[A collaboration post with Day Translations – all thoughts are my own.]
Interesting Facts About Bali You Probably Didn’t Know
Every month, Bali attracts so many kinds of travelers, families, backpackers, honeymooners, surfers, lovers, and more. No matter who you are, where are you coming from, or why you’re coming to Bali, the island will probably end up holding a special place in your heart.
So, what makes the island so special for so many people? What makes Bali stay on the top list of dream places for so many travelers?
As a Balinese, I’ve spent my 26 years in Bali and it’s hard to put everything into words – about how grateful and blessed I am to be able to live in a place that you could visit a range of beautiful places and met a lot of people with different backgrounds, cultures, and nationality.
These interesting facts about Bali will give you a peek into what the island is like and what to expect when visiting. And remember, always find out the best time to visit Bali and what things you shouldn’t do in Bali before visiting the island – to experience the best of Bali!
Bali has two seasons
This is probably a pretty common fact, but still useful if you didn’t know it already. Thanks to its location close to the Equator, Bali has just two seasons – dry and wet. May to September is dry and mainly sunny. From October to April, you’ll get tropical downpours, higher humidity, and thunderstorms, but if you’re thinking perpetual rain, it’s not that bad.
The Balinese just have four names
A fascinating fact of Balinese culture is that there are only four first names in Bali: Wayan, Made, Nyoman, and Ketut – the Balinese know their babies’ names before they are even born. This is one of the most interesting facts about Bali.
Balinese children are named according to the order of their birth, so the first baby is called Wayan, the second is Made, the third is Nyoman, and the fourth is Ketut. And there aren’t male or female first names for the most part. If there’s a fifth baby, they are called Wayan again, and the cycle continues.
When you travel to Bali, you’ll definitely encounter people with other names, since there are a few alternates, and some Balinese people use different names that indicate their caste. Still, most people on the island have one of ten or so names, although many go by nicknames.
Babies in Bali can’t touch the ground till they’re three-months-old
Babies in Bali are believed to be too pure and holy to touch the ground in the first 105 days of their life. This practice comes from the belief that newborns are sacred and deserve to be treated with veneration. The result is that babies are constantly being carried by their mothers or close family members.
After 105 days a special ceremony named Nyambutin is held to celebrate the baby finally touching Mother Earth. The priest blesses the baby with holy water and allows the baby’s feet to finally touch the floor. When the baby’s feet touch the ground for the very first time, it symbolizes that he is now a full and real human.
Bali is an island with four islands
The name “Bali” itself usually refers to the island, but it’s also the name of one of Indonesia’s 31 provinces. Bali province includes the main island, and also three small islands off the coast: Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan. Maybe you ever visited Nusa Dua in Bali, the word ‘nusa’ means island in Indonesia, however, Nusa Dua area is not an island in itself.
“Hello” in Balinese is “Om swastiastu.”
“Om” is a sacred sound in Hinduism, and “swastiastu” comes from two Sanskrit words meaning safety or well-being. You may say “hello” when meeting Balinese, but “Om Swastiastu” is more than just merely “hello,” the Balinese greetings can be translated into “May God bless you.” It’s become my habit for years now whenever I arrived at home, I’ll always say “Om Swastiastu” – it’s another version of “I arrived home safely.”
A whole Day of Silence
One-day lockdown? In March 2021, we had 3 days lockdown in Bali. Nyepi is the Balinese “Day of Silence.” It’s a Hindu new year celebration that is pretty much a Bali thing alone.
But it’s not just silence. It’s all about self-reflection and fasting. It’s commemorated every Isakawarsa (New Year) according to the Balinese calendar. On this day the entire Bali island goes into complete shutdown!
This includes shops, beaches, bars, businesses, and even the airport – there is no work, no traveling, lights should be off, and noise is allowed – even to tourists.
