I was in Bali in 2000. Time magazine reported that in 2001, Bali had 1.3 million foreign visitors, but ten years later, these figures have almost doubled. Plus they don't take into account the millions of Indonesian visitors. This article is a combination of my memories from my trip in 2000, but also includes up to date information about how Bali is today.
Bali Nusa Dua Beach 2015 by Thomas Depenbusch
Bali Travel-Curiosities, Art, Beauty & Spirituality
An "accidental" meeting with the local magic man, a beautiful Full Moon ceremony, women who gracefully bring out the offerings to the Gods each morning and evening ....these are just a few of my precious memories of Bali. Sitting in a local restaurant, by Sanur Beach, where you can still see the colourful traditional fishing boats, I remember being fascinated watching the woman calling her children. The whole family were so friendly and even though they see plenty of tourists, both the children and their mother were obviously inquisitive about me, as I was about them. Here's the thing – she had five children, and that meant that child number one, and child number five had the same name.
Download this free colouring page about Balinese children's names
How the Balinese name their children
The Balinese have four names for their children, which are given in a certain order, regardless of the sex of the child. The first born is called Wayan, the second Made, the third is Nyoman and the fourth child is Ketut. This is what this woman told me was the naming system in Bali. However some families may also use other versions of the names, for example for the first born they may use the alternatives, which are Gede, Putu and Ni Luh, this last one being only for girls. However even when the few alternative names are used, it is still clear from these names whether the child is first, second, third of fourth born in the family.
Golden sand, dense jungles, rice terraces, mountains and rivers
South East Asia's only Hindu society, Bali, has a truly beautiful landscape. For the average visitor the long sandy beaches may be enough to draw you in, but to go to Bali and miss out on the rice terraces, volcanoes that rise out of the sea, the island's mountains and rivers, and its jungle would really be a shame. Take some time to explore Mother Nature's treasure trove in Bali.
Discover more about the amazingly diverse landscapes of Bali, in this Nature Lovers Bali Guide – which walks you through the volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, gardens, forests, green spaces and tranquil beaches.
Serene spirituality on the Island of the Gods
You really don't have to be religious or spiritual to enjoy the ritual of the women carrying out offerings to the Gods, early in the morning, and again in the evening. Pretty Balinese women gracefully carry colourful flowers and fruits to a special place, where they leave them as offerings for the Gods.
At one with the ritual, the Balinese women often seem to glide serenely through this spiritual moment. Somehow it pervades the air, energy and consciousness of the surroundings. I loved these moments, and even if I lived there, I don't think I would ever bore of seeing these times of light – where somehow the light and colour of the offering blends with the woman, and ricochets around into the surroundings.
Bali is an incredibly artistic island
I could feel the magic in the air in Bali, but I could also see and sense how artistic it is. A trip to Ubud is a must - it's the island's top cultural destination. For those into art and creativity, if you can, try to stay longer than a mere day trip. Ubud is really special. Of course it is also a major tourist destination, so it is not a proper representation of a typical Balinese town.
As well as being the cultural capital, it is also considered to be the island's top destination for spiritual tourism – think Eat, Pray, Love ....or not as the case may be. In fact the name of the town, Ubud, means medicine.
Temple festivals happen in Ubud almost every day, in its seductive setting embraced by rice paddy terraces. The town has a prolific artistic life, which is infused deeply into its traditions of craftspeople and painters. Ubud is also famous for its musicians and classical dancers. Art and craftsmanship is all around you in Ubud. Vogue try to package it up efficiently here in their Bali feature.
When in Ubud, it would be rude not to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest. The monkeys have really taken a liking to selfie sticks – I'm guessing they think that they're pretty funny. Anyhow apart from enjoying the forest and its lovely sacred stone statues, do be aware that the inhabitants may have their own fun and game with you!
Dinner at the Café Lotusbud is a magical experience, with traditional dancing in this amazing setting across a large lotus pond, which is framed by low hanging magnolia trees. It has been open since 1983 and is somewhat of an institution in Ubud.
Photo 21st Century Journeys
If you want to consider a longer stay in Ubud, or even to live there for a little while, then check out Victoria's useful post here. She covers a lot of the essentials, such as transport, where to live and shared work space, along with the essence of Ubud, the spiritual, therapeutic and artistic. As an added bonus, she shares their own personal experience of the monkeys in Bali there!
