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You Can't Do Everything (but you can certainly try) in Bali, Indonesia

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Today: our first blog correspondence from Matthew, the ToursByLocals staffer who has embarked on a two-month long business trip through South East Asia. He’s managed to meet all the ToursByLocals guides in Bali so far, and is currently in Jakarta, Indonesia. Today he tells us a bit about what it’s like to be a (working!) tourist in beautiful Bali.

An Indonesian tourist visa is good for 30 days, longer than the average visitor will spend here, but even with a month at one's disposal, difficult choices will have to be made, and you can't do everything in Bali.

Do you relax at Sanur, replete with its bacchi courts and bicycle paths, where the beach stretches for miles, but you're never far from a Bintang beer and a Rijstaffel spread? Or do you opt for cheap sleeps, shopping and throbbing night life in Kuta? It's a hard choice, but you can't do everything in Bali.

It's 2am local time, and I've been flying for 17 hours. I'm in no shape to make any decisions. The agent stamps my passport and I hustle through Ngura Rai's labyrinth of wood paneling, my hair already curling from the humidity. I step outside and take a deep breath, struck by the loveliness of the airport parking lot. The palm trees drip from a recent thunderstorm, and the air is thick, and sweet with the smell of frangipani spiced with jet fuel.

In a country with 16,000 islands, Bali is the jewel in the crown. At over two million annual visitors, it's Indonesia's most popular tourist destination, and has been for some 80 years. Superlatives abound: It has some of the best beaches, surfing, outdoor adventure, cuisine and nightlife to be found anywhere. The island's ancient Hindu culture is pervasive, with dance, costume, art and design all imbued with religious symbolism. A chorus of wooden bells signal the time for prayer, and with temples on every corner, Bali captivates visitors with its unique spirituality.

There is a local law banning construction of anything higher than a palm tree. The result is that international luxury resorts stretch out on large properties with lush gardens. You can also stay in a traditional Balinese villa, each one a masterpiece of intricately carved stone and wood, where standards of luxury are often even higher. An affordable home stay is a great way of meeting the locals, and you'd be surprised how quickly you can get accustomed to living in a family compound. It's a tough one - but you can't do everything in Bali.

When put to work on the Island, as I am, options are vast, but time is scarce. Would you watch the sunset from the temple at Uluwatu, where well-fed macaques pose among the shrines while the nightly Kecak dance is performed? Or do you catch the last few waves at Suluban beach before perching at a cliff-top bar? It's a weighty decision but then again, you can't do everything in Bali.

But you can certainly try. After a morning of emails, I rented a Vario scooter and set out to conquer. I sampled the break at Legian Beach, then zipped into Denpasar for office supplies. (Though no one really zips anywhere in South Bali - I clawed my way through a vehicular swarm). I scoped out a new lodging at Sanur beach, then broke for lunch at a warung (typical, small, family-owned restaurant) on the way to Uluwatu at the southern tip of the island. I took in the marvellous view and then went for a swim at Suluban, watching from a safe distance the experts surf one of the world's finest left-handers. With the evening's insects peppering sunburned limbs, I sped Back to Kkuta getting thoroughly lost on the way, circling my hotel at least three times.

Enlisting a private guide is the best way to ensure that your time is well spent. I was fortunate enough to visit with every ToursByLocals guide in Bali.

Wayan met me in Ubud, and I got to visit his home, where he lives with 36 members of his extended family, in a compound they've owned for 600 years We sat down to a six-course vegetarian feast!

Putu helped me set up my local phone, and coordinated meetings with other guides. He also arranged distribution of ToursByLocals finery at the end of my visit.

Agung, our veteran guide in Bali, shared his experiences of guiding for us and presented me a with a jar of the world's most sought-after coffee, that which is harvested by the Luwak (civet cat). Read all about it on his guide profile page,

Nyoman Gede, a popular guide who has recently joined ToursByLocals, and his driver, Komang, took me to his home region near Mt Batur, and to the highly enjoyable Monkey Forest. Thanks for a great day!

I had business to take care of all Thursday, so Mully, our most popular Balinese guide of 2011, escorted me on an improvised shopping trip around Denpasar. I would have rather taken one of his highly acclaimed excursions but then again, you can't do everything...
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