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Mt Agung from Sanur beach
10 FREE THINGS TO DO IN BALI, INDONESIA
Anyone who knows me or has visited LashWorldTour knows that I’m crazy about Bali, Indonesia. To date, I’ve written 10 posts on Balinese culture and life, 4 posts on scuba diving in Bali, and 14 posts in my Cycling Bali series. I’ve made 27 photo galleries and generally rave about that fabulous island.
I’ve been visiting Bali regularly since 2000, staying 2-6 months each time; have worked 3 diving seasons there; have circumnavigated the island by bicycle twice; and, most recently have written and published two guidebooks on Bali: Cycling Bali and Hiking in Bali.
As an ultimate testament to Bali’s fabulous-ness (especially coming from a long-term nomadic world traveler) Bali is the only place I’ve found that I would eventually like to retire to one day.
Balinese Hindu ceremony in Amed
Needless to say, in all my roaming, adventures, and explorations of Bali on a budget, I’ve amassed an extensive repertoire of free things to do all around this magnificent island. At long last, I’m presenting my insider tips. Without further ado, here you go:
empty beach in southwest Bali
1. Enjoy Bali’s superb beaches
Since Bali has so many stunning beaches, and since beaches offer so many fantastic free activities, and since I have so many other suggestions around Bali, I’m lumping all the free beach activities I can think of into tip #1.
Suntan, swim, body surf, build a sand castle, read, listen to music, watch sunrises and sunsets, watch people, watch surfers, chat with locals or other travelers, walk, jog, run, meditate, practice yoga, stretch, skip to the loo… If you’re traveling with snorkeling gear, a frisbee or hackysack, then add those activities to the long list of great free ways to enjoy Earth’s natural beach paradises.
(* warning- the seas at many of Bali’s beaches have extremely strong currents and undertows at times. Pay attention to any warning flags and/or ask locals about water safety before simply leaping in *)
more free things at specific Bali beaches:
On Seminyak beach, at the end of famous Jalan 66 (Double 6 Road), every evening before sunset, hundreds of travelers, expats and locals alike gather to socialize and play beach games such as paddle ball, Frisbee, badminton, and soccer. You’ll be more than welcome to join them! Local guys also sit around meeting girls and playing music, mainly drums and guitars. You’re also welcome to join the jams.
beach on weekends, but especially on Sundays, hordes of local families with young children, romantic couples, and groups of teens flock to the seaside to enjoy socializing and swimming. If you’re interested in the daily life and activities of local people, Sanur beach is a fascinating place to watch Indonesians at play and leisure.
Balinese foods on sale at small local evening market
2. Check out the huge variety of traditional Indonesian foods at night markets
Sanur, Seminyak and other Balinese towns have fantastic night markets selling an astonishing variety of dishes from Java, Sumatra and Bali.
You’ll see satays, rice soups, noodle soups, rice with mixed veggies and meats, grilled chicken, fried sweets, fruit shakes, and lots of other dishes that are hard to describe. Better to go see them in person.
Looking at all the foods and wondering what they taste like is an interesting cultural learning experience. Of course it costs money to eat, but since you do have to eat everyday anyhow, night markets are one of the cheapest options in Bali, definitely one of the best places to find delicious, authentic dishes.
gamelan troupe performing at small local ceremony
3. Watch gamelan orchestras and/or Balinese dance performances
Bali’s gamelan music, dance and drama performances are still an integral part of daily Balinese life, mainly because of the plethora of Hindu ceremonies and festivals.
Gamelan troupes are employed for weddings, funerals, teeth filings, baby ceremonies and all temple ceremonies. Dance and drama are performed at larger temple festivals.
Performances of gamelan, dance and drama are also held weekly, if not daily, at hotels, resorts, and restaurants around the island, specifically to entertain tourists. Those performances are often held in conjunction with dinners and buffets.
In Ubud, Bali’s cultural heartland, daily performances are also held at specific temples and palaces solely for the benefit of tourists. Obviously, these performances cost money.
Balinese dance performance at beach side resort
Luckily, there are several ways to watch gamelan, dance and drama for free:
Rehearsals. Sanur and Ubud have several renowned gamelan and dance troupes. They practice regularly, some in afternoons, some in evenings. Visitors are entirely welcome to watch the rehearsals. If you hear gamelan playing, just wander inside! Members of the troupe will readily invite you to come in and take a seat. It’s a great opportunity.
Ceremonies and festivals. Several times every week one ceremony or other takes place in Bali’s villages, towns and cities. It’s almost impossible to visit the island without stumbling upon at least one of them.
You can also find out about scheduled annual festivals, cremations and other ceremonies at the Tourist Information Center in Ubud. If you stay in a community for a week or more, locals you’ve befriended or staff and owners of your guesthouse / hotel are quite likely to tell you about personal ceremonies of one relative or other. They’ll often invite you to attend.
