native birds and, if you’re lucky, come face to face with the magnificent King Cobra.
Take a sunset stroll around Ubud. Let your guide lead you through the evening as darkness starts to fall, and you’ll find your journey illuminated by hundreds of tiny fireflies – not something you’ll see on the commute home from life in the city!