Being invited into a local home for coffee can be a really memorable moment and although the host may not speak English, a nod and a smile is all that's required to feel well and truly welcome. Homestays allow you to gain an even deeper understanding of Balinese life, with work and play carrying on regardless as you discover cultural traditions without feeling voyeuristic.
Rather like the British in India, the Dutch in Bali weren't big fans of the heat. Villages like Munduk, in Bali's central highlands, made the perfect hillside retreat with cooler conditions surrounded by tropical forests also ideal for spice and coffee plantations to thrive. Set out on trails through terraced rice paddies en route to the local waterfall before finding the best spot in Bali for sunrise and sunset.
Occupying Bali's northwest, Bali Barat National Park provides protected habitat for macaques, muntjacs and the critically endangered Bali myna bird, amongst an incredibly diverse range of tropical forest, mangrove and coastal habitats. Nature trails and mountain treks take in some serious scenery whilst Menjangan Island, just offshore, offers some of Indonesia's best snorkelling.
In between Singaraja and Lovina there's a series of fishing villages hugging narrow strips of volcanic sand, which invite travellers to experience a pace of life that's the polar opposite to the south. Water visibility is excellent, accommodation and food are affordable, and local attractions, including Bali's biggest Buddhist monastery and the thermal springs at Banjar, offer ample alternatives to the beach.
20 minutes north of Ubud, the rice terraces of Tegalalang provide plenty of excuses to go for a wander or explore by bike with decent paved roads leading through rice paddies, from one village to the next, flanked by sweeping hillsides dotted with coconut palms. Sit back and soak up the scenes as you spare a thought for the workers and contemplate the price of rice.
Bali's artisan capital has an abundance of art galleries, weaving workshops and handicraft stalls tempting travellers to buy a bigger rucksack. Explore outside of Ubud and you'll find smaller villages, like Nyuh Kuning, where wood carvers, faith healers and yoga ashrams sit side by side as smiling Balinese mingle with equally happy travellers.
Head 45 minutes south of Kuta, as quickly as possible, and you'll find what could almost be a separate island. It's not, however; it's the Bukit Peninsula that boasts, perhaps, some of Bali's best beaches. Laid back and sandy best describes Bukit where beers on the beach at sunset are about as wild as things tend to get other than the fire dances which are held every evening around Uluwatu temple.
All that volcanic sand practically guarantees crystal sharp visibility with manta rays, clown fish, and barracuda all known to inhabit the coral gardens and the WW2 wreck just off the northeast coast. On the northwest coast, snorkelling sites around Menjangan Island are just phenomenal with protected shallow reefs attracting white tipped reef sharks, eagle rays and sea turtles.
Elephants are not indigenous to Bali so all the elephants you'll find on the island have been brought there to be held in captivity and used for work or entertainment. Don't even think about visiting one of the elephant parks around Ubud or Denpasar as they are designed for humans to take advantage of imprisoned animals no matter how much you might hear to the contrary.
It may be hot but baring too much flesh is totally disrespectful so think thin cotton, long sleeves and trousers if you want to step out with cultural confidence. Although Bali is one of the more liberal islands in Indonesia, be sensible when visiting temples and rural areas if you're keen to respect local etiquette and avoid any unwanted attention. When in doubt, wear similar attire to local people.
Although Kuta may have started off life as, arguably, the best beach in Bali, it's become more akin to an Aussie version of Ibiza with fast-food chains, shopping malls and poorly conceived hotel complexes placing ever-increasing strain on insufficient infrastructure. Kuta's less a haven for surfers looking for the next wave, it's fast becoming more like an unsightly blight on Bali's butt.
Bali features several zoos, including the safari and marine park outside of Ubud, where animals are treated as performers to indulge ignorant gawping crowds who choose to ignore the chains and obvious signs of distress. If you want to see wild animals in Bali, head west into the forested hillsides and mangroves of Bali Barat National Park or dive into the water around Menjangan Island.