Bali, Indonesia

Bali, Indonesia

The Viking Neptune was docked in Denpasar City, Bali, Indonesia for 2 nights. This gave us nearly 3 days to tour the island.

Your first image of Bali might be one of natural beauty – from the pristine and majestic beaches, lush rice terraces, gorgeous waterfalls, and volcanos. However, the beauty of Bali goes beyond this. We took a deep dive into the day-to-day life of the Balinese people, their culture, history, and spiritual traditions. We hired a private guide so that we could make the most of our time.

Our guide’s name was “I Komang Sherif Wirayuda.” We learned that Balinese people name their children depending on the order they are born. The names are the same for both boys and girls.

The firstborn child is named Wayan, Putu, or Gede.

The second is named Made or Kade.

The third child goes by Nyoman or Komang.

The fourth is named Ketut.

Therefore, our guide was the third child born in his family. If a family has more than four children then the naming process starts again, but the name will include the word Balik, which means “return, again, repeat.” So, the fifth child would be Wayan Balik (another Wayan) for example.

You may have noticed that there is an “I” before our guide’s first name. The “I” is used for men and “Ni” is for women.

As if everyone having similar first names isn’t confusing enough, the Balinese do not use surnames either. They use the name of their caste or clan. We called our guide “Sherif” for short. If we toured his village though, we would have found everyone there to have that name.

Here we are with Sherif.


Bali is often referred to as the Island of a Thousand Temples. There are over 20,000 Hindu temples in Bali – each with a specific function and rituality for the Balinese calendar year of 250 days. The Balinese culture and traditions are intimately tied to the philosophy of Tri Hita Karana “Three Causes of Goodness.” Their belief system is centered on maintaining a harmonious relationship with God the Creator, people, and nature. You can see this in the Balinese way of life, architecture, agriculture, and tradition. They believe that living true to these elements brings about prosperity and harmony.

There is a ceremony to celebrate every important event in human life such as birth, puberty, wedding, and death. Flowers and/or food grown from the earth are offered to the spirits daily. These offerings, placed in a hand-woven box, are believed to help maintain peace and balance on earth. Temples and rituals are part of why Bali culture is as special now as it was a thousand years ago. Bali is the only predominantly Hindu island in the Indonesian archipelago. Our guide, Sherif, advised that the city in which our ship was docked no longer represents the Balinese culture. Residents there, transients from other Indonesian islands, are predominantly Muslim or Christian.

For our first day in Bali, we toured the following locations:

Garuda Wisnu Kencana Monument (GWK)

This cultural park is dedicated to embracing and preserving the cultural and spiritual heritage of Bali. It has taken over 25 years to build the statue and park, which is still not complete. The monument of GWK is one of the tallest and largest modern statues with nearly 400 feet in height and 210 feet in width. The landmark depicts the Hindu God Vishnu riding aloft on his winged mount Garuda. Vishnu is considered a member of the holy trinity of Hinduism. Garuda is an eagle-like creature with human features in Hindu mythology.

Padang Padang Beach, Uluwatu

This is the most popular beach in the Bukit Peninsula of Bali. Our descent to the beach was interesting. Steps are carved into the rugged limestone cliff. As you exit the tunnel you see the inviting turquoise water. The water was very refreshing, as the air was hot and humid. We didn’t swim, but it felt great to get our feet cooled off. We had to be careful to hold onto our hats and sunglasses as we passed some monkeys. They like to take people’s belongings.

Karang Boma Cliff in Uluwata

We made a photo stop here. It was a beautiful viewpoint, 325 feet above the seashore. We could see the Uluwata temple, off in the distance. The road getting to this viewpoint was a bit bumpy and narrow. Eventually, we had to park and walk a short distance. I’m glad we stopped here, as the views were wonderful.

Uluwatu Temple and Kecak Fire Dance

Our final stop of the day was at the Uluwata Temple for a tour and an evening Kecak Fire Dance. There are a lot of wild monkeys in this area, all looking for an opportunity to snatch sunglasses, hats, backpacks, or even a cell phone. We saw many of these items snatched in the blink of an eye. The monkeys were fun to watch, especially the ones that were jumping into a pond. The views from the temple grounds were similar to the ones we had at the earlier viewpoint; very stunning.

If you look closely you will see a monkey sitting on top of one of the cliffs. It is the 2nd picture below.

