Escape from Budapest to Bali - Part 1. Holiday Heaven: Sun, Sea & Spirituality

  • 16 May 2024 5:37 PM
Escape from Budapest to Bali - Part 1. Holiday Heaven: Sun, Sea & Spirituality
Indonesia’s famed 'Island of the Gods' stakes a serious claim as paradise on earth. Bali’s tropical climate together with its diverse scenery - from lush rice terraces set by volcanic mountains to temples in the ocean and celebrated beaches - all combining to provide an idyllic backdrop to the island's colourful, profoundly spiritual, and vibrant culture.

Bali’s widely accepted as one of the world’s best places to enjoy holiday indulgences in luxurious resorts surrounded by nature’s superior splendours.

The breathtaking beaches come in all types, from warm soft sands with calm waters to rocky spots with magnificent surf waves. World-class diving is a big thing in Bali for those inclined, also the island is well known for sublime waterfalls and even active volcanoes. Plus there is so much more to explore, as Bali is bigger than many imagine.

That’s where this article comes in - and the partner piece which includes getting here cost-efficiently via Java. This guide focuses on practical info about what to see and do in Indonesia, for two weeks or so – including travel hacks, top tips and varied recommendations about where’s a safe choice to stay for an inspiring vacation you’ll passionately remember forever.

Requisite facts next for context and orientation: Bali is home to around 4.4 million people, the Hindu population accounts for about 87% of its total population, and the island is rich with related religious practices, culture and traditions.

For instance, the Balinese people follow a unique calendar system known as the Pawukon calendar, which consists of 210 days. This calendar is used for the many religious ceremonies and community events which you can see all around while you’re there as they’re an integral aspect of daily life.

Australians make up the largest group of foreign tourists in Bali, and overall English is widely spoken by locals. Worth mentioning too is that Indian tourists make up the second-largest group of arrivals. Also, Bali stands out as the most preferred travel destination among Indonesians. It’s fair to say that travellers of just about every nationality visit here, and you can regularly hear Hungarian spoken on the beaches, streets, in shops and in hotels of all types around the island.

Each of the eight regencies in Bali has its own distinct character and appeal, making the island a diverse and engaging destination for travellers of all ages. So next is a quick guide to the key areas to choose between, or combine during your stay to fit your preferences.

Whilst Buleleng in the north is the largest of the regencies - home to Lovina Beach, Bali's 'dolphin playground', and the iconic Gitgit Waterfall - Denpasar, the capital and primary hub of Bali, has the highest population density.

The capital is by far the largest city in Bali, yet it still manages to retain a small-town ambiance despite heavy traffic congestion on its roads. The city is made up of tightly-knit villages, each with historic Hindu temples surrounded by communal family compounds. It's worth exploring Denpasar to see real, uncompromising Balinese life.

Top Tip: Bali’s best location for shopping is Denpasar, as it features everything from lively street markets, vast department stores and plenty of trendy boutiques. Expect the cheapest prices in Bali here for almost everything you fancy as most stores cater to locals.

West of the provincial capital, Badung is Bali's tourism epicenter. It includes popular areas like Kuta, Seminyak, Jimbaran and Nusa Dua, offering a fine mix of golden beaches, dining delights and nightlife action.

The second most densely populated area of Bali is Gianyar, popular with travellers for its artisan traditions and spiritual life. It hosts many top attractions like Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Elephant Cave, many outstanding galleries and museums, and an abundance of wellness opportunities - more on this below.

It's worth mentioning the smallest regency Klungkung, as it features key historical sites such as a Royal Palace (Puri Agung Semarapura), and the tranquil Robinson Crusoe style island of Nusa Penida with its rugged coastline and iconic 'broken beach'.

Located in the east, Karangasem regency is noteworthy as it offers visitors popular attractions such as the water palace of Tirta Gangga, the stunning Taman Ujung, and access to world-class diving spots around Tulamben.

Top Tip: Many return travellers don’t know that to enter Bali now it's necessary to pay a IDR 150,000 (approximately USD 10) ‘Tourist Levy’, as this was only introduced as of Valentine’s Day this year - to be spent by authorities on the “preservation of Bali's natural environment and culture”.

Top Tip: It’s best to print your valid and active voucher (don't try using a previous Tourist Levy receipt) as there are scanning checkpoints when entering Bali. To save hassle you can arrange this online before you go via the Love Bali app or the website, as it’s not advised to pay on the spot at the airport or harbour.

