Bali, Indonesia, September 1998

The island of Bali is part of Indonesia. As you can imagine, I was more than a bit worried about the violence that occurred in Indonesia just after I'd made full payment on my holiday. There wasn't actually any trouble in Bali itself, but the Foreign Office advice was not to go to Indonesia at all for weeks before our departure. Fortunately things did calm down a few months before we were due to depart and there wasn't actually any trouble whilst we were there. However, violence is still breaking out in parts of Indonesia, so it's worth keeping an eye of the situation there.

Bali, though part of Indonesia, has a separate culture to the rest of the country. Though Indonesia is a mainly Muslim country, the Balinese are Hindu and the island is famous for its temples. For years Bali had been a favourite destination for Australians attracted by the surf and the cheap prices. Unfortunately, the Aussies have had the same effect on places like Kuta that the British have had on Benidorm and Tenerife.

We decided to stay away from Kuta in a place called Sanur. Like all the resorts, it's located in the south of the island and is on the east side of the peninsula. This means that there's not much in the way of surf on the beach. The beach itself was a bit of a disappointment. It's a large, sandy beach that's protected by a reef. When the tide goes out, the reef comes to the surface and there's very little water behind it. It's just about deep enough to go for a paddle and there's a lot of seagrass in the shallows. If you do go for a paddle, watch where you're walking. I almost trod on a sea snake that was swimming in the shallows. The beach wasn't as clean as it could be either. There was some litter about.

We were staying at the Grand Bali Beach Hotel. This is the tallest building on the island, because they changed the building laws just after it was built. It had a most impressive foyer and one of the suites is the most expensive accommodation on the island. We were staying in the Garden Wings part of the hotel. Our room was reasonable, with air conditioning and cable television with one English language channel showing what appeared to be the worst of Australian television. The bathroom plumbing wasn't the greatest and the ceiling needed a lick of paint to cover up where there had obviously been a leak.

Hotel picture The hotel itself had a number of restaurants and shops in the complex. It had three swimming pools and the nearest one to us had an in-pool bar and served pizzas and other western style snacks throughout the day. Around the pool were free sunbeds but, as usual, there weren't enough of them. There was a sign saying that the beds should be vacated if left alone for more than 30 minutes, but this wasn't enforced at all. One morning I got up early to go diving and half the beds were already reserved at 7.15am even though it was pouring with rain. For once I couldn't even blame the Germans, as the main culprits seemed to be elderly Australians.

In the evening there was some entertainment. About three times a week there was a barbeque, with entertainment such as traditional dancing or a fashion show. There was also a cocktail bar which had a happy hour early in the evening and some form of musical entertainment. The star of the entertainment was a guy called Rikki, who sung mainly female songs and managed to hit all the high notes. Watching other peoples reactions to him was most entertaining.

Statue picture Service in the bars was friendly but slow, except for the pool bar, where it was incredibly slow. Ordering a milkshake at the pool bar with another drink was definitely a mistake because they had to get the milkshake from the kitchen and the other drink from the bar. Several times the milkshake arrived and the other drink didn't.

All the prices were quoted in dollars and then converted into Indonesian rupiah at an unfavorable rate. While we were there, the exchange rated was around 18000 rupiah to one UK pound. It varied from day to day by quite a lot. We took British money of high denominations and converted it as we went along. Safe deposit boxes were available, though I did hear one couple complain that they didn't get a deposit box for the first week because they were all full.

The prices were very cheap even though the hotel added a 21% service and tax surcharge to all prices. At the time there was a 50% discount in the hotel on all food and non-imported drinks. A large 600ml bottle of local beer cost around 12000 rupiah in the hotel. In other bars it was about 9000 rupiah. The best beer available was Carlsberg, though the hotel didn't stock it. Bintang was probably the next best and Bali Hai wasn't too bad. Neither of them will ever win any awards. The food was also very cheap. A good meal for two would cost less than 200,000 rupiah.

As soon as you step outside the hotel, you're pestered. On the beach you're offered glass bottom boat trips, jetski trips, and other watersports. These guys are obviously licensed and aren't that annoying. The market, however, is another story. As soon as you walk down to the entrance at least one woman, and usually two, will instantly become your best friend. They ask you all about where you come from and be very over friendly. If you then try to browse the market and have a good look around, they trail behind you whining about how you should go to their shop. After about 5 minutes of this, you soon decide that the one place you're not going is their shop. It's a shame really, because only a few of them do this, but it puts people off even going to the market. When the police are around they're a lot better behaved.

Map of Bali dive locations

Bali isn't the best place in the world to go diving, but there is some reasonable diving to be had. You can dive just off Sanur, but all the guidebooks say the best diving is in to north. All the dive shops quote almost identical prices, so I went with Baruna, who have a kiosk in the hotel. Prices are quoted in US dollars, and it's not cheap. Their prices for two dives a day were:

Site Price in US$
Sanur/Nusa Dua 44
Padangbai 54
Gili Tepekong/Gili Biaha/Batu Tiga 58

Tulamben/Amed

58
Nusa Penida/Lembongan/Ceningan 74
Menjangan 84
1 Night Dive 16

These prices included 2 tanks, weights, lunch, drinks and transport. Kit was extra:

BCD US$ 5 a day
Regulator US$ 5 a day
Fins + Mask + Snorkel US$ 2.5 a day
Wetsuit US$ 5 a day

I decided to dive the wreck at Tulamben, which is supposed to be one of the best dives. The only problem is that it was over 2 hours drive away along some fairly dreadful roads.

