Discover real Bali, Indonesian culture, read about Balinese people and things to do in Bali.
Bali is a small island with big reputation. It is perhaps the most famous tropical island in the world. In fact, it is the smallest province in Indonesia.
The environment in Bali is mostly humid and encourages rich tropical vegetation. There are gnarled and twisted trees, bamboo thickets, creepers and ferns. Numerous wild plants provide food and herbal medicines. Rivers provides a habitat for freshwater crabs and prawns, fish and eels. Ravines are home to many forest dwelling land animals such as porcupines, pangolins, lizards, cockatoos, civet cats, bats, green snakes and pythons. There are more than 300 bird species which live and visit Bali and there is one endemic species known as Rothschild’s Myna or also called as Bali Starling. Sacred monkey forests are popular with locals and tourists alike.
Apart from rice, there is maize sweet potatoes and red peppers. Tobacco is planted in the north. Cassava or taller trees such as sugar palms, banana trees, and coconut trees are common. Clove trees and vanilla vines have been growing since mid-1970s.
The Balinese mostly live in villages. The village is called “desa adat”. Desa adat is based on feudal system whereby the ruler could call on villagers’ labor; this separation still remains the same today. The “desa adat” organization deals primarily with ritual and religious affairs, which are extensive in a society where religion permeates every daily activity. Religion is of critical importance, because the Balinese believe that the properity and safety of the world depend on the harmony between people and gods.
Religion is everywhere. It featured on the mountains, rice terrace, dramatic ceremonies, cremations, dances, arts, music, processions, offerings, carvings, paintings, masks, puppets and also the gamelan orchestra.
It is almost difficult to separate the division between religion and secular. Balinese Hinduism is unlike the main world religions. There is no founder such as Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed; no single holy book, like Quran and Bible; no school or seminars or colleges to train the priests; no single religious leader, like The Pope.
Although it is called as Balinese Hinduism, it is totally different from India Hinduism, as the Balinese has this beliefs before Hinduism arrives on their shores, many aspect of old, animist religion are still practised today. Animism is a belief that everything possesses a spirit or spirits, even animals, rocks and trees and we can communicate with them.
The spirits are active and need to be kept happy. Animist worship many nature gods and ancestors. Their temples open rectangular spaces with shrines, where the gods and ancestors are invited to visit during ceremonies. Fruit offerings are presented to them.
High spirits live high up on the mountain tops and in high shrines and receive their offerings high up too. They comprise the gods and goddesses of the Hindu religion as well as the ancestors of the Balinese people. They tend to be good, but are potentially harmful.
Low spirits live on the ground and receive their offerings there. They are called butas and kalas, an expression often translated as “demon,” however they really represent the power and energies of the earth. Butas and kalas cannot turn corner, therefore the short walls in front of gates keep them away from the family compound. Although they are potentially dangerous and disruptive forces, they can be transformed into positive and protective spirits.
Leyak are witches, usually a married woman who study black magic. They come out at night and most Balinese are scared of them. Balinese do not like to talk, or even think about them. The leyak are initiated by a sorcerer, and get their power through secret ritual in teh graveyard. They cause illness, death and chaos.
The core beliefs are (1) the need for balance, (2) karma and (3) reincarnations. Balinese believe that the world is divided into opposites: good and bad, day and night, mountain and sea, earth and sky, young and old, male and female and so on. The aim is to achieve a state where the two forces (of good and evil) are in balance.
The purpose of every ceremony, ritual, prayer and offering is to achieve this equilibrium, not only for the individual, but also for the village and the whole island in general. A person’s action or Karma, determine whether that person will be rewarded or punished upon death and possibly even before. Good works, offerings, performing sacred dances and playing music all create good karma.
Balinese culture and ancestors
Then a family member dies, he is usually buried (unless he is a priest or a brahmana of a royal family), and his spirit resides in Pura Dalem, the temple associated with death. The spirit can move from there if it wishes, perhaps to its own family temple. It is not until cremation, that the spirit leaves the body and capable to reincarnate. It is the most important duty of the deceased’s children to ensure that the cremation rites are properly carried out for their parents.
The spirit is rewarded or punished according to its karma. Following cremation, reincarnation can take place and usually the spirit returns to the same family in the fourth generation. A female can come back as male and vice versa.
The Balinese make offerings in the family temple to all their ancestor generally, not a specific ancestors. The deified family ancestors can help the family if they are accorded respect. They can also trouble to the family if they are treated properly. The Balinese take care to invite them to ceremonies, make regular offerings to them and maintain the shrines.
What to see in Bali?
West Bali National Park, a peaceful retreat in the heart of unspoiled national park boasts a beautiful savannah, lush green rain forests, picturesque mountain range, crystal clear water, and vast stretches of pristine beaches. The park is home to over a hundred animal species, including the exotic ‘White Bali Starling’, an iconic bird endemic to the island.
