What makes Bali so special?

Almost all parts of the island have been lovingly terraced to produce rice and a wonderful assortment of tropical fruits and vegetables
For many years, Bali has been named at the top of the world’s travel destinations by traveler’s choice polls conducted by Trip Advisor, Condé Nast and others. This small island is about the size of Delaware. It is 70 miles across and occupies about 2,000 square miles, which is 1/16 the size of Ireland. It became Hindu more than a thousand years ago, but through quirks in history, its 4 million Hindus are now part of Indonesia, a Muslim country of 267 million. Bali lacks any strategic geographic value and has no valuable natural recourses. So, first the Muslim conquerors of the 13th century, and then later the Dutch colonizers of the 16th century both bypassed little Bali as if it were not worth their time to conquer it. And today, its status as one of the most beautiful places on earth helps protect it.
Temples built to gods of nature have a long useful life-span. But, because Bali has gods and temples for so many aspects of nature and human life, sometimes a temple looses its purpose when technologies change. A temple built 125 years ago to the god of typewriters has lost its purpose and now might have become a home to an extended family

Almost every square mile is covered in some form of beauty. It is called the “Island of a Thousand Temples”, but in fact there are about 20 times that many if you count those that are now occupied as homes for large families. It seems that new gods are always being discovered, necessitating the building of new temples. And, as old gods lose their worshipers, the old temples make the foundations of a great family compound.

Every village has its temples. And villages compete with each other, trying to put on the most exciting and colorful festivals. And, just as opera in the western world arose in Italy in the era of wildly extravagant rituals in the Catholic church, so in Bali, the beautiful costumes and ornate religious ceremonies, filled with Gamelan music and dance have led to a vibrant artistic, operatic and musical culture.

The People of Bali

Hinduism is famous for sacred cows and the caste system. After a thousand years of separation from India, the pragmatic Balinese have dispensed with these religious strictures. Today, they are very interested in quality food, with lots of organic farming and no GMOs, but they eat pretty much what they like. If they don’t eat meat, it is for health reasons, not religious. And being descended from the Brahmin caste is worth more in a cocktail party conversation than on a job application.

The protection of the Balinese culture has led to some interesting demographic features. There are really only four basic kinds of occupations:

  • Professionals (Teachers, Government employees, Doctors, etc.)
  • Workers in the Tourist industry
  • Artists/Artisans
  • Farmers

Professionals: The medical and educational system offer both public and private options. In the public option they are the best in Indonesia, and in the private sector they are at or near western standards. There are many international schools.

The Tourist Industry: is the crown jewel of the economy and can cater to the needs of everyone, from backpackers to rock stars. The Balinese are naturally very kind, helpful and friendly. Most everyone you encounter will speak English.

But it is the Farmers and Artists/Artisans that will command our attention.


Until sixty years ago rice farming was the main occupation in Bali, with more than 85% of the population involved in cultivation of the soil. This is similar to America in the 19th century. Today that number in Bali is down to 65% and they still grow rice using a farming system that was adopted more than four hundred years ago. This is a strange anomaly. In America, with technical advances in farming, only 2% of our population are still at work on the land. And today’s world economy usually dictates that any group or enterprise that is out of sync with modern methods of efficiency will soon disappear. What gives in Bali?

If the farmer at the left has the smile of a cat who just ate the canary, here’s one reason. The government has eliminated the laws of supply and demand for him. Using the old methods of farming, Bali has always grown enough rice to feed the population. But not enough to export. Today the government uses tourist dollars to support the rice farmers. The rice farmers use the old techniques. The population has enough home- grown rice, and the farmers have the ability to live, stress free from the ruthless markets of the outside world. In talking to several Balinese, We were repeatedly told that people in Bali lived well and that very few would choose to leave their country for the glamor of modernity.

The Arts in Bali

Alexa says that more than 50% of Balinese people work for money in the arts. The breadth of involvement is amazing. Whether you are a government employee, a farmer or work in the tourist sector, you probably have a side hustle as a painter, sculptor, wood carver, actor, dancer or musician. This may be the most concentrated artist colony on earth. The museums are wonderful. And in the art markets, which are everywhere, you are free to admire without buying. They don’t put pressure on you to buy something. This is a more pleasant experience than some other places in the world.

