Northern and Eastern Bali is where you can find a more authentic and relaxed experience. Few highlights - its small sleepy picturesque villages along the Northern coast; Singaraja (Lion King in literal translation) - first established as a colonial Dutch hub and then turned into vibrant quite modern capital of the North; Amed - one of the most beautiful places we've ever seen.
Most of Northern and Eastern coast is covered in black volcanic sand, so it doesn't see as many tourists as does the South, apparently white sand is the only one that gets associated with paradise in the Western world. It's nice to realize though that in their race for white sand beaches they will never see all that rustic beauty, spectacular creations of nature, rice fields right by the sea, all those amazingly sincere people who won't treat you as money bags (as they often do in the South)
It's best to take a motorbike in Kalibukbuk (central village 10km to the West from Singaraja) and just go East exploring the coast. In most places you'll be able to just stop, park your bike and take a swim or just toast your butt on the black sand. And if during your ride a random turn seems curios - just take it, the road pavement won't be there, but you're likely to discover some local community with children running to you yelling "Helo!", teenagers riding bikes along rice paddies with their hand made kites ready to conquer the sky, fishermen discussing the day's catch with their wives on half broken benches.
One cool thing to do in Kalibukbuk besides doing nothing, fishing and swimming is to go see the dolphins at 6 in the morning. The process is a bit off putting in the beginning because you're not the only one who wants to see the dolphins and there are at least 50 other boats cruising around searching for the dolphins. So the whole "looking at the dolphins" turns into "hunting the dolphins" - someone who spots the dolphins would yell and wave hands, and other 50 boats would speed up to the same spot immediately. After a while though you understand that the dolphins don't really mind presence of humans and such a huge attention, so they just do their show for about 40 minutes and then head deeper into the sea.
We happened to be in Bali for its Independence Day on August 17th (the independence from the Dutch in 1945) and we heard from the locals that Singaraja hosts a great show for this celebration - an hour long parade through the main street with schools, colleges, workers unions, businesses and simply social clubs showing off what they have. It's literally a carnival with one group striving to put up a better show then the other. Some have amazing costumes from traditional mythology or mimicking the Dutch vs Balinese battles, some play music, some dance, some transform cars into moving houses, boats, fish or a theatre stages. This is the the most colorful and cheerful Independence Day I have ever seen.
Amed is the treasure of the East. It's a range of 6-7 small villages - all on the coast of the sea. Each village is situated in its own lagoon, and you have to drive on a small serpentine road over rocks and cliffs to get from one village to another. Riding on a bike like that through all the villages is what everyone has probably seen in movies - wind in your face, roaring of the engine, spectacular rocks, caves and sea below you and you riding on the edge of the world (like a boss :))
Amed has pretty nice beaches too, in many places there are rocks but you have to know the spots. Behind Amed is majestic Mount Agung which contributes to its feeling of wilderness and separation from civilization. At the base of the mountain there are numerous picturesque rice fields and villages. We stumbled upon one such village, called Bangli, and a local guy there took us on an expedition through the rice fields and forest to see a holy spring. He also showed us how pineapple, papaya, sweet potato, jack fruit, peanuts, and other plants grow in the wild.
If you ever get to Amed go to the last village and find Mister Smiling Buddha - he owns amazing bungalows on the beach and an organic food restaurant. Even though you'll be 5 km far from the central villages you won't regret the the experience and hospitality of Smiling Buddha.
That's it for now, next and the last part - about islands. Stay tuned!