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There are plentiful reasons to visit Bali; the gorgeous scenery, the golden sand beaches, the fantastic food scene and the beautiful Balinese people, to name but a few. Even with all of the above there is still a lot more to Bali than just a simple beach holiday destination. Bali possesses many unique characteristics that will enchant you for sure! To give you an insight into this special Indonesian island, we put this Bali travel blog together to bring you the things you won’t find in the holiday brochures. Here’s a list of some of the weird, wacky and wonderful things there are to discover on this beautiful, but slightly bonkers island. We’ve also tried to give you some ideas about what are the top things you should see in Bali and the best places to visit to ensure you make the most of your trip. Hope you like our blog!
Bali Travel Blog 2018
1. Temples, temples everywhere
They say there are more Temples than houses in Bali and if you drive around the island you’ll be in no doubt that it’s true. We’ve read estimates that put the number of temples between 20,000 and even as high as 50,000, and even then it isn’t accounting for the temples you’ll find in family compounds or the shrines you’ll find at the crossroads. Wherever you go, you’ll find a temple, even up a mountain or on the cliffs. In fact these are the most sacred temples of all such as Besakih Temple on Mount Agung or Uluwatu Temple on the cliffs of Uluawatu.
Each village (Desa) has a ‘three temple system’ for the divine Hindu Trinity : Pura Puseh (central temple) dedicated to the god Vishnu and the village founders, usually built facing Mount Agung; Pura Desa (village temple) dedicated to local spirits and the god Brahma, usually in the centre of the village; and Pura Dalem (temple of the dead) dedicated to Shiva, usually facing the sea. Additionally there are many other types of temples such as state temples, village association temples as well as family temples. You can see how the numbers can start to mount up.
Visit one or more Balinese Temples on your trip
Whilst you won’t visit all of them (!) there are a few which are worth visiting such as Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Pura Lempuyang, Pura Taman Ayun, Pura Uluwatu, Pura Tirta Empul and Pura Tanah Lot.
There is a dress code for entering a temple; knees and, for women, shoulders should be covered. If you plan to enter one be sure to wear a sarong and sash (yellow waist band) – and make sure to observe the signs regarding temple rules.
If you want to see some of the Temples for yourself your best bet is to book a guided tour. We went on the Full day Tour, but the other two are very good options too. When we return to Bali we’ll be going to visit Pura Lempuyang and Tirta Gangga without a doubt.
Full Day Tour: UNESCO Sites: Bedugul, Jatiluwih & Tanah Lot Whilst we were in Bali we went on a guided tour which took us to some of the temples mentioned above as well as to the stunning Jatiluwih rice terraces. It was a great day and we thought it was very good value considering how much we managed to see, and how long the tour lasted.
Sunset Tour: Uluwatu, Tanah Lot and Jimbaran If you’d prefer to see travel a bit less and spend some time on the beach then this tour covering the sea temples gets great reviews too. It covers some of the same sites as the previous one so you may not want to do both.
Bali Instagram Tour Another alternative is a tour of some of the most photo friendly spots on the island. This will include Pura Lempuyang, one of the most iconic Temple views as well as Tirta Gangga, a former royal water palace, a waterfall, rice terraces, and a big swing to finish it all off. Not just Temples but certainly a great way to explore the eastern side of this beautiful island.
2. Canang Sari
Every day you will see countless offering to the gods in front of every building, inside every building, on the beach, at temples, inside cars, everywhere you look in fact. These are Canang Sari. Canang meaning small, woven basket and sari, meaning ‘essence’. The woven palm leaf baskets are filled with items to represent the three major Hindu gods, lime for Shiva, betel nut for Vishnu and gambier for Brahma. Flowers are overlaid on top – all facing specific directons, again symoblising Hindu gods. Then coins or small notes are added to represent the selfless act of the offering We also often saw biscuits. These offerings are then topped with a single smouldering stick of incense. The smoke of the incense carries the ‘sari’ – the essence of the offering – to heaven. You should avoid stepping over or on the offerings whilst the incense is still burning as this will interrupt the ‘sari’s’ flow upward.
Hari Raya Nyepi is celebrated on the first day of the Saka lunar calendar (In 2019, Nyepi day falls on Thursday May 7th, in 2020 on Wednesday, 25th March). It is a day of silence, fasting and meditation for all Balinese Hindu’s. The night before Nyepi the ritual of Bhuta Yajna is performed by communities across the island.