What will we see and do in Bali?

As in other Castles and Concerts trips, we will break into small groups each day to go explore the island and its treasures. Each evening we will come together with the whole group for music, feasting and general revelry. Each group will take lunch in a different place each day. During the last decade, Bali has had an influx of famous chefs and is rapidly developing a world reputation for its culinary excellence.

We’ll use a variety of means of transportation, including a fleet of old Volkswagen convertibles. Fifty years ago the island imported more than one hundred VW “Things”. They keep them in great shape, newly painted and shiny. They are a great way to see the island.

A good place to start touring is the Royal Palace in Ubud. Bali was a monarchy for a thousand years before the Dutch invaded in 1908. They ended the king’s power and abolished the whole system of monarchy. Bali is now a province of Indonesia, but the king and the royal family still live in the palace in Ubud with the trappings of royalty, but not the power of a king. Most days the royal band plays for visitors.
Bali is an island of great natural beauty, with volcanoes, alpine lakes, monkey forests, and more than one hundred waterfalls. And they are crazy for swings with ropes of a hundred feet or more. These swings allow you to soar out over the rice fields. They also love zip lines that make you fly over deep valleys. We even found one valley with a pair of zip lines over a deep valley several hundred yards across. The second line is for a safety harness that you wear while actually riding a bicycle across the valley, using the lower zip line like a tight-rope in a circus. It looks absolutely crazy, but they claim they’ve never lost anyone.

A Special Treat

An important rule for travelers is that one should always be ready to welcome good fortune. Some of the greatest travel experiences of a lifetime can happen if you keep yourself always ready to walk through an open door without knowing what’s on the other side. Our first trip to Bali was blessed with a stroke of fantastic good luck.

In scouting a new destination, we usually take the same first two steps. We find what appears to be the best hotel and check in without informing them that we want to bring a big group. We want to know how they treat an ordinary guest. We then ask them to refer us to the best guide in town. We then set out to learn all we can. Using this method in Bali, we found ourself in the company of a very erudite guide who had more knowledge than personality. His job, in his view, was to teach us what he knew, with little regard for what we wanted to learn. Sometimes things work; sometimes not.

But at the end of the day, the driver, who was very sharp and had listened to our questions, suggested that maybe he could help. He lived nearby in a village that is famous as a center for Balinese art and music. It was from here, in Batuan, in the 1930’s, that the 20th century world first discovered Balinese art. The artists, musicians and dancers of the day flourished with high profile art shows and concerts in Paris, New York and London. For a brief time before World War II, Bali was famous for its artistic output.

After the war, things were difficult until the hippies arrived in the sixties and Bali once again started to return to an honored place on the world’s artistic stage. Our driver told us that he just happens to live next door to the family compound that is home of the most famous families in Balinese music. They have, for several generations, been the keepers of the flame from the great old days. They train the best players of today. They make the instruments and carve the masks for the operas. They rehearse four nights a week. Would we like to meet them.?

Because of this chance meeting, each day while we are in Bali, one small group will visit with these masters for an introduction to the esthetics of Balinese dance and Gamelan music. And on the final evening they will bring a company of costumed dancers and an orchestra to perform for us.

We could write pages about what we learned in a couple of days with these men and women. But we won’t. We will just tell you that this will be one of the more special treats that Castles and Concerts has ever offered. We hope you can join us.


The Balinese are wild about coffee. Lots of great coffee is grown on the next island north, Sumatra, but the Balinese boast the most expensive coffee in the world. It is called Luwak coffee. You can get it on Amazon for $399/pound (+ tax). We’ll visit one of the beautiful plantations where they produce this coffee with the help of a rare little animal called a civet. It’s an amazing story. Join us to learn all about it.

