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Bountiful Bali

BALI, island of the gods, is known for its mortal, and some would say immortal pleasures. You'd think that with all those raving tourists, it would be spoiled, but Cao Qian says it's ever-ravishing

My toes wriggled into the beautiful white sand and I luxuriated in the gentle tides from the warm Indian Ocean: Thus began my first trip to Bali and it seemed a typical beginning to a tropical beachside vacation.

This time, however, the experience was richer, more captivating. The few days I spent there were not long enough to explore Bali, but long enough to understand why so many people around the world find this island ravishing and return again and again.

April to November is the dry season, the prime tourist season. So if you want to join the crowds, it's time to plan.

Bali, or the island of the gods, as it's frequently called, works its way into your heart with a year-round sunny and carefree atmosphere, friendly people, spectacular views, cheap and exotic shopping, unique spa therapies and great food, from fine dining to casual.

Bali, Indonesia, offers water sports, including surfing, water skiing, sailing, snorkeling and diving. Bali is well known for surfing. Huge swells build up and travel north from the southern oceans, wrapping completely around the island; thus, it's possible to catch a swell in any direction.

If you like urban comforts, then Kuta, the so-called tourist mecca of Bali, is a good place to begin. There's surfing during the day and partying at night. The island's No. 1 party zone has a cluster of clubs catering for all tastes.

Sometimes huge commercial aircraft roar above your head as you stroll down the street or sit in a cafe. Kuta is near the Denpasar Airport.

Bali never disappoints even the most discerning romance seekers: It has spectacular views of the Indian Ocean all day long and breathtaking sunrise and sunsets.

There are so many places to appreciate the sun above the water. I went to Uluwatu Temple, one of Bali's oldest, perched on a cliff top at the edge of a plateau 76 meters above the Indian Ocean.

Dedicated to the spirits of the sea, Uluwatu temple is an architectural wonder in black coral rock. Making my way up the steps toward the temple one evening, I marveled at monkeys calmly sitting around, some in my path, ignoring the passing tourists.

Though wild, they are utterly fearless.

Be careful, monkeys do bite, snatch food, sunglasses, caps, bags and earrings.

As the sun slips below the horizon, the world seems to return to its primal tranquility, the vast ocean laps the shore as it has for eons.

Ubud in the middle of the island is the center of Balinese culture, and a magnet for art lovers. It has museums, galleries and workshops in a flourishing crafts center. There are antiques, paintings, wood carvings, textiles, jewelry and crafts from hundreds of shops.

The GWK Cultural Park features the Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue, cast from 4,000 tons of copper and brass. Standing 150 meters, with a wingspan of 64 meters, the statue represents Lord Wisnu, the preserver and protector, riding on the back of the mythical Garuda bird. Traditional dance is performed daily in the 800-seat amphitheater.

Pleasures of the palate abound. A wide variety of food prepared with many spices and condiments is served across the island, offering both traditional Asian and Western flavors. Two notable Balinese specialties are babi guling or roast suckling pig, and bebek betutu, roast duck in banana leaves. Nasi goreng is Indonesian fried rice with a fried egg on top, and mie goring is fried noodles with egg.

Bali bills itself as the spa capital of Asia, and has small salons offering basic massage as well as luxurious spa resorts offering every kind of treatment, including traditional Balinese therapies.

There's much more to discover. I'll save it for my next trip.

What to see

Tanah Lot: The area 22 kilometers from Denpasar combines natural beauty and exotic architecture. Pura Tanah Lot, one of the most famous temples, lies on a rocky promontory from which the sunset is spectacular.

Ubud: Bali's arts center in the cool mountains is an hour's drive from the airport. Paintings, wood carvings, textiles, jewelry, antiques and many souvenirs are offered. Popular are Puri Lukisan Museum, Neka Museum, Agung Rai Museum and Seniwati Gallery.

Besakih Temple: Two hours' drive from airport. Known as Bali's mother temple, this is the largest and holiest of all Balinese temples and the main center for Balinese Hindu pilgrims.Standing against a stupendous mountain backdrop on the southeastern slopes of Mount Agung, the sprawling complex contains 35 smaller temples.

Kintamani: Sixty kilometers from Denpasar. This is where to get a spectacular view of the active volcano Mt Batur and its lake.

Jimbaran Beach: Between Denpasar and Nusa Dua, it's another popular place to watch the sunset.

What to buyFine art and handicrafts, antique and modern furniture, paintings, gold and silver jewelry, wood and stone carvings and textiles.

Getting there

Garuda Indonesia operates four non-stop flights every week between Shanghai and Bali. China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines both run charter non-stops for tourists only. The non-stop from Shanghai to Bali takes around six hours. Many travelers transfer in Singapore or other hubs.

Where to stay

Choices are everywhere. This reporter went to Nusa Dua in the south, 10 kilometers from Denpasar Airport. It's near an exclusive beach and cluster of luxurious hotels. Prestigious hotels include the St Regis, the latest addition.

The St Regis Bali Resort features 79 suites, 42 villas and two residences. It's on the beachfront and offers hallmark English-style butler services.

Butlers can unpack, arrange for laundry, run errands and offer tips on shopping for unique art, for example. They can arrange a romantic dinner in the privacy of a residence. On-call services are included in room rates; personalized butler services cost more.

Kuta, Jimbaran and Ubud are popular and cater for various tastes and budgets.


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