Like the British, the Balinese drive on the left. That is the only thing driving in Britain had in common with driving in Bali. They drive like lunatics and there are hundreds of mopeds everywhere. They will quite cheerfully overtake on both sides of the car, regardless of whether you're turning or have your indicators on. Many don't wear crash helmets and most of the helmets that are worn don't look like they pass Western safety standards. On the way to Tulamben we drove past a fatal accident. A couple of people on a moped where hit by a truck. They were both dead. Neither of them wore a helmet.

The countryside is very picturesque. Volcanoes rise up majestically and the hillsides are covered in rice terraces. People work in the fields and still use oxen to pull carts.

The dive site was the wreck of the USAT Liberty. It was torpedoed in 1945 and beached by its American crew. Then in 1963 a nearby volcanic eruption caused it to slip off the beach to its current position. So the dive is a beach dive. The beach is situated near a small café and there are various children milling around trying to sell you T-shirts of the dive site and maps.

Before the dive, the dive guide checked my logbook. He wasn't very interested in my certification card at all. After flicking though he found my entry for the dive on the Basil, asked me if the depth of "39" was in metres, and when he heard it was, he was happy.

We entered the water off the pebble beach and swam along the grey sandy bottom. After only about 15m, the bottom dropped away very suddenly and there was the wreck. It was covered in sponges and soft corals. Where the ship had started to break up, there were some quite interesting swim throughs. There were certainly a lot of fish around the wreck. We went down to just over 27m and we managed a dive time was almost 40 mins before some of our group started to get low on air. During the dive, I had a few problems with my bouyancy. I'm pretty sure that my rental BCD was very, slowly inflating itself.

After the dive we had lunch in the restaurant. There wasn't much in the way of choice. I had Nasi Goreng, which is noodles fried with various bits and pieces. Mine came with chicken, though the actual amount was very small. There was definitely less than two chicken nuggets worth in there. But the food wasn't bad and we had a couple of soft drinks to wash it down with. The restaurant even had western style toilets which is a bonus out in the country.

The second dive was much the same as the first though we limited our depth to 20m and had a longer dive of 51 mins. Large shoals of horse eyed jacks swam around us and I also saw a blue spotted stingray. All in all it was an enjoyable day's diving.

My second trip was to Amed, which looked nearer on the map, but took longer to get there. We arrived at the beach by a small hut which sold various bottled soft drinks and other goods. There was also the most disgusting toilet block I have ever seen. Around the back was a big pool of water of dubious origin and a couple of cows were drinking from it. They looked really cute, but they must have digestion systems of iron.

There were also dogs with open cuts and sores running around as well as chickens and pigs. There were four people in our group and I was diving with an older American guy. When he mentioned that he didn't dive very often, I did get a bit worried, but he then explained that he'd been snorkelling since he was very young and he was certainly very comfortable in the water.

We put our kit together in the shade and then put it down whilst we had a drink. Then our dive guide said something and some women picked up our gear, put it on their heads, and carried it down to the outrigger canoes at the water's edge. My American buddy and I agreed that our own cultures had much to learn from the Balinese at this point.

Outrigger picture The outrigger didn't take us out that far. Getting in the water was rather difficult, and had to be done without kit but with the weightbelt. My BCD was missing a few clips, so the DM tied a big bow in it for me. It didn't cause too much problems and we were soon into out dive on the coral wall. The wall started off quite sandy at first. Then it became more sheer and the coral was better. We say a several small stingrays in the first, sandier part.

Getting back in the canoe was another matter. It was quite painful because the sides were quite high and rather sharp. Back on the beach I then managed to bang my head on a low ceiling. The Balinese aren't that tall.

On the second dive, we went out in the boat, but came back to the beach, which was much easier. This time we dived the right hand side of the bay. The coral seemed to be a bit better, and we also saw a nurse shark.

I started to feel quite cold on the second dive and my stomach started to feel a bit rough. When we finally got back to the hotel, I walked into the air conditioning and felt freezing. I had a temperature and spent the whole next day in bed. It was obviously something I'd eaten. The American guy I dived with had told me he'd had similar symptoms a couple of days before. I know several people in the hotel did have stomach problems.

Obviously getting ill did spoil the holiday a bit. I'd advise taking plenty of medication with you, because the locally available medicines aren't very effective. I did enjoy Bali, but I don't think I'd bother going there again. The weather was nice and we spent very little money on food and drink whilst we were there. The diving wasn't really much better than average and it was expensive. The rental kit wasnt that good either. I'm glad I took my own regulators. If you like visiting temples and are interested in that sort of holiday, then maybe Bali would suit you. For a diving and beach holiday, I'd rather go to the Caribbean. The flight is cheaper and the food is safer.