Markets in Bali are usually great places to buy cheap souvenirs, like scarfs, dresses and accessories. However, most locals attend these markets early in the morning. Farmers bring their fresh produce to town and set up stalls around 3–4 a.m. To get the best items, visitors should go to the market around 5 a.m. You’ll be mesmerized by the scents, sounds, colors and rhythm of local life.
As soon as you arrive on the island, you might notice that although Bali’s infrastructure is well-developed, the island has a severe waste management problem. Remember to limit your use of plastic items: Bring your own water bottle that you can refill at various—safe—refill stations. Do not ask for plastic bags at supermarkets and be mindful of your consumption. Several organizations on the island are trying to raise awareness about this issue and taking action. They organize weekly, monthly and yearly cleanups. Check out Trash Hero and One Island One Voice and join a group cleanup if you want to give back to “Mama Bali.”
From May to August, the wind in Bali is ideal for flying a kite. Locals paint Bali’s sky with these colorful, flying shapes. The Bali Kite Festival is held in July, an annual celebration of traditional, Balinese kites. The event summons kite clubs from local villages and showcases their unique—and giant—creations, mixing traditional and contemporary designs.
Ubud offers a myriad of food choices, with restaurants and cafes featuring cuisine from all over the world. However, in order to experience a real taste of the local food scene, get off the main road, seek out tiny alleys and pop into a local warung, or a small, family-run restaurant. They usually specialize in only a few dishes: basko, or broth with meatballs and noodles, nasi lawar, or rice with chopped jackfruit, coconut, local spices and pig blood (though you can skip the “red” version and ask for the “white”) and nasi campur, which is mixed rice with chicken, vegetables, eggs and tempe (an Indonesian soy product). Your taste buds will be ecstatic. Also, do as the locals do: Forget the cutlery and use your hands—the right hand, according to local etiquette. However, a spoon is allowed for broth.
Looming over Lake Beratan, Bali’s second-biggest lake, Mount Catur is one of Bali’s volcanic peaks, the fourth highest (2,096 meters). The trek to the summit starts from the Gua Jepang caves, which were built by WWII prisoners, and takes around three hours; the path is relatively easy to follow. It’s an ideal alternative to the busy Mount Batur hike. Pro tip: Avoid the hike during the rainy season (October to March) because leeches can be a problem.
Batik is the traditional Indonesian art of decorating textiles with wax dye and liquids, using a precise method. Several places around Ubud hold workshops that offer the opportunity to draw, design and make your own batik shirt. Imagine going back home with a unique piece of art that you designed. You’ll have an ideal souvenir from an unforgettable holiday and a day spent diving deep into the local culture’s art.
Booking a room in a family-run homestay will open the mystical doors to Bali’s timeless culture and day-to-day life. Your host family will likely welcome you with open arms, and if you show interest in the local customs, you’ll be invited in no time to ceremonies and celebrations. The banjar, local villages, have a tight community and events take place every day. Connect with your host family to enjoy the most authentic experience in Bali.
There are a lot of street dogs and cats in Bali, and rabies is still a problem. It’s common to find puppies and kittens abandoned in markets, parking lots or on street corners. Several organizations in Bali are helping thousands of cats and dogs. If you are an animal lover, or simply want to do something beyond swimming and drinking mojitos, visit BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association) and Villa Kitty. Spend an hour, afternoon or day with some fluffy friends. Most of the time, all they need is to cuddle.
In order to avoid touristy experiences, you should widen your perspective and observe what the locals do. When traveling, you don’t have to understand everything; you just shouldn’t judge it. You’re a guest in a country with timeless traditions. Respect their customs, just as you would want someone to do in your country. Also, learning a bit of the local language goes a long way; it explains a lot about the local culture’s way of thinking.