There are as many faces to Bali as there are visitors, which is a lot of faces! Both exotic and familiar, this mostly Hindu island, situated in the middle of a predominantly Muslim nation, can cater to the most hedonistic or the most budget-conscious. It encourages exploration, yet applauds relaxation, can be romantic or adventurous, modern or traditional. An equally varied landscape alternates between lush green paddy fields and stark mountainsides, active volcanoes and rugged cliffside coastlines overshadowing pristine white beaches or softly graduating to black sand shores.
The most popular tourist areas are located in the south of the island. Along the west coast, Tuban/ Kuta / Legian lead to ultra chic Seminyak, then Canggu, which is fast gaining ground as a haven of luxe private villas. On the east side is the fishing village of Sanur, Bali’s earliest tourist area and home to the first and only hotel that rises above the height of the coconuts trees.
The high end area of Nusa Dua and trending cliffside locale of Uluwatu are on the Bukit Peninsula. At its ‘neck’ is the fishing village of Jimbaran where, beyond the iconic beachside seafood restaurants, more luxury properties thread their way up the limestone cliffs.
The cultural heart of Bali is found further north, around the atmospheric village of Ubud the traditional home of an abundance of artists, artisans and dancers. Today it is equally popular for its hillside luxury resorts, health retreats and yoga studios. The impressive views of the UNESCO listed rice terraces of Jatiluwih and the trio of lakes north of Bedugul make these parts of the central mountain area attractive destinations for day visitors.
The East Coast of Bali is yet to be discovered by the masses, so life moves at a gentler pace and there are glimpses of a Bali that existed prior to the tourism boom. The colourful history and rich culture of the two main provinces, Klungkung and Karangasem, are major drawcards, not to mention magnificent diving and surfing. Move to the north, and you will find the laid back precinct of Lovina Beach, where black sand beaches are dotted with colourful outriggers, lying in wait for potential dolphin watchers or divers.
West Bali is the least developed and populated part of the island, making it attractive to those seeking escape and prepared to forego luxury. West Bali National Park takes up a large part of the northwest and offers some unique flora and fauna. Within the park are two highly impressive diving sites, Menjangan Island and Pemuteran, where the largest artificial Biorock reef project in the world can be found offshore.
Bali’s multiple personalities include experiences for the luxury seeking hedonist; the ardent adventurer; the ancient historian; the theme park junkie; the nurturing mother figure; the spiritual healer; the keeper of culture and tradition; the frugal escapist; the bargain hunting haggler; the sophisticated shopper; the street stall patron; the discerning gourmand; the ultimate romantic and everything in between.
Choose the face that matches yours to discover Bali’s unique allure.
Any time is a good time to go to Bali, though climate and crowds may influence your preference and you might wish to plan around a particular event.
There is a lot to see and do in Bali so a stay of at least ten days is recommended, longer if possible.
In terms of cost, July-August and the Christmas holiday season are peak seasons for accommodation and some attractions.
Indonesian school holidays occur during the month of August which overlaps with the Northern Hemisphere summer holidays, so this can be a very busy time in Bali, especially in the most popular tourist areas.
The Moslem holiday of Idul Fitri (which is moveable) can also bring many visitors from other Indonesian islands, and Malaysia.
Bali has a tropical climate, meaning that the temperature remains fairly consistent year round, mostly in the high twenties or low thirties Celsius (low to mid eighties in Fahrenheit), though it can be considerably cooler in the mountain regions.
There are generally two seasons – wet and dry – with the former marked by an increase in humidity and rainfall. From November to March is the rainy season, when tropical rainstorms occur frequently, mostly late afternoon or during the night, bringing very heavy rainfall that is often short lived.
Bali’s rich culture is evidenced by an almost never ending array of festivals that take place throughout the year. Each village has its own temple and each temple has its own anniversary festival which means that whenever you visit Bali, it is likely that there will be a procession and a celebration going on somewhere.
Streets lined with bamboo poles called “penjors”, bending low over the street, are an indications of temple celebrations. When it is time to go to the temple, there will be a procession of men in sarongs and a special headdress called an “udeng”, and women in “sarong kebaya” with their heads piled high with massive offerings of fruit and flowers.