Bali is Indonesia’s only Hindu-majority island
While Indonesia is known as a predominantly Muslim country, but 85% of Bali’s population are Hindu. Hindus came over from India in the 1st century AD, followed by Buddhists. Actually, the country was once mostly Hindu, but when Islam began to spread around the 15th century, many Hindus from Java and other provinces fled to Bali. Bali has largely maintained its particular blend of Hindu and animist beliefs ever since.
Balinese live by the philosophy of Tri Hita Karana
Hawaii has aloha, Costa Rica has pura vida, and Bali has Tri Hita Karana. Literally translating to “three causes of well-being,” Tri Hita Karana means harmony with God (our Creator), harmony with nature (animals and plants), and harmony with the community (human and others).
Celebrations are held for many occasions
Bali is filled with celebrations throughout the year, and not just ones for the whole community, but personal ones, too. I held my tooth-filing ceremony 3 years ago – it is a coming-of-age ceremony that takes place before puberty or marriage. A high priest conducts the ceremony, in which incisors are filed down to uniform height. The child is then considered an adult. Check out the ceremony on my Instagram.
The Balinese Calendar is only 210 days
The Gregorian calendar is widely used in Bali, but the Balinese calendar – called Pawukon – is part of the Hindu religion. 365 days, you say? Not in Bali. The Balinese calendar has just 210 days and basically makes no sense. Sure it doesn’t correspond to the Gregorian or lunar calendar, and it’s nearly impossible for outsiders to understand.
Here’s the thing. The first day of the year is the first day of ten simultaneous weeks of differing lengths. The Pawukon calendar also doesn’t have a year – it’s just a cycle that repeats again and again.
Thursdays in Bali are traditional – it’s the law
In 2018, the governor of Bali had issued a decree requiring people to wear traditional clothing and speak only Balinese on Thursdays, in an effort to preserve the island’s heritage. All employees of institutions and agencies, both government and private in Bali, wear traditional Balinese clothing every Thursday. Even if you come to the mall or shop, almost all of the employees wear traditional Balinese clothes.
The Balinese make daily offerings
One of the first things you’ll notice in Bali are the canang sari, or called – offerings – that dot streets and adorn shrines all across the island. Canang sari is tiny woven baskets made of coconut leaves and meticulously filled with flowers, snacks, and burning incense. Most businesses, shops, places in Bali place a canang sari at the entrance, and families might place a dozen or more around their compound. So always be careful with your step, do not step on or move them.
You’re not allowed to visit the temple during period
Bali is known as the island of a million temples. Although the temple is also used as a tourist site, there are still some written rules that must be followed by visitors. One of the most common rules is the prohibition of entering temples for women who are on their periods.
In fact, it is not only Hinduism that forbids women from entering places of worship. There are also other religions that teach the same thing. The main reason, menstrual blood is considered ‘dirty’, so that it can make the temple become impure.
Not only women during periods that are prohibited from entering the temple. Men or women who are in “cuntaka”, or recently having a deceased family member, also may not enter the temple. They were only allowed to enter the temple again 12 days after the Ngaben ceremony. Also, couples who have babies under the age of 6 months, are also not allowed to enter the temple.
To avoid misunderstanding or miscommunication while traveling in Bali, I suggest you hire a professional Indonesian translator or interpreter to help you on-site. By hiring a professional translator, you’re not only avoiding potential embarrassment. You’re building deeper and more meaningful connections with the local people as well.
According to the story from generation to generation, there are negative effects if you are determined to enter the temple during menstruation or during cuntaka. Reportedly, there are also mystical events that can befall menstruating women in temples, such as possession. According to the Balinese, these negative things happened because the Gods were angry if their house was dirty. So, wherever we are, we certainly have to obey and respect every existing belief.
Bali has a unique irrigation system
This irrigation system is called subak – founded literally over 1,000 years ago and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rooted in the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana (harmony between God, people, and nature), subak features many water temples with reservoirs that bless the water as it goes along its journey. The rice plant is a gift from God, the irrigation system is an actual part of temple culture, people work the fields and tend to the temples. One of the incredible facts about Bali.
