Culture in Bali


Bali – this tiny Indonesian island is THE dream of many tourists, surfers and all globetrotters who are infected with wanderlust to an exotic destination. Volunteering in Bali is also becoming more popular as volunteers spread the word on their experience on this fantastic island. To help avoid that the dream turns into a nightmare, we have assembled the most important facts here. This will prepare you perfectly for your stay on this unique tropical island!

Don't volunteer in Bali if...

… you prefer to avoid motorcycles/scooters! 

The fact is, motorcycles and scooters are the best friend of every Balinese – with good reason: on the crowded roads you can weave through the cars and traffic, you do not have to jam yourself into the small, sluggish Bemos (small public minivans), petrol has never been this cheap and in this steamy heat you do not want to walk. For foreign visitors, this part of Indonesian lifestyle does not look very appealing at the beginning. The hectic traffic, lack of enforced rules and, most importantly, the left-hand traffic can be rather intimidating. However, you will develop a desire to have that freedom and join the race, and you will quickly lose that fear when you give it a shot. You will lose your balance, you will fall, you will probably hit the gas when you meant for the break (at least once) and before you know it, you’ll be ready for battle, suddenly you’ll find yourself comfortably cruising in the caos. It cannot be stressed enough, that you always drive attentively, never get too comfortable, and calculate enough time to get from A to B. And ALWAYS wear your helmet!

With these tips, a scooter will become your best friend too. Trips around Bali on a scooter are a must! You can turn wherever, you can stop wherever and you will get stunning views of rice fields and isolated beaches with turquoise colored sea.

… you think Bali is going to be a Robinson-Crusoe adventure!

It has been a long time since Bali was a underdeveloped island. Though there are still some very reclusive areas in Bali, it is developing at a rapid rate. Tourism is booming which helps the Indonesian economic growth, but obviously it is a burden for the environment and population as well. Especially in Kuta, the tourist center par excellence, where mass tourism and capitalism pay their price. For example, as a Western looking person you will be approached often by street peddlers, while on a walk, relaxing on the beach and even while having your lunch.Almost everything is sold here: from transports to clothes to tours and miscellaneous souvenirs. After a while it can get very tiring and nerve-racking but as soon as you picked up some words in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language)they will smile and move on to the next tourist. Learning a few key words in Indonesian impresses the locals and helps you get along in your daily life. And you better know your numbers if you are going to try and bargain!

… you do not like lots of shopping!

As the surf mecca, Bali provides everything your heart desires as a beach fashion lover. Shop after shop strings along the promenades. There is a huge variety of shopping to suit all budgets. The most affordable are the locally owned stalls and small shops, where you can bargain for light and comfortable, batik clothes. There are also many local designers in Bali who have pricier, but unique, fun styles. And if you're looking for the big name brands, you will find many in Bali. Some big names can be found in discounted outlet shops.

…you do not like to communicate with gestures! 

Although many people in Bali are able to speak English, there will be plenty of miscommunication and you will try to express your concerns and desires with gestures and facial expressions. This usually happens in the rural areas, where the population has remained almost unaffected by the tourism. Sometimes this can be really exhausting, but in most cases it’s funny and creates stories to tell.                

… you look down on mysticism!

Bali is the only island in the Indonesian archipelago which is almost completely Hindu, which means that, especially when staying long term, you should attend at least one ceremony and visit a temple. Their continuity and affection for celebrating their religion makes the Balinese and their island extraordinary. At every turn you will find lovely arranged offerings which are placed in front of houses, restaurants or shops, on roadsides or even in the middle of crossroads to appease the gods and demons. Usually, the offerings consist of five different colored flowers which symbolize the different gods and demons and their virtues together with some biscuits, candy, rice and incense sticks.

The traditional dress is impressive as well and you will see it everywhere and all the time as the Balinese drive or walk to a temple or ceremony or to the front of their home to pray and leave the daily offering.

For Westerners the dedication, beliefs and practices are definitely mystical. There are numerous events and shows where tourist can witness traditional dances and rituals. The Balinese are very open to share their rituals, they do not mind tourist watching and will often invite them take part in ceremonies. This is not to convert you to Hinduism, there is no pressure to make you believe what they believe, no not at all, they simply see your interest and want to share.

… ... you do not like fried food. No, wait a second! … you do not like eating in general!

If you do not like food, Bali is not for you. If you do not like fried food, it is definitely not for you. As soon as you take one bite of a fried banana, you will become addicted! In general, Indonesian food is quite diversified, though rice is usually the basis of every dish. Every few meters you will find a local food stall called a “warung.” Early in the morning the food is prepared with fresh ingredients from the market and served until it is sold out. There are various chicken, pork and fish dishes, as well as plenty of vegetables. Indonesia is known for tofu and tempeh, culinary specialities which are a joy for vegetarians. Tempeh is made from slightly fermented soy beans.

Oh yeah, and do not forget sambal, the famous Indonesian chilli sauce. Sambal is prepared in various combinations and styles and cannot be missed from any meal.

Your internet in your accommodation suddenly does not work anymore, the toilet flush is broken or the laundry should get done your clothes as soon as possible. You can expect everything, except that it will be repaired or washed by today! Because an unsaid motto of the Balinese is: always put off till tomorrow (or the day after tomorrow …) what you cannot do today.