One of the most colourful and ornate celebrations in Bali is the traditional funeral. If a visit coincides with one of these events; it is well worth gate crashing. Visitors are always welcome.
Some Balinese festivals that are worthy of note are:
Galungan: Galungan is one of the most significant Balinese festival as it commemorates the battle of good versus evil and celebrates the return of the ancestral spirits to the Earth for a short time. They return on the last day which is known as Kuningan. As the Balinese calendar contains only 210 days, this holiday can occur more than once a year. Celebrations will be held at all local temples so colourful processions abound; a photographer’s paradise.
Nyepi: Another significant Balinese holiday, Nyepi is also known as the Day of Silence. It is very strictly observed and probably has the most impact on visitors to the island. While a visit to Bali during this time may entail some minor inconvenience, if one is prepared it can be a fascinating and worthwhile experience.
Nyepi day itself is a day of silence, meditation and fasting. Observed from 6am until 6am the following day, no fires are permitted and lights must be kept low, no work is allowed, nor entertainment or pleasure, no travelling, no talking and, in some cases, no eating.
Hotels keep a low profile and the movement of tourists is restricted; they must stay within their hotel. The airport is closed and only emergency traffic permitted. An eerie silence falls on the whole island.
The day before Nyepi is a complete contrast. The people of Bali parade around their villages, flaunting huge papier mache statues of demons called “ogoh ogoh”, and making as much noise as possible. It is said that the intention is to frighten the evil spirits away so that, in the Day of Silence that follows, they will be lost and unable to find their way back.
Some other events that are worthy of note are:
Bali Arts Festival: If art and culture is your thing, this festival is a must. Run by the Taman Budaya Arts Centre in Denpasar, and lasting a month from the second Saturday of June, the Bali Arts Festival celebrates art and culture in its many forms. Over the last 30 years it has grown to include both contemporary and traditional art forms, be it painting, dance, shadow puppetry or music, and performed by artists and musicians from around Bali and neighbouring islands, with some international representation also.
Bali Kite Festival: For anyone who has tried to keep even a small kite aloft, it is astounding to see these giant kites, measuring up to 4 metres (13 feet) in width and almost 10 metres (almost 33 feet) in length, take to the sky. In July every year large teams of villagers gather on Sanur Beach to compete in flying kites that are traditionally designed to represent gigantic leaves, enormous fish or exotic birds with tails that can reach to hundreds of metres.
Ubud Writers and Readers Festival: Originally conceived as a healing project in response to the 2002 Bali bombing, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival has grown into one of the largest literary events in Southeast Asia. Held in October each year, the Festival brings Indonesian and international writers together in a series of literary and cultural events, including literary workshops, book launches, youth programs, and community and arts highlights, hosted at venues throughout the Ubud area.
Bali is on Central Indonesian Time (known as WITA or Waktu Indonesia Tenggah), which is 8 hours ahead of GMT during summer. Within the local area, the island shares the same time zone as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Perth, Australia, though is one hour ahead of the country’s capital, Jakarta.
What to Wear:
The dress code in Bali is casual though it is important to be respectful. Topless sunbathing is not encouraged. As a mark of respect, it is recommended that swimwear be covered when away from the beach or pool. High end hotels and restaurants may also have a dress code that discourages branded t-shirts and thongs in restaurants and entertainment areas.
Visitors are welcome to enter most temples though there are conditions of entry that must be observed. Shorts, or skirts above the knee, are not appropriate wear and you will be asked to wear a sarong. In some cases a sash must be worn. Women who are menstruating are not permitted. Occasionally there will be a sign prohibiting entry and it is important that such restrictions are honoured.
What to Pack:
This will depend on what you plan to do while you are there as, with Bali, there are many options. If you are planning to undertake any special activities like trekking or cycling that might better suit closed footwear, bear this in mind. Otherwise, think casual, think warm weather and think sun smart. Pack smart casual if you are staying at a high end hotel or plan to visit any of the upmarket properties or restaurants. Otherwise, shorts, t-shirts or tops, sundresses and sandals or thongs (the foot variety). Bring a hat, a “rash vest” and plenty of sun cream (also readily available for purchase) and your swimwear. If visiting the mountain area, bring something light to throw on in the evening as it can get chilly.
