Bali, Island of the Gods. This idyllic Indonesian destination is famous with Western travelers, but few who visit really get to know its culture, history and people.
To give you a greater understanding of Bali, we’ve put together a list of 21 fun and interesting facts about Bali, gathered from our experts on the ground and through years of experience planning tours in this beautiful destination.
We tell you where to find near-deserted beaches, what you should never do in a temple and how to get a taste of local contemporary culture. We also give you a heads-up on the one day of the year the entire island shuts down.
Read the list, feel inspired, and get ready to travel Bali with renewed appreciation.
Fact 1 – Bali is actually three islands
While Bali is indeed an island, it is also a province that comprises a handful of smaller islands congregated off Bali island’s southeast coastline.
Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan form a small cluster of islands just a 20-30-minute boat ride from Sanur – well worth the trip if you like surfing, exploring quiet roads and lying on paradise beaches with no crowds.
Fact 2 – Ice is government regulated
No need to order all your drinks neat – the ice in Bali is quality controlled by the local government. The tap water is not as belly friendly, unfortunately, so make sure you stay hydrated with bottled water.
If you have a refillable bottle, visit one of the participating businesses of Refill Bali for a cheap, or even free, refill and feel good about limiting your plastic waste!
Fact 3 – You should leave food on your plate
We’re not suggesting you should leave any part of your fresh seafood platter when dining in a restaurant, but if you are invited into a local family home, the etiquette is different.
You might find yourself sitting on the floor and eating with your hands, in which case use your right hand only, and when you’ve had enough, you should leave a little bit of food on your plate to signify you are done.
Fact 4- Bali is actively volcanic
Mounts Agung and Batur are the two towering peaks of Bali, and these dinosaurs are far from dormant.
Gunung Agung, as it is locally known, last erupted in 1963, killing around 1,500 people, and still makes its presence felt with occasional gassy belches.
Batur, meanwhile, last erupted in 2000, shooting ash into the air, but harming no one.
Fact 5 – The airport will be shut one day a year
Nyepi, a Hindu celebration observed mainly in Bali, sees the entire island fall silent, with businesses closing and even the airport shutting up shop.
This ‘Day of Silence’ is seen as an opportunity for self-reflection, and its observation is enforced by pecalang – local security officers. Beaches and streets are closed to all – including tourists.
Fact 6 – Bali is in a ‘coral triangle’
The Coral Triangle, in fact. Sitting right in the middle of the world’s richest waters for corals, considered the ‘Amazon of the Seas’ for its marine biodiversity.
Not just 600-odd species of coral, but turtles, more than 2000 species of fish, including tuna – a major food source for millions of local communities.
Fact 7 – Bali has one of the highest densities of spas in the world
You do not have to go far to find a massage in Bali – the island has around 1,200 spas. Traditional Balinese massage is, of course, a must.
Characterized by long, not-too-firm strokes focused on pressure points, it’s influenced by Chinese and Indian traditions.
The level of pampering is up to you – you can have a massage on the beach for less than US 10, or opt for a five-star treatment in a luxurious suite.
Fact 8 – Malevolent spirits are not welcome
Spirits are everywhere in Bali, and there are myriad practices to keep evil ones at bay.
There’s a screen behind compound gateways called an aling aling, intended to keep them out. There are daily offerings of incense and food wrapped in banana leaves to appease them.
There are noisy processions and scary stone carvings on walls to frighten them off. Don’t forget to honk your horn if you drive past a cemetery, as this will also scare the spirits away!
Fact 9 – Bowie’s final resting place?
The late David Bowie requested in his will to have his ashes scattered in Bali in a Buddhist ritual. There were some press reports that his family had fulfilled these wishes in a closed ceremony, though these are unconfirmed.
The singer had a long-standing love for Indonesia, and even released a song in 1984 with Iggy Pop (‘Tumble and Twirl’) mentioning their journeys across the country.
Fact 10 – Tirta Empul is a must
Not all popular tourist attractions are worth the crowds, but Tirta Empul water temple is a clear exception.
This is where locals – and some out-of-town pilgrims – come to undergo a lengthy purification ritual that involves bathing in fresh-water springs from a series of 30 water spouts.
