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Life in Bali: What we’ve learnt from living here

Never did I imagine that Bali would make such a huge impression on me. Although sometimes chaotic (there is rarely a dull moment) life in Bali is all about balance. The rich culture and its people give this island a special energy that seems to have me hooked...

Here are some fun facts we’ve learnt about life in Bali and Balinese culture

Bali has become a bit of a base for us over the past year. It is the one place where we’ve truly settled. This vibrant little island has offered us so much more than we could have ever imagined. The longer we spend here, the more we fall in love with everyday life in Bali.

1. Balinese people are genuinely lovely!

Bali’s culture teaches honesty and karma, and this balance is very much reflected through everyday life. We can honestly say that the Balinese people are some of the kindest and nicest we’ve met over the course of this journey. On countless occasions we’ve experienced genuine acts of selflessness, like when our bike has had a flat tyre and we’ve been rescued by the side of the road, or when the Ibu at our favourite Warung would bring us free Mango in thanks for our loyalty.

Smiling Balinese Farmer Ubud
Like friends and family we are invited with open arms and encouraged to experience the Balinese culture!

The Balinese people like interacting with strangers and are unbelievably friendly – In fact this extends further than Bali, as most Indonesians are extremely warm. Smiling and saying hello is completely normal. This attitude towards others is so positive and uplifting!

People in Bali are always interested in where you are from, where you are staying and where you are going! These three questions are commonly asked. This dates back hundreds of years as it helps give a quick run-down of social status. It’s worth noting that in more tourist driven areas, these questions may be asked for personal gain. At some point during your trip, you will inevitably be ‘sold to’ whether its a taxi, a tour guide or a fresh coconut! This is just the Balinese way.

The children of Bali love waving, saying hello and speaking to tourists. At our homestay in Tembok, two little girls came to join me in our garden. I had no idea where they’d come from (clearly word must have got out that two ‘Bule’ were staying in the village) so I attempted to strike up conversation and soon realised that all they wanted was to spend time with me to practise their English speaking skills. Literally, heart melted!

2. There is an abundance of fruit in Bali

One of the perks of living on a tropical island is the abundance of delicious exotic fruit, and Bali is a fruity paradise! As I sit here writing in our little Pondok, two mangos have fallen from the tree in our garden. Even after one year of travelling I still get giddy with excitement over the fruit on offer in South East Asia. Exotic fruits in England are so stupidly expensive and hard to come by!

We eat many different types of fruit here such as hairy pink Rambutans (like a Lychee but more fun!) vibrant Red Dragon Fruit that look too good to eat, see-through ripe Jackfruits, stain-your-fingers Mangosteens, spicy and sweet Mangos, pungent Durians, juicy Jeruk citrus, peachy handpicked Papayas and of course the old faithful coconut.

Rambutan Fruit bowl Bali
If you’re anything like me and have a crazy sugar addiction, its pretty easy substituting something sweet in the form of fruit!

Almost everywhere there are small Warungs selling delicious fresh fruits in all shapes and sizes, while farmers pull up on the roadside in trucks piled high with Bananas, Rambutan, Dragonfruit or Durian to sell. Not forgetting the early morning markets if you’re on the hunt for a bargain, depending on the season that is.

3. Balinese offerings

Unlike the rest of Indonesia (which is predominately Muslim) most Balinese practise a form of Hindu-Buddhism which originated in Java. Since Bali is in a way isolated as its own entity, this practise has settled and continues to play an intricate part of life and society on the island. It is believed that each element of nature possess a spiritual essence, including the worship of ancestors. These spirits are treated with utmost respect and are housed within shrines and temples dotted all over the island.

Doused in Holy Water, daily offerings are made to the spirits in the form of small woven palm baskets, beautifully decorated in frangipani and flowers, food items and incense. This ritual is an important part of life in Bali and little decorations can be found in all kinds of places such as shopfronts, doorsteps and on bikes & cars for protection and good luck.