If you are packing prescription medication, bring your scripts. Bali is a malaria and dengue fever area so be sure to bring, and use, a strong mosquito repellent. It is advisable to only drink bottled water but, even allowing for this precaution, sometimes the change in water alone can cause some gastric upset so it is a good idea to pack an anti-diarrhoea medication.
Some hints for travelling with young children:
-Diapers (nappies) are available at the supermarket, as is formula and baby food, though if you are particular about brands you may wish to bring your own.
-Swim diapers (nappies) may be more difficult to find, so best bring a supply and a good stock of hand sanitiser to ensure kids stay healthy (this can be purchased in Bali).
-Strollers are a must for littlies as days can be hot and walking is tiring. A toddler’s chair restraint is also useful to keep little ones safe when high chairs are not available.
-If catering for kids of different ages, it is a good idea to bring a small supply of activity books and a portable DVD player to keep older siblings amused while younger ones sleep. DVDs are cheap in Bali and there is no shortage of appropriate videos for children.
Bali can be enjoyed on the most frugal, or most extravagant, of budgets and everywhere in between.
One of Bali’s greatest assets as a tourism destination is its extraordinary value for money and its diverse accommodation options.
Within the lower price range are basic and very inexpensive rooms of modest budget with air-conditioning, modern conveniences and pools and often free WiFi. As the price rises, so do the facilities and services on offer, with mid-range priced properties offering more pools, restaurants, entertainment facilities, Kids Clubs, in-house spa facilities and sporting facilities.
Villa properties and private villas are also gaining popularity among those who are already familiar with Bali and want a more intimate experience, outside the larger hotel environment with personal butler and driver. Some properties feature one, two or three bedroom villas making them ideal for larger groups. Villa rates vary from the upper mid-range to luxury.
At the top end of the scale are some of world’s finest luxury resorts, winners of countless awards and frequently patronised by the rich and famous. However, luxury in Bali can be surprisingly affordable. An oversupply of high-end properties, increased online selling and greater control over inventory has stepped up the competition, and dynamic pricing is bringing the luxury experience into the lives of many who could previously only dream of holidaying in such lavish style.
Abstract Pricing at a Glance will provide a more specific price guide.
Eating and Entertainment:
Similarly eating and entertainment options cater to every taste and budget. Restaurants of exceptional quality, some supported by world renowned chefs, have sprung up around the island especially in Seminyak and Ubud. While expensive by Bali standards, they compare favourably with restaurant prices overseas, often for a much better experience.
In the smaller, often family-run restaurants, Rp80,000 (around USD6) will buy you a main meal with a large beer and only a 10% tax added. You will pay this for an entrée alone at one of the upmarket restaurants, plus 21%, but Rp350,000 (USD26) should still cover a gourmet meal with an extra Rp120,000(USD9) for a cocktail.
The Indonesian government extracts large taxes from imported alcohol with the result that imported wine is very expensive in Indonesia. In 1994, the first Balinese Winery, Hatten Wines, was established. In 2002 Hatten expanded its selections by introducing the Two Islands range, which uses imported Australian grapes. By completing the wine making process in Bali, the local winery can offer wine lovers an acceptable alternative to the expensive imported wines.
Abstract Pricing at a Glance will provide a price guide on specific venues.
Entry into temples is usually around Rp15,000 (under USD1) whereas museums may charge around Rp60,000-Rp85,000 (under USD6). Dance performances cost around Rp80,000 (USD6). Costs for other activities and entry to theme park and animal safari parks will vary but most are under USD100.
Please refer to the Abstract Pricing at a Glance for more detail on individual activities.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in local currencies, as well as US dollars.
$ = Rooms less than USD50 per double/night (Rp700,000)
Basic home stays, also known as losmans, are very inexpensive (USD15 or Rp220,000) and often include a light breakfast. Rooms are usually fan cooled with little more than a bed and bathroom (cold water shower, Western toilet & basin), but a few dollars extra can get you a lot more. While basic, these premises can be quite charming.
