North Americans first became Bali-conscious back in the 1920’s, when ethnographers, performers, and artists flocked to the then-Dutch island in the Indonesian archipelago to study the fascinating and charming ways of its people, and to learn from their ancient and ravishing artistic sensibilities. It has been said that every Balinese is both a born dancer and a born painter. Before children learn to walk they are given bits of colored clay to finger paint with on bamboo mats; and that as soon as they learn to walk they are apprenticed to a village dancing master who will keep them, literally, on their toes for much of their first fifteen years of life.
Today Bali is just as exotic and fascinating, and has now become much more accessible, with airports dotting the island and cruises from Sumatra coming and going every day of the year. When you decide you deserve to treat yourself to a vacation in Bali, make sure to include some, if not all, of the following activities.
Take a Balinese cooking class
An ancient crossroads with countries such as India, China, and Indonesia, the food of Bali is a mysterious and delightful admixture of many cultures — drenched in coconut milk, five star powder, galangal, saffron, and all the abundance of the nearby ocean. Coconut shrimp was a staple in a cooking class Bali long before it ever burst upon the restaurant scene in the West. Jugged fish, lightly fermented and loaded with exotic spices, is an island specialty that until recently was banned from being exported. Most of the major hotels on Bali offer cooking classes on the side, where you can learn how to make a fish head broth that is to die for and create castles of rice draped with a dozen different kinds of curry — a traditional dinner much beloved by the early Dutch settlers, whose descendents still meet together every July 26th, Dutch Independence Day, to feast on this savory and substantial dish. The best part of taking a Balinese cooking class, of course, is that even your mistakes are going to taste fabulous!
Surf the west coast of Bali
If you’re into surfing, or want to learn how to surf, the west coast of Bali during the dry season (April through October) is one of the best surfing venues in the world. And it’s still relatively unknown, so it stays uncrowded. There are surf shops and small hotels up and down the west coast where you can purchase or rent inexpensive surfboards hand-crafted from mangrove wood. Classes are cheap, usually a dollar per lesson, and experienced surfers say the waves during the dry season are equal to, if not better, than the waves at Oahu beach in Hawaii.
A Balinese spa treatment is unique
That’s because they wrap you in steamed pandanmus leaves and place you on a bed of pure sea salt for hours at a time. Those who have experienced this luxuriant treatment claim it melts away stiffness and cramps, and then induces a mild euphoria that’s like floating away from all your cares on a fragrant jasmine raft.