Happy Holidays! In honor of the joy and happiness suffusing the holiday season I invite you to join me on a photo stroll through the markets and streets of Ubud, Bali, where the whole city smiled at me.
From the cheeky grin of mischievous children to an open, toothy smile from market vendors, an openness and joy is inherent.
Follow me on a tour of Bali’s Smiles
You step out of your room and into the family compound area of the guesthouse. You’ve had your tea and breakfast, brought right to your front patio and the cool fresh fruit was a perfect way to start your day.
As you weave through the compound you pass by a few members of the family weaving and readying their offerings. The oldest son speaks great English and you welcome the cheery and inquiries about your plans for the day. The little girl on his lap is less convinced of your harmlessness and shyly smiles from behind a mobile phone, on which she has been playing games.
You plan to explore one of Ubud’s larger markets and he gives you a pleasant smile of dismissal; you have no doubt he’ll follow up with you when you return for a full account.
Before one foot is even out of the elaborately carved wooden door guarding your compound two children dart by you giggling. With her perky pigtails perched on the top of her head you ready the camera and call out to them.
A cheesy grin breaks across the face of the youngest one – a grin so similar to the squishy grin your own young niece prefers that a pang of nostalgia for home breaks over you and then flows off just as quickly as the children scamper away down the side-street.
You leisurely follow in their wake in search of the nearby market and it’s mere minutes before you stumble into the densely packed maze of stalls.
The first woman you encounter gives an instantly open smile and offers up some fruit – you’re on the hunt for mangosteen and you eye her heaping pile. She’s not very pushy and instead asks the usual patter of conversation “where are you from? Are you married? Holy cow why not?”
You’re now toting a bag of mangosteen and dive deeper into the maze.
The colorful kites catch your eye. You stop to admire and the craftsman is more than happy to show off their features. If you had more space in your backpack you might be tempted, but a kite is not packable so you continue on.
You pass by tables full of knick knacks, wooden jewelry, and, oddly, a table full of moderately creepy wooden cats.
Your friend is on the hunt for a new purse and so the two of you look through the stalls until this woman’s frank friendliness and adorable children catch your eye.
You chat for ages with the vendor as your friend continues looking through the purses. Her son is quite the ham and his mother so clearly delights in her youngest.
The sun is high in the sky and the bright light penetrates the dense stalls and your hunger is now more insistent and you set your sites on the Dewa Warung as you leave the market.
You’re content and happy; it’s as if, through the process of proximity and osmosis, the simple inner joy of the locals is now your own.
Joy is universal no matter your religious denomination, so cheer and happiness to you, I hope you have joy this holiday season! :)
Moving to Bali is the stuff of travel dreams. The Indonesian island has a reputation for its gorgeous setting, delicious food, and fascinating Hindu culture. Popular culture has done a wonderful job selling the island’s most idyllic aspects, but there’s a bit more to Bali than simply an island paradise. While many expats have chosen Bali has their long-term homebase—mostly because of the cost of living and quality of life—others visit and then prefer to keep Bali as the stuff of vacations: sunny, warm, and fascinating, but not a good lifestyle fit. Where might your own plans fit into the mix? It really depends on what you are hoping for when you look at moving to Bali.
Generally, there is a mix of lifestyles for the expats in Bali. The costs of living in various parts of the island plays a big role in why expats choose to move to a certain city. There are touristy areas that are completely overrun with a partying backpacker vibe (during non-COVID-19 times, of course). But there are other areas where expats can live smack dab in the middle of a rice paddy, within a short bike ride to the center of town. The lifestyles vary hugely, but as of early 2021, it’s a fast-growing spot for expats looking for a nice quality of life for a low cost of living. Expats who spent 2020 in the country (and thus experienced it during lockdowns and also with very few tourists) maintain that this is a beautiful place to live, featuring an affordable cost of living and a high quality of life.
Note: Many countries are not currently accepting American travelers and have closed borders to prevent spread of COVID-19. Use this cost of living information as a baseline to plan your travels and move once the world reopens to tourism.
During my own stint living in Bali, it all played out a bit differently than I had planned, and I left Bali far sooner than I anticipated for a rad job offer that saw me touring hacker and maker spaces in the U.S. organizing Hackathons for Random Hacks of Kindness, among other social good organizations. But beyond the opportunity, that first trip encountered some serious internet issues, which called me to question if there was a positive answer to the pressing question: Is Bali a good spot to run a remote business, a blog, or any sort of location independent lifestyle?
A decade ago, the answer was a resounding “no.” The internet infrastructure was just too slow and power outages during rainy season were cumbersome if you needed to make an online meeting. Now, however, that has changed and internet in Bali in 2021 is different. Ubud boasts coworking spaces and a growing digital nomad community. It still has a more basic infrastructure than places like Chiang Mai, Thailand (which is hugely popular with expats and digital nomads), or even Vietnam. We’ll get into that a bit more in the quality of life section, but suffice to say that Bali still only moderately ideal for expats who need blazing-fast internet to run an online business.
But there are a ton of other reasons to move to Bali, and if you’re not a digital nomad or entrepreneur, you might just love calling this small island home. I am often asked: “Should you move to Bali?” This spot is unique to other places in Southeast Asia and there are a good number of digital nomads, entrepreneurs, yoga enthusiasts, and families who happily call Bali home. If it’s on your radar, read on for a close look at an overview of what it will cost for every type of lifestyle you have in mind.
Cost of Living in Bali: $720 to $2,600
Expect to spend $720 to $2,600 per month for a single person living in Bali—families and couples sharing rental costs will save quite a bit. And it’s possible to spend significantly more on a higher-end lifestyle. The higher end of the range really comes down to how very, very expensive it would be for a single person to rent a 3+ bedroom villa (~$1,300), without that high-end expense it would be hard to top $2,000 on a generous budget as a solo