A Tale of Two Cultures: On the Beach and in the Mountains

Most of the monuments of the ancient culture are in the interior of the island. This is also where one finds the living art and music and customs that have made Bali famous. Our resort is in the interior on a mountain top, just a few miles from Ubud, the former capitol and cultural center of Bali. Most of our activities will be focused on meeting people who have traditional values; distant from us, both in geography and history. We will enter into a different and unique culture of art and music.

But, in recent years, as people from all over the world came to Bali for its artistic and cultural treasures, they also found an island with fabulous weather and miles of perfect beaches. With its friendly people and a welcoming tourist infrastructure in place, many folks now come to Bali just for the sunny beaches, surfing, late-night parties and world-class snorkeling. Thus has developed a separate tourist infrastructure: “Bali on the Beach”

This atmosphere is like other high-end beach resorts all around the world. And they are very popular for a reason. After all, what’s not to love about a few days in a five-star beach paradise with great restaurants, fancy cocktails and brilliant sunsets?

So for those who want to arrive a few days early to unwind before our cultural adventures begin, we have picked a beautiful five-star property on the beach for your delight. It’s on Legian Beach, with the center of restaurants, nightlife and shopping just outside the private, gated resort.

Where We'll Stay

Bali is known for the beauty, imagination and refinement of its premier resorts. We’ll stay in one of the best. The Padma Ubud Resort is a mountain top retreat overlooking a rainforest river valley. It is seven years new and is beautifully constructed with a friendly and helpful staff managed by Padma, Indonesia’s top hospitality company. A wonderful feature is a group of three infinity pools that have cocktail bars with seats in the water, allowing you to swim up, park yourself at the bar and order a drink or snacks without leaving the pool. It’s unusual, but with the rainforest views, and perfect water temperatures, it is truly spectacular.

A major feature of Bali’s hospitality is wellness. So the spa has as many treatments as a peacock has tail feathers. And the menus are filled with exotic meals that are healthy, delicious and beautifully presented. But they can also cover the needs of carnivores who want French fries with their filet mignon.

The rooms are built around a courtyard with the lobby, the bar and various shops clustered like a Balinese village. Building the bedrooms around a central courtyard allows each room to be a view room and each has its own balcony.

Our Evenings Together

Anyplace we go in the world, there are special people who have spent a lifetime honing the skills that allow them to share their culture and their inner life through music. Because musical thought uses a language that is deeper than words, it can become a universal human language. The meeting of skilled musicians from two different cultures promises to be one of the great joys of this trip. We expect that our musicians will be as blown away by the skill and dedication of the Balinese, as the local musicians will, in turn, be thrilled by the virtuosity and soul of our group of players.

From top left to bottom right: Liv Taylor: songmeister, poet and philosopher with his guitar. Matt Szmela: violin virtuoso who wows in many styles. Diana Bogart: high-energy vocal diva who also rocks the piano and saxophone. Chip Mallari: a master of popular song, who along with multi-instrumentalist Matt Montgomery are the leaders of all aspects of our trips. Dean Parks: by some accounts, the most recorded guitar player in history. If you are doubtful, just google his discography. The House Band at Ubud Palace: one of the many groups of musicians ands dancers that will perform for us. Vince Littleton: our rhythm-master extraordinaire. Scott Thompson: the Bay Area’s best young bass player. And last, but not least, Jeff Sanford: for several years the woodwind wizard who has held Castles and Concerts together.


Flying to Bali: You don’t need a visa to visit Bali. Although there’s only a nine-hour difference on the clock (the same as Paris or London) between California and Bali, the fact that it is on the other side of the dateline makes for strange looking flight schedules. If you choose the most efficient flights, you will fly to Singapore with a couple of hours to change flights and then on to Bali. This will take just over 20 hours. But if you leave, for instance, on a Wednesday, and then cross the dateline, you will, most likely, arrive on Friday. This is pretty strange, but then consider the return flight. Depending on what time of day you leave, you may arrive home at the same time you left. Or even before! These are just tricks of clocks and calendars, but you should plan to check and recheck your flight schedules to make sure it all make sense.