You will often see groups of ladies huddled around gossiping, weaving baskets and selling flowers specifically for the offerings. At least twice a day, the Balinese will lay down an offering at their place of worship and around their homes. Women will dress especially for the occasion in a traditional kebaya, balancing an array of items on a silver tray.

4. The ceremonies of Bali

Whether it is a special date in their mind-boggling calendar, a wedding or a cremation, ceremonies are an important way of life in Bali.

Ceremonies are an obligation for the Balinese, they promote balance amongst the gods, nature and one another. These principles are demonstrated through self-sacrifice. For example, some ceremonies take months of preparation. Traditional dress-code is required, as are offerings, prayers, chanting, street parades, drumming,  dancing, food and music!

Balinese cremation offerings Amed Bali
Balinese Cremation Ceremony: Offerings on the beach

Ceremonies often cause a lot of organised chaos. The traffic is slower, shops and businesses may be closed at short notice, and generally getting stuff done on ceremony days can be more of a struggle. But this is all part and parcel of life in Bali. As a visitor, understanding the ceremonies can be quite complex but really intriguing! I feel truly blessed to be exposed to such a wonderful culture in the form of street parades and sound and colour on an almost daily basis.

5. If you want a taste of ‘real Bali’ don’t go South

I’ll be honest, we hate the South of Bali. Ok maybe thats a bit harsh, but from our experience, the likes of Nusa Dua (a concrete jungle of resorts) and Kuta (party central) feel completely different to the rest of the island. It seems to me that the local people are jaded by tourism in the South. They are generally more stressed, more money-grabbing and far less friendly. The ‘taxi mafia’ is well known and transport in general seems to attract this kind of mentality.

We once tried renting a bike from a local man in Kuta. Despite our best efforts of getting a realistic quote for 1 months rental, he was unwilling to cooperate and in the end we couldn’t be bothered to deal with his ridiculous attitude. This is just one of many experiences Kuta that left a bad taste in our mouths.

If you wish to immerse in real local life in Bali, see the natural beauty of the island and feel the genuine warmth of its people… perhaps avoid the South!

6. Everyone has the same name

After a while you might start wondering why your homestay host, your tour guide and your favourite Warung owner are all called Made. A coincidence right? No, not really! In Bali, children are given names in order of their birth.

The first born is either named Wayan, Putu or Gede. If it is a girl they will call her Ni luh. In Balinese, Wayan means ‘eldest’. The second child is then named Made, Kadek or Nengah. Made and Nengah translate as ‘middle’. The third born will be Nyoman or Komang and the forth is always Ketut, which means little brother or sister.

If a family has more than four children, the naming system reverts back to the beginning (i.e. Wayan, Putu, Gede or Ni luh). It is quite common for Balinese to give themselves nicknames, which is quite handy as it can be confusing with so many Gede’s or Ketut’s in your phonebook!

7. It’s not as peaceful in Bali as you might think!

Many come here seeking a little peace and quiet. But if thats what you’re looking for, you may have come to the wrong place! I’ve come to the conclusion that Bali must be one of the noisiest places on the planet. Nick and I now seem to communicate in a constant state of repetition. It is impossible to finish a sentence without interruption or being asked to repeat oneself!

Scenic drive Sidemen motorbike trip Bali
This scene may look peaceful, but the saying ‘I can’t hear myself think’ could not be more real in Bali and Indonesia!

Whether it is the noise from a passing motorbike, a thundering truck full of ‘Batu Alam’, a speaker in the supermarket blaring out Indonesian techno (most commonly a painful rendition Desposito), gamelan and chanting from the nearby temple, dogs barking, the roosters, frogs, or the sneezing gecko, these ever-present sounds are all part of everyday life in Bali. You learn to love them after a while 😉

8. Everything you need is always in Denpasar

Outside of the South and Denpasar, you won’t really find malls or stores selling modern day goods. If you need a new computer or a laptop, dive equipment or some decent clothes, this almost always involves a trip to Denpasar.