Choosing accommodation close to Denpasar comes with a range of benefits, not least a short ride to your resort from the International Airport, and of course easy access to cheap shopping, museums and all that Bali’s capital has to offer.

First impressions really count while on holiday, and selecting the right place to start your 'stay in paradise' is a central consideration. From its impressive approach with water features and then lofty lobby, to the charming ambience and breathtaking ocean views, The Anvaya Beach Resort Bali is a 5* property that is proven to be an exceptional choice for a heavenly holiday.

The Anvaya - which means connection in Sanskrit - is close enough to easily reach all the action in the capital, yet it feels like a heavenly hideaway given it's direct connection to the seaside. Situated off the Kartika Plaza Road in Kuta, it's only 500 m from Waterbom Bali, and just a stone's throw from the beach. Drawing from the connection concept, the staff here successfully focus on building strong connections with guests.

This resort has all the facilities you may need - including multiple pools, several restaurants and a top spa - with everything blending harmoniously via the inspiring local design. Stepping out of the peaceful ambience of the resort right into the heart of Kuta, you will find vibrant shopping, local attractions and nightlife right by the doorstep. All combine to guarantee you an amazing vacation experience by world-class Kuta Beach.

With a 2.5 km stretch of cream-coloured sand, gentle waves and epic sunsets, it's no surprise that Kuta is one of the most popular beaches in Bali. The (in)famous area offers an array of watersports from parasailing to banana boat trips, boisterous nightlife, vibrant markets, and some of the best resorts in Bali.

The incredible breakfast at at The Anvaya is one good reason to choose to stay here, as this substantial property has the capacity to put on an extensive feast of options every morning. This resort also offers a great range of modern and spacious guestrooms, suites and villas - nearly 500 in total – all with the highest standard of amenities and professional service you’d expect at a top luxury resort.

So very importantly, the hospitality staff here are genuinely friendly too, and are happy to chat about what you like and then suggest what to see and do. For instance, they can help you borrow a bike for free to merrily roam around the local area.

On a ride you may pass the nearby St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, which goes to show how culturally diverse Bali really is - you can also join Protestant services in English while in Bali. You can easily ride to the international airport to see the aircraft come and go - good to point out is that there is little or no sounds of planes back at the resort.

Top Tip: Take a scenic bike ride along the beachfront path, either just to see how much better this property is than the ones nearby, or to visit the nearby shopping malls such as Discovery – where the security guards are ready to take care of the bike while you do a bit of retail therapy. Or take a ride to nearby Tuban Beach, only 500 metres away.

Once you’ve developed a healthy appetite, maybe after a ride, one suggestion is to try a cultural dinner at the resort. Megibung, literally meaning 'food to share', is a local custom which comes from the fundamental value of togetherness in Balinese culture. One evening it's really worth experiencing this popular concept.

Also, Bali is renowned for its traditional dance and music performances, which are an integral part of religious ceremonies and cultural festivals. During a 'Megibung Cultural Dinner' at The Anvaya you will be treated not only to a feast but also a traditional live music and dance performance in the Kunyit Restaurant - as the reviews show it doesn't disappoint.

As you’d imagine the resort has several F&B outlets, this one is an ideal choice to sample the traditional delicacies of Bali and Indonesia, during a multi-sensory dining experience which you can enjoy either in or outside.

The name of this eatery, Kunyit, means turmeric, which is one of the key ingredients incorporated into many of the dishes served within this contemporary Balinese style dining room. Intimate, warm and friendly with interactive cooking by visibly very skilled chefs, this place is available for breakfast and lunch as well as cultural dinner delights.

Here the Sands Restaurant has an altogether different vibe. Orientated towards the Indian Ocean and blessed with one of Bali’s most sought-after views, here you can enjoy Modern Bali influenced Mediterranean and Californian inspired cuisine.

With emphasis on freshness, Sands Restaurant’s all-day dining concept incorporates an open kitchen and marketplace atmosphere - where guests can even arrange to cook together with the friendly chefs. The restaurant’s casual ambience is complemented by its signature walk-in wine cellar featuring both 'New and Old World' wines.

A third F&B venue here provides both sunshine and sunset delights, as the Pool Bar offers innovative refreshments featuring daytime drinks including many mocktails, light snacks until sunset and cocktails ‘til late, right by Kuta beach.