The supply of budget accommodation is extensive and offers extraordinary value for money. Rooms are air conditioned with modern conveniences, taxes included and often free Wi-Fi. Many feature at least one restaurant and a pool.
$$ = Rooms USD 50 to USD200 per double/night (Rp 700,000 – Rp2,800,000 ) indicates an additional 21% Government tax and Service Charge. Rates quoted in USD must converted to local currency when charging.
The choice in the middle price range is also vast and varied. Some offer special facilities for families including Kids Clubs. Those at the lower end feature at least one pool and restaurant. As they move up through the price scale there is usually a greater number of pools, restaurants and entertainment facilities, including swim up pool bars, in-house spa facilities, in some cases and sporting facilities.
Some very attractive private villa accommodation can be found in this price range.
$$$ = USD200 to USD500 per double/night (Rp2,800,000 – Rp7,000,000 ) indicates an additional 21% Government tax and Service Charge. Rates quoted in USD must converted to local currency when charging.
Properties at the lower end of the luxury scale start feature amenities of a higher quality, are usually set within landscaped gardens on a prime site and often with spectacular views. Additional facilities might include sporting and spa services, a health club and sometimes suite or villa accommodation or Executive “Clubs”. There is also a diverse offering of luxury private villa accommodation within this high end pricing.
While properties at the top end of the scale remain reluctant to devalue their product through discounting, it is still possible to secure some excellent deals. The upper price range can buy you an over-the-top luxe experience with personal butlers, pillow menus and more. From here it is ever upward to private helicopter transfers and luxury spa menus incorporating gems and precious metals.
The cost of meals can vary quite a bit, depending on whether you include drinks or not and if these drinks are sodas or alcoholic drinks. The latter is particularly true of imported alcohol which attracts a high tax and is therefore more expensive. For the purpose of the abstract pricing guide we will reference the cost of meals only.
$ = > USD10 (approx Rp140,000) per adult
There are many small restaurants throughout the island that offer very economically priced meals of both local and Western cuisine. Local cuisine is almost always less expensive although ingredients for Western food are much more accessible these days so the price of foods such as pasta, burgers, steaks etc. can be very reasonable also. However, imported meat will attract a higher price tag.
Restaurants placed in this category offer mains at less than US$10 and very often this price will include a non alcoholic drink or local beer. In some cases this price includes the government tax and a service fee; at other time it will be added and can vary from a total of 10% to 21%. Children’s meals are usually available.
$$ = USD10 (Rp140,000) – USD20 (Rp280,000)
Restaurants in this category offer mains between USD10 (Rp140,000) and USD20 (Rp280,000) and provide a memorable experience and quality food. It may be that the price on the menu appears less than this amount, but once government taxes and service charges of 21% are added, they extend to this bracket.
Many hotel restaurants would fall within this category.
$$$ = < USD20 (Rp280,000)
Restaurants of exceptional quality, some supported by world renowned chefs, have sprung up around the island especially in Seminyak and Ubud. While expensive by Bali standards, they compare favourably with restaurant prices overseas, often providing a much better experience.
See and do
$ = > USD5 (Rp70,000)
Entry into temples is usually only a few thousand rupiah which is well under USD5.
$$ = USD5 (Rp70,000) to USD10 ( Rp140,000)
Dance performances usually cost just over USD5.
$$$ = USD 10 (Rp140,000) to USD100 (Rp1,400,000)
Costs for other activities like theme parks, or specialised activities like surf lessons, tree top adventures, white water rafting and cycling will vary but most will fall within this price range and represent good value
IDR USD AUD EURO
100 0.075cent .95 cent 0.65cent
1,000 7.5cents 9.5cents 6.5 cents
10,000 75 cents 95 cents 65 cents
50,000 $ 3.75 $ 4.75 € 3.20
100,000 $ 7.50 $ 9.50 € 6.5
1,000,000 $75.00 $95.00 €65
Travel insurance is essential because, regardless of your state of health, accidents do happen. Excellent medical services are available. Bali International Medical Centre http://www.bimc.com/ provides a good range of services and is accustomed to dealing with expatriates, but it is expensive.
