Most Pleasant Surprise When the man in the tourist office invited me to stay in his village, I hardly, expected to be sleeping in a royal palace. But it turned out that Anak Agung Ngurah Alit was indeed a member of the Krambitan royal family (these days princes work in the tou rist trade like 80 per cent of other Balinese adults). Like all traditional houses, Anak Agung's home is made up of a series of one-room pavilions set around a courtyard. My guest pavilion had carved wooden doors, a veranda and a huge four-poster bed. Best Nightlife My favourite night-time activity was not drinking fizzy Balinese beer all night in the bars of Kuta Beach - but watching traditional Balinese dance in Ubud. Ubud is the cultural centre of Bali, known for its painters, woodcarvers, and dancers, and on my first research trip I went to a different dance performance every night for 10 consecutive nights. Most of the dancers are young women and they do a lot of emoting by darting their eyes from side to side and elegantly waggling their double-jointed finger s. There's not much leaping around as they wear tightly wrapped sarongs. Second-Best Nightlife Drinking fizzy Balinese beer all night in the bars of Kuta Beach. You can't beat the Sari Club in downtown Kuta for a good, friendly evening out. Stupidest Mistake The first mistake was to believe another guidebook which described a "pleasant walk" between Lakes Buyan and Tamblingan in the central, mountainous area of Bali. The initial error was compounded by my setting of alone, without a compass, telling nobody w here I was going, losing a bottle of water on the way and turning down a local chap who offered to show me the path for Rp1,000 (about 30p). Once in the thick forest I lost first the path and then my sense of direction, wandering disoriented for hours. I ended up staying in the forest until daylight came and I eventually managed to get back down to the lakeside. I arrived back at the hotel filthy and exhausted 24 hours after I had left - nobody had missed me. Most Useful Buy I bought my first Balinese sarong in 1985, and since then have never travelled without one. They're so much less smelly than towels (and smaller to pack) and they make good bed sheets, swim-wraps and, of course, skirts. The sarong is national Balinese d ress - for men as well as women - and they come in thousands of designs from sober classical batik to wacky, modernist colour fests. And best of all they cost around pounds 3 each. Most Unusual Invitation. "You will come to the circumcision," said the guest-house owner on Lombok who had taken me under his wing. I managed to avoid the front row seat reserved for me, averted my gaze at the vital moment but will never forget the howl of pain from the toddler, or the sight of his tiny blood-stained body as he was proudly displayed to the crowd afterwards.
Biggest Letdown Dolphin-watching from Lovina on the north coast of Bali is widely touted as a must-see. In reality 30 or so tourist laden boats chug out in the dawn to try to spot the school of dolphins that for some bizarre reason still frolics here. The ensuring scena rio is mildly comic as one boat skipper spots a dolphin and chases after it, hotly pursued by the rest of the fleet, by which time, of course, the dolphin is long gone.
Favourite View It sometimes seems that volcanoes are 10-a-penny in Indonesia but the view from the rim of the crater of Gunung Rinjani on Lombok is really special. Surrounded by a ring of jagged peaks, the huge crater lake nestles a couple of thousand feet down, shimm ering between turquoise and grey in the shifting light, with the perfect cone of a newer eruption rising out of the water on the far side. It's worth every tortured second of the all-day slog to get there.
Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines, and Garuda International are just some of the international carriers who operate to Bali. Return fares start at around pounds 500. Bali is a very convenient stop-over on flights to Australia and New Zealand. Silk Air (part of Singapore Airlines) flies daily from Singapore to Selaparang airport on Lombok. There are plenty of internal flights between Bali and Lombok, a two-hour catamaran service, or four-hour ferry journey.
What to do
Ubud is situated 13km north of the main Balinese city of Denpasar and easily accessible from the south coast beach resorts of Kuta or Sanur. Expect to pay Rp7,000 (pounds 1.80) for a dance performance.
The Sari Club is on Jalan Legian, Kuta. There is no cover charge and it closes around 3am.
Lovina is on the north coast of Bali, close to the second largest city of Singaraja. Dolphin trips cost Rp10,000.
Gunung Rinjani is most easily reached from the north coast of Lombok and the villages of Senaru and Batu Koq where you can rent gear for the climb, and arrange a porter if you want one for Rp15,000 a day.
Lesley Reader and Lucy Ridout wrote 'The Rough Guide to Bali'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, LondonWC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.