This ritual is carried out to banish negativity and evil from Bali and its’ inhabitants. Large statues of demons and other evil creatures, known as ogoh-ogoh are created out of bamboo and paper and paraded in the streets. The statues are thought to absorb the negative energy of the onlookers and to ward off evil spirits. Afterwards they are burned in a large bonfire which is meant to satisfy the god of the underworld, Batara Kala.
On the day of Nyepi itself Balinese observe four main rituals from 6am to the following morning at 6am.
- Amati Geni: No fire or light, including no electricity
- Amati Karya: No working
- Amati Lelunganan: No travelling
- Amati Lelanguan: Fasting and no revelry/self-entertainment
No-one is exempt from the restrictions including non-Hindu’s and tourists. No-one is allowed on the beaches or in the streets and even the airport is closed the entire day. The streets are patrolled by the Pecalang, traditional security men, who ensure that the restrictions are adhered to.
The Day of Silence is a tradition that dates back to some of the earliest years in Balinese history. It was believed that by remaining silent the day after the loud celebrations of Bhuta Yajna the evil spirits would be tricked into thinking that that Bali was now uninhabited. Therefore, according to this thinking, the spirits would leave the island alone as there were no more humans left to torment.
If you’re a tourist visiting during Nyepi you’ll have to stay in your hotel although facilities such as restaurants will be open albeit serving more basic menus. If you’re in a villa you’ll be expected to keep the noise down and the lights low.
Whilst you may not be visiting Bali during Nyepi why not take part in your own spiritual purification ritual by attending a Balinese Healing Ceremony during your stay. This spiritual and healing process is known as melukat by the locals and is carried out to spiritually purify the mind and soul. It can be done at any place considered holy by the Balinese, although the Tirta Empul (or Holy Spring Temple) is considered the most holy site for this cleansing.
4. There are more scooters than people in Bali
Putu, our e-bike tour guide told us this fun fact – and after 1 month in Bali we believed it!
Whilst the population of Bali is approximately 5 million there’s apparently over 6 million scooters. It’s hardly surprising when the only criteria required to ride a scooter in Bali seems to be an ability to reach the handles!! Putu told us that he was riding a scooter to school when he was only 12 and we saw plenty of school kids doing the same, sometimes with even younger siblings or friends on pillion. The roads buzz with scooters day and night especially in the busier tourist areas like Seminyak, Canggu and Kuta.
Remember if you want to hire a scooter to check that your insurance will cover you as accidents are commonplace. You will probably need the correct licence in your home country as a minimum. Also wear a helmet. Sorry to be a buzzkill but the majority of deaths on the road are due to head trauma. If you are going to ride a scooter or motorbike in Bali we were told these guys were good, Bali Bike Rental (in the end we didn’t rent bikes because we didn’t have the correct licence so we wouldn’t have been insured).
5. Protectors of Bali
There are 9 Directional temples, known as kahyangan jagat which are meant to protect Bali from evil spirits. Confusingly the actual names of the temples that make up the 9 seem to change depending on what article you read or who you speak to – but apparently the most important thing is that there are 9 of them. Numerology plays an important part in Balinese Hinduism especially the number 3.
The Balinese consider that these special temples help balance out the forces of the entire island, like some kind of enormous version of feng shui.
This is the list of the 9 directional temples we’ve seen mentioned most often online. If you want to see all of these then you will need a few separate trips. We’ve listed some trips lower down this post that either we took, or that come recommended, that will give you the chance to visit many of these Temples, as well as some other beautiful sights.
- Pura Luhur Uluwatu on the western end of the Bukit peninsula
- Pura Masceti on the south coast close to Ketewel
- Pura Pasar Agung on southern the slopes of Gunung Agung in East Bali
- Pura Ulun Danu Bratan at Bedugal in the Central highlands
- Pura Ulun Danu Batur at Kintamani in the eastern highlands
- Pura Besakih on the western slopes of Gunung Agung in East Bali
- Pura Goa Lawah on the main road near Padangbai in East Bali
- Pura Lempuyang on the slopes of Gunung Lempuyang near Amlapura in East Bali
- Pura Luhur Batukaru on the southern slopes of Gunung Batukaru in Central Bali
6. Their feet, literally, don’t touch the ground
Balinese babies aren’t meant to come in contact with the ground until they are at least 105 days old (in some parts of Bali its 210 days) and in any event not until they’ve taken part in the ‘ground touching’ or Nyabutan ceremony.
According to Balinese Hindu custom when Balinese children are born they’re not meant to have contact with the ground because they are considered to be divine beings descended from heaven. For the first few months after they’re born they’re still anchored in the spiritual world. As the ground is considered to be impure their feet can’t touch it meaning that a Balinese baby needs to be carried at all times. When their feet finally do touch the ground it symbolizes their crossing over to the earthly realm.
