Beautiful Bali

I spent a few weeks in Bali and was constantly floored at how beautiful it was. From cute villages, impossibly green rice paddies, floating temples, and active volcanos there was so much to see. Hopefully this list will inspire you to visit Bali or at least let you appreciate it from afar.

1 – Gitgit Twin Falls

Located in the center of Bali, the Gitgit Twin Falls are an incredible natural wonder. Be careful though, as many stone paths are wet and can get very slippery. If you visit the falls, make sure to ask your guide what time there will be few tourists. My guide brought me early and it was nearly empty but apparently the place can get overrun by tour busses later in the day.

A local kid runs past as I set up a shot.

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In Bali everyone asks where my wife is and they get genuinely worried for me / disturbed when they find out I’m single at 29 years old. The same thing happened to my friend and we are already tiring of it. I decided to be jokingly “married” for the day – that made everything much easier. As an added bonus, I was able to get pesky local tour guides off our backs by saying “We want to spend time alone on our honeymoon”. We always got big smiles and waves instead of pushy sales people. I’ve since used this tactic at many tourist sites, it usually works wonders!

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Despite the very shallow water these Balinese teenagers were having the time of their lives.

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The top waterfall. The entire cavern is completely misty and you’ll quickly find yourself soaking wet if you stand there for more than a minute. If you don’t mind stepping through some water you can get away from tourists completely in a small alcove to the right of the waterfall. I spent half an hour relaxing there before I decided to pack up.

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This German woman was stopping every 20 feet on the path with hilariously over the top poses and her husband was eating it up. I imagine she is in 95% of his trip photos.

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2 – Pura Tanah Lot

A very overcrowded tourist spot but definitely worth visiting. Western Bali has spectacular sunsets almost every night and these sunsets fall over a beautiful beach with a temple built in the 15th century on a natural rock formation in the sea. If you arrive early you can get a cliffside view at one of the many restaurants in the area. I opted to walk down to the beach itself.

As I pulled up to Tanah Lot the sky looked like a fire breathing flying Chinese dragon and I knew I was in for a special sunset.

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Hundreds flocked to the beach to see the sun set over the beautiful sacred temple in the water. Some went past the temple to sit on the wave-soaked rocks to get a tourist-free view of the sunset itself.

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A wide silhouette of the temple showing the beautiful beach and conveniently hiding the hoards of people in front of it.

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While everyone was shooting the Tanah Lot temple in the water I was photographing silhouettes.

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A local stands on a drenched rock to catch the last moments of the Tanah Lot sunset.

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3 – Pura Tirta Empul – Temple of the Holy Water

Pura Tirta Empul was built in 926 AD and was believed to have been created by the god Indra himself when his forces were poisoned. Indra pierced the earth to create a fountain of immortality to revive them. Ever since the Balinese have visited this holy site for healing and prayer. The temple includes shrines to Shiva, Braham, Indra, and Vishnu but the most interesting is the large pool in the center of the temple where the spring gushes forth. Visitors make an offering at the temple and then climb into a pool fed by this spring to pray and some people even take some holy water home in bottles.
This old sign tells visitors in Indonesian and Balinese to not use soap like shampoo or toothpaste, to not go in naked, and not to wash laundry in the water. I don’t understand the rest.

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12 fountains come from the spring. People make offerings at each before praying and washing in the water.

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Balinese women bathing in the fountains.

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The beautiful main pool on a rainy day, you can see the black soil churning as water comes up from the spring. The place truly felt magical.

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One of the nearby shrines.

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4 – Gunung Batur and Danau Kintamani

Gunung Batur is a the most active volcano in Bali. Most tourists view it from afar but I loved it so much I stayed the night on the lake at the base of the volcano, woke up before sunrise, and spent hours photographing the lake and taking in all of the beauty. There wasn’t a spectacular sunrise but the view was truly mesmerizing.

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There is a (touristy) restaurant with a beautiful view of the volcano. If you go, make sure to be seated facing it or it somewhat defeats the purpose.

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The Kedisan floating restaurant on Lake Kintamani.

