Onsite: PATA Travel Mart 2007

BALI-On arriving in Bali over the weekend, in advance of the opening of PATA Travel Mart 2007, I chose to stay in the seaside vacation city of Kuta, the sight of the terrorist bomb blast of 2002 that killed over 200 people, many of them vacationing Australians.

Visitors to Bali from the U.S. will have to buy a visa on arrival, either a seven-day visa for $10, or a 30-day visa for $25. This has to be paid in cash at immigration on arrival at Ngurah Rai Airport. I anticipated a mass of long lines and red tape and was surprised that the whole process took only minutes.

The drive from the airport to my hotel, the Mercure Kuta Bali [www.accorhotels-asia.com], took 10 minutes. The four-star Mercure is one of the better hotels in Kuta and a bargain at $115 a night for a deluxe oceanview room. The 129-room Mercure is right next to the 400-room Hard Rock Hotel Bali, a property with a little more flash. Both hotels are directly across from Kuta's main beach, popular with surfers and a lively scene of food vendors, massage therapists and Kuta's ubiquitous dog population.

Kuta wouldn't suit everyone - it's a little grubby and maybe a little too real. Several miles up the strand is the seaside resort area of Seminyak, which caters to a more upscale traveler. In Seminyak you'll find posh nightclubs and resort hotels such as the Oberoi and the Sofitel Seminyak Bali.

It's possible to use Kuta as a base for exploring the island, but iconic Bali - the land of rice paddies and a heightened Indonesian aesthetic - awaits outside Kuta.It's impossible for me to say for certain - having arrived in Kuta only hours ago - but it appears Kuta has turned the corner from the downturn it suffered after the 2002 bombing. The Australians are back in number, and although security is evident, it's not ratcheted up to crisis level.

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