If you are planning to self-drive a vehicle it is a good idea to ensure that you are covered for this in your travel insurance.
Indonesian currency is the Rupiah, written as Rp. The international currency code is IDR. The rupiah consists of Rp50, Rp100, Rp500 and Rp1,000 coins and notes of Rp1,000, Rp5,000, Rp10,000, Rp20,000, Rp50,000 and Rp100,000.
Rounded rates of exchange are as follows (a few hundred Rupiah will make only cents, or a fraction of a cent, difference)
1USD = approx Rp 15,000
1AUD = approx Rp 10,000
1 Euro = approx Rp 16,000
ATMs are prolific around the island and most accept international ATM and credit cards. Terminals offer withdrawals in multiples of Rp50,000 or Rp100,000 notes, with the former more common. Be aware that the banks in some countries charge large fees for overseas withdrawals.
Visa, MasterCard and American Express are accepted readily. Some venues may not accept Diners Club International.
It is very easy to change money in Bali as there is a moneychanger on every corner. Rates are display on a board outside the premises and there is strong competition. The difference in the end is minimal unless you are changing a large amount. Before you hand over your money make sure there is no commission as this is sometimes a ploy used after the transaction to extract further cash. You should never need to pay commission, especially if not noted upfront. Most money changers are reliable but a few are adept at sleight of hand, so make sure you count your money carefully before you leave. If you are interrupted or distracted at all, or if the moneylender retrieves the cash into his hands at any stage, count it all again.
PT. Dirgahayu Valuta Prima is the largest authorised money changer in Bali with multiple branches throughout the major tourist areas and long trading hours (8am – 10.45pm). http://www.balibestrate.com/
In addition to the Government tax, larger accommodation providers and restaurants impose a 10% service tax which largely replaces the need for tipping. The revenue generated from the service tax is shared among all employees including those who do not directly interact with the consumer.
Cottage economies and industries are exempt from the government tax and small family restaurants will often only add an additional 5-10% to the bill instead of the 21%.
Tipping is not expected in Bali, especially where a service is charged. However, where there is no service charge, a tip is welcome. You might round a taxi fare up to the next Rp10,000 or offer a Rp5,000 tip in a small restaurant or a Rp10,000 tip to a massage provider on the beach.
The Indonesian Government levies a Goods and Services Tax of around 11% at point of sale, by major vendors.
The tax that was formerly charged when departing Indonesia is now incorporated into ticketed airfares, so is no longer paid on departure.
There are many stories about the dangers of Bali and Bali-belly in particular. Using common sense and good hygiene practices, along with a few simple precautions, can make a big difference. Many hotels have their own filtration system, but it is not a good idea to rely on this. Always drink bottled water only. Be sure to use a mosquito repellent day and night as Bali is a dengue fever and malaria area. Also ensure that you are well protected from the sun and that you keep well hydrated.
If you are bitten by any animal seek medical aid immediately and begin post-infection treatment for rabies. Vaccinations against Hepatitis A& B are recommended, and it is a good idea to ensure your tetanus vaccination is current.
While the cost of getting to Bali will depend on your point of departure, the cost of getting around Bali once there, is very small. It is not a large island and, even with roads that are often in a questionable state of repair, it is possible to travel from one end to the other in a day. Motor vehicles are the only form of transport (apart from bicycles or horse and cart).
A few modern toll roads have helped ease the traffic to some degree, but the narrow streets and volume of traffic moving through the popular villages like Kuta/Legian and Ubud, can make for some lengthy journeys.
