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Top 16 Must Do in Bali

Mary has been working in Southeast Asia since the 70s and when assigned in Vietnam, she learned how to do lacquerware.

The Must Do for Bali

The must do list for Bali keeps getting longer as it tries to satisfy the returning crowd. Yes, Bali not only draws people but continues to draw back those who had been there already, not only once, but many times.

It seems to be blessed by the gods the locals continually worship every day. Could this be the reason? Maybe. Or, is it because the Balinese are so welcoming? Or, that Bali island is just so beautiful? Or there are just so many interesting things to do in Bali that continuously draw people to come and come once again? Some just stay. Visit now and find out for yourself.

What Makes Bali Draw Many Tourists?

Bali Temple

Bali Temple

1. Experience the interweaving of art and rituals in Bali

For many tourists, visiting Bali is like being all the time in the midst of art and cultural show. Over 93% of Bali's population adhere to Balinese Hinduism believing that gods and goddesses are present in all things. Thus, the interweaving of art and rituals in their everyday life.

But the Balinese regular trips to the temples and offerings to their house gods make not only a colourful attraction to tourists but also a meaningful connection to the metaphysical. The sound of water and gamelan with the gong giving its impact once in a while in a setting of never ending fertile green rice terraces somehow awaken one's inner connection to nature and life.

Thus, the claim by many that it is Bali's healing and nurturing environment as well as its mysticism that engulfs one to experience and love this Hindu enclave in a largely Muslim country.

2. Embrace Bali's Sense of Harmony and Balance

Life in Bali centers on the Hindu philosophy, Tri Hita Karana, which believes that the three causes of happiness are good relations with the gods (Parhyangan), other people (Pawongan) and the environment (Pelemahan). These three concepts are central to Balinese culture and is at the core of what makes Bali unique.

In all aspects of life, harmony and balance have to be maintained. This is maybe the reason why visitors feel spiritually rejuvenated when in Bali. My husband and I, jaded travelers that we are, certainly enjoyed Bali.

We avoided Bali for years thinking it to be too touristic until one of our friends decided to live there so we went for a visit. We were prepared for disappointment so to ease this a bit, we booked two hotels for our 6 day holiday, one in the beach and the other one in Ubud. We enjoyed ourselves so much that now we always recommend a visit to the place.

What Makes Bali So Uniquely Different?

Stone Carvings in Bali

Stone Carvings in Bali

3. Celebrate Bali's Rituals and Ceremonies

In Bali, there are various rituals and ceremonies celebrating things such as the ascension of the ancestral spirits, praying for strength to face the temptations of the world, strengthening brotherhood and understanding among the youth, purification, celebrating new year, cleansing and so on.

As you drive through the island, you will see symbols of these celebrations in the front of houses, bamboo poles decorated with coconut leaves, flowers, cakes and fruits.

There are also ceremonies in the temples that people perform as well as dances which are part of these rituals. When visiting the temples, it is always good to be respectful when the locals perform their rituals.

Go to one of Bali's Temples

Get out of your beach chair and go to one of Bali's temples. You will get a sense of Bali's mysticism and have a unique cultural experience.

Having to wear the local temple attire is in itself an experience. Savour the deep belief the Balinese have in their gods and imbibe the spirit with which they do this. Try to do as the locals do, light some incense and let yourself be enveloped by the intense belief of the locals.

The Magic of Bali's Rituals

Bathing Ritual

Bathing Ritual

Celebrate Nyepi

Sometime in March, the Balinese celebrate Nyepi. At this time, the Balinese refrain from using electronic devices, no loud noise or even going around the streets. The international airport is closed and even the Muslims in Bali turn off their loud speakers calling for prayer in respect for the days of silence and meditation that Nyepi requires.

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Your thoughts on Bali Rituals and Ceremonies

Bali life is full of rituals and ceremonies which make Bali unique and attractive to tourists. Despite the hordes of tourists visiting Bali, the Balinese seemed to have retained their everyday rituals and ceremonies deeply rooted in Hinduism. As such, some of the performances within sacred rituals and ceremonies have been adapted to entertain paying tourists. Should this be done or should these performances be limited only for the rituals and ceremonies?

