Bali is a small island -- measuring just 153 kilometres wide by 112 kilometres long -- but it offers a variety of landscapes and a wealth of experiences to appeal to many tastes.
While rampant development over the past 40 years has seen this once quiet rice-growing and fishing community become Indonesia's tourism success story, attracting around 3.2 million visitors a year, there are still many paddy fields and pockets of traditional Balinese life to explore, as well as secluded beaches.
Known as the Island of the Gods, Bali has more than 10,000 temples, most of which host at least two festivals every year. Despite the tourism that has spawned hundreds of hotels and thousands of restaurants and bars, the island's inhabitants remain deeply religious, with 84 percent of its almost four million residents practising their own distinct brand of Hinduism. Tiny offerings called canang sari (flowers and sometimes sweets in a palm leaf tray) are made every day to the gods and are found everywhere, even on the beach and on footpaths, while statues of gods and sacred animals adorn every street.
Southern Bali is the most developed especially the budget beach resort of Kuta and its more sophisticated northern neighbour Seminyak. The high-end tourist enclaves of Jimbaran and Nusa Dua are just a few kilometres south of Kuta.
The artists' hub of Ubud in central Bali, known for its many galleries and artisan workshops is, in fact, a collection of 14 separate villages, often separated by rice terraces. Dance is central to the Balinese culture along with the music of the gamelan -- an ensemble of percussion instruments much like xylophones -- and drums.
For an authentic slice of Balinese life, it's best to head to the regions to the north and east of Ubud, where folks live in organised communal villages and still wear traditional dress such, as kebayas (traditional Indonesian blouses) and sarongs, and where there are many opportunities to see women carrying baskets of flowers and fruit on their heads to the temple. Another ceremony likely to be encountered in rural areas is the cremation procession where a huge bamboo funeral pyre fashioned in the shape of a bull is carried through the streets.
Two areas where culture and tourism combine beautifully are cuisine and massage. The Balinese give the best massages, be they on the beach or in a luxurious spa, while cooking schools, many of which are in private homes, have also sprung up across the island.
Ships dock at the Port of Benoa, which is located on the tiny little blob of land at the south of Bali, which is connected to the rest of the island by a narrow isthmus. From here, it's only a short drive to the airport just to the west (on the other side of the isthmus) and a little further north to the beach resorts of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. The upmarket tourist enclave of Nusa Dua (with a dozen or so five-star hotels) is just a 10-minute drive away to the south. Big ships anchor in Benoa Harbour and passengers are tendered into shore to a small Balinese-style pavilion terminal building.
It seems like almost the entire 4 million population of Bali has a motorbike, so expect them to be everywhere. Traffic jams are notorious around the southern area of Bali -- from the airport to Kuta, around Kuta, Legian and Seminyak and en route to the main temples of Uluwatu and Tanah Lot. Always allow extra time for your trip.
Prices will be quoted in the thousands and will often have a K after them. For example, something that costs 65,000 will be written either as 65 or 65K, so be alert. ATMs are everywhere, and money-changers are at the airport and the port. Credit cards are taken at hotels and good restaurants, although local drivers, taxi drivers, small restaurants and shopkeepers, and traders want local currency. As wages are low, it's good to tip the equivalent of a few dollars or perhaps A$10 to your driver for the day.
English is widely spoken in the major tourist areas although it is mainly of the basic variety. Drivers will know how to get you around and understand typical requests, but conversations at any deeper level should not be expected. English is likely to be of a higher standard in the more upmarket resorts and hotels.
One interesting facet of the Balinese language is the way children are named. Only four names (and a few nicknames) are used for the first four males. If there is a fifth child, he takes the first name but with the added word balik which means 'again'. The names from first to fourth are Wayan (or nicknames Gede and Putu), Made (or Kadek), Nyoman (or Koman) and Ketut (or Tut). You'll meet a lot of Mades and Putus in your travels.
Batik fabric and paintings, wood carvings, masks and gold and silver jewellery can all be good buys in Bali. For easy-to-carry items, fabric and kebayas make for pretty and useful souvenirs. Very few tourists head to Denpasar City, but if fabric is your weakness Jalan Sulawesi (Sulawesi Street) has shop after shop selling wonderful items at bargain prices. Ubud is the artistic heart of Bali, so head to this central hill town to peruse the many galleries and the Ubud Art Market.
The local brew of Bintang beer is the drink in Bali. It's light, refreshing and inexpensive. Those in the know say cocktails are watered down, but if beer isn't your style and you find a good bar in stylish Seminyak, do order a lychee martini. Imported wine (mostly from Australia) is expensive and rarely sold by the glass. There are a handful of local winemakers; Hatten Wines is the original Bali winery and has been making a drinkable drop since the 1990s.