The Nyabutan ceremony is a close knit family affair with a priest conducting the ceremony itself. There are a series of purification rituals, chantings and blessings and once the priest has blessed the child with holy water, the child’s feet are finally allowed to touch the ground which is then cause for great celebration.
There are lots of rituals such as these that occur within Balinese life be it the daily ritual of canang sari, to the more elaborate preparations for Galungan or Bhuta Yajna . If you’d be interested in learning more about these rituals and other aspects of Balinese life then this day trip gives you the chance to spend a day with a Balinese family in their village.
7. Pavements? What pavements?!
There is a severe shortage of pavements in Bali, this coupled with narrow roads and the above-mentioned crazy traffic means walking is nigh on impossible and even runners have to get inventive to find somewhere to run! The guy in the picture ended up running up and down the sides of an open drain. We’d hate to think he ever fell in!
What’s more even when there are pavements they are often used as handy shortcuts for scooter-riders in a hurry – it happened to us a few times when we were out and about in Seminyak, it certainly gave us a shock – usually they scoot back onto the road just in time but on a couple of occasions it was us having to jump into the road into the traffic to avoid getting squashed!
If you’re a confident scooter rider and have the correct licence and insurance then we’d definitely recommend hiring a scooter as walking (or running) is pretty difficult – especially on the south-western side of Bali (the Kuta Utara area). As before, our good friend who lives in Bali recommended Bali Bike Rental for bike hire.
If you don’t fancy hiring a bike we’d recommend downloading the Grab Taxi app. They are cheap, reliable and generally very friendly.
Another option is Bluebird Taxi – you can download their app here as these are the only firm who automatically switch on the meter for trips meaning you don’t get ripped off and you don’t need to haggle. Still, it’s always helpful if you track your trip on GPS to make sure you aren’t being taken the scenic route! You can flag them down on the road.
Beware that some of the other taxi firms have gone to a lot of trouble to make their cars look like Bluebird cabs with similar logos and even writing Bluebird in the windscreens. You’ll get the hang of it after two or three trips but the Bluebird cabs have quite distinctive covers (white with their logo as we recall) over the front seat headrests so keep an eye out for those.
8. It’s still chill
One thing we love about Bali is just how friendly it is, the Balinese are always smiling, and the many people we met and spoke with seem genuinely happy that you are visiting the island that they love so much.
Bali is a very devout country and you will see many Balinese attending to Temples, placing offerings, lighting incense, wherever you go. This spirituality must pervade the atmosphere because despite the chaos on the roads the Balinese temperament means that there isn’t really a lot of horn tooting or shouting or road rage – one driver we spoke to explained that the Balinese just accept that everyone else has as much right to be on the road as they do, and so they don’t get frustrated when cars pull in front of them, or scooters whizz past them on the wrong side of the road.
Whilst they drive fast, cars seem remarkably dent free – in comparison to our winter home, Portugal, where most cars have at least one dent and some cars look like they’ve been taking part in the wacky races!
9. Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut?
Bali is a great place if you’ve got a bad memory – you only need to remember 4 names! After a week or so in Bali we got quite confused because a lot of the people we were meeting all seemed to have the same name. Whilst you wouldn’t be surprised to meet more than one John, James, Mark or Richard on your travels you’d start to find it weird if everyone you met, including girls, were called that. But in Bali that’s exactly what happens!
In general, Balinese people name their children depending on the order they are born, and the names are the same for both men and women. So the firstborn child is named Wayan, Putu or Gede, the second is named Made or Kadek, the third child goes by Nyoman or Komang, and the fourth is named Ketut. If a family has more than four children, the cycle repeats itself, and the next ‘Wayan’ may be called Wayan Balik, which loosely translates to ‘another Wayan’.
Because that can all get a bit confusing lots of Balinese people use nicknames which either are just a random pick eg Micky, so you’d have Wayan Micky or something like fat (Gemuk) so Wayan Gemuk or peaceful (Santi) like Wayan Santi.
10. 3 calendars – 2 birthdays!
So whilst you think the Balinese might be getting off lightly with just 4 names to remember they’ve got three different calendars to follow. Whereas in the west we just follow the Gregorian calendar in Bali, not only do they need to know that calendar (especially if they work in tourism ) they also have two calendars of their own, the Saka (or Sashi), and the Pawukon calendar.
