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BALI: THIS TROPICAL INDONESIAN ISLAND IS REPLETE WITH PHOTOGENIC TEMPLES, BEACHES AND COLORFUL DANCERS.

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They love to dance. This is one of the first things you'll notice when you arrive on the fabled Indonesian island of Bali, and this impression will be reinforced each day of your stay. Visitors invariably come away with indelible memories of colorfully costumed performers dancing rhythmically to the timbre of gamelan orchestras.

This is nothing new. When Indian traders first visited Bali centuries ago, they promptly dubbed it "Wali," the ancient Sanskrit word for religious festival.The Balinese believe their island is an earthly paradise guarded by Hindu spirits. Daily offerings of fruit, flowers and rice cakes are presented to the spirits by women clad in traditional sarong kebayas, and ornate temples are settings for myriad ceremonies in their honor.

The most colorful of these is the Barong and Kris Dance, which you can see each morning in the village of Batubulan. Like many Balinese dances, it represents the eternal battle between good and evil. The good guy is the Barong, a mythical bug-eyed, floppy-tongued animal who battles the evil witch, Rangda, and her servants. The colorful, sometimes comical battle ends, fittingly enough, in a draw. The Legong Keraton is a very sensuous dance featuring a pair of Bali's typically lovely women, bedecked in figure-flattering, hand-painted golden costumes, who sway erotically to the rhythm of a gamelan. Other popular dances are the Kechak or Monkey Dance, and the Fire Dance, in which a man, apparently in a deep trance, walks over burning coals.

Ninety percent of Bali's 3 million residents are Hindus, while most of the rest are Buddhists. Scattered about the island are dozens of temples built in honor of their gods.

Tanah Lot, popular with honeymooners, is considered by many to be Asia's most romantic temple. Located on Bali's southwestern coast, it sits high atop a rocky promontory just offshore. It is actually connected to shore by a low-lying ridge of stone, but the surf often sweeps over this tenuous connection.

The Elephant Cave, at Bedulu, is a Buddhist monastery built in the 11th century. Massive, time-eroded carvings completely cover the stone wall at the entrance to this ancient cave temple. Inside, the musty smell of ancientness mingles with the heady aroma of burned candle offerings.

A moat surrounds the Mengwi Temple, whose skyscape is dominated by towering, multi-tiered pagodas. Their black roofs are constructed with palm grass, which can last as long as 100 years. (Palm grass is reserved for temple use only. Palm fronds, which last about 30 years, are used for residential roofs).

The Spring Temple, built around several holy springs at Tampaksiring, dates from the 5th century. Long, brightly colored scarves draped over the shrines by Hindu worshipers contrast vividly with the gray stone. Eternally standing guard are dour-faced stone statues who keep a tireless, watchful eye on visitors.

Just as photogenic as the temples and dancers is the tropical island itself. Bali's shoreline is blessed with many perfect, palm-shaded, sandy beaches. In other places, it is ruggedly beautiful, with stretches of windswept, black lava rock. The turquoise sea is dotted with small fishing boats called prahus, their colorful, triangular sails bulging with captured wind.

Inland, farmers working with wickedly curved machetes and wooden rakes toil in their fertile fields, assisted by their age-old partner, the water buffalo. The farmers' young sons also lend a hand, but they fill the blue skies with riotously colored kites during their midday break. Hilly areas have been terraced, transforming them into verdant tiers of rice paddies. At Mt. Batur, an extinct volcano, a glimmering lake partially fills the immense crater. Near the crater lake, a small village sits proudly on the crest of a hill that rises like an island from a sea of black lava.

Visitors who come to Bali to shop for exotic souvenirs are just as smiley-faced as the photographers. Bali is known for its masterful woodcarvers, most of whom are located in Mas. Ninety percent of this small village's residents are involved in the woodcarving industry. Everything from small figurines and fans to full-size replicas of giraffes and Harley Davidson motorcycles can be found in Mas.

The village of Ubad has drawn artists from around the world like a magnet. Local galleries display the work of European masters alongside the intricate renderings of Balinese artists.

Tourists don't just come to the village of Batubulan to see the daily Barong dances. The streets are lined with shops filled with stone carvings and antiques. Bali's stone statues, carved from soft sandstone, erode away if exposed to the weather for a decade or so. This insures a steady demand from the island's temples for replacements. Tourists also buy many of the artists' carved gods, temple guards, Chinese mandarins and griffins, usually having them shipped home because of their weight. Browsers in Batubulan's antique shops are liable to come across antique sewing machines, carved temple doors and Balinese wedding bells and masks.

