Bali seems like the island that time forgot, left undisturbed by the currents of history that transformed its neighbours. It is the last remnant of the great Hindu empires that once ruled most of south-east Asia, including the territory now occupied by Indonesia and Malaysia. These kingdoms drew their culture and inspiration from India, as well as most of their religious practices, mythology and sacred texts.
Over five centuries ago Islam arrived in the Indonesian archipelago, brought by Arab traders who came to the islands to buy their famed spices. Gradually the local population in Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Sulawesi became Muslim, but the Balinese maintained their original faith. Several independent Hindu kingdoms flourished in Bali and it was only at the beginning of the twentieth century that the last one fell to Dutch colonizers.
Today Bali is one of the most important travel destinations in the world, attracting millions of tourists to the picture-perfect beaches that surround the island. A combination of brilliant white sand, sparkling blue water, and some of the best surfing in the world draws vacationers from around the world.
There is lots to do inland as well. One of the most spectacular sights in Bali are the rice terraces, where green fields cascade down the sides of the hills. The elaborate irrigation systems that are required to water these fields are over a thousand years old, carefully maintained by local communities, temples and village administrators.
Bali’s temples are famous, many built in stunning locations. The Tanah Lot temple, one of the best known, is located on an island just off the coast. As the tide rolls in the only way to reach the temple is to wade through the water, which can be incredibly refreshing on a hot day!
The Uluwatu temple, dating back to the 10th century is perched on the edge of a cliff with huge waves crashing onto the rocks below. Watching the sun set behind the temple is a spectacular sight. As you walk up to the temple through a small forest, you will come across many monkeys hoping to cadge a snack off you! These monkeys are believed to be sacred, guarding the temple against evil influences.
Goa Gajah, also known as the elephant cave is a temple whose exterior is covered with stone carvings of a terrifying demon, meant to ward off evil spirits.
Within the temple complex of Goa Gajah, you will come across tranquil, ancient bathing pools, said to date back to the 10th century. Surrounded by carved stone idols from Hindu mythology, these female figures constantly fill the pool with water. It was once believed that this water was the fountain of youth and bathing here would purify the soul and keep the body young.
Exploring temples, walking on the beach or swimming in the waters is guaranteed to give you an appetite! Try some Balinese cuisine with fresh flavours, locally grown ingredients and a spicy bite! You will taste popular dishes such as Lumpia (spring rolls filled with vegetables and pork), Babi Guling (roast suckling pig), Sate (grilled skewers of meat) and Gado Gado (an incredible salad with crisp vegetables, tofu and peanuts).
Eating freshly grilled seafood right on the beach is a fun thing to do at least once while in Bali! Jimbaran beach is lined with many casual restaurants where you can sit with your feet in the sand, breathing in the spice scented air, while enjoying excellent seafood. And if you need to cool off, you can always go for a quick dip in the water!
Sambal or chili sauce is an essential part of Balinese cuisine. Fresh, house made sambal is always served along with the food for added zest, and is often used in cooking as well. The most popular sambal is made with red chilies, tomatoes, garlic, shrimp paste and shallots.
You don’t have to prepare fresh sambal to make this dish! If you have a bottle of red chili sambal lying around in your fridge, this recipe will come together easily. If you’re nervous about grilling fish, you can pan fry it or bake it instead. Serve it with lots of extra sambal (for the adventurous!), some rice and a wedge of lime for the perfect meal.
Sambal Grilled Fish
1 lb fish fillet, such as Tilapia, Red Snapper or Sea Bass
2 cloves garlic
1/2 inch piece ginger or galangal
1 tsp each: tamarind paste (or use prepared tamarind sauce or chutney), red chili sambal, sugar, turmeric powder, coriander powder
Salt to taste
2 tbsp each: oil, water
1 lime, cut into wedges and 1 green onion (scallion) cut into rounds, for garnish
Pat fish dry and place on a large plate or tray in a single layer.
Combine remaining ingredients (except lime and scallion) in a small blender or food processor and blend till smooth. If you have a mortar and pestle, you can use that to achieve a smooth paste.
Pour over fish fillets and spread all over on both sides. Cover and refrigerate for 2 - 4 hours.
Preheat outdoor grill to medium. Place fish fillets on grill, scraping leftover marinade over top.
Grill for about 5 min per side, turning gently once to cook evenly all over. Fish should flake easily and be slightly browned and crispy.
Scatter sliced green onion over top and garnish with a wedge of lime, then serve.