In the Summer of 2014 I made a 2 week trip to Southeast Asia, which included Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. I’ve traveled to numerous places around the world, but the culturally rich and peaceful island of Bali is one of the few that has made quite a lasting impression on me. Not only did it make me feel inspired, but it also made me think about my own life.
There’s something about the Indonesian island that one could only understand when one travels there. From my maiden experience I can say that Bali has different sides; The heavy touristy crowded parts (south Bali – Denpasar, Kuta, Jimbaran, Seminyak, Legian area), the average touristy part (central Bali – Ubud, Bedugul) and the more tranquil parts (east, north and west Bali). The more you travel to the north and further east, the less tourists you come across. I only visited parts of the south and central Bali. I believe Bali is a place for everyone; It all depends on what you’re looking for. I’m the type that prefers both crowded and quiet areas (depending on my mood), but even in the crowded areas you can find tranquil spots. With that being said, here’s what I’ve learned from my trip to Bali.
Canang sari and temples are everywhere
Indonesian Hinduism is the most practiced religion in Bali. Canang sari is a Balinese offering made 3 times a day by Balinese Hindus to praise and thank their God. Canang, the tray made of banana leaves is usually filled with flowers, incense and food (often rice). Sometimes the canang can be filled with money. This all depends on the social/economic status and caste of the Balinese people. Yes, just like in India, Bali has its own caste system. You can find canang everywhere(in places that are believed to be sacred); On the side walk, on the beach, at temples and in front of shops and restaurants. According to Balinese Hinduism, these offering rituals are done to give back to their God what has been given to them: It’s a form of gratitude and respect.
Below is a video I’ve found on Youtube that describes in detail how Balinese offerings are made.
Balinese woman making canang from banana leaves in Ubud.
Beautiful Hindu temples are seen everywhere in Bali. “Pura” means temple.
Watch out for scooters!
You know you’re in Bali, when you see an entire family sitting on one scooter. I’m not joking! I’ve seen two kids with their parents on one scooter. It’s normal there, as long as everyone wears a helmet(which isn’t always the case). Pretty much everyone owns a scooter and people ride it like crazy! Nevertheless, renting a scooter is a great way to explore the island, which can be scary at first, especially when you consider the way people ride around there. I’ve noticed that traffic in Bali is pretty chaotic(in the busy areas)! It was a culture shock for me to be honest, because I had never seen so many scooters in one place before. I guess it’s the same experience when people visit Amsterdam and see a million bicycles, which to me is my every day/normal life.
Hygiene is average, if not, below
This is not a joke! During my time in Bali I realized that hygiene over there is average, if not below. Most toilets don’t have toilet paper as it’s not common to wipe yourself off with paper but, instead, Balinese people use water. So during my time there I carried toilet paper and hand sanitizer with me everywhere I went. Plus, food hygiene is also something to watch out for. For example, don’t drink water from the tap and don’t(if you don’t have to) eat food from street vendors/restaurant(“warung”), just to prevent yourself from getting sick.
The grass is not always greener on the other side
When I travel I always try to connect with locals to get to know them more and see how they live. What has shocked me about Bali is how poor people actually are. Most people don’t have much and live with their entire family in a very tiny space. I’ve spoken to a few locals and what I’ve come to know is that most of them were seeking a way out of the country to get a better life for themselves and family. To them, the western world seems like a paradise compared to where they’ve been living their entire life. I find this sad and ironic at the same time, because western people want to escape their daily, hectic life as well to seek peace in an exotic island like Bali. This really made me think; No matter where you’re from, we are never really satisfied and/or fulfilled with our daily life and most of us want to escape our reality and seek for a better life somewhere else.
I spent one afternoon with a Balinese mother and daughter at the Petitenget Temple(Pura Petitenget) in Seminyak, where they taught me a bit about their religion and culture. It’s amazing to see that even though most people might not have a lot, they are still thankful for what they have. I think this attitude of gratitude comes from a combination of their religion and cultural traditions. Balinese people really take life as it comes and make the best of it every day, no matter how much or how little they have. I think we, in the western world, can (in some way) learn a lot from the way people live and think in the East. Even though we live in a materialistic world and some might even have a less spiritual and/or religious mindset, I still believe it’s possible to create a balance between the two.
Smile, that’s what Balinese people do a lot. I think if we all could smile more, and accept people as they are, there would be less drama in the world.
Being “black” in Bali is still a “special” thing
I’ve been to the Asian continent on numerous occasions, but it still amazes me how every now and then I come across people who have never seen a “black person” before. I was pretty surprised when I met some Balinese people that still acted like I was from outer space(in a good and funny way though). Bali is a place that has become pretty multi-etnic in the recent years, but I guess it’s still one of those places where you wouldn’t see a lot of “black tourists”. Nevertheless, the Balinese people were very friendly to me and always asked questions like “Dari mana?”, which means “where are you from”? And I would say “Belanda”, which means “Holland”. Then everyone would smile and immediately start a conversation with me (considering the history of the Netherlands and Indonesia). And you know what? I never become mad or frustrated when people would like to take a photo with me, because I don’t blame them for their ignorance. Some people just can’t help it. They just don’t know any better. Besides, when you live your entire life in a village with no education, TV, internet, and you don’t have the money to travel the world, then I don’t have any reason to blame anyone for anything. So I guess education is a luxury thing, which shouldn’t be.This photo was taken in Ubud. I met an Indonesian grandmother from Jakarta who was visiting the island with her entire family. She almost begged me to take a photo with her. I told her, “Only if I can take a photo you”.
Have you been to Bali? If so, what was your experience there? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below. xo, Jey.