I spent over a month traveling around Bali. Right then I learned so many surprising and fun facts about Bali, that I would have never ever imagined existed. I also spent my days enjoying the lush green wild jungle and being a regular on all the Canggu Beaches.
My goal was to learn to be able to stand up on the surfboard decently and catch some waves. I have to brag that I did pretty good already on the first surfing lesson…but that’s not what this story is about.
This time I’d like to share with you the most surprising facts about Bali that I discovered while living there among the locals.
As it’s popular to rent villas or stay at homestays instead of hotels over there, we got plenty of chances to interact and see the daily lives of locals as well as experienced Bali travelers.
When I started to put together this list of surprising and super fun facts about Bali that I haven’t experienced anywhere else in the world, I intended to write this as an entertaining piece.
But while writing them, I couldn’t help but remember a few not so pleasant facts and mishaps, that some of my friends and other travelers have gone through here in Bali. I found about all of these things in time, so they didn’t affect me, as I was always prepared.
I feel like all of these facts that I’m about to reveal are useful to know in order to understand better some of the unusual experiences you’re about to have in Bali. A few of these might even save you from trouble with the police or being unprepared for things you should have been aware of.
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1. LIVING AMONG THE GODS
People in Bali live by different traditions and daily rituals than most of the world. For example, every Balinese believes that they live among Gods and Spirits. No wonder as people often call Bali “the island of Gods”.
Therefore, to honor these Spirits, people leave small gifts and plates of food outside their door as well as on special altars several times a day. This is the way how people believe to receive the blessing and protection form the Gods.
When in Bali, you’ll see a lot of these tiny food baskets with other goods like flower heads or even cigarettes put out for the Spirits to enjoy. At first, it might seem quite odd, but soon you’ll discover that they fit in the Bali landscape perfectly.
2. BALINESE HAS ONLY 4 NAMES
Balinese names are another very interesting discovery that we made in just a few days living on the island. We started to notice that everyone who we met seemed to have the same name.
As it turns out, when a family is expecting a newborn, they really don’t have to struggle to come up with the name. The name is already pre-set. Each child gets their name based on the order they were born in the family.
So the firstborn will always be named Wayan, Putu or Gede. These names are universal for boys and girls. The second child will always be Made or Kadek. The third child is Nyoman or Komang and the fourth will be named Ketut.
If the family has more than 4 children, the counting cycle starts from the beginning. So the fifth child will be named Wayan “the second” all over again. Many people nowadays do use nicknames, but this naming is fully valid in Bali even now.
3. INSANE MOTORBIKE TRAFFIC
With a population over 4M people on the 2,176 sq mi island of Bali a heavy traffic is something, you’ll see there every day. The biggest cities and roads of the island all constantly packed with traffic jams moving at the speed of a snail.
If you’re traveling around in a car, it will mean endless waiting and slowly moving forward. So most of the Balinese and tourists choose a motorbike as the perfect mode of transportation. Every family in Bali owns at least one motorbike, that fulfills all the functions of a car.
It’s absolutely normal to see a family of four on a motorbike and even a dog squeezed in somewhere in between them. Everyone divers a scooter in Bali, even the tourists.
Just make sure to always use a helmet. Following traffic rules in Bali for most locals seems secondary thought. The traffic functions on a first come – first drive bases, even when there are traffic lights or street signs.
So if you’re brave enough to rent a motorbike yourself and get in the middle of all the traffic fun, make sure to pay attention to traffic at all times.
Locals tend to drive around without helmets. Or in many cases when the whole family is on a scooter, grown-ups will be wearing helmets but the kids in between won’t. This is quite a common view on the roads.
The traffic police on the island tend to look away when the locals break any rules. Tourists however are stopped and requested to pay the fine even if nothing at all happened. So here’s a tip – be ready in case you’re stopped by the police.
They will 100% find a reason to fine you for something, so keep two separate wallets. One with all your cash and the other as a “police wallet” where you should keep only the amount of money you’re willing to bribe the police with.
This way they won’t take too much from you if they’ll see that your wallet is empty. Just keep up to 50K IDR in that wallet and you should be fine.
If you’re interested to explore other islands near Bali, check out Nusa Penida – the hottest new spot off of Bali.
4. THE MOST EXPENSIVE COFFEE IN THE WORLD
While traveling around the country I noticed that many locals are keeping some pretty unusual pets. These fluffy animals looked partly like a cat and partly as a weasel, but not fully like any of them. Turns out it’s a civet cat – the animal, that’s producing the most expensive coffee in the world. One pound of it costs up to $600 USD.
