Bali: the Cultural Centerpiece of East Asia
Ah, the Island of the Gods… Bali. Known for its picturesque terrain filled with stunning rice terraces, sandy beaches and of course, its tremendous culture, Bali has long served the young and old alike as a regional favorite.
On the outset, Bali looks like a small place that can be taken in over a short period of time, but that could not be further from the truth. One can easily be drawn in by the allure of the seemingly endless mountain ranges in Central Bali, spanning nature preserves to the east or coastal beauty to the south, to the point where you’ll have missed out some of Bali’s bare basics, so timing is everything.
Whether you have one or two weeks to explore, these are a few cultural activities outside of the famous Kuta area that you will need to experience before leaving beautiful Bali.
Kecak Fire Dance
Popular throughout Bali, the everyday visitor can access the famous Kecak Fire Dance in visitor dense areas in Ubud and the outlying areas around Kuta. The dance itself is as entertaining as it is traditional. Performed by at least 100 natives wearing little more than fabric around their waists, the participants sway back and forth in perfect unity chanting “cak” over and over again. At the center of the madness is the play, a story of Ramayana, where the monkey-looking humanoid Vanara helps his prince defeat the evil king.
Performances are traditionally done outdoors at sunset, making for not just an all-enveloping experience, but also a masterfully timed performance, where the dimming natural light sets the stage for a heart-pumping fire dance to follow.
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, better known as Bali’s famous water or lake temple, is a Hindu temple located about 50 km, or about 31 miles, from Denpasar. It is hands down one of the most beautiful sights in the country, sitting comfortably in the on the shoulder of the Beratan lakeside, surrounded by a plush mountain range.
One of the nice things about this temple is that it is within range of Central Bali’s other formidable sights. If you are up for a scenic drive through the rice terraces and mountain ranges, the unique mountain sanctuary of Baturaku temple is a lesser visited, but very interesting place to go check out. Just make sure you have your driver stop a few times along the way and grab a few photos, you’ll want to.
The writers’ hub of Indonesia. Well, that’s what people say anyway. There are all kinds of great accommodations here and things to go do and see on a very relaxed level. This small town, located in Central Bali caters more to the boutique crowd, which is great—or you can experience something a little different.
As you will notice around the island, there are several old temple looking residential complexes, within which are individual rooms not attached to one another like in a house, but separated by lots of outdoor space and family shrines. In Ubud, many families rent out rooms in these traditional homes for guests to stay in, and they are just fantastic.
More than just accommodation, Ubud also has some great cultural landmarks such as the Monkey Sanctuary–which does not have a misleading name. This sacred forest is absolutely filled with monkeys who do not mind getting up close and personal. Just a word to the wise, do not bring any food or drinks and make sure whatever you own is secured to your body, because these monkeys get cheeky.
Also make sure you get over to Goa Gajah, or the Elephant Cave, where you can walk inside a demons mouth on your way to a ninth-century cave structure as well as walk around its peaceful forest area.
Bali is the island of handicrafts. Throughout the centuries, Indonesians have cultivated the mastery of craft making and each of the hundreds of scattered shops operate not just as a place to grab the odd piece of art, but to also appreciate those pieces that just won’t fit in your suitcase.
There is a reason that there are so many shipping services scattered about offering cargo transportation for all great pieces of art and furniture you will be tempted to buy. From beautiful wood-carved traditional long-masks to decorative and colorful lamps, to towering religious sculptures carved from different stones or aged bronze, there is basically no way you aren’t coming home without some kind of souvenir.
On the streets of the towns on the outset of Batur volcano, beggars try to sell visitors hand carved chess sets and mini sculptures, while on the winding streets outside of Ubud, strings of shops all sell unique and equally awe-inspiring pieces of work. Just make sure to bring your bargaining hat, because these already low prices can be made lower.