The 1960’s hippy Mecca known as Bali has changed a lot since then but still retains much of its charm. A genuine paradise for backpackers, surfers and recently Julia Roberts, filming on-site for her new film Eat, Pray Love, the sizeable Indonesian island has a flavor for everyone.
Bali is home to the greatest number of Indonesia’s Hindu minority and the islands exudes a symbiotic sense of spirituality and peace with the aromatic smells of burning incense from thousands of small offerings left just about everywhere.
Despite the lax pace of life and laid back spiritual charm of Balinese Hinduism culture, Bali is a vibrant economy and one of Indonesia’s wealthiest regions. This year has been better but the island’s tourism economy has suffered since the 2002 and 2005 terrorist bombings in densely populated tourist areas. With 80 percent of the island’s economy driven by tourism the resulting slowdown in traffic was painful but numbers are back on track with arrivals recovering to and surpassing pre-bombing levels in 2010.
In the last year the value of the Rupiah, Indonesia’s currency, has dropped almost 30 percent against the dollar helping to stimulate a boom in Bali’s real estate market with many internationals snapping up million dollar villas on the cliffs in the South of Bali with jaw-dropping ocean views.
Big money has created opportunities for business owners in the tourist heavy Seminyak region where designer boutiques and fine dining restaurants have sprung up giving travelers a place to spend those all-powerful green backs. And there is no shortage of things to spend money on. The island is renowned for its highly developed craft industry with shops selling Buddha sculptures, glasswork and the odd 15-foot statue lining many of the streets in tourist areas.
Traditionally very south centric, Bali’s tourist hide-aways have begun to envelope less developed parts of the island further from the airport. Of particular fascination is Ubud, Bali’s craft and culture heartland, home to legions of crafts people and photogenic rice paddies.
Despite particular a brand of driving recklessness perpetrated as much by Australian expats with surf board racks on their bikes as locals, renting a car and getting off the beaten path of Kuta beach, Legian and Seminyak is very much worthwhile.
With arrivals returning and a slow down in the tourism boom showing significant signs of thawing Bali seems to be cementing its position as Southeast Asia’s primo getaway destination. Security is still heavy at many of the crème de la crème nightlife spots but there’s no question, Bali is still on top.
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