This animal normally eats coffee beans that grow in the wild and look like cherries. The berry has a soft shell, but the coffee bean just as the cherry bone is hidden inside.
The civet swallows a whole coffee bean, but his stomach doesn’t digest it and the cat discharges it without any processing. According to coffee experts, that’s exactly what gives the coffee its unique flavor and aroma.
After researching more about Civet cats if found out that they are actually not meant to be pets at all. They are wild animals and that’s where they are supposed to live uncaptured.
The biggest population of Civet cats is on Sumatra, another island in Indonesia, where Civets live freely out in the wild in the coffee plantations.
They feed on the coffee beans and when they discharge from the cats, these beans are in hands of real coffee experts. There they prepare them for exporting to the chicest places of the world.
If you’ll see Civet cats being kept in cages anywhere in Bali, please consider how ethical it is to buy a coffee that’s produced from a wild animal that is captivated for this very purpose. Plus, the “owner” of the cat will most likely not be an expert in producing this special type of coffee.
The way I see it – if there’s no demand, there will be less and less supply. So I’d suggest not to buy this coffee in Bali for the sake of keeping these wild animals fee in their natural habitat.
5. DON’T STAY IN KUTA!
Kuta is the biggest party town of Bali. It’s fully touristic, loud and crowded at any hour of the day. It’s hosting the craziest parties, is home to the wildest nightclubs where tourists let loose. The booze is flowing and any other substances can be found there for anyone’s liking.
While it’s a great place for party animals, it’s also wildly criminal place where many of these party animals get robbed during or after the parties.
It’s well known among the party people here not to even bring your phone and wallet when you go out in Kuta at night.
Just carry enough cash in your pocket to have a fun night and all the other valuables leave at home. Otherwise, you most likely will lose them all.
Kuta is not safe even during the daytime.
You should NEVER walk on the streets with your phone in hand, as someone will drive past you on their motorbike and grab your phone out of your hand.
Not carrying a phone in hand even in daytime is a common knowledge over there. Anyone seeing you do that will warn you not to do that. And that already tells a lot about the place!
If you really wanna party hard, go and have fun in Kuta, but do not stay there. Kuta is a typical busy Asian city and definitely doesn’t have any of the charm that you came to Bali for.
Nearby Seminyak, Canggu or Uluwatu will be 100% better choices.
6. GROWING RICE – MORE THAN JUST A FOOD PRODUCTION
One of the best things to do in Canggu, Ubud or really anywhere in Bali is to take a photo of a sunrise over the endlessly green rice paddies.
Only a very few people actually know that growing rice on this Indonesian island represents the centuries of social and spiritual culture.
The planning and responsibility of the irrigation and planting schedule are arranged through Subak, a Balinese system that ties together rice growing and cultivation with its water temple system.
The system has been this way already since the 11th century, yet the yield per acre of a Balinese rice field is about the highest in the world!
7. WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN VISITING A BALINESE TEMPLE
If you’re not aware of the local traditions, it’s a big chance you might do something wrong or even disrespect the locals without even intending to do that. Bali is not an exception in that sense, so when you’re visiting temples – their holy sites, there are a few things you should be aware of before you set your foot there.
☝WHEN VISITING A BALINESE TEMPLE, ALL OF THE FOLLOWING THINGS ARE CONSIDERED DISRESPECTFUL:
▫Have the soles of your feet pointing at the altar;
▫Pointing 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. (this one might seem weird, but it’s really so. I’ve heard pregnant women not being let in even in such big touristic spots as Tanah Lot)
8. DISCOVER THE ICONIC BLACK SAND BEACHES
Thanks to the host of volcanoes due to which black sands are created. Even if you are averse to being dirty, it’s hard to resist the beautiful black sands contrasting the emerald blue water.
Head to the Keramas beach for some black sand beach paradise. It’s located in the east of Denpasar.
Keramas beach is one of the surfer hotspots of the island, as the big and strong waves of the Indian Ocean offers a lot of challenging moments every day.
And it’s so much fun for experienced surfers to come and conquer these waves.
For the most of my time in Bali, we were living a 10-minute scooter ride away from Echo beach in Canggu.
That’s another of the surfer hot spots and also there, the beach is covered with a majestic black sand.
These black sand really creates some kind of special vibe on the beach. It feels a bit dark and misty, very chic and unique.
If you’re staying nearby Canggu, then a visit to Echo beach can replace a trip to Karema beach, as they feel equally pretty.