The Kecak Fire Dance was like no other performance we had seen. It is a story of Ramayana enacted in a very dramatic way. Seventy bare-chested Indonesian men sway to the hymn of Chack-a, Chack-a, Chack-a, …….. in an almost hypnotic, trance-like, rhythm. Two young princesses, a demon king, a damsel in distress, and a mischievous monkey all play parts in the ring of unceasing cantillation. We enjoyed the performance very much.

We started our 2nd day of tours at 7:30 am the next day. We visited the following locations:

Pura Taman Ayun (Taman Ayun Temple)

This is considered to be one of the most attractive and most visited temples in Bali and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple was built in the 17th century as a family temple of the Mengwi Empire and was only accessible to the royals.

Taman Ayun means “A Beautiful Garden”. The temple is surrounded by many tiered shrines dedicated to different gods, a manicured garden, thatched-roofed prayer huts, and canals.

I found the thatched roofs to be amazing. I can imagine how difficult it must have been to make them. I’ve included a photo below that shows the intricacies.

Pura Ulun Danu Beratan

Positioned on Lake Beratan.  Pura Ulun Danu was built in adoration of the Goddess Danu. Danu means lake, while the Goddess Danu is the queen of water, lakes, and rivers. The temple complex consists of four sacred buildings. Linga Puru stands three levels high and is a place of worship to the god Shiva. Pura Puncak Mangu stands 11 levels high and was built in dedication to the god Vishnu. Pura Teratai Bang is the main temple, and Pura Dalem Purwa is built in worship of Sang Hyang Widhi. This last temple is also a site for those who pray for fertility, prosperity, and well-being.

The style of the architecture follows the Trimurti belief; three holy colors to represent the three gods: Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu.

The Ulun Danu Temple was getting its thatched roof restored while we were there. The existence of the temple has been recorded as early as 1556. There were many interesting statues and monuments across the grounds.

Lake Beratan is the second largest lake in Bali and is the source of irrigation for rice fields and plantations across the entire Bedugul Village. The mountain on which it sits is often referred to as “the holy mountain” as the weather is cool and the soil rich and fertile.

Jatiluwhi Rice Terraces (A UNESCO cultural World Heritage site)

We enjoyed a leisurely walk through these rice paddies. We learned about the Subak irrigation system, which is considered sacred and culturally important to the Balinese. It has been in use since the 11th century. There were numerous huts offering beverages, packaged rice, and fruit for sale. We drank from a coconut and I discovered that I love Mangosteens. We were surprised that there were no mosquitos or flies around. There were, however, dragonflies. Sherif told us about how when he was a child they used to take off the wings of the dragonflies and then steam the bodies in coconut milk. He enjoyed eating them as a child.

Jati Wangi Coffee Plantation

There is an interesting coffee offered in Bali called Luwak Coffee. Luwak, an Asian Palm Civet (think of a cat), eats prime coffee cherries (beans). The Kopi (coffee) cherries then pass through the cat’s digestive tract with its natural fermentation. When the cherries are passed by the cat they are collected, sanitized (obviously), and roasted. The beans are then used to make an expensive cup of coffee. We tried it and liked it. We bought some to take home so that the extended family could try it as well :-). As we were leaving the plantation we were given a few avocados, picked from the trees in the garden. Yummy!

Handara Gate

We made a very quick stop at the most Instagrammed spot on the island. It is the entrance to a golf resort. Go figure. The gate itself symbolizes the entrance from the outer world to a temple, or in this case, a golf course, and plays an important role in Indonesian culture. We chose not to pay and wait an hour to get our photo in front of the gate.

Tanah Lot Temple

Tanah Lot means Land in the Sea.

This 16th-century temple is dedicated to the guardian spirits of the sea. When the tide is high, the rock on which the temple is located becomes almost completely covered.

Day 3:

Traditional Balinese House Gung Aji in Batuan Village

Our first stop was at a Balinese home, preserved in a traditional style. The structure of the buildings included wood and clay. Roofs were made of thatched grass.

The “House” has the following structures: A family temple, East Pavilion, North Pavilion, West Pavilion, Kitchen, Rice Barn, Toilet, and an entrance gate.

The gate is the part of a traditional Balinese house that is used for entering and leaving. Its position is a bit south of the house yard so when someone enters the house they will pass through front of the kitchen. On both sides, there is a place to put offerings. There is a plate sign for the population census containing the name of the family head and the number of family members.

