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OCTOBER 9, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 14

Driving Yourself Around the Bend in Bali

Illustration for TIME by Anne Smith.

If Bali is the island of the gods, they are lazy deities indeed, content to sip champagne, revel in the comfort of an herbal massage and never leave their luxurious, palm-fringed resorts. But for mere mortals infected with even the smallest dose of wanderlust, Bali doesn't have to be limited to resort serenity and stillness. The island's famous terraced rice paddies, solitary temples and active volcanoes offer a brilliant backdrop for a simple road trip.

Upon landing at Ngurah Rai Airport, you can take your pick of vehicle rental companies in the Balinese capital Denpasar. Renting a jeep is inexpensive, about $15 a day, a bit more if you hire a driver along with it. Make sure to inspect the vehicle and point out any damage before signing on the dotted line.

Where you go on your wheels is up to you. One option is to steer north first: speed through the clutter of Kuta—no need to stop unless drunken surfers, pushy touts and the Hard Rock CafE are why you came to Bali—and up the hills into Ubud. Only 20 km from Denpasar, Ubud is the island's cultural capital and is home to enough Balinese dancing, painting and carving to exhaust the most stalwart traveler. Shoppers will find silver and precious stones reasonably priced, as well as the requisite sarong (a must-have if you're going to be visiting temples). Besides the many art galleries, Murnies Warung and Kunang Kunang sell quality Indonesian antiques, and Yosim offers unique original Timorese woodcarvings. Ubud is also a great place to eat out, with several cafEs founded by defectors from the kitchens of the island's five-star resorts.

The best road to the highlands and Mt. Batur follows an easterly route, through Tampaksiring. The road winds through sculpted rice terraces and several small villages, including Pejeng, home of a Moon Temple that houses a bronze gong, thought to date back to the 3rd century B.C.

Driving Yourself Around the Bend in Bali
The island's famous terraced rice paddies, solitary temples and active volcanoes offer a brilliant backdrop for a simple road trip

For those looking to delve deeper into Balinese spirituality, many resorts offer classes in yoga or meditation

Short Cuts
As an Indonesian province, Bali often suffers a drop in tourist traffic

Web Crawling
Look no further for an online starting point for your Bali journey

Some of the island's top locales

Travel Watch Archive:
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Further north is the crater lake Danau Batur and the steaming volcano of Mt. Batur itself. The lake is beautiful, but the main reason to come here is to reach the summit of Mt. Batur, from which you can see the green valley and sparkling lake below. The easiest way to the top is to drive through Serongga, a short distance from the lake. From the car park, it's a half-hour climb for the fit to the top of the highest crater, Batur 1 (1,717 m). Watching the sun rise over nearby Mt. Agung is worth the early wakeup call.

Further to the north and west, the road leads to the black-sand beaches of Bali's northern coast. Lovina is a sleepy resort town with access to excellent diving and snorkeling off Menjangan Island, about an hour away by boat. But a better route, if you don't want to backtrack on the return to Ubud or Denpasar, leads south down the Penelokan-to-Klungkung road. About 20 km after leaving Penelokan you'll hit a junction. Turn left to visit Besakih, Bali's most famous set of temples. The main shrine, Pura Penataran Agung, is built on seven terraces and is best viewed from the path that winds around the perimeter wall. The complex is home to 22 separate temples spread out over 3 km, so if you start to feel boxed in, just move away from the main site and you'll soon be on your own.

Templed out? Drive back south and then east toward the coast. For a quiet beach scene, head north to Amed, which has developed very softly, with small, family-run bungalows lining the shore. If you choose to head south, give Candi Dasa a miss. Ten years ago the area claimed a beautiful beach. But developers decided to quarry the tidal coral reef and use the lime for producing cement. The waves quickly eroded the beach, so that the sands now disappear at high tide and are darn ugly at low.

Further down the eastern coast is Padang Bai, a sleepy fishing village with plenty of small, comfortable guesthouses and delicious, fresh seafood: marlin, mackerel and tuna are all available at simple roadside restaurants. Arrive at the beach by 8 a.m. and you can greet the fishermen as they land with their catch. Their traditional outrigger boats, called jukung, are gaily painted with smiling faces that appear as happy as Bali's gods. If the island has had the proper effect on you, you should find yourself making the very same face in the rearview mirror.

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