Denpasar, Bali's largest city, was once a simple market town, but it has grown, somewhat uncontrollably, into a sprawling, unattractive city with horrible traffic. It doesn't have much in the way of tourist attractions except a few museums, the Rura Temple and Pasar Badung, the morning market.

Bali's best beach is found at Kuta, near Denpasar. Once the island's poorest district, it has become a popular destination for Western visitors. At first glance, you'll think the blond-and-bronzed youths you see on the beach with surf boards under their arms are castaway California surfers. When you hear them speak, however, there's no mistaking their Aussie accents. The Kuta area, or "Little Australia," as it's sometimes called, is chock full of curio shops, bars and restaurants. If it's nightlife you're looking for, this is the place to be.

Bali's exotic beauty has attracted visitors for centuries, and its mystical charisma shows no sign of weakening. After spending two or three days on this island paradise you'll begin to understand why so many crew members from early European trading vessels jumped ship, took Balinese wives and lived happily ever after on Bali.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

IF YOU GO

Location: Just to the east of the Indonesian island of Java, south of Borneo and north of Australia's west coast.

Travel: Bali is served by nearly a dozen major airlines. Continental, which has three flights each week, is the only U.S. airline with direct flights to Bali. Garuda, Indonesia's national airline, has five flights each week from Los Angeles to Denpasar, as well as daily service between Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul and Australia. Denpasar is a major hub for inter-island flights inside Indonesia.

Most major hotels offer complimentary airport transfers. There are no organized taxi companies on Bali, but there are hundreds of independent bemo drivers around the island who announce their availability by shouting "transport" at every passing tourist.

Motorcycles and autos are readily available for rent, but be aware of the risk. Many of Bali's streets and narrow roads are extremely congested, especially in the Denpasar and Kuta areas, and drivers routinely disregard traffic laws. If you do elect to rent a vehicle, make sure your insurance is confirmed in writing.

Several travel agencies offer tours of Bali at reasonable prices. Two of the most reputable companies are Paradise Bali Tours, phone: (361) 231451 and Satriavi, phone: (361) 24339.

Hotels:

Bali has a wide range of accommodations, with prices to suit any budget. For instance, the Mutiara Cottage, a 50-room hotel that looks like a Balinese temple, has rooms for as little as $15. Wina Cottage is a very nice hotel with rooms for around $60. The Kuta Palace is a 280-room beach hotel with rooms starting out at $75. Pertamina Cottage is a luxury hotel on Kuta Beach with cottages in the $120-$150 range. The Bali Imperial is a new five-star hotel with much higher rates.

Food:

Indonesian cuisine varies greatly from island to island, and even from region to region. Generally, it is very spicy. There are many good restaurants around the island that offer specialties from several of Indonesia's regions and islands, along with Chinese, Indian and European dishes. For the non-adventurous, McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken have opened restaurants on Bali.

Climate:

The dry season is April-October. The rainy season is Novemeber-March, with the heaviest rainfall occurring during December and January. It can rain in any month, and there are often dry periods during the rainy season. Daytime temperature is usually in the low 80s, with high humidity levels.

Documents:

A passport that is valid for at least six months after the arrival date is required for all visitors to Bali, as well as proof of onward passage.

Health:

There are no required vaccinations for visitors, unless you happen to be arriving from a cholera-infected country. If you plan to visit other parts of Indonesia check with your doctor beforehand. Visitors should not drink the tap water. Bottled water is readily available.

Money:

Indonesia's national currency is the rupiah. One U.S. dollar = Rp 2,000. Major credit cards are widely accepted.

Bargaining:

Bargaining is a way of life in Indonesia. Most commodities and services, with the exceptions of airfares, package tours and restaurant meals, are subject to negotiation. As a rule of thumb, start out at one-half the asking price and bargain from there. Never accept a service without agreeing on a price beforehand. As always, a little common sense and courtesy will work to your advantage.

Shopping:

In addition to Bali's many shops, you'll encounter street vendors selling everything from woodcarvings to designer watch ripoffs near the front entrances of most tourist attractions and on many streets in tourist areas. At times, they can be very persistent, especially if you show initial interest in their wares. If you're not interested, simply ignore them.

For more information: (213) 387-2078.