1986, Thursday September 11: Ubud, Bali
Gorge among rice paddies - near Ubud, Bali RELATED PHOTO GALLERY
Even in the 1980s, admitting to enjoying Bali was considered lightweight among point-scoring backpackers. Not quite Disneyland or Benidorm perhaps; but perilously close. Among the more earnest readers of the Moon Guide to Indonesia - proud to advise on three month riverboat trips across Borneo, and archipelagos off Irian Jaya where malaria was a near-certainty and the absence of doctors a known - owning up to a yen for the magical island would get you shut out of serious conversation for good.
I'll own up to a certain amount of sniffiness of my own. When planning my 1986 South-East Asian trip, I tacked on a couple of weeks R&R in Bali only at the end, excusing it to myself on the grounds that I would have 'earned' it after weeks of schlepping across Java and, yes, Borneo. But phooey to me for being so mealy-mouthed, I not only liked Bali, I loved it. Never had I been to somewhere where the scenery was so verdant, the days so easy, the food so good, the culture so accessibly engrossing (it's Hindu) and, above all, the people so gentle and kind.
Kuta (pre-bombing) was already humming and polluted; the north and east coasts beautiful but quiet; but Ubud, plum in the centre, seemed to have everything - idyllic countryside, easy lodgings, intriguing temples, boneshaker bicycle hire, whole streets of open-air restaurants where you could discover the joys of Indonesian cooking for a couple of pounds; and all with the laid-back ambience of a country town.
I still look back fondly to my first morning, waking in my basic losmen room to discover someone had laid a fresh offering of flowers and incense on the threshold overnight - ask in vain at the Four Seasons for that!
Who cares if I am to be sneered at as not properly hard-core? I have my own long list of suitably scary wannabe destinations; some visited, many not: Chad's Tibesti massif, Siberia's Putorana Plateau, even climbing Beerenberg on Jan Mayen. But throw caution to the wind; when it comes to good times, I'm afraid Bali, and Ubud in particular, is pretty damn close to the top of my list.