Today’s post is from the lovely Hanan Issa over at Hananissa.com, who is a freelance writer for various Muslim and non-Muslim media. I love having a new voice on the site sharing their personal stories and experiences. Bali is totally on my list, but until I make it there, you can read all about the great recommendations from Hanan and why she loved it so much, she is going back.
Bali. The place that conjures images of endless beaches and sunshine. Statistics show that the island welcomes an average of 4 million tourists per year so it is safe to designate Bali a coveted holiday destination.
With the rise of halal tourism many Muslims are branching out and heading to parts of the world they may not have considered previously, Bali included.
I traveled there with my husband and 3-year-old son in April last year and can honestly say that the hype is well deserved. We had misgivings about traveling so far with a little one but we really shouldn’t have worried. The Balinese understand that tourism is their most important source of income. As a result, the welcome, help, and customer service you receive from almost anyone you encounter is phenomenal.
Here are my top 10 things to do for Muslims in Bali
#1 Take a cultural tour
Balinese culture is unique and, to many tourists, a complete mystery. I would highly recommend taking a tailored cultural tour to get a better understanding of Balinese history and insight into the natives’ day to day life.
We were given the privilege of seeing inside a traditional Balinese home and spent the day exploring various aspects of Balinese life including a trip to the local market where we tried a number of fruits we had never seen before!
The tours are private so no sharing with strangers and you get transported from place to place in an air-conditioned 4×4, which is always a welcome luxury in the humidity.
#2 Appreciate nature
Bali is often called ‘paradise on earth’ and with such breathtaking views all over the island, it is easy to see how Bali earned the title. There are so many beautiful sights but an absolute must is the Jatiluwih rice terraces, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Make sure you stop to eat at the little restaurant at the top of the terraces. The food is halal and delicious and the experience of enjoying your lunch with such breathtaking views is unforgettable.
#3 Visit harmony square (Puja Mandala) in Nusa Dua
Puja Mandala literally means the praying area and is a square that houses 5 places of prayer from different religions. There is a mosque, a Catholic and Protestant church, a Buddhist temple, and a Hindu temple.
The complex was built to showcase how religions can all share the same space to worship in harmony. Make sure you pray in Masjid Ibn Battuta and if you are lucky you might see the children running to their Quran lessons in matching outfits!
#4 Swim with sharks
Sharks are very misunderstood creatures and the sharks around Bali face the constant threat of fisherman capturing them for their fins. It is believed that, in Bali alone, as many as 40 sharks a day die from having their fins harvested.
Paul Friese set up the Bali Sharks conservation project in order to help maintain and protect the shark population around Bali. As part of the tour you are taken to Shark Island and can feed, watch, and even swim with the sharks! Included in the price is a meal, all the gear needed for snorkeling, and a free pass to the nearby Turtle Conservation and Education center where you can feed some of the largest turtles you will ever see!
You will learn so much about these beautiful mysterious creatures and will have benefited a local charity too!
#5 Taste the Delicious Food Options
There is such an incredible selection of food to eat in Bali you will be hard pressed not to find something to suit your taste buds. But, understandably as an island, it is famous for some amazing fish dishes.
Why not try some seafood cuisine while sat on the beach watching the sun set over the sea? The Jimbaran Bay Beach restaurant offers special sunset dinners with live music entertainment. Balinese-style mariachis will serenade you with nearly any song you can name- in Arabic as well as English!
Or why not hire a halal tour guide to show you the best halal eats on the island?
One of the highlights of our time in Bali was eating at Bale Udang Mang Engking in Ubud. This has got to be one of the most visually stunning places to eat in the world. Back in the UK, we feel special getting a booth to eat in.
But at this restaurant, you get your own floating hut overlooking a koi pond! Live singers perform from the center of the pond and will take song requests. For service, you just need to bang the little drum at the side of your hut. The menu is absolutely phenomenal and you can choose from a range of dishes that include seafood, beef, lamb, duck, and chicken – the best news – it is all halal!
Seminyak has become a hub of talented and unique designers selling their wares from hip little boutiques. You can find really unique presents and keepsakes here. But, for us, the biggest revelation when shopping in Bali was how much everyone loves children.
In the UK you can almost feel the shop assistants judging eyes follow you around the premises as you simultaneously bribe/ threaten your child into silence while you browse. The Balinese, however, tend to treat children like guests of honour. I was pleasantly surprised, on many occasions, to find my son instantly become the centre of attention and entertained enough so that I could enjoy looking around the shop.
If boutiques aren’t really your thing or if you are passionate about haggling then the Ubud art market is one not-to-miss! It will take you a full day to explore and navigate every twist and turn of this sprawling market full of wonders. Sellers drive a hard bargain but are always willing to negotiate. This is definitely the place to buy some beautiful quality sarongs as well as silver jewellery – but never forget to haggle!
#7 Hang out in your private pool villa
If you fancy a lazy day why not chill by your very own private pool? The price of hotels in Bali is very reasonable and you can find surprisingly luxurious accommodation from as little as £45 a night!
As a hijabi, I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to be able to wake up and jump in a pool without worrying about being covered. Many of the restaurants nearby are happy to deliver so having an entire day dedicated to lazing around and playing in the pool was not a problem.
#8 Meet some monkeys
Get up close and personal at the Monkey Forest Temple in Ubud. The beautiful temple is an ecological reserve home to around 700 macaque monkeys.
Beware – they are not shy and will take almost anything you have on display. It is also important to note this is their home and the attendants are more likely to tell you off rather than shoo the monkeys away if they are being a nuisance!
#9 Meet a celebrity!
Julia Roberts put Bali on the map when she played travel writer Elizabeth Gilbert in Hollywood’s adaptation of the novel Eat, Pray, Love.
Sadly the real life spiritual healer Ketut Liyer passed away but you can still meet herbalist Wayan Nuriasih featured in the film at her humble establishment in Ubud. This pitstop is something you really need to plan in advance as there are many healers called Wayan and you are never sure if she is the real deal!
#10 Get a massage
It would be a travesty to travel to Bali and not have a traditional Balinese massage. We were a little concerned about our 3-year-old as we did not feel comfortable leaving him with anyone and were then worried he would lose interest in his massage and want to leave therefore spoiling our own treatment. But he enjoyed every minute just as much as we did. The spa we visited was absolutely beautiful and the staff could not have done anything more for us. They were constantly on hand to satisfy our son’s every whim even to the point of fishing out a koi from their very own pond for him to ‘take home’… until I set them straight! And to settle any concerns about segregation and privacy: my son and I went to a private room with 2 female masseuses and my husband went into another private room with a male masseuse.
The massage was by far the best I have ever had! Once we finished we were taken to a beautiful seating area and given fresh fruit and herbal tea. Again, the staff were incredibly attentive to my son and took him to play in the garden while we sat in peace.
There were so many highlights of our trip and we most definitely plan to go back. I really cannot recommend it enough as a holiday destination.