Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park

An island of surprises

Travel to Club Med Bali and discover the culture and beauty of Indonesia.

Bali was never high on my list of must-do holiday destinations. Actually, it was never on the list at all. Too many images invade my screens of Australians partying hard on the beaches, Bintang beers in hand, with matching singlets and sunburnt noses.

But the opportunity to travel to Indonesia for a conference presented a chance for Bali to change my mind. And change it did.

I confess to not having done much research into Bali before forming my negative opinion. Now, I wish I had discovered it years ago.

It is an island of rich culture and deep faith. Shrines adorn nearly every household as you travel by, and a large monument to the Hindu god Wisnu (Vishnu) dominates the skyline from almost every direction.

The Balinese people are open, friendly and generous, even as tens of thousands of tourists pour into their island home each year.

The main tourist hotspots are Nusa Dua, Kuta and Seminyak. For a couple of days of pre-conference RnR, I chose Club Med Bali in Nusa Dua, reminiscing about my experience at Club Med Bintan Island the previous year.

Club Med Bali, Nusa Dua.

What I discovered was that travelling to Club Med without your family is a completely different experience. Not bad, just different. While families revelled in the many activities for both children and parents, as a traveller without children there was a lot more time and space to fill with beach walks, water sports and pool swims.

Club Med Bali boasts the Zen Pool area – a godsend for those without children, or for parents who have left theirs in the care of the experienced Kids Club staff.

Everything about this space exudes calm and quiet – from the moment you arrive to be greeted with a cooling drink, to the general air of this space being adults only. There is no splashing, squealing or dive bombing here!

It is here I find my first happy place in Bali.

The sun warming my shoulders, I am free to glide in and out of the pool all day if I desire, taking time to catch up on reading, or just zoning out from the everyday. The resort is set right on the beachfront, where a range of water sports including windsurfing and stand-up paddleboarding are at your fingertips.

And for dinner you can choose to join the crowds at The Agung restaurant buffet, where a range of international delights await you. Or you can dine by the pool at The Deck, with an à la carte menu of the chef’s specialties. I sampled both during my stay, and while the serenity of The Deck was bliss, I did enjoy trying something from almost every country at the buffet – even if it was while dodging little ones!

Nusa Dua is very much a family-friendly destination. Hotels abound in the area, and Club Med has plenty of activities – including trapeze and archery – to keep visitors amused.

On another part of the island altogether, Seminyak is bustling with people from all walks of life. Backpackers and other tourists mingle seamlessly with locals going about their daily lives. The trip from Nusa Dua to the hotel in Seminyak is an adventure in itself. Seasoned visitors take to the streets on motorbikes and mopeds – the predominant way locals get around. Watching from my car window I was fascinated at the traffic around me – what was seemingly chaos I soon worked out was actually a carefully choreographed dance of people being courteous, careful and efficient in their travel. All to the tune of multiple vehicle horns that became a regular backdrop every time I took to the streets.

It was during this trip I spied the Wisnu monument dominating the skyline. Determined to know more, I enquired about travelling there to see it up close.

The god Wisnu riding the Garuda at GWK.

A day’s chauffeured car travel will cost you approx. $A80, and take you to Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park – better known as GWK. The park is centred around the statue of Wisnu riding his trusted companion Garuda, an eagle-like creature that represents loyalty and selfless devotion. Garuda is also the national emblem of Indonesia, and represents freedom.

While this statue dominates your view, there are many more cultural and religious features of the park to explore. There are also performances throughout the park, including traditional dances and theatre. It is important that you respect the traditions and wishes of the people, though, and dress and act appropriately, particularly in their spiritual spaces.

My mind was blown by the sheer size of the park, and particularly of its central statue. And also the feeling of calm and respect that emanated across the crowds of tourists there. A far cry from the visions I had of Bali, and certainly something that makes me want to return.