For me, the biggest draw is the intense moments of beauty that bloom up out of nowhere. Every day, you'll happen upon "canang sari," which are small, exquisite religious offerings made from leaves, flowers, rice and incense sticks. You'll see Balinese in sarongs and lace blouses kneeling to pray at their family temples by the roadsides.
Whizzing down the road in a scooter at dusk, you might hear a snatch of music from a rehearsing gamelan orchestra — percussive, chiming, mesmerizing.
The chairman of Bali's tourism board, Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, acknowledges the island's crowding problems but says its culture and temples still distinguish it from other beach destinations. "The culture is still there, even in a place like Kuta," the party beach, he told me when I called him after my trip.
That's true. But we felt much better about Bali the farther we got from the noise and traffic.
Image: This Aug. 25, 2012 photo shows cranes next to a traditional Balinese statue called Dewa Ruci at the site of road construction in Kuta Bali, Indonesia. It can be hard to find Bali's serenity and beauty amid the villas with infinity pools and ads for Italian restaurants. But the rapidly developing island's simple pleasures still exist, in deserted beaches, simple meals of fried rice and coconut juice, and scenes of rural life.