The following international airlines service Bali:
Air Asia: (AK) http://www.airasia.com/ Ex Kuala Lumpur
Air Nuigini: (PX) http://www.airniugini.com.pg/ Ex Port Moresby
Cathay Pacific: (CX) http://www.cathaypacific.com/ Ex Hong Kong
China Airlines: (CI) http://www.china-airlines.com/ Ex Taipei
China Eastern: (MU) http://au.ceair.com/ Ex Shanghai
China Southern: (CS) http://www.csair.com/en Ex Guangzhou
Emirates: (EK) http://www.emirates.com/au/english Ex Dubai
EVA Air: (BR) http://www.evaair.co/ Ex Taipei
Garuda Indonesia: (GA) https://www.garuda-indonesia.com/ Ex Aust.,Singapore,Japan,Korea
Jetstar: (JQ) http://www.jetstar.com/au Ex Australia
Jetstar Asia: (3K) http://www.jetstar.com/au/en Ex Singapore
Korean Airlines: (KE) https://www.koreanair.com/ Ex Seoul
Malayasia Airlines: (MH)http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/ Ex Kuala Lumpur
Philippine Airlines: (PR) http://www.philippineairlines.com/ Ex Manila
Qantas: (QF) http://www.qantas.com.au/ Ex Australia
Royal Brunei: (BI) https://www.flyroyalbrunei.com/ Ex Kota Kinabalu
Silk Air: (M http://www.silkair.com/ Ex Singapore
Singapore Airlines: (SQ) http://www.singaporeair.com/ Ex Singapore
Thai Airways: (TG) http://www.thaiairways.com/en Ex Bangkok
Virgin Australia: (VJ) http://www.virginaustralia.com/ Ex Australia
Taxis from the Airport:
Ngurah Rai Airport Taxi has the monopoly on the taxi service out of the airport. No other taxi company is allowed to have a service counter in the airport and the rates are fixed to each destination. Once reporting at the service counter (to the left as you exit the arrival gate), you are given a voucher and assigned a driver. You pay the driver, in Rupiah, on arrival at your destination.
A price guide only:
Kuta Rp 200,000
Nusa Dua Rp200,000
Metered taxis from other companies can enter the airport, so your return journey in a metered taxi will be cheaper.
There are three forms of mass public transport. These are public buses, minibuses and bemos. Bemos are small transport vans with a bench seat up front and two facing bench seats in the rear. They are designed to carry 8-10 small persons comfortably but often carry considerably more, plus livestock. They travel short distances and are very cheap; around Rp5,000 to go a few kilometres. Be sure to determine the price before you board and be prepared to be charged more than the locals.
Buses travel between terminals in the larger towns and are very inexpensive but getting from one place to another can be a slow process. The capital, Denpasar, is the main transport hub.
Independent travel via motorcycle, drive yourself rental car or hiring a car with driver offer greater flexibility and are not overly pricy. A motorcycle can be hired from USD5/day and drive yourself cars from around USD20/day. You will need an international driver’s licence or you will need to obtain a temporary local licence. Traffic in Bali tends to be a law unto itself and by far the safest option is to hire a car and driver for around Rp350,000(USD30) for a half day or Rp600,000(USD45) for a full day.
Kura-Kura Bus Company (http://kura2bus.com/ ) runs a public shuttle bus service over eight routes which service the major tourist areas of Bali. These are Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Jimbaran, Sanur, Nusa Dua, South Nusa Dua and Ubud. All routes (except Seminyak) connect through a central hub, DFS Bus Bay, located at Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Simpang Siur Junction in Kuta. Each route has a flat rate for a single journey on that line. These range from Rp20,000(USD1.50) for Kuta, Legian, Seminyak to Rp 80,000 (USD6) to Ubud. For multiple trips preloaded Kura-Kura Cards can be purchased and 1,3,5, and 7 day passes are also available. The shuttle runs more or less to schedule, although excessive traffic or interruptions can cause delays.
If you are in a populated area, not travelling a great distance and you do not require the driver to wait, a metered taxi is a good option. They are reliable, reasonably priced and plentiful in the southern tourist areas. Bluebird (or Bali) taxis are recommended.
Outside the southern tourist areas, transportation is not hard to find, though it is not metered. These are private vehicles and the price for a specific journey must be negotiated beforehand. Most can also be hired for a half or full day.
Ferries and fast boat services operate to the outer islands including Nusa Lembongan, the Gili Islands and Lombok. These depart from Sanur, Padang Bai and Amed. The public vehicular ferry runs to Lombok from Padang Bai Harbour (East Bali) to Lembar Harbour (Southwest Lombok). There is also a public vehicular ferry operating from Gilimanuk in West Bali to Banyuwangi in East Java.
