Ayu helps Helen get to grips with Balinese cuisine / Picture: Tom Edwards

It was supposed to be a gentle stroll through the Balinese countryside, yet here we are, surrounded by 200 screaming men and about to watch two chickens fight to the death.

The shouting reaches a fever pitch as the last monies change hands and then an eerie quiet falls as the birds face one another. They fight instantly, goaded by the punters, thrashing wildly with razor blades tied to their legs. I squirm and glance at my wife Helen as the crowd erupts around us. It is over within a couple of minutes. Neither chicken is dead, but the loser is wounded, which is bad enough for us.

When I'd vowed to find the "real" Bali on my first visit to the island, I hadn't bargained on animal cruelty. But as confronting as it is, this is raw life in Abiansemal, Badung - the rural district where we have based ourselves for a few days.

"Abiansemal? Why you go there? Nothing there!" taxi drivers cried when we told them of our plans.

This is true in the conventional sense but we aren't here for the typical Bali holiday - except Bintang, of course.

Situated just 5km west of Ubud as the crow flies but accessible only by a winding 20km drive, peaceful Taman village is home to Cozy Wayan Sueta Bed and Breakfast. Thirty dollars a night buys us a soft bed in a gorgeous wooden bungalow nestled among banana trees and bird of paradise flowers.

Occasionally a few other tourists filter through, as is nearly always the case in Bali, and we meet a trickle of guests who were likewise drawn here by the enigmatic Wayan, his lovely wife Ayu and their two sons Anta and Agus.

Helen and I stumble on the cock fight on our first day during a lazy trek around the nearby villages - a walk where we encounter many friendly folk going about their daily business. No one speaks English, which makes for a refreshing change from the calls of "taxi!" and "dance show!" in Ubud.

With nowhere to be and time on our side, we pick a path through endless rice paddies and come to a place described as the Water Temple. Here, gaggles of children frolick in the cool water after a hot and humid morning in school.

We make regular pit stops at shady shacks for refreshing sips of tamarind drink and watch the locals enjoy an idle game of dominos in a cloud of clove cigarettes.

Back at the home-stay it was time for dinner, except this time we are making it ourselves so the pressure was on. It's no secret that Balinese cuisine is some of the best to be found in South-East Asia and my food addiction dictates I learn how to make some dishes to reproduce in Australia. Satay lilit is on the menu - an exotic blend of fresh ingredients from the garden: garlic, ginger, turmeric, coconut, palm sugar and lime conspiring to create a taste explosion in the mouth.

On the side is the classic mei goreng (fried noodles), followed by jaja dadar gadang - a sweet pancake.

Even with Ayu as our teacher, the traditional cooking methods are an art not easily mastered. Neither Helen nor I can take much credit for the scrumptious feast which results but it is an epic meal nonetheless and washed down by several litres of ice-cold Bintang.

I have one parting request when the time comes to bid a sad farewell to our new Balinese family - to try an authentic example of the Balinese speciality babi guling, or suckling pig. Family friend Wayan Suka knows the right spot - a simple lunch cart on a busy street corner on the outskirts of Ubud.

By the time we reach the pig, my stomach is rumbling louder than an Airbus A380. But it is worth the wait, as clearly we've hit the jackpot with this place. A steady stream of commuters stops at the cart to collect takeaway lunches for 12,000 rupiah ($1.20) a go. Spicy and exquisite, the crackling is the best I've ever eaten.

Belly full, I lean back on the plastic chair with my back to the traffic and reflect on my first trip to Bali. It's hard to deny this tiny island really does have a lot going for it. Pumping surf, great weather, delicious food, accommodation to suit every budget, spectacular scenery and, above all, some of the nicest people on the planet. With all this just three hours from Perth, it's no wonder the West Aussies keep on coming in ever-increasing droves.

Part of me wants to question where it is all headed, how much more mass tourism this fragile land can sustain, but with a tummy full of tucker dulling my senses it is hard to find fault in this perfect moment on a street corner on the outskirts of town.

It's also still relatively easy to discover the hidden Bali, if that's what you're after. Helen and I barely scratched the surface. If we return it will be to the remote wilderness of the central mountains, to the unspoilt volcanic beaches of the north or to wander lost in the secluded beauty of the rugged west.

With so many possibilities, I know that I could never grow bored of Bali.

FACT FILE

For more about Cozy Wayan Sueta Bed and Breakfast, visit airbnb.com.au/rooms/266076.

The West Australian

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