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Kuala Lumpur and Bali

The lure of Bali – mystical, exotic and yet relatively affordable.

Whilst Bali has changed over the last few decades and some areas now have bright lights and cheap alcohol (principally Kuta in the south) there are still large parts of this Indonesian island that are largely unspoilt. Aside from tourism, agriculture remains the predominant industry and throughout the island there are beautiful sloping rice paddies. The farmers still live a very localised existence, and communities have a very family feel to them – often quite literally, since several generations live within the same buildings and pray within their family temples (which are often larger and built at far greater expense than their houses). Religion remains an integral part of life, with rituals seeming to dominate much of the day. Bali is interesting given its Hindu majority, whereas the rest of Indonesian (with its series of archipelagos) has the most concentrated population of Muslims anywhere in the world.

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We decided to make the most of our stop-off and spend a few days in Kuala Lumpur. It fits the bill of a stop-off destination very well, given that the city is easy to get around and relatively uncrowded. We stayed in the Traders hotel, which offers excellent value for money and a great view over the KL 

Twin Towers, which is magical at night. The city centre is modern without being soulless, the underground system is very easy to navigate and Jalan Alor, the street that fills with food stalls at night, is a real eye-opener.

There is much to see in Bali, so we chose a five-day ‘Best of Bali’ tour with Tour East. Tour East were fantastic. We had a driver and a tour guide, the advantage to this arrangement being that we could travel around with all our bags and the driver would remain with the vehicle. Furthermore, we were able to pull over in certain spots with our guide whilst the driver hovered, enabling us to make the most of spectacular vistas, crashing waterfalls and mystical temples. The trip took us to north of the Bali to Menjangan Island, which is a beautiful spot where mangroves meet with the sea. The Mimpi Resort Menjangan was wonderful, peaceful and very Balinese, with two beautiful pools and two natural hot springs. Here we took the opportunity to snorkel and enjoy the beautiful coral reef, which had a greater concentration of fish than I have ever seen by snorkeling before. On subsequent days, we went dolphin-watching in a traditional fishing skiff and what looked to be an unsuccessful early morning start soon became an unqualified success as the pod dramatically made an entrance and we explored the more remote and beautiful East of Bali by visiting Tenganan Village, Goa Lawah and stopped at Klungkung to see the Royal Court of Justice.

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On the evening of day 4, we arrived at the Wapa di Ume Resort, just outside of the famous Ubud, known as the cultural capital of Ubud.  We found Ubud to be overly commercialised, but Wapa di Ume was a little haven from where we explored hidden Bali. We went on a morning cycle along the paths and trails leading down from the volcanic Mount Batur, through sleepy villages, past ancient temples and along leafy lanes through the rainforest that graces the mountain slopes.   In the evening, we enjoyed ‘An evening with the elephants’, at the Elephant Park. Whilst we are not normally one for animal parks, we did think that this one was particularly well done. All the elephants are rescued from Sumatra and come to the park to escape from deforestation. They each have an individual trainer who teaches them all sorts of tricks which highlight the dexterity of these magnificent animals. After a few years at the park, most are released back into the wild in Sumatra, in a protected park.

Knowing that our five day ‘Best of Bali’ tour would leave us a little worn out, we decided that we should end our holiday on a quiet note with five nights stay in the Puri Santrian resort on the coast of Sanur. In truth, whilst there was a Balinese theme running throughout the resort and we enjoyed the relaxing on the beach (and the exceedingly reasonably priced massages), I would not recommend coming to Bali for this sort of holiday, as it was an experience that largely could have been repeated anywhere in the world that has sun. That said, we recommend a few days to wind down at the end of the trip because, whilst the media portrays Bali as a tremendously peaceful place, the reality for the day-to-day Balinese family is somewhat more bustling, even a little chaotic in some cases.

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Overall, we had a wonderful time in Bali. Given its small size, it is a island that can easily be explored in full and without breaking the bank. It may not be the destination for a traveller looking for ground breaking architecture or luxury hotels, for Bali is a relatively simple place, but it does have an abundance of warmth and we found the holiday an uplifting experience.

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