Pulau Menjangan or Menjangan island (The Deer Island) is a tiny island, 8 km wide, surrounded by hectares of vibrant coral reef. Menjangan Island and the surrounding area is home to some 45 species of coral and 32 species of fish. Look out for Pinnate Batfish, Rabbitfish, and Barracuda. Journeying West from the center of Bali, travelers pass a series of black sandy beaches including Medewi and Balian beach. These coastlines draw hardcore surfers from all over, who hope to conquer the great and powerful waves.
Lovina is the first tourist destination in Singaraja, north of Bali. Here travelers can enjoy the warm sunshine while floating on a calm ocean. Lovina beach is also a congregation point for more than 300 dolphins that come and swim along the coast at sunrise.
Kuta has become known as one of the most beautiful sunset points on the island. Two of the most visited areas are Jalan Pantai Kuta and Jalan Legian. These areas are complimented with a series of hotels, restaurants, shops, spas, clubs and lounges. Kuta beach also one of the best beaches for surfing, with both right and left breaks. Dining, shopping, leisure and other luxurious activities and nightlife are also found in Seminyak area.
Canggu and Kerobokan offer a little more tranquility than the busy city life and some hidden behind lush rice fields lie private villas, homestays and many types of restaurants, cafes and warungs.
Sanur. Violet sun rises from the east, facing the shadow of the highest mountain in the island makes Sanur become one of the most beautiful spot to witness the sunrise. Sanur located in the southern part of Denpasar, the capital of Bali. It is a long coastline of black and white sandy beach. The northern part of the beach has black sand. While if one travel to the south part of Sanur, the sand changes into brighter color.
Locals believe the sand in Sanur beach has the power to cure and purify the body and mind, therefore in certain “sacred” days, one can see locals burry themselves in the sand. Surfing, snorkeling, paddle boats; kite-surfing and even spear fishing are some water activities offers in this area. One can also choose to relax on the shore.
Ubud offers lush forest along the cliffs; fresh mountain breeze brings the smell of grass and sound of the rivers. Some of the activites in Ubud are rafting, canoeing, bike-trekking, hiking and terrasering ricefield that will amaze your sights. It also becomes the most popular area for hippies who seek some spiritual leisures.
What to do in Bali?
Across the lush valley above the raging Ayung River, the resonant call of the drums beckons the villagers to the temple. Sweet smell of incense and frangipani fills the air as slender Balinese men and women work the fertile rice fields. By the side of the road, before a small temple, a Balinese man sprinkles holy water over his head, presses a flower between his fingertips and bows his head in prayer.
To experience the true Bali is by following its rituals, festivals and ancient culture.
However, it is still possible to lose yourself in the beauty of the emerald rice fields, see elegantly attired Balinese make their way to the temple, awake to the screech of the majestic crested serpent eagle or cleanse your soul by bathing in spring-fed pools or holy waters.
Temple ceremonies and celebration every Full Moon and New Moon, which both comes every 15 days. Full Moon ceremonies are usually bigger than New Moon. Balinese believe Full Moon is a good timing for purification and praying. All young female and male start to huddle at the temple gate at about 6PM, usually gets more crowded approaching mid night. You can join this praying at the family temple or at public temple.
Things to do in Bali:
Cleanse your soul at healing water of Tirta Empul. For centuries, Balinese worshippers have been drawn to Pura Tirta Empul, the Temple of the Holy Water, whose sacred spring is said to have healing properties. We also found there are most springs in to purify your soul such as at Beji Ida Ratu Niang Sakti. Many yoga devotees who flock to Bali’s cultural capital, Balinese yoga style offers not only tranquility in asana, but also combine with meditation and practice of pranayama, choose your private teacher that suits to your need is the best way for this practice.
Free-diving In Bali
Free dive can be done in Amed and Tulamben area, the north part of the island. There are now at least three freedive school permanently set up there. The free dive school are registered in different certification system which provide broader option to your need. Amed and Tulamben also become the main area for scuba dive. Amed, a quiet fishing village on Bali’s east coast offers a superb selection of diving from an amazing reef and wall to wreck dives. And Tulamben Bay, one of the world’s best wreck dives with abundant reef life, with regular sightings of giant barracuda, bumphead parrot fish, and even muck diving.
Hiking in Bali
Hike the highest peak of Mount Agung (3.142 m) and witness spectacular sunrise looking at Mount Rinjani in Lombok from the top. At this point you are also see the majestic view of giant crater of Caldera Batur and its magical lake. Or choose the easy trek for sunrise at Mount Batur (1.717 m).
What to eat in Bali?
Real Balinese Food is not available in touristy area, unless a Balinese family invites you to a meal or to go to his temple. Catering and restaurant for tourist are not serving authentic Balinese dishes. Because of the beauty of the dish, it takes so much preparation and large quantities have to be prepared and it has to be eaten when it’s fresh. Balinese normaly use banana leaf as plate.