The capital, Denpasar, is the main transport hub in Bali, while the major bus terminals are as follows:
Ubung Terminal – bus services to the northern and western parts of Bali, also a bemo terminal
At: Jalan Cokroaminoto, Denpasar
Tel: (0361) 427 172
Tegal Terminal – bus services to southern Bali
At: Jalan Imam Bonjol, Denpasar
Tel: (0361) 980 899
Kereneng Terminal – bus services to Sanur
At: Jalan Hayam Wuruk, Denpasar
Tel: (0361) 226 906
Batubulan Terminal – bus services to eastern and central Bali
At: 8 Km from Denapasar
Tel: (0361) 298 526
The island of Bali has a long and ancient history, documented as far back as the ninth century. There have been many influences from early Chinese and Indian visitors, Javanese empires and Dutch colonials. Today they are very much their own people and, as a Hindu province in a predominantly Muslim nation, Bali remains somewhat of a mystery, but a very attractive one to overseas visitors.
From the discovery of ancient stone tools and earthenware, as well as massive drums from the Bronze Age, stone moulds and carved stone sarcophagi, it is clear that Bali was populated throughout the prehistoric periods. Ancient agricultural techniques, including the irrigation system known as subak, are thought to date back to Neolithic period.
Earliest written records are from the ninth century AD and statues at Gunung Kawi, near Tampaksiring, and caves at Goa Gaja, suggest a strong Hindu and Buddhist influence.
During the early 11th century, King Airlangga reigned in Java and, through the marriage of his mother, Princess Mahendratta, to the Balinese King Udayana, established a connection between Java and Bali which lasted until Airlangga’s death in 1049. For a period of time Bali remained fairly independent and under the rule of the Pejeng dynasty, until defeat by Gajah Mada, the chief minister of the Majapahit kingdom. The vast Majapahit Empire dominated Bali from the mid 14th century until early 16th century, bringing the Hinduism and the caste system to the island.
It is the Balinese who resisted these changes, and congregated in remote villages of Tenganan in East Bali and Trunyan near Mount Batur, that are known as the Bali Aga or original Balinese. The Bali Aga continue to practice their ancient traditions today.
In the meantime, the decline of the Majapahit Empire in 1515 and the growth of Islam, saw many of the most dedicated priests, craftsmen and artists take refuge in Bali, bringing with them Javanese culture and strong Hindu religion. Their faith, skills and artistry flourished and formed a foundation for the Bali that is renowned for its spirituality and art and continues to practice its own form of Hinduism amidst a predominantly Islamic nation.
European Contact to Independence:
The first contact with Europeans was with Dutch seafarers in 1597 who took advantage of local tensions to grow their power, playing local inhabitants against each other. Typical of this tactic, in the late 19th century, the Dutch supported the Sasaks of Lombok in a rebellion against their Balinese rajah. They defeated the Balinese, thus placing northern Bali firmly under Dutch control. In 1906 the Dutch began their final assault, vastly out-numbering and out-powering the three rajahs of Badung who would not yield to exile, but instead took the “honourable” path of a suicidal “fight to the death” known as a “puputan”. Waves of Balinese nobility were killed; nearly 4000 in total. A further “puputan” by the raja of Klungkung saw all of Bali under Dutch control and part of the Dutch East Indies.
In World War II, Indonesia fell to the Japanese and the Dutch were unable to regain control when the war ended. On 17 August, 1945 General Sukarno proclaimed the nation’s independence. More Balinese fell in the battle to retain the proclaimed independence but finally in 1949 the Dutch recognised Indonesia’s autonomy.
Tourism came to Bali in a significant way in the early seventies as surfers and backpackers began spreading the word of this island paradise. Western investment followed and is showing no sign of easing.
Fortunately early legislation limiting the height of building structures to that of the coconut palms (determined to be 15 metres), has meant that the island has managed to retain much of its character rather than giving way to the uniform visual blight that mass tourism has brought to many other destinations.