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Gunung Batur over Danau Kintamani.

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A small floating fishing shack early in the morning.

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A view just outside my room.

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A similar view. The water was extremely still just after sunrise.

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5 – The Rice Paddy walk north of Ubud

I always ask the locals where the best food is and many of them told me to visit Sari Organik which is located in the middle of a series of rice paddies north of Ubud. It’s a 10 minute walk to the restaurant and most tourists walk back to town when they are done eating. Curious about what lay beyond, I walked further and spent hours climbing higher and higher through terraced paddies, met many incredible locals who were working the fields, and saw many beautiful animals and insects along the way. If you are in Ubud for a few days I highly recommend both Sari Organik and the multi-hour rice paddy walk past it.

A girl with fragrant frangipani in her hair works the fields as it begins to rain.

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I spent 5 hours trekking through rice paddies and met Gusti along the way. I spent some time practicing my Indonesian with him and learned that he was born less than 1 mile away in the rice paddies and still lives there. From what I could understand in Indonesian he owns a number of cows that he sells to Java, ducks that he sells locally in Ubud, and harvests rice and coconuts for a living. I told him I wanted to move to Bali and he told me he would sell me some ducks to raise. Awesome.

In true Balinese fashion he looked at the woman I was traveling with and said “Beautiful woman, is she your girlfriend?”. I told him no, we are just friends. He seemed upset so I quickly and jokingly corrected my response: “not yet”. At that Gusti gave me the thumbs up and we both had a hearty laugh.

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This wasn’t taken with a macro lens – this dragonfly was bigger than my hand.

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The best part about Bali? Not the picturesque beaches, not the wonderfully warm people, not the rich culture… the adorable baby ducks and chickens everywhere. Shortly after I took this photo I saw a baby chicken fall into a rice paddy stream and he looked like he was drowning. I went to scoop him up but the mama chicken went crazy and rushed me and attacked my leg. I jumped away and the mama chicken jumped into the stream and helped the young one to safety.

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It was raining and all of the chicks jumped up on mama’s back. Naturally there was a heart right above them.

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Bonus – Pura Besakih – Mother Temple of Bali

Located high on Ganung Agung, Bali’s largest volcano, Pura Besakih is the most important, largest, and holiest temple in Bali. It was built in the 14th century and somehow managed to survive the massive 1963 eruption of the volcano it resides on. The lava flow missed the temple by only a few feet and most Balinese see this as a sign from their Gods. it was pouring rain while I was there so I do not have many good photos.

Warning: Pura Besakih was the only time in Bali I felt like I was being scammed. Before you reach the entrance some very high pressure tactics are put on you to donate a huge sum of money. They even have a log book showing how every visitor before you donated $20-$50 to get in. My driver warned me about this scam and told me to not give more than $5 and after much arguing they finally let me in. I noticed that I gave $5 but they wrote $30 next to my name in the log book. Sketchy. They also assigned a guide to me which I really didn’t want. The guide took me to each temple, told me a sob story about how poor the temple was, and then put a lot of pressure on me to donate to each temple individually. This is a very holy site but that doesn’t stop the locals from squeezing out every last dime from visitors.

Local staff at Pura Besakih watch as a storm starts to roll in.

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Near the top of the complex one can see many of the temples below and a great view of Bali.

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I camped out in one of the shops at the peak during the rain and practiced my Indonesian with the shop keeper.

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I hope to one day return to Pura Besakih when it’s not raining, it was absolutely stunning – even with the high pressure to donate again and again.

These were the sites I personally found to be the most beautiful but nearly every temple, beach, field, village, and mountain in Bali is fantastic so it’s pretty hard to go wrong. I recommend hiring a guide / driver to at least take you to the right places. The right driver can show you spectacular views off the beaten path, help you avoid getting screwed by scams, tell you when to visit sites at off times to avoid the crowds, and can recommend the best places to visit once they learn what you like. Whether you rent a motorbike and travel the island on your own, take taxis to specific destinations, or hire a driver for the day, you will surely be treated to some truly beautiful places that you will never forget.