While never being a fully committed card-carrying "I don't do Bali" traveller, Ray Wilson determined that his previous trip to Bali in 1992 might well have been his last.
Recently, however, he gave it one more shot - and this is what he discovered in his A-to-Z re-awakening.
Accents: Isn't it funny, the only time I get irritated with the Aussie drawl is when a foreigner tries it on. Remember Meryl Streep playing Lindy Chamberlain in Evil Angels? Terrible. Unfortunately in the back lanes of Kuta and Legian in particular, some of the local store holders bark entreaties in an accent broader than any you'd find in Meekatharra. But I'm told that to be teased in Bali is to be accepted, so maybe I've read it wrong.
Bintang: Some beers have been built for the tropics, and the local brew heads this category. For two weeks on our visit, there were some constants - the weather vane was stuck on 24C minimum and 30C maximum, and the Bintang flowed from 5pm. A king brown Bintang costs 20,000 rupiah (a little over $2) at Happy Hour (which appears to include the whole day), and while, according to my wife, flatulence was an issue, I could smell a bargain.
CDs, DVDs: In the main streets, in the laneways, the markets and in superstores such as the Discovery Centre in Kuta, pirated discs sell for around a dollar. We didn't buy any CDs. This pirated technology is a real feature of the shopping scene in Bali, though the quality isn't what you expect from bona fide discs, and there are the ethical issues. C is also for coffee, and the best we found was at the Black Canyon cafes.
Dewan Tajen is the spiritual power of the cockfighting arena, and the sport is very much alive in Bali despite being outlawed in 1981. On the road verges outside many houses in rural Bali, cocks are kept in wicker baskets to get them accustomed to noise, because come the late-afternoon of a cockfight, where the cocks have razor-sharp blades attached to their legs, there is general bedlam as locals punt on the outcome.
Eggs: Balinese eggs are the best. It's as though the food gods pinched a piece of the setting sun each night and reincarnated it on my toast each morning. Rich and syrupy, the eggs were cooked every which way and reminded us of what they once tasted like back home.
Footpaths: The first Dutch settlers arrived in Bali in 1597, and I'm please to report that work on the footpaths has almost been completed. Maybe give it a century or two more. The great gaping holes in the footpaths on the beachside road between Legian and Kuta, and roads such as Jalan Legian are a godsend for blokes because it makes window shopping perilous. F is also for the amazing range of flowers, with spectacular orchids and lotus flowers.
Galungan: Any victory over evil is worth celebrating. We experienced the Hindu festival of Galungan on October 14, a day the locals dress in their finery and build a penjor, a bamboo pole adorned with woven young coconut leaves, fruit, cakes and flowers, on the right side of every house entrance as sacred ancestors of the family descend to their former homes.
Horns: Blow your horn in Perth and there's every chance you'd get a wheel brace through your window. Not so in Bali. The horn is used as a form of communication, not leant on for extended periods to create menace and mayhem. The Balinese horn is more a verbal shorthand. It can mean many things. A taxi driver will blow it to "ask" whether a tourist wants a ride but mainly it's used courteously by locals to alert other road users to their presence.
Indifferent: We lobbed at Denpasar Airport at around 9pm and for the life us couldn't find anybody to hand our arrival documents to. And given there was not a soul at the "to declare" lane, we ambled through with our moderate stash of wine that maybe might not have made it otherwise. It certainly makes you think.
Jimbaran Bay: We took up the offer of a restaurant called Sharkey's for a free taxi service from our hotel in Legian to the beachside idyll. The promise of dining on the beach with sand between your toes sounded romantic but it wasn't quite matched by the seafood. Prawns were good but the chilli crab was as empty as a politician's promise. The bane of Bali was never being able to get a decent salad or a plate of mixed vegies, despite the produce being freely available in the markets in some of the small towns we visited. Jimbaran Bay is still worth a visit.
Ketut (fourth born): We hired our Balinese leprechaun to drive us north through villages to the former capital Singaraja, stopping at markets and small towns along the way. We bartered for almost everything apart from oxygen in Bali, but we took Ketut's first bid for an entire day's excursion for around $70 (some say you should only pay $50). But it was worth the money, with his constant running commentary as we drove through the middle of Bali to the waterfall at Gitgit (not memorable) and then made the return trip back through Seriti and Blimbing.
Luwak: Is a coffee like no other. A luwak is a small civet-like mammal that lives in trees and has a passion for red, ripe coffee cherries which they eat, bean and all. The squeamish should look away now. The bean goes through various stages of treatment in the stomach and digestive system of the luwak before popping out the other side, with the bean still intact. They are then cleaned, roasted and ground.
Massage: My body's hardly a temple but I'm not a great one for massages. Bali helped change that. With hotels offering relaxing rubs and tubs from around $100, the streets provided unbelievable value. We tried a few, with my best costing $7.50 for an hour, typical for the Legian area. It was a Balinese massage, strong and firm and highlighted by the young masseuse stomping over my back with her pixie feet. We found it helpful to inspect the shop first to make sure of the cleanliness. That is, before my wife went to Bodyworks to get smothered in yoghurt.