In case you happen to be staying there on Nyepi Day - Balinese New Year - an annual ‘Day of Silence’ - the hotel puts on special activities for guests. That's because this unique Hindu celebration in Bali brings the entire island to a standstill. No lights are allowed, and locals refrain from work and even speaking for 24 hours during this time for self-reflection and purification.

Top Tip: You can happily fit in with the Nyepi tradition by spending quiet time at one of the resort's pools, which remain open - if you need a good excuse to splash-out on a private-pool suite, or even a beachfront villa, then book one to celebrate this special day in luxurious peace and quiet.

After Bali's celebrated beach scene around Kuta, probably the next most famous feature on the 'Island of the Gods' is the scenic terraced rice fields, which not only look lovely they also serve as a vital part of the island's agriculture.

The most renowned ones to see are found in Ubud, you know in Gianyar the second most densely populated area of Bali. Given the area is known as the island's 'Cultural Capital', it's worth going there to stay a while and properly look around.

Perched in the central highlands, Ubud promises visitors an authentic rural slice of Bali. From impressive water temples to rip-roaring cave tubing rides, there are a myriad of things to do around here - a must-do is to visit the incredible waterfalls.

Probably the most physically exhilarating activity to try while in Ubud is to go on a white-water rafting tour, especially during the wet season when there’s plenty of water spilling over the rapids.

Top Tip: While many of the rafting companies provide a buffet lunch at the end of a tour, be aware it’s a budget meal and so you might well prefer to eat back at your hotel or in one of Ubud’s excellent eateries.

Balinese cuisine is a sumptuous blend of flavors, influenced by Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, and Dutch culinary traditions. A popular local dish with meat eaters is babi guling (suckling pig), but there are plenty of veggie and vegan dishes available in Ubud.

On the topic of accommodation, The Samaya Ubud is located right by the river. Hidden in the hills of Sayan village of Ubud, this is a 5* sanctuary for travellers seeking to (re)balance mind, body, and soul.

You simply can’t help but feel at peace within the comfort of the modern classiness, all perfectly designed with traditional Balinese touches everywhere, all set next to such stunning nature.

Set amidst the rolling hills and terraced rice fields of Bali’s cultural capital, it promises a peaceful retreat with first-class Balinese hospitality. The spacious accommodation options include private pools alongside exquisite dining choices, with one of the restaurants positioned perfectly to overlook the Ayung river.

The Swept Away restaurant features a really idyllic dining setting, just a stone’s throw away from the roaring waters. During the day, this unique restaurant provides a casual setting for light bites and refreshments. Once the sun goes down, the setting morphs into an enchanting and romantic affair, complimented by exquisite dishes, fine wines and cocktails.

Top Tip: For the ultimate romantic dinner experience reserve table 61 for the ‘100 Candles Light Dinner’ - which has won multiple travel industry awards and is a proven winner according to feedback, especially from honeymooning couples

On the other side of the resort, Scene restaurant has all-encompassing views of the picturesque rice terraces and tropical rain forest, making it a very pretty setting for everything from breakfast to happy hour indulgencies.

Scene also provides a ‘chef’s table experience’, providing a customised menu tailored to any guest’s specific tastes. For a quick tasty bite the local fried duck dish is outstanding here, and somehow tastes extra special served along with the views of the rolling hills set against a horizon of towering volcanoes.

Mount Agung is the highest peak in Bali, and is considered to be the island's most sacred mountain. Located a little over 100km from Ubud, this active volcano is believed by the Balinese people to be the home of the Gods.

The affordable access to excellent wellness options makes Bali an ideal place for healing everyday stress, and to resent your equilibrium while on holiday. The spa is noteworthy as the relaxing massage rooms also look onto the fast-flowing river.

While the whole island has countless wellness options, Ubud has evolved from its tranquil hippie roots to become a thriving hub for wellness enthusiasts. Yoga schools, meditation centers, and a variety of raw and vegan eateries are plentiful in this destination away from the sea.

Within easy access by car from the resort is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, where you can interact with long-tailed macaques in the peaceful environment of Bali’s lush forest. The forest has about 115 species of trees growing around its 27 acres land. You can also check out the elaborate temples there as you walk amongst some of the 1000 long-tailed monkeys in the area.

Top Tip: It's cheaper to visit the Monkey Forest on weekdays, and it's advisable to stay vigilant and refrain from taking in any food as some of the sacred yet naughty monkeys are expert pickpockets. Also, consider combining your visit here with other highlights in Ubud as this must-see attraction in the area needs only about an hour of your time to completely walk around.