For the Balinese this is all in a days work, but for us it can be a bit of an inconvenience (popping to the shops doesn’t normally involve a 6 hour round trip) but this just goes to show that the majority of Bali is still vastly undeveloped – and long may it stay that way!

9. Everybody loves fried chicken

Throughout Bali and Indonesia the variety of food available at Warungs can be quite limited, as most menus consist of a handful of the same basic dishes: Ayam/Ikan Goreng (fried chicken/fish) Ayam/Ikan Bakar (grilled chicken/fish) Nasi Goreng (fried rice) Mie Goreng (fried noodles) Puyung Hay (omelette) and of course, Nasi Putih (white rice).

It can be quite challenging to find genuine Balinese cuisine such as traditional Smoked Duck, Babi Guling and a good Nasi Campur.

Fresh kampung chickens North Bali
Ayam Goreng Dada: A truck full of fresh chickens in Sebatu, North Ubud

However, it seems that there is one dish which is firmly on the menu. The locals favourite: Fried Chicken. Whether its ‘GFD’ ‘JFC’ or ‘DFC’ we find the number of chicken shops in Bali quite amusing. I guess it is our equivalent of McDonalds (although even at McDonalds you can’t help but notice the heavy queue of Indonesians ordering Ayam Goreng and Nasi. They can’t get enough of it!).

10. The Artisans of Bali

Bali is home to many talented craftsmen, and the province of Gianyar is at the heart of its arts scene. If you’ve ever been to the markets of Ubud or Sukawati you will have undoubtably noticed the abundance of stone sculptors, carpenters, furniture makers, painters, weavers, jewellers, glass blowers, gardeners and bone carvers. These traditional skills have been passed down through many generations.

The Balinese definitely have an eye for detail. They are taste-makers and interior designers, creating unique spaces, furniture pieces and organic objects for the home, using the natural resources of the island. Back in the UK, a solid wood table top made from an entire slice of tree trunk could set you back thousands, here in Bali they are a fraction of the price and hand carved by the roadside.

Traditional Balinese Joglo Sebatu Bali
A traditional Balinese Joglo, living outside but inside: I dream of having my own home like this one day…

I love how their temples are intricately designed, their homes are well-kept and gardens tastefully maintained (no matter what is going on in Bali, there will always be someone sweeping).

11. Most Balinese are scared of the dark

In Bali it is believed that evil spirits live in dark and shady areas. If you’ve ever seen a Balinese person avoid a patch of shade, this might be why!

Night diving Melasti Tulamben
Night diving at Melasti in Tulamben

Our dive guides son was not a big fan of night diving because he is afraid of the dark. Although we did manage to drag him along for one dive, it’s not so bad with Nicks 2,600 lumen torch anyway 😉

12. Bali is a beautiful island

Ok so I saved the best till last. Why is it that we love life in Bali so much? Aside from all of the above, Bali has to be one of the most beautiful islands in the entire world.

From its breath-taking network of rice terraces in the North, to the baron but beautiful mountain hillside in the East, its active volcanoes and black sand beaches, amazing diving, spectacular sunsets, hidden waterfalls in the depths of the jungle and temples which touch the sky, Bali has it all.

Sacred Mount Agung Sunset Amed Bali
Sunsets over sacred Mt Agung from our villa in Amed: There is a wonderful energy in Bali

We love our life in Bali

There are certain things that will forever remind me of Bali, like the smell of wafting incense and how the island explodes with such lush tropical colours. Blooming bougainvillea, big banyan trees, jungle vines, alamanda and frangipani bursting through the backstreets, over the temple walls and along the dusty roadside.

If you are looking for an introduction to Indonesia or South East Asia, this is it. The only trouble is, like me, you may never want to leave!

We hope you have enjoyed this post about life in Bali! If you’d like to learn more about our experiences of living on this lovely little island, please subscribe to our weekly newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram for future updates 🙂

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