As Long as you are flying to Asia: All major hubs on the Pacific Rim have connections to Bali. So on your way, you might consider a few days to check out Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok or Sydney, Australia.

Bali on the Beach? While in the interior of Bali, we will concentrate on the culture, art, music and history of this enchanted place. We encourage you to arrive a little early, both to catch up from the long flight, but also to acclimate yourself to the natural beauty of the place and its people. Bali’s airport is at Denpasar (DPS). You can arrive up to four days early and we’ll be there to greet you at the airport. We will transport you to the beach resort in Legian for a couple of extra unstructured days. The choice is yours: Arrival any time Oct 10, 11, 12, 13. Departure after noon on October 20.

Weather: Beautifully tropical with warm tending to hot days and gentle evenings. Our hotel is air conditioned as are all our transport. and most interior places that we’ll visit. We’ll arrive before the rainy season, but if we do have rain, it will be gentle, warm and delightful.

Dress: Balinese people dress well. The people that serve us will often be dressed in beautiful traditional attire. When we leave the resort, you should dress for comfort. The weather is tropical, but very seldom really hot. Leave the neckties at home. Shorts are OK. Think Hawaii. Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses are a must. Save the fancy shoes for our evening festivities, where it will be appropriate to dress up a little.

Money: Sometime in the past, there was some serious inflation; a million rupiah note is worth $67, The conversion is to divide by 10,000 (drop four digits) and then take 2/3 of what’s left. Most prices in Bali just drop the last thee zeros in favor of a K. In this case you divide by 10 (drop a digit) and then take 2/3 of what’s left. So something costing 600,000 may appear as 600K on a menu. Drop a zero, leaving 60, and taking 2/3 of that gives you $40. It’s not the easiest conversion. But we’ve had worse. Credit cards are accepted and there are ATMs everywhere.

A note on costs: Bali is a safe country, with a kind and gentle population. It is welcoming to those from all rungs of the world’s economic ladder. Adventurous young people from around the globe can find clean, well-run and inexpensive hostels on the beach and in the mountains. There is a cheap and efficient (but crowded) bus system that covers the entire island. And the government keeps prices of food staples low while simultaneously supporting the country’s farmers. These price supports are mostly funded by the prices of extravagant five-star hotels and the safety and services provided by Bali to the world’s more well-to-do. The high-end properties are truly 5-star in comfort and price.

Pricing and What’s Included: We always strive to offer a high value-to-price ratio. We usually offer a main trip, with a second, pre or post trip as an option. This gives our guests flexibility in price as well as scheduling. For our week in the resort at Ubud we’ve pulled out all the stops. Besides our own entertainers, we’ll have two local orchestras with costumed dancers and actors. We’ll have some outrageous banquets where the food itself is a spectacle. We’ll drive convertibles in the jungle with knowledgeable guides, and a concert every night. The cost is $6,950/person (double occupancy) with a $1,550 supplement for a single room. Pretty much everything is covered except your bar tab and other extras that you sign for.

Early Arrival: If you arrive early, we’ll offer you the chance to spend a few unstructured days on one of the world’s great beaches. There’s great snorkeling, scuba, sailing and water sports of all kinds, as well as world class beach lounging and sunset appreciation. You can arrive at your leisure starting Oct 10, We’ll pick you up at the airport and transfer you. We’ll get you checked in and plan on meeting you at sunset for cocktails, dinner and a show. The four-night package is $1,950/person and includes airport pick up, the room, all taxes, breakfast each day and dinner and a show each night followed by afterglows in the bar or on the beach. You’ll be on your own for activities and lunch on these days. You can arrive anytime between October 10 to 13 and we’ll prorate the costs for the pretrip. We’ll transfer you to the Ubud mountain resort on Monday the 14th.

Deposits and Cancellations: A $500 deposit is fully refundable for any reason until after you’ve made your next payment, So, it makes sense to reserve a place now and not end up on the wait list later. If later it doesn’t fit your schedule you can cancel and receive your deposit back. Until we travel, your deposit and payments are fully transferable to someone who takes your place, and if you cancel for any reason, we will refund all of your money if we can fill your spot.