The Elephant Cave is regarded as another key landmark in Ubud, if you go you’ll enter this 11th-century cave through the carved mouth of a demon. Very distinct from other temples in the area, it features many steps - especially if you descend to the Buddhist section, which is truly stunning and worth the effort. Admission to Goa Gajah, as it's known locally, includes sarongs - which are mandatory for both men and women wearing shorts.

Interesting to know, the name Ubud is derived from the word 'ubad' meaning medicine, and refers to the myriad of healing plants found in the surrounding environs. In historical Ubud, people came to heal themselves and meet healers here. Also, the ancient people of Ubud believed that the natural spring water contained the Holy Spirit, and many still do.

The Mengening Temple in the vicinity is highly recommended for a spiritual take on wellness and healing. The ‘Holy Water Purification Ceremony’ is worth taking seriously as it’s said to be truly effective by those who partake. Often not crowded toward the end of the day, the Melukat or self-cleansing ceremony in the water is well worth a try as an inexpensive activity and possibly life changing experience.

Situated on a lush hillside, this temple dedicated to the God of Water was built around the 11th century. Today, people come to pray and collect ‘holy healing water’ from the natural springs.  This Temple has various pools where both tourists and locals go to perform an easy-to-follow cleansing ritual that uses the waters to purify your mind, heart, and spirit.

Top Tip: Take a towel and your bathing costume, and if you don't want to buy a sarong there to wear during the ceremony then take one with you too - as unlike at some other more popular temples you can't hire a sarong here.

It is believed that this cleansing ritual can help remove ‘bad karma’, and many who have been said they feel a sense of being reborn, or at least refreshed from the icy cold water temperature. What’s certain is that UNESCO has designated this temple as a World Heritage site because of its historical and cultural significance.

There are plenty of museums to give you further insights about the special traditions and culture in Ubud, such as Puri Lukisan, Don Antonio Blanco Museum, Neka Museum, and Agung Rai. It’s heartily recommend to visit Penglipuran Village and explore the bamboo forests, see the village temple, and support sustainable destinations like this as part of a wider tour in this part of Bali.

Another way to immerse yourself in Balinese culture is to take a short course with local artists who are more than happy to share their personal experience with you. To find out first-hand how Balinese artists make silver, batik materials, paintings, kites, beadwork, masks, and puppets just as the hotel reception to make arrangements for you. If you love music why not learn a traditional gamelan instrument, and you can also easily take part in a Balinese dance class.

Top Tip: Have breakfast with an Orangutan at Bali Zoo, whch offers various 'signature animals encounters'. It's within easy reach of the resort by car, and you can easily spend a while day there in the lush, well-maintained tropical environment. You also might like to take your bathing costume and a towel as there is a chill-out water area. Overall, it’s a wondrous place worth visiting to see and learn about the behaviour of over 500 rare and exotic animals.

If you’re fond of nature you can go on a morning hike organised for free by the Samaya Ubud. You can walk through the beautiful Balinese landscape accompanied by one of the friendly staff as a guide to see paddy fields and also a local village. You can also explore the area around the property by bike.

Without leaving the property you can learn how to master local recipes during a cooking class. Not only a fun activity it enables you to treat your friends and family back at home to a delicious taste of your trip as you share with them stories and photos of your travels in Bali.

To get them a few souvenirs the Sayan Night Market is suggested since a visit there is an exhilarating experience in itself, where the street-food selection is awesome. Expect to bargain with vendors selling everything from intricate wood carvings and traditional paintings, to counterfeit branded apparel and antique gifts.

To close this episode with a practical tip, The Samaya Ubud offers a free shuttle service to city centre, 24 hours, a day depending on car availability - so there’s no excuse for not making the most of your trip to the Cultural Capital of Bali and all it has to offer.

See part 2 here: Escape from Budapest to Bali's Seminyak + Lombok & The Gili Islands

Follow this link to read about a great escape to Java in Indonesia

Photos by the author + some pictures courtesy of the venues, Flickr and
- unless otherwise specified.

Related links

Escape from Budapest to Java in Indonesia - Part 1: Jakarta, Eclectic Capital of Contrasts

Escape from Budapest to Java in Indonesia – Part 2: Cirebon, Linggarjati, Yogyakarta

Escape from Budapest to Bali - Part 2. Seminyak, Lombok & The Gili Islands

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