This is not to say that there has not been some impact on the Balinese people and the environment and not all of it is good. While the Balinese people and culture remain resilient and infrastructure such as roads, communications, education and health have seen great improvements, there are rising concerns about traffic congestion, pollution, and rubbish disposal. A “Keep Bali Clean” campaign has certainly increased awareness of rubbish disposal and new tollways will ease some of the traffic problems, but there is still a long way to go.
Although agriculture provides the largest employment, tourism is the major revenue source for the Balinese and setbacks such as the 2002 bombing that killed 202 people and another in 2005 that killed 20, had profound if relatively short-lived effect on the Balinese economy. Fortunately Bali’s diverse attraction has proven highly resilient and the tourism industry continues to bounce back and grow.
Indonesia is divided into 34 provinces, of which Bali is one. Bali is further divided into eight regencies, each of which has a capital. These are Denpasar City (Denpasar), Badung Regency (Mangupura), Bangli Regency (Bangli), Buleleng Regency (Singaraja), Gianyar Regency(Gianyar), Jembrana Regency(Negara), Karangasem Regency(Amlapura), Klungkung Regency( Semarapura) and Tabanan Regency (Tabanan).
Within these regencies are districts (kabupaten), municipalities (kecamatan) and villages (kelurahan/desa).
At village level, the banjar is culturally the most important. Every area in Bali is overseen by a local banjar , which is a type of council made up of the male heads of each family, whose responsibility is to protect the adat. The adat are the traditional values and customs on which Balinese core values are based. Even the Indonesian government recognises the banjar as an administrative structure that is valid within the national administration.
The banjar meets regularly to adjudicate on any infringements of adat, as well as determining auspicious dates for religious events, collecting money for ceremonies, overseeing temple maintenance and land sales. Every married man must be a member of a banjar, the leader is elected and decisions are taken on the basis of unanimous agreement.
Another organisation that is integral to Balinese culture, especially in the north where agriculture is a primary source of income and employment, is the subak. The subak directly controls the complex irrigation system and the all-important distribution of water which remains critical today, despite greater crop diversification.
Both the banjar and the subak have played, and continue to play, a powerful role in upholding Balinese traditions and values. They also provide cohesion and strength to a group of people that are unique within the composition of their nation.
Although most Balinese are quite Westernised these days, their culture is important to them and there are still some ways in which we can show respect by using appropriate etiquette. This includes such things as:
– Do not point with the index finger. If you wish to indicate something at a distance, use your whole hand with the palm facing downward
– The head is considered sacred so do not touch anyone, including young children, on the head
– Do not offer anything, but especially food, with your left hand
– Do not crook your finger to beckon someone. If you wish to beckon the, use your whole hand with the palm facing downward
Almost ninety percent of Balinese are Hindu, with the remainder being of Islamic, Christian or Buddhist faith. The Hindu religion still plays a significant role in Bali, with offerings to the gods and a belief in karma intrinsic to daily life. Every family compound has its own family temple, each village has a temple, plus there are nine other significant temples spread throughout the island, with the Pura Besakih acknowledged as the Mother Temple. On any given day, there will be at least one temple ceremony happening in Bali.
While the caste system that was introduced with Hinduism, is still evident in Balinese names and in determining the language by which other Balinese are addressed, it is largely redundant in practice these days. The four castes are Sundras (the peasants), Wesias (warriors) Satrias (Kings) and Pedanas (holy men and priests or brahman). Titles are Ida Bagus for the brahman, Anak Agung or Dewa for the Satria and I Gusti for the Wesias.
The Balinese follow their own unique brand of Hinduism rather than the Indian version and this is underpinned by the Tri Hita Karana philosophy. A concept of harmony and balance between humans, nature and the gods, the Tri Hita Karana prescribes the ways in which human beings must maintain a harmonious relationship with their fellow human beings, nature and God.
The official language of Indonesia, and therefore Bali, is Bahasa Indonesia, which is a Malay based language with influences from Sanskrit, Dutch and, increasingly, English.
There is also a Balinese language which can be very difficult to learn as it changes according the caste of the person being addressed. The higher levels are influenced by classical Javanese language and are often practiced by the priests in religious ceremonies.
English is also widely spoken on the island.