Travel: Rough Guide - Bali: Indonesia's ancients step into the 21st century

Lucy Ridout and Lesley Reader, authors of 'The Rough Guide to Bali', on the land of traditions which is entering the cyberage
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The Independent Travel
Holiest temple

Positioned on the slopes of Gunung Agung, the highest mountain in Bali, the mother temple of Besakih is the most venerated on the island. The site consists of 22 separate temples spread over a large forested area and the most important is Pura Penat- aran Agung, which rises on seven terraces towards the mountain. The entrance is a superb black, split gateway soaring skywards with the mountain standing proud behind. This is the holiest temple on the island and, apart from regular festivals, Balinese people are always praying and making offerings. With thousands of visitors daily the whole place can sometimes seem like a circus, but come early or late to avoid the chaos, or wander among the trees to the further-flung temples and there is a timelessness, a grandeur and a special atmosphere.

Most radical surfing

Desert Point off the southwestern tip of Lombok, is renowned for its classic tubes and its unbelievably long - and fast - left-handers. It's such a remote spot that the best way to reach the break is by chartered boat. Several specialist tour agents on Bali offer Desert Point "surfaris" with food and on-board accommodation included. Desert Point is best surfed from September to June.

Best places to take the kids

You can't go far wrong if you book yourself and the kids into one of Bali's major beach resorts as the soft sands and tropical waters of Kuta, Sanur, Lovina and Candi Dasa all make fabulous playgrounds. But the inland village of Ubud makes a nice change from the seaside and offers a good selection of child-centred activities. The best of these are the kids' workshops organised by an art museum known as ARMA. These include classes in Balinese painting, dancing and mask-carving. The most popular activity is batik painting where kids learn batik techniques, draw up their own designs and then apply them to scarves, T-shirts or sarongs. Several studios in Ubud offer more grown-up batik courses.

Finest food

While nasi goreng (fried rice) and nasi campur (mixed rice) are the most ubiquitous meals across Indonesia, gado-gado, steamed vegetables in peanut sauce, is a real classic. Often supplemented with chunks of bean curd, crunchy fried onions and whole peanuts, the Indonesians add plenty of chillies to what is already a perfect dish to create something that then sets the mouth, throat and stomach on fire.

Least explored region

Sparsely populated, mountainous, and in places extremely rugged, western Bali is rarely explored and yet has some great places. Beaches here are mainly black sand, but spectacular for all that. There's some good surf along the south-west shore, particularly off the village of Medewi. Bali Barat, the island's only national park, is here too, with a handful of decent hikes and the likely prospect of spotting hornbills, black monkeys and wild boars, plus some of the most rewarding reef-snorkelling on Bali. There's an atmospheric garden temple surrounded by forest on the slopes of the sacred mountain Gunung Batukau and a quirky museum dedicated to rice-farming techn- iques, unchanged for centuries.

Cheekiest sign

Bali and Lombok produce huge amounts of art and craft including textiles, wood and metalwork, jewellery, painting, bamboo and rattan wares, and pottery. However, the tourist delight in old items is well known, and "antique" is a description of an old look and finish, which local craftsmen are skilled at creating.

Bonniest baby

Bali is an amazing place for statues; there are thousands in temples, houses and beside the road. They come in all shapes, sizes and styles. However, the huge Buddha statue at a road junction in Sakah is so fresh faced and chubby cheeked with such a round tummy that it resembles nothing so much as a baby. Many religious statues in Bali are draped in a black- and-white checked cloth - strategic draping in this case means that it looks just like a podgy baby in a nappy.

Flashiest cybercafe

Bali has entered the cyber age with gusto and you'll find cybercafes in almost every resort. The fastest, most helpful and user-friendly of these is the Bali @ Cyber Cafe and Restaurant in Legian. As well as all the usual e-mail and net-surfing facilities (at a reasonable 50p per 15 minutes online), you can scan your holiday snaps and send them to friends and family as electronic postcards.

FACT FILE

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Getting there

Besakih is reached by minibus from Klungkung, which is served by regular buses from the Batubulan terminal in Denpasar.

What to experience

The longest established surfari operator is Wanasari Wisata at JI Pantai 8b, Kuta (tel: 0062 361 755588, fax 755690). It will also organise connecting flights if you book from home.

Bali @ Cyber Cafe and Restaurant is at Jalan Pura Bagus Taruna 4 in Legian (tel and fax: 761326; the website is http://sunflower.singnet.com.sg/hchua/cafe.htm; e-mail address: hchua@idola.net.id).

Tetebatu is in the southern foothills of Gunung Rinjani, the highest mountain on Lombok, and is a cool, popular tourist area with plenty of basic accommodation. It is reached by minibus from Pomotong, itself accessed by regular cross-island buses from the Mandalika terminal in Sweta.

Sakah is at the junction of the road north to Ubud and east to Gianyar.

The Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) is located on Jalan Hanoman, Pengosekan, Ubud (tel: 976659).

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