Kuta – a shock to the system
My trip was way back in 2000, so it scares me a little to see what the trusted travel blogger, Adventurous Kate, has to say about Kuta far more recently. In my case, I was taken there by some locals whom we had become friendly with, and we'd been a little prepared for what to expect. Even still, I couldn't get out of their quickly enough. At one stage, I got separated from our small group, and had a bit of a panic ....that was because I really didn't like how the place felt, and it was a shock to my system.
Kuta is Bali's crazy, tacky place. If you want to find plastic hedonism in Bali, it is the place to go, I imagine. I didn't stay there very long, and I couldn't wait to get back to a more laid back part of the island.
Sadly I have to say that I entirely agree with what Kate says, about it being a deeply saddening experience to see Kuta, having known the beautiful, warm spiritual Balinese people. The two just don't go hand in hand. Her sub-title for her article is: Don't let these pretty pictures fool you – Kuta may be the most vile place on Earth. Perhaps a little harsh, but it certainly gets her message across.
The Island of a thousand temples
Known as the island of a thousand temples, you can imagine how temples are such a central part of life in Bali. In fact, it's more likely that the figure comes closer to 10,000 temples. I was lucky enough to visit a temple that was part of a family estate. I also went to a wonderful Full Moon Ceremony in a temple not far from where I was staying. The Ceremony was magical, colourful and moving. I felt like I was almost in a trance by the time I was leaving.
The name for a Balinese Temple is Pura. Below are some of the most striking temples, according to their location:
Area: Bedugul - Temple: Ulun Danu Bratan
Located on Lake Bratan's shores near Bedugul in the mountain highlands, this is an important water temple that was built in 1663. This picturesque site is used to worship Dewi Danu, the river Goddess, and the lake.
Area: Desa , Mengwi district - Temple: Taman Ayun Temple
Located in a beautiful park, Pura Taman Ayun is one of the most attractive temples in Bali. The name actually means "beautiful garden." Built in 1634 it is used to honour Raja Dynasty deified ancestors, and other important Gods.
Ulun Danu Batur
Ulun Danu Batur is dedicated to Dewi Danu, Goddess of Rivers and Lakes, and was built in 1926. Within this temple compound, there are 9 smaller temples and around 300 shrines.
Pura Luhur Lempuyang
This temple is rather challenging to reach, but very holy and scenic. As one of the nine directional temples of Bali, its function is to protect the people and the island from evil spirits.
Gunung Kawi Temple
Dating back to the 11th century, this is a seriously impressive temple complex, with shrines fashioned from cut rock which measure 7 metres in height. It is north-east of Ubud, around 20 km or so.
Pura Tanah Lot
Another one of Bali's directional temples, this temple plays a very important role in Balinese mythology and spiritualism. It is believed that it was built in the 16th century, as recommended by Danghyang Nirartha, an important Hindu priest.
Famous for its holy water, this temple is one of the most important, and can be found in Ubud. It is thought to be have been built in 960, in the time of the Warmdewa dynasty.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Perched atop a cliff, it's impossible not to be impressed with this temple. This is another one of the nine directional temples and is especially beautiful at sunset.
Otherwise known as the Bat Cave, this is another of the island's nine directional temples. It guards against evil spirits from the ocean.
A large complex of temples, Pura Besakih is the island's Mother Temple, and therefor the most important. Within the complex there are 80 or so temples, in a dramatic location loved by the Balinese, on Sacred Mount Agung's southern slopes.
More Beautiful Places
The name of this former Royal Palace translates into "water from the Ganges." A site of reverence for the Balinese Hindus, it is a water palace with fountains, a maze of pools, which are embraced by beautiful gardens, stone statues and carvings.
More places coming soon.....
Avoid leyaks at all costs
When in Bali you should avoid leyaks at all costs! The good news is that as a foreigner you're unlikely to spot a leyak. Leyaks are witches that come from the spirits of living Balinese, who have given themselves over to Black Magic. For some reason leyaks are shy of foreigners, and apparently don't reveal themselves to outsiders.
The Balinese believe that the leyaks are responsible for the majority of evil that affects them and their country. It is said that they suck blood from people sleeping. If you visit a cemetery at night, beware of the blue lights, as these could be leyaks searching for the freshest corpses to feast on.
Leyaks can also take on the form of beautiful maidens, who are mute and can be found wandering lonely roads at night. They are on the lookout for single men, whom they then entice with their seductive suggestions.
I found Bali to be magical and inspirational in 2000. I look forward to travelling back there but being careful to avoid any places that have become too overrun with tourists.