Harvey Nicks on sea, darling

So Bali is full of beaches. But who needs sand when you can go shopping?

BALI'S FAMOUS beaches are something of a myth. The monster waves that draw thousands of surfers to its shores also ensure that its beaches are constantly pummelled into near-non-existence. However, Bali is the place to shop for beachwear. In fact, it is the place to shop, full-stop. Bali acts as a kind of clearing house for many of Indonesia's 13,677 islands. So shoppers with an exotic taste but little patience don't have to undertake arduous bus journeys to find, say, tribal crafts from the Asmat of Irian Jaya or traditional wood carvings from Sumatra.

For cut-price swimwear and surf gear, determined beach bunnies should head to the western-style department stores of Kuta-Legian and Sanur, where they can expect to pay as little as a quarter of the price for Mambo, Quicksilver and other such surf labels. The designer togs in the malls at Nusa Dua and (inland) Denpasar are pricier, but as the Rupiah is sadly in such a pitiful state, you will still not be parting with much. Kuta- Legian is also a great place to pick up garments skilfully designed for western tastes. For example, you can have a neat pair of hipsters made to measure and whipped up within a day.

In east Bali, if you can bear to drag your eyes from the superbly sculpted rice terraces that characterise the Island of the Gods, you will find some of the best spots for craft shopping. Take a bumpy bemo (communal taxi) ride three kilometres inland from the coastal resort of Candi Dasa and you'll find Tenganan village, reputedly the oldest on Bali. Its mossy stone walls conceal two rows of neat longhouses, rice barns, shrines and pavilions, separated by a dirt track which climbs a gentle slope to the temple. This pre-Hindu village is home to the Bali Aga, descendants of the original Balinese people. Until recently visitors were actively discouraged from entering this exclusive village (residents have to be born and marry here), and though there is a determined maintenance of traditional ways, the tourist dollar is now welcome.

Tenganan is a surprisingly hassle-free environment in which to air the wallet and it is one of last places in Bali to make double ikat cloth, a magical fabric where both the warp and the weft threads are resist dyed before being woven. Each piece of double ikat (or `geringsing') takes painstaking years to make, the craftswomen strapped into a wooden loom, and the price starts from about pounds 75 for a small wall-hung piece. Wander among wicker cages of noisy, strutting cockerels, psyching themselves up for the next fight, to explore house after house full of locally made baskets, woven from palm. Also look out for traditional Balinese calligraphy, with the lettering inscribed onto palm strips, just as ancient books were once created.

Above the rice terraces in the centre of the island lies the town of Ubud. Again, if you can drag yourself from the endless temples, temple- style courtyard houses and banks (even the public buildings look good enough to invite fragrant, flowery offerings), there is some serious shopping to be done.

Ever since the island was overtaken by moneyed European drop-outs and artists in the Thirties, Ubud has been a centre for the arts - dance, gamelan (traditional percussive orchestra) but above all, fine arts. Good examples of the `Ubud school' of painting (a rather romanticised notion of village life: topless women working the fields, clad in colourful sarongs, carrying fruit on their heads), can be found in the Neka and Puri Lukisan museums, along with works from traditional and contemporary artists. To ensure a sound purchase spend a few hours in these museums, working out what you like, before being overwhelmed by Ubud's ubiquitous commercial galleries (also crammed with tempting batik, mostly from Java). The Neka Gallery (associated with the museum) has a fine selection of paintings in beautiful frames, but be prepared to bargain hard; there are discounts for cash and the marked price should be used as a guideline only.

Women have long been prominent features in Ubud's art, but as seductive subjects rather than artists. The Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women aims to redress this imbalance. Set up by British-born artist Mary Northmore, this happy place, painted yellow and stuffed full of cushions, is a bustling centre for the island's female art community, currently representing about 40 local and ex-pat artists.

Superb woodcarvings of classical and modern design are also to be found in Ubud and the surrounding craft villages. But a word of warning for those shipping home an entire dining room suite: shipping costs can be more than the items themselves, and wood does not travel well. Harder woods, with an excess of moisture from Bali's tropical climate, may shrink and crack all over your front room. Perhaps we could do as the island's European artists once did, and simply stay in Bali with the beauty, rather than try to take it home.

Traveller's Guide

Visas: Obtaining a visa for Indonesia is straightforward. For stays up to 60 days, visitors with a valid UK passport will be issued a visa on arrival. Proof of onward travel is also required. This permits travel in both Bali and Lombok.

By comparison, applying for a Vietnamese visa is more complicated. A one-month tourist visa can be obtained from the Vietnam Embassy at 12 Victoria Road, London W8 5RD (0171-937 1912). They require a completed application form, photos and a fee of pounds 18. It takes about a week to issue. The visa has to specify your entry and exit dates, including side trips.

Flights: STA Travel (0171-3616262) offers a flight to Bali on THAI for pounds 432 plus tax. Travelbag (0171-2875558) can fly you from Bali to Lombok for pounds 21.10 single. You can also sail from Padang Bai (Bali) to Lembar (Lombok). It's cheap and takes about four hours.

Travelbag also sells flights to Hanoi on Malaysia Airlines for pounds 551 plus tax. Trailfinders can book you a competitive deal with Singapore Airlines. For pounds 522.30, they offer flights and a minimum of three nights in a hotel. Alternatively, one-third of your stay in Vietnam has to be booked to qualify.

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