The North Pavilion structure is reserved for the head of the family.

In Bali, “North” represents the direction leading to the tallest mountain. “South” represents the direction leading to the sea.

Art gallery

This art gallery was located in a home that was remarkedly different than the traditional one we had just left. This home had been in the family for 4 generations. It had marble floors, a temple the size of the previous home, and intricate architectural designs throughout.

We loved learning about the methods of art as we strolled through the gallery.

Ubud Monkey Forest

This was one of my favorite stops, as you can imagine.

The Holy Springs of Tirta Empul: Bali’s Sacred Water Temple

Founded in 962 A.D., this temple has several holy springs which are said to have been created by The God Indra. It is believed that the blessed water can purify those who bathe here. As our guide suggested though, purification has to start from the inside. This temple is a big Instagram spot, so it was very busy.

Mt Batur Lake and Mountain from a viewpoint in Kintamani

Our final stop was at this overlook. We were able to snap a photo before the rain clouds rolled in.

General information that we learned while in Bali:

The traffic is terrible! It can easily take 2 hours to go 30 miles. Nearly all of the roads are narrow with one lane for each direction.

Nearly everyone owns a scooter and they zoom in and out of the traffic. I did not take the photo below, but saw the same situation numerous times.

Scooters are used to transport everything. We were extremely impressed how well everyone drove, even though scooters were constantly zooming around the cars, on narrow streets.

You have to have a lot of patience to go anywhere.

As noted earlier, each family (true Balinese) has a temple. Prayer is done in the morning and evening. It may be brief, but it is meaningful. Below is an example of a house with a temple in the yard. Every house was like this.

Every (Balinese) family has a rice field. There are no homeless Balinese. They all work in or out of the rice fields. This is not the case for the transient islanders who have moved to Bali.

Hinduism is the primary religion in Bali. However, Muslim and Christian faiths are predominant in the major city of Denpasar.

We saw many ceremonies and processions during our visit. This made traffic even worse. The photo below shows a procession that was taking place in front of us. We believe it was a ceremony of cremation.

In the immediate aftermath of death, a temporary burial takes place with minimal ritual and preparation before the body is taken for cremation. Sometimes families must use a cemetery as a temporary burial site for a loved one who has passed away, either because they lack the resources to pay for a proper cremation or because they must wait for the appropriate day (hari baik) in the Balinese calendar. The cremation is done in public. It is a deeply spiritual ritual to prepare the soul for its afterlife journey.

There is an emphasis on symmetry and balance. This is seen in the architecture throughout Bali.

Rice is not only important to the Indonesian diet but also to the country’s trade. Indonesia’s position near the equator and fertile soils are ideal for growing rice.

Daily meals vary little from day to day. Daily meals consist of a mixture of rice (5 variations), fresh vegetables, peanuts, sometimes meats and always flavored with a wide array of spices like chili.

Daily food is always prepared in advance early in the morning, by the women of the family compound. The prepared food is then left in pots and covered with palm leaves for the extended family to eat when they are hungry. Only during special ceremonies will the Balinese family eat together with other family members.

The people of Bali live daily with concern that one of the many volcanos on the island will erupt. Mount Agung had explosions as recently as June 2019.

Here are a couple of final photos from the beautiful island of Bali.

I’m very happy that we spent our 3 days exploring and learning about the Balinese culture. If we ever return we will explore the beautiful beaches, or the city of Ubud. Ubud is a city still primarily owned and inhabited by the Balinese and it would be nice to spend some time there. The beach resorts also look wonderful.

3 thoughts on “Bali, Indonesia

  1. I’m just catching up on my blog reading after a bunch of travel (not nearly as exciting as your travel, but travel nonetheless 🙂

    Anyway, loved this post. The Balinese culture is just fascinating and it was absolutely the right call to spend so much time with a private guide to truly understand what was happening around you – starting with the fact that everyone has the same name. LOL.

    Your wildlife and landscape photos capture the scenery so well. What a stunning place!

  2. On Vikings Inaugural world cruise Bali was a huge disappointment and so your dialog here is so exciting to read. We leave in Dec.2024 for a six month world cruise and will have another opportunity to explore Bali. Your blog has been so helpful. I know the country is beautiful but we unfortunately didn’t see that during our first visit! Many thanks!!

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