Not only is life in Bali full of rituals and ceremonies, these are at the heart of their everyday life. Bali music and art are part of everyday existence.

You see the Balinese prepare beautiful offerings, you hear the music of their instruments as they go in procession to the temples or celebrate events in their lives and you see them in colorful costumes as they bring their daily offerings to the temples. Be part of this, but show respect and give them space as they perform these.

Take a peek at Bali's worship and beliefs

Kecak Dance in Uluwatu

The kecak or monkey dance in Uluwatu is not to be missed when you visit Bali.

60 men dressed in colourful sarongs, each with a hibiscus behind one ear perform in the circular open stage at the Uluwatu temple just before sunset chant cak, cak, cak incessantly providing the dramatic sound for the familiar story of Sita, the beautiful wife of Rama.

These 60 men move, writhe, stand, squat, twist as one providing a wall of sound that makes the stage alive and mesmerize the audience.

Bali Gamelan Music - Typical Indonesian music

Music is so much a part of Bali's rituals. It expresses the deeper meaning of the rituals and ceremonies.

The Gamelan in a special way has captured the hearts of many visitors and that includes me. I love to listen to the soothing music of Bali especially the sound of the Gamelan.

4. Enrich your Experience with Cultural Workshops at the Agung Rai Museum of Art

On its five hectare facility, the Agung Rai Museum of Art offers workshops on Balinese painting, music, wood carving, dance, cooking, astrology and numerology, traditional architecture, batik, making of offerings to the gods, and Hinduism.

There are accompanied walks to observe some ceremonies, group walks to view collections, and actual application such as playing musical instruments, carving a simple object, or preparing an actual meal. Experiences such as these usually add meaning and substance to your stay in Bali.

The place is in itself an oasis. When we stayed in the place, my husband and I woke up to a very calming sight: farmers tilling their fields. Then, we had a dip in our own pool right in our own villa and enjoyed a breakfast in our gazebo. It was just like being in our own home.


5. Visit Bali's Top Museums

Aside from the Agung Rai Museum of Art, there are many other museums in Bali. One worth visiting is the Museum Antonio Blanco. Born a Filipino, Blanco married a Balinese and made Bali his home and the home of his works of art with his own peculiar flair, Spanish heritage and Balinese influence. Housed in a 3-story building in a 20,000 sq.m. property, Blanco's works have found just the right home and to go around and look at his works is an experience.

There is also Neka Museum housing some of the 16th century Kamasan painting as well as works of modern Balinese and foreign artists. It is chronologically displayed so it gives you a good history of Balinese art.

Museum Puri Lukisan, the first Balinese museum of fine arts, has about 150paintings and over 60 pieces of sculptures so for turn of the century Balinese fine arts, this is the place to go.

Museum Le Mayeur, a memorial dedicated to the love of Le Mayeur and Ni Polok but the collections are all the works of Le Mayeur.

Museum Gedong Kirtya houses ancient writings in a 1928 building including writings on palm leaves and Balinese poetry.

Museums in Bali


6. Learn from the Master Artisans of Ubud

Ubud artisans are famous for their craftmanship. Their designs have decorated many homes all over the world. They have wood carvings, baskets, masks, furniture as well as batik and ikat cloth all displayed in various museums and galleries all over Ubud. You can watch the artisans do their work or even enrol to learn the craft.

For many years now, collectors all over the world visit Ubud to find artistic treasures they can add to their collections. I still treasure the wooden carvings my in-laws brought back when they went on holiday here. Some of these collectors and artists have decided to stay giving the art scene even a more international flavour. There are now hundreds of expat artists calling this place home because of the beauty of nature and the spiritual rejuvenation the place offers. The well heeled readers of Conde Nast voted this the best city in 2009 taking the seat Bangkok has occupied for years and beating other worthy contenders as well. I strongly support this vote for Ubud. Time for the village to beat the big cities.