* Read more about Gamelan: Bali’s Percussion Orchestras
carved stone statues along the Batuan-Ubud road
4. Watch artisans at work
Balinese are incredibly talents artists in a variety of mediums. Along the roads between Sanur and Ubud are a series of villages each specializing in a particular art or handicraft. Starting at the southernmost village of Batuan and heading north for 20 km ( 12 miles) you can visit small factories and workshops to watch the artists at work.
Unless you want to walk, your only expense will be transportation. It’s cheapest and easiest to rent a motorbike. You could also hitch hike quite easily and safely from point to point.
Batuan has dozens of stone statue carving workshops, with thousands of completed statues on display and workers diligently carving away. Bautan also has a few large batik factories.
Celuk specializes in silver jewelry. Watch jewelers make cut silver, filigreed, and more.
Mas is famous for wood carvings and masks.
here I am at a friend’s art exhibition
5. Admire Bali’s vibrant paintings
Among international art circles, Balinese paintings are deservedly famous. Many paintings fetch huge prices at international art auctions around the world.
Bali’s center for painting is Ubud. There are several large museums and dozens of small galleries. While a few of the most famous museums have entry fees, many are actually free. The galleries are all free as well.
Ubud has so many galleries and museums without entry fees that you could literally exhaust yourself gazing at paintings for several days.
If you’re interested, you can learn the fascinating history and development of Balinese art and be able to distinguish the many different painting styles simply by wandering more slowly through Ubud’s galleries and museums. All for free!
local friend pouring me arak in Amed
6. Drink arak with local guys
If you hang out in an area for a week or more, and you take time to meet local guys, particularly artists or musicians, there’s a very good chance they’ll invite you to join them drinking arak some evening.
Groups of friends get together, sit around chatting, often playing music, and drink communally from a cup that’s passed around in turn to each person. Whoever has some spare money that day buys a bottle of arak for everyone.
Naturally, if you join them more than once, it’s considerate to buy a round. But the first time at least, the Balinese are more than happy to invite you to drink with them on their tab. It’s a great way to be part of the local community and to try out Bali’s bootleg booze.
7. Learn how to make salt from sea water in Amed
is a traditional industry in remote Amed. Although it’s rapidly dying out, a few local families are still plodding away in their scenic salt fields beside the Bali Sea.
The unusual looking salt apparatus and the labor-intensive techniques are quite intriguing. You can learn all about it at Cafe Garam, Amed, where they have a display explaining the entire process. The staff will be happy to go into detail.
You can visit the salt fields behind the Cafe. I’ve actually written a detailed article about the salt-making process
, based on my visit to Cafe Garam and Amed’s remaining salt fields. But it’s even more interesting to visit in person.
local man carrying sea water to make salt in Amed, Bali
8. Watch a sea full of colorful sailboats- Amed
Amed is one of the few remaining places in Bali where locals actually use the beautiful, colorful Balinese outrigger sailing boats known as jukung. In Sanur the vibrant little boats mostly sit parked on the beach, adding a wonderful splash of color and culture to Sanur’s serene beach. But in all the villages along the Amed coast, local fishermen actually use their boats daily for mackerel fishing
jukung in Bali Sea at Amed
Rustle yourself out of bed at dawn and meander over to the beach along Amed’s coast, where you’ll be treated to the astonishing sight of a horizon speckled with bright flashes of colorful sails as the mackerel fishermen return from their early morning fishing. The main mackerel season runs from about August to October, which is when you’ll see the largest number of boats on the sea.
Balinese ceremony in Ubud
9. Join an exciting Balinese Hindu festival
As I mentioned above, several days per week there’s one ceremony or other in Bali. Throughout the year larger annual festivals take place. Occasional mass cremations are held.
On such important occasions, hundreds of locals, dressed in ceremonial clothing, march through the streets to a temple or beach, where they complete the festivities. These mass human parades block traffic.
Funeral ceremonies are often held at beaches, where the ashes and offerings are released into the sea. In Sanur, beach funeral ceremonies are held at the far south end, at the central beach just north of the Grand Hyatt, at Sanur’s far north end, and at the beach just north of Sanur.
At the Kuta / Legion / Seminyak / Cangu coast, funeral ceremonies are also held at designated spots along the beach.
Balinese stone statue guarding entrance to garden
10. Stroll through award-winning landscaped gardens
Bali is also famous for its stunning landscaped gardens. Two award-winning gardens I personally love are the Grand Hyatt in Sanur and Tjampuan in Ubud.
The Grand Hyatt’s extensive gardens spread through courtyards amidst the hotels wings, out from the main lobby to the beach, around the side of the hotel complex, and along the inland side of the resort.
Tjampuan Hotel is built on an extremely steep hillside plunging down to the Wos River. Both hotels allow visitors to admire their famous landscaped grounds.
Interested in being guided around Bali by an expert of the island?
Come join me on my 2-week small group tour of Bali in June, 2014. Four to ten guests will accompany me on a fun culture and nature immersion tour of the Island of Gods: Bali Nature & Cultural Tour.
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