There are a number of rules concerning food, drink and behavior. Cake is always served with coffee or tea, nuts and krupuk with rice wine, and tea, water or tuak with the meal. The host does not usually eat with guests. The Balinese eat with their right hand, as the left is impure, a common belief throughout Indonesia. The Balinese do not hand or receive things with their left hand and would not waive at anyone with their left hand.
Famous Balinese dishes are Lawar, traditionally cooked by men, who chop up strips of turtle or mango or coconut, add various spices and mix it with uncooked blood, so that it is red. Bebek Betutu, duck stuffed with spices and vegetables, wrapped in a banana leaf, and cooked for three or four hours, this dish is eaten on special occasions. Babi Guling, roast suckling pig is a great favourite amongst the Balinese, although the pigs are usually too old to be suckling – from three to six months old, they are stuffed with spices, impaled on a wooden pole and turned over a fire of coconut husks and wood for one or two hours. Rujak, a refreshing sweet and sour salad containing unripe fruit such as mango or papaya, mixed with sugar, chill and salt.
Balinese traditional boost are called tuak, arak and brem. Tuak is made by cutting the undeveloped flower of either the coconut or the sugar palm tree. You then collect the sugary liquid that exudes into a bamboo container and ferment it. Fermented palm tree juice is drunk all over tropical Asia, Africa and America. It is the “toddy” of English colonialists and is drunk in the innumerable small warungs all over the island. It has about the same alcoholic content as beer. Arak is distilled tuak. It has a much higher alcoholic content and is colourless. It has a very sharp, biting taste. Since there is no fermentation, it can be bottled and sold. As the taste is unpleasant, the Balinese mix it with spices. It can also be added to coffee or mixed with brem. Arak is used as an offering in religious ceremonies. Having no sugar content, arak will keep indefinitely, unlike tuak. Brem is rice wine. It can be bought commercially, but ours is home made. Like arak, it is used in almost all ceremonies. It is a pleasant drink and can be drunk neat, over ice or mixed with arak. It is sweet and is made from glutinous rice or sticky rice (as it is also called). The rice is cooked for hours. Yeast is added. It is then allowed to ferment for three days, whereupon the brem drains into a pan.
Bali island weather is tropical, reliably hot and sunny throughout the year. Days are almost always 12 hours long. Sunrise is around 6:20 am and sunset is around 6:30 pm. Bali can be quite humid, the daytime temperature averages between 80º F (27ºC) to 90º F (32ºC) in the southern lowlands. The mountains tend to be significantly cooler at around 70º F (21ºC) to 80º F (27ºC) and even colder at night.
Generally Bali island is pleasant all year round. Rainy season and dry season are not clear cut or fully predictable. The popular dry season, referred to as “summer” by the locals is between the months of April and September, and considered the best time to visit Bali. The best months to visit are May, June, July and during the school holiday season. In this dry season the temperatures are only a tiny bit higher than during the other months if at all. During Bali’s dry season one can still expect occasional rainfall and often even locals are surprised by how unpredictable the weather is.
Bali island becomes more quiet during rainy season, which is typically from October to March. Monsoon refers to the wind, not the rain. Even in the wet monsoon, this tropical paradise is often still sunny for a good part of the day. Bali’s central mountain range is generally cooler and more rainy than the lower coastal areas. At night, higher up near the volcanoes, temperatures can drop to 15 degrees.
Getting around Bali
Bali island is made up of three main roads, the bypass road in the south, Ida Bagus Mantra road that goes from the center to the East and the road to Gilimanuk in the West. Many other roads circum navigate the island and hundreds of smaller roads traverse the countryside. Road conditions on the main roads are generally good but can be filled with slow traveling trucks. The condition of minor roads is generally determined by the weather. During the rainy season, road conditions fall foul of torrential rain and heavy traffic leaves the roads covered in potholes and debris. Although there is a public transport system here, journeys tend to be very long and don’t go to in smaller destinations.
The spelling and naming of most Indonesian geographical features, villages, towns, and even streets varies considerably as there is no standardized form that meets both popular and official approval. Names can be spelled many different ways, even on signboards in front of various government offices. There are three overlapping and concurrent address systems for any given location: Old street name and number, new street name with new numbers, and kampung (neighborhood) name with block numbers.
The best way of seeing the sights of Bali is by hiring a car and driver. This gives you the freedom to explore the backwater of this picturesque country. Before hiring a car/driver make sure that they have all the relevant paperwork and insurance in place. Agree on all costs ahead of the rental period. Also, make sure that they have a good command of English and are knowledgeable about the island.
Article by Via Wijaya, Photos: Ary Ulangan and Beatrice Laurinkute .