The Pawukon Calendar is in daily use in Bali and is used to set the dates for religious and ceremonial events. However other events are set according to the Gregorian Calendar and others to the Saka calendar. Both calendars have their roots in ancient Java calendars.
The Saka is a lunar calendar based on a year consisting of 12 lunar months where each month starts on the day which follows the new moon. (it gets quite a lot more complicated than this due to the lunar months being slightly shorter than our gregorian calendar months so an extra ‘month’ is added after the 11th or 12th month).
The Pawukon Calendar has to be one of the most complicated calendars on earth! It consists of a period (or year) of 210 days called the Pawukon. The Pawukon is made up of ten cycles with the three most important cycles being those of 3, 5 and 7 days. The 3 day cycles are used to set market days. When cycles coincide then this is celebrated as a special day – eg 5 day and 7 day cycles coincide every 35 days. The 7 days cycle is used to create weeks (wuku) – 30 weeks makes up a year (210 days). But one month (bulan) is 35 days long, meaning there are 6 months in one Pawukon year. Confused?! These are not normally shown on the calendar but are important for celebrating birthdays and stages in growing up.
The Balinese celebrate their birthday according to the 210 day cycles as well as according to the Gregorian calendar. Before you start planning on adopting the Pawukon calendar too it’s worth knowing that there are no gifts or parties on the Pawukon birthday so it doesn’t mean double presents!
Top things to see in Bali
We’ve compiled this selection of some of the top things to do and see in Bali.
We went on the UNESCO tour and the e-bike tour both of which we’d thoroughly recommend.
The other trips come highly recommended and cover off some of the main landmarks and destinations in Bali . Another option if you’d prefer to do your own tour is to hire a driver and design your own itinerary but bear in mind that Bali is quite big so you may be restricted as to the places you can cover within a day trip. Also, we’d say that it’s best to go with a driver with good English and a reasonable knowledge of the places you are visiting otherwise you might be left with lots of unanswered questions which can be a bit frustrating.
Sounds amazing – take me there!
Getting to Bali
If you are flying from Australia or New Zealand you can fly direct to Bali (lucky!) There are no direct flights to Bali from Europe, the US or Canada so if you’re flying from there then you’ll need to either get a connecting flight via one of the main Asian travel hubs like Bangkok or Singapore.
Alternatively, why not combine a trip to Bali with a short stopover in one of the many Asian cities that offer direct flights to Bali? We flew British Airways from London Heathrow to Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, then onwards to Bali with Malindo Air after a short 3 night stay in KL.
Find out more about what to do in Kuala Lumpur in our ultimate guide to 72 hours in Kuala Lumpur.
Other countries which have direct flights to Bali include Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei, East Timor, China, United Arab Emirates, South Korea.
Wherever you are leaving from and whether you want a stopover or a connecting flight we recommend SkyScanner to start off your travel planning. It allows you to search for flights offered by most airlines, and you can also search from and to any airport. There’s even a wildcard options (choose “Everywhere“ as your destination) so you can work out the best travel itinerary for you.
Best time to visit Bali
The best time to visit Bali, if you’re travelling without kids or can pick and choose your dates, would be April (although try avoiding Easter holidays), May, June and September.
We went for the whole of May and early June. Places were busy but not too crowded, it was fairly easy to get restaurant reservations, the weather was good with only a couple of days of rain and the roads, whilst busy weren’t gridlocked.
Peak season is July, August, as well as Easter Holidays and Christmas / New Year. Hotels and flights will book up months in advance and it will be tougher to find a great deal. Beaches, roads, temples, restaurants will all be much busier. If you can choose other dates to travel to Bali you might find you enjoy it more.
Christmas / New Year also falls in the Wet Season so has the added disadvantage of more unsettled weather. An expat friend told us that she’d met many tourists who come for Christmas expecting boiling hot weather and sunny skies, instead they’ve been stuck in their hotel whilst it thumps it down for days. It can often be windy on the south beaches of Sanur, Jimbaran and Seminyak. That said as with all tropical islands there will be plenty of sunny spells too. Some tours may be more difficult / less fun to do during the Wet Season, such as the Mount Batur sunrise trek, or cycling trips in the rice terraces. Temperatures are generally cooler and wetter in the centre and the north of the island anyway.
We use the Selective Asia weather guide to help us choose when to visit. It uses faces (from sad to smiley) to indicate what the weather is generally like by month and location across the whole of Asia which we found really useful especially when planning longer trips with multiple locations.
Whenever you choose to go, we’re sure you’ll agree that there is a lot to love on this fascinating and beautiful island.