For some, mention the words 'Indonesia' or 'Bali' and images of barely clad Australians sprawling over Kuta beach, surfing by day and partying by night pop to mind. This may be the truth of some few areas yes, but there is so much more to Indonesia; an archipelago made up of over 17,000 islands...
Not only do the islands all offer something different in terms of flora, fauna and stunning scenery ranging from volcanoes and rice paddies to long white powder beaches, but what I find most astonishing is that the culture varies so much between the islands too. Many islands, such as Java, are predominantly Muslim, whereas Bali, for example, is largely Hindu, and Sumba's religion is mostly the local religion of Merapu, which follows many animist and spiritual beliefs.
These differing landscapes and cultural practices make each island completely unique, lending themselves to different types of visitor.
Can One Island Have It All?
It is probably unsurprising that such differences occur across a country that stretches as far west as Myanmar and as far east as Queensland, Australia. However what I really want to highlight is that even within each individual island there is so much variety, meaning that you don't have to travel far to experience the perfect culture-adventure-beach combination holiday. I'm going to take the most well-known, frequently-visited and probably the island with the worst-reputation, Bali, to prove my point...
The backpacker hubs lined with Golden Arches exist of course, but follow the road north out of Ubud for a couple of hours and you'll be winding up mountain passes, past the 'Twin Lakes' and into the stunning area around Munduk: stretching coffee plantations, lush rice terraces and tumbling hidden waterfalls. I stayed at Sanak Retreat; a really special collection of one and two bedroom wooden houses, and a three bedroom villa, surrounded by rice paddies. (I can definitely give you some great food and spa recommendations here too!) This really was the definition of feeling away from it all. One of my favourite days was spent here trekking with my local guide while he shared not only his village and the jungle treks he's explored all his life, but also the local culture and stories of his upbringing.
Unity in Diversity
More than once in this area we came across a mosque, Hindu temple and Buddhist stupa side by side and when I asked if this creates conflict I was told the national motto in Indonesia: 'Bhinneka Tunggal Ika' meaning 'Unity in Diversity'; and this phrase is something I heard time and time again. With everything going on in the world today we could certainly all learn from this grinning man with his walking stick and worn out shoes.
Bali Barat National Park
Continue up to the North West corner of the island and you'll reach Bali Barat National Park; a haven for nature and adventure lovers. The Menjangan is a particular favourite hotel of ours; one of the few that is nestled within the national park itself, surrounded by forest and lined with mangroves and small pockets of beaches. There are three main areas: the lobby and Bali Tower restaurant spanning 5 floors with 360 views (the best spot for sunsets!); the Monsoon Rooms nestled in the forest by the stables; and my personal favourite - the beach rooms with stunning sunrise, right by the open-air spa and Pantai restaurant serving fresh fish. You can do as much or as little as you want here (but having said that you can't go and not do a horse ride down through jungle to the mangroves or a snorkel trip to nearby Menjangan Island).
So there it is, whether it is the long golden bays in the south or bustling arty Ubud that you have read about many times before that you're after, or these pockets of off-the-beaten-track adventure, Bali can fulfill the needs of any traveler, and I refuse to accept the idea that anyone has 'done' Indonesia.