Bali is nicknamed ‘Island of the Gods’
Deva is the Hindu term for a deity. Devata – or in Indonesian, dewata – is a more localized deva; things like forest spirits, village gods, the gods of certain river crossings, caves, etc. With over 20,000 temples and palaces dedicated to deities big and small, you can understand the nickname!
Plastic waste is a big issue in Bali
This is a shameful fact, but plastic waste is a big issue in Bali. It’s such an issue, in fact, that in 2017, a “garbage emergency” was declared. That was after an almost four-mile stretch of coastline was found covered in plastic brought in by the tide. The beaches (like Kuta) are not the unspoiled bastions of sun, sea, and sand they used to be. In fact, Indonesia is one of the world’s worst plastic polluters, contributing around 10% to global plastic waste.
You know that I like to go to the beach, but Kuta is not an option for me. Many people go there for surfing and there are a lot of malls, bars, hotels, restaurants nearby to enjoy. For me, other than Kuta or Sanur beaches, there are still a lot of lovely hidden beaches around the Jimbaran area worth visiting if you ever come to Bali.
There are hundreads of spas in Bali
Bali has got to have one of the highest spa-to-people ratios in the world! Crazy hair treatments, flower baths, hot stone therapy, eco retreats, hand massage, holistic deep tissue, and even the humble pedicure – you can get it all here at one of Bali’s hundreds upon hundreds of spas – from low to very, very high-end.
The massage is a must for anyone visiting the island, especially the Traditional Balinese massage. It’s easy to find a massage parlor in Bali – in fact, there are more than 1,000 spas across the island. You will enjoy your relaxing time in Bali!
Bali is actively volcanic
Mount Agung and Mount Batur are the two towering volcanos of Bali, and both are still pretty active. Mount Agung is considered the most sacred spot on the island – it’s home to one of the island’s most important temples, the Besakih temple. It erupted several times between 2017 and 2019, forcing evacuations of surrounding villages and shutting down the airport in late-2017. The Balinese believe that Mount Agung is a replica of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe. Standing at 3,142 meters, it is the highest point on the island.
Bali has a national park
One of Indonesia’s 54 national parks, West Bali National Park is found on the island’s far northwest tip. Despite being a mere 93 square miles in size, the park contains mangroves, forest, savannah, and beaches, plus the small island of Menjangan – a popular dive spot.
The Bali bombings happened over 16 years ago
The memory is still vaguely imprinted on my mind – I was 7-10 years old when the first Bali bombing occurred in 2002 and the second bombing was in 2005. It’s not all that uncommon to mention visiting Bali and be met with worries about safety or terrorism – particularly bombings. But it’s happened over 15 years ago, so it’s really not something to worry much about today.
Bali’s drug laws are extremely strict
These definitely aren’t fun facts about Bali, but visitors should be aware. Bali might have some popular party destinations, but drugs are not something to mess around with anywhere in Indonesia. Even medical marijuana is strictly illegal and treated the same as heroin or cocaine.
Penalties for drug production or distribution can include life imprisonment and the death penalty, and these laws are equally applied to foreigners – like the two Australians who were executed by firing squad in 2015.
Traveling responsibly in Bali is vital
What good is knowing all these facts about Bali if we don’t have a positive impact on the island?
While tourism is vital to the livelihoods of many Balinese, it’s also, to be frank, destroying the island. Bali is a small island that struggles to support so many people with relatively limited infrastructure. Add to that the fact that tourists typically use more resources and create more trash than locals, and tourism is creating a serious strain.
Let us try to travel ethically wherever we go, so when you’re in Bali, follow these tips to travel more responsibly:
- Do what you can to reduce trash or plastic usage.
- Don’t waste water or electricity.
- Cover up when visiting temples.
- Walk or share rides when possible.
- Support locally-owned businesses.
- Don’t wear swimsuits outside the beach/pool.
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