Bali is like no other destination in the world. Its rich culture plays out at all levels of life, from the exquisite flower-petal offerings placed everywhere to the processions of joyfully garbed locals, shutting down major roads as they march to one of the myriad temple ceremonies, to the otherworldly traditional music and dance performed island-wide.
1. A Festival of festivals
There you are sipping a coffee at a cafe in, say, Seminyak or Ubud, when there's a crash of the gamelan and traffic screeches to a halt. A mob of elegantly dressed people comes flying by bearing pyramids of fruit, tasselled parasols and a furred, masked Barong or two. It's a temple procession, disappearing as suddenly as it came, with no more than the fleeting sparkle of gold and white silk and hibiscus petals in its wake. Dozens occur daily across Bali.
2. Aaah, a spa
Whether it's a total fix for the mind, body and spirit, or simply the desire for a bit of serenity, visitors to Bali spend many happy hours (sometimes days) being massaged, scrubbed, perfumed, pampered, bathed and blissed out. Sometimes all this attention to your wellbeing happens on the beach or in a garden; other times it's in stylish, even lavish, surroundings. The Balinese massage techniques of stretching, long strokes, skin rolling and palm-and-thumb pressure result in an all-over feeling of calm, the perfect holiday prescription. Aaah...
3. Balinese dance
The antithesis of Balinese mellow is Balinese dance. It's amazing how people who relish lounging in bales (open-sided pavilions) can also produce art that demands complete methodical precision. A performer of the Legong, the most beautiful dance, spends years learning minutely choreographed movements from her eyeballs to her toes. Each movement has a meaning and the language flows with a grace that is hypnotic. Clad in silk and ikat, the dancers tell stories rich with the very essence of Balinese Hindu beliefs and lore.
Famous in books and movies, the artistic heart of Bali exudes a compelling spiritual appeal. Ubud's streets are lined with galleries where artists, both humble and great, create. Beautiful performances showcasing the island's rich culture grace a dozen stages nightly and museums honour the works of those inspired here through the years. People walk the rice fields to find the perfect spot to sit in lotus position and ponder life's endless possibilities. Ubud is a state of mind and a beautiful state of being.
5. Jatiluwih rice fields
Ribbons of green sinuously curve around hillsides crested by coconut palms: the ancient rice terraces of Jatiluwih are as artful as they are elegant, and are a timeless testimony to the Balinese rice farmers' love and respect for the land. You'll run out of words for green as you walk, bike or drive the little road that wanders through this fertile bowl of the island's sacred grain.
6. Underwater gilis
Taking the plunge? There are few better places than the Gilis, encircled by coral reefs teeming with life and visited by pelagics such as cruising manta rays. Scuba diving is a huge draw – there are several professional schools and all kinds of courses taught (from absolute beginner to nitrox specialist). With easy access from beach to reef, snorkelling is superb too, and you're very likely to see turtles. Want to take snorkelling to the next level? Try freediving – Trawangan is home to one of Asia's only breath-hold diving centres.