Nicotine: While it costs an arm and a leg for a decent wine, you can do your lungs in for a little over $1 per packet of cigarettes, remarkably cheaper than here in Australia. While the Marlboro Man didn't exactly come galloping up Legian Beach on his trusty steed, it's obvious that the tobacco companies are investing a lot of energy into Third World countries.
Obscene stickers: For some reason, the pan-faced store holders who sell anything from dodgy watches to didgeridoos, have been told westerners are attracted to offensively-worded stickers and T-shirts. Some are beyond the pale, with the most vile words imaginable, and there are many outlets dealing in the filth. For all of that though, there's always room for humour, with the best I saw: "I'm not a gynaecologist but I'll have a peep."
Peak hour: The rush hour from Seminyak to Kuta can be horrendous. The simple rules of the road appear to centre round not getting hit by another vehicle. It's far better to walk along the beach and cut inland to get to a destination between 4 and 6pm than it is to catch a cab. Any trip around the Legian area should cost no more than $4, and often a lot less. Have 30,000 rupiah ($3.50) available for most trips and you won't go wrong.
Quiksilver: You pay for what you get in Bali. Buy designer brand sunglasses or a Rolex on the beach for $10 and be happy if they survive the journey home. The markets and roadside stalls are chock-full of brands imitating the real deal. There are, however, a couple of outlet shops featuring beachwear from Quiksilver, Rusty, Roxy and the like where prices can be a third of Perth shops. We shopped at one in Jalan Dewi Sri.
Restaurants: Compared to my last trip to Bali, when nasi goreng, the ubiquitous chicken sates and the occasional curry were prime options, there is now a distinct cosmopolitan feel to eating out. Japanese restaurants are very popular, while Italian-style nosh houses have sprung up everywhere. We couldn't decide whether to go to Ultimo in Seminyak or Blue Ocean on the beach. While wine was prohibitively priced (around $60 for a bottle of run-of-the-mill Australian), the mains meals averaged around $6. We also rated Zanzibar (especially pizza) but it was a notch below the other two.
Surf: The beach is the lifeblood of the tourist strip, and what was once a litter-strewn stretch of sand is now a rubbish-free promenade. The beach is cleaned by patrols of women in red and white outfits, and helped by heavy machines which ferry away the bags. In turn stallholders along the beach take pride in keeping their patch free of rubbish.
T-shirts: Like going to the Holy City and not offering at least a small prayer - you can't possibly visit Bali without buying a Bintang singlet. T-shirts at the markets cost around $3.50, while singlets are around $3.
Unseemly: Begging is outlawed in Bali but during peak periods at traffic lights, girls aged from about seven can be seen carrying a younger sibling on their hip, tapping on car windows in search of a handout. The kid on the hip is taught to roll her eyes back in her head to attract sympathy.
Volcano: A Bali holiday can be as physically demanding as you want. For even the most sedentary, though, a cycling trip down from the active volcano at Mt Batur is a must. For about $40 a head, you get carted up to the mountain in the middle of Bali, shouted a banana fritter, given a bike and a helmet and pointed in the general direction of Ubud. It's all downhill from there. The guide directed us through the backstreets of some small villages and through the rice fields, eventually stopping for lunch at a small town out from Ubud. A great day.
Whistles: While the rubbish of the Kuta-Seminyak strip of beach has been picked up, the noise bandits are out in force. While bodyboarders and surfers are allowed to have a go in almost any area, often the humble body surfer is corralled between the swim flags, identical to those along our own beaches. Dare step out of those designated areas and the local lifeguards go ballistic with their whistles, blowing them incessantly like demented basketball referees.
Xanadu: We found our paradise eating out one night alongside the pool at the Tenkai Japanese Restaurant in the Padma Hotel. It was buffet night, and just as well. I made more runs than Michael Hussey to the tempura prawns tray, and never have we had the variety and quality of Japanese food. The meal was about $90 a double, but if you want a glass of white, bring the bank manager.
Yes: After previous trips to Bali in 1976 and 1992, there was a time when we thought we'd never go back. The Balinese have eliminated two of the reasons why we didn't like it in the first place - the pesky hawkers and the dirty beach. Hawkers these days at least take no for an answer and the beach is fantastic. So, yes, we will be back, and we'll definitely stay at a hotel on the beach again.
Zebra crossings: They exist in Bali and on the major roads around the Kuta strip to Seminyak, but don't bet your life on the road rules bearing any semblance to ours. The worst drivers in Bali are young Australians on scooters or motorbikes. Mad Max and Casey Stoner all rolled into one. And, it's not as if the police are there as any great deterrent. One driver told us that it was compulsory to wear seatbelts in cars - there are none in backseats of cabs - and while the fine was around $120 in a court, the "pocket" fine was only $12. Enough said.
Freelance photographer Rick Knoppert snapped pictures of the 3.5-4m shark close to surfers at North Beach.