Take a peek just behind those beautifully carved archways, painted masks and shadow puppets. There are hidden treasures there like the Jean Francois Fichot which carries jewelry encrusted with gems and other one-of-a-kind treasures. Nusantara Gallery beside it carries rare primitive art, finely woven fabrics and wooden statues. Ubud has certainly evolved from its backpacker's past to become the art and spiritual center of Bali.

Carvings and Traditional Masks of Bali - Interesting Buys

Bali Wood Carving

Bali Wood Carving

Visit Ubud - A Must Do when In Bali

7. Climb Mount Batur in Kintamani

Located in Kintamani, Mt. Batur has an elevation of about 5,633 ft. It has been active since its first recorded eruption in 1804. Danau Batur is the largest crater lake in Bali and feeds the population with abundance of fish. For the Balinese, it is a holy place. They go there to offer to the gods.

You can climb to Mt. Batur and enjoy the scenic view and smell the sulfur close to the crater. This is better done early so you can be there for sunrise which people claim is just magnificent. Some camp there, too. Arrange your tours with highly recommended operators, not just do this on a spur of the moment right there as you will be charged much. Make sure you are properly outfitted, hiking boots, hat, long pants, long sleeve shirt and gloves.

But for those who are less fit or just not interested in those climbs and camps, you can also drive down into the crater to look at the black lava flows. Or, just go to the viewpoint, Penelokan, and enjoy the view. The peddlers are a bit aggressive here and the restaurant is poor of service and culinary delight. Ask your hotel to pack you a picnic or buy some provisions from the local grocery and keep your hunger for the best seafood at Jimbaran Bay.

Mt. Lake Batur Video

8. Climb Mt. Agung, Bali's Highest Peak

At about 10,308 feet, Mt. Agung is for the Balinese the center of the world. All their temples point toward Mt. Agung. They revere it highly as for them the gods visit through Mt. Agung and then go to the Temple of Besakih, Pura Besakih, over 900 meters up the slopes of Mt. Agung. Because of such belief, Besakih has uncountable steps and it is one of the most interesting temple complexes in the world.

Mt. Agung is also Bali's most active volcano but the last time it blew its top was in 1963. Do a trek here early morning when the sun is not yet strong and you will get some of the most scenic views of Mt. Rijani and Lombok. This trek is really only for the fit so get going with your fitness program.

9. Visit Klungkung, Bali

Considered the birthplace of Balinese culture, it was here that Javanese Hindus relocated after the end of the Majapahit kingdom 700 years ago, continuing the practice of Hinduism on the island.

The historic landmark here is the Taman Kertha Gosa, first erected in 1710. Spend time in the Kertha Gosa, or the Hall of Justice and the Bale Kambang, the Floating Pavilion, and the Museum Semarajaya. The ceilings of the Hall of Justice and the Floating Pavilion are each decorated with very interesting paintings done in the Kamasan style.

Kamasan is a small village a little southeast of Semarapura where this very early and distinctive style of painting adopted by the Royal Court originated. Get a guide to explain the meaning and significance of these ceiling paintings. Much of the ceiling is devoted to the life of Bima, and of particular note are his visits to the after-life where he witnessed the gruesome torture and torments of evil persons. Other panels show Garuda's quest for the elixir of life, the Balinese calendar and other aspects of Balinese culture.

A new performing and visual arts center and contemporary art museum is being constructed by a team of 40 craftsmen on four hectares of land adjacent to the decade-old Nyoman Gunarsa Museum including the Museum of Classical Balinese Painting. When completed, it will be the largest arts center in the regency, and one of the biggest in Bali.

KlungKung Bali Hall of Justice - Take your time looking at the masterpiece of a ceiling

KlungKung Bali Hall of Justice

KlungKung Bali Hall of Justice

Have you visited Klungkung? - Share with us

10. Go to Bali's Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtegal

Sacred Hindu site in Bali

Crumbling temples carpeted in moss, this is one of the many sacred Hindu sites on Bali. Here, the monkeys rule. In the form of the god Barong, they are believed to protect the three temples. But they, of course, partake of the offerings to the temple and also your food and drinks if you bring some in the forest. Without harassment from these forest rulers, you can have a whole afternoon of fun just watching them play.