The temple was founded in 962 AD and is dedicated to Vishnu – make sure you include in your Bali adventure.
Fact 11 – Babi guling is also a must
If you’re somewhat of a carnivore, Bali’s famous suckling pig is considered a must-try local dish.
Roasted for hours over an open fire, the meat is flavored with basa gede, a spicy paste, rubbed with turmeric and basted with coconut water.
You can find it practically anywhere, though beware: the local mom-and-pop establishments and street vendors use plenty of chili.
Try a foodie tour of Bali to sample the best babi guling.
Fact 12 – A rice field isn’t just a rice field
Those iconic mountain rice terraces are more than just a photo opportunity.
They represent centuries of social and spiritual culture, having been developed in the 9th century as part of an irrigation system that syphons water from groundwater sources through water temples via a system of canals.
Self-sustaining and a virtually perfect model of eco-farming, subak is even recognized by UNESCO.
Fact 13 – Monkeys have no manners
You don’t need to go to the Monkey Forest to have your phone stolen by a macaque – it could happen anywhere you see these cheeky critters.
Emboldened by travelers who feed them and take selfies with them, monkeys at any Bali tourist site may try to take your bag/hat/sunglasses/food.
Appreciate them from a distance, and remember that smiling at them with bared teeth is basically challenging one to fight you.
Fact 14 – Ubud is vegan heaven
This picturesque bohemian town in central Bali is your wellness destination on the island.
Vegetarian, vegan and raw food cafes and restaurants abound, with an emphasis on locally grown organic fruits and veg.
You don’t have to be vegetarian to appreciate Ubud, however – the town is also great for the adventurous traveler and the outdoorsy family.
Fact 15 – You have to get up early if you want to see dolphins
Fact: dolphins do not sleep in. If you want to see the famed dolphins of Lovina, you’ll be getting up before dawn, as most tours are timed to catch them in the morning when the seas are calm.
The upside of this is that, even if the dolphins are shy, you get to enjoy a spectacular sunrise from your boat.
Fact 16 – It’s rude in a temple to…
- Have the soles of your feet pointing at the altar
- Point at things, especially statues
- Be improperly attired (you must wear a long sarong and cover your shoulders
- Be loud or irreverent
- Stand higher than the priest
- Have an uncovered wound
- Be visibly pregnant
Fact 17 – Bali has a bat cave
Pura Goa Lawah is one of Bali’s nine sacred temples.
Situated around a cave, the site is home to thousands of bats, who all hang, tightly packed from the roof of the cave.
According to legend, a giant naga snake, Basuki, lives inside the cave and feeds on the bats, while another myth states the cave conceals an underground river of healing waters.
Fact 18 – You can have gold or silver jewelry custom made
Bali has a long history of gold- and silversmithing, with skills passed down through generations of families.
Ubud and Sanur are just two areas where you can find galleries and boutiques that can custom-make a piece of gold or silver jewelry for you.
Some places also hold workshops, where you can craft your own creation.
Fact 19 – Bali has rich contemporary culture
Bali is famously artistic, with myriad forms of traditional dance and handicrafts found nowhere else.
More modern art forms are not as widely known by the visitor, and few travelers would even be aware that the island has its own film festival – Balinale – held each year in September.
You’ve still got time to catch this year’s event.
Fact 20 – North is sometimes south
The Balinese concept of north is the same as ‘up’ – a place where gods and good spirits dwell.
In this way, high points such as Mount Agung, which is considered sacred, represent ‘north’, and you’ll find most Balinese dwellings and shrines face ‘north’ – to the mountain.
If you are north of Mount Agung and ask where north is, you will almost definitely be directed to the mountain – south of where you stand.
Fact 21 – Bali is an island of thousands of gods
Combining Hinduism with some Buddhist mythology, ancestral spirits, animism, (black) magic and indigenous deities, Balinese Hinduism has a higher than average number of gods.
This complex belief system results in an island with more than 20,000 shrines (pura), which is why it’s called the Island of the Gods.
Do you have an insider view of Bali? A top tip you want to share? Something you can expand upon?
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