It is worth a visit so try to get there. Just follow the Monkey Forest Road to its southern end where there are two entrances to the temple. Brochures and maps are available with your entrance fee.

Monkey Forest Bali

11. Visit Bali Aga - Ancient Bali Village

Tenganan Pegeringsingan in one of the ancient villages, the Bali-Aga as the locals call it. The word "tengah" refers to moving to the inner area. Pegeringsingan comes from the word "geringsing", a traditional woven product unique to the village. The village may have derived this name as their people practice this traditional weaving and have moved from the coast to this inner area.

The other story is that the people of Tenganan came from Peneges village close to Bedahulu which at that time was ruled by a powerful king. One day, the king lost his favourite horse. He ordered his people to look for it. It was found dead by Ki Patih Tunjung Biru, the King's right hand. For this, the king gave Ki Patih Tunjung Biru authority over the land as far as the smell of the horse's carrion. Being an intelligent man, Ki Patih cut the carrion into pieces and spread it far giving him a big parcel of land where he settled with his clan.

The village is quite organized. You can easily interact with the village people as the stores are right in their beautifully kept homes. There are village guides to bring you around and show you the important aspects of the village. Most people here weave "ikat" and there is a loom in almost every house. One interesting ikat design is their village map. Of course, the traditional woven baskets and mats are there to be found, too.

12. Lounge in the Best Beaches of Bali

Yes, in Bali, it is easy to go from one beach to the other. You can go to the east, north or south. There is Jimbaran, Nusa Dua, Kuta, Seminyak or cross over to Gili and Lombok. You can just have a beach holiday. Pick your favorite, white sand or black sand. You can go snorkeling and diving. Or, maybe, fishing or surfing. My choice is just reading my favorite book on a shady spot under a tree enjoying coconut and pineapple ice cream. Of course, I go once in a while for a swim in the ocean to cut the monotony of this lounge.

You can also go and catch the sunset at Sanur Beach, more laid back and uncluttered yet alive with its cafes and restaurants.

If what you want is action, a busy beach life, splashing neon lights and souvenir shops all over the place, go to Kuta-Legian area. But if you want the quiet pampering as you enjoy the sound of the ocean, Nusa Dua and the Bukit Peninsula are the places to stay.

13. Surf in Bali

Bali is a surfer's paradise

Bali's waves have been surfed not only by locals but by visiting surfers as early as the late 1930s. The first of these foreign surfers are the Australians who introduced Bali to world class surfing equipment.

Some of the legendary breaks are in G-Land, Lombok or Sumbawa, or the more distant areas of East Nusa Tenggara, Mentawais and North Sumatra. Test out your more advanced skills in Uluwatu or Padang. If you haven't surfed before, don't worry. You can learn from so many surf shacks around with teachers who have surfed for decades the waves of Bali. Legian and Kuta from what I've seen are the best places to start as its waves are smaller and the waters more shallow.

Where to Stay in Bali

We did stay in two hotels when we were in Bali even if we were there only a few days. Given that we did not have much luggage with us, we decided to book a hotel right on the beach for a few days of rest. Then, we moved on to Ubud to the ARMA Museum hotel and did all the cultural must do in Bali. We enjoyed this experience so much that when we go to a place another time, we will again book two hotels to try out many of these newly designed resorts.

Another fabulous stay in Bali our friends rave about is staying at private villas. We visited one and were really impresse. If we're going with family next time, we will certainly do this.

14. Dive in Bali

Bali has highly trained instructors who have exceptional knowledge not only of the dive sites in the island but also of the requirements of international certification such as PADI and SSI. They offer introductory certification courses as well as the divemaster certification course.

Bali's east coast offers the most stunning diving with excellent visibility, rocky walls, wrecks, canyons and reefs teeming with schools of colourful fish. Gilli Tepekong and Mimpang, Padang Bai, Tulamben, Seraya, Amed, Nusa Penida and Lembongon and Crystal Bay are some of the frequented sites by divers. Tulamben is the place to go for those who enjoy wreck diving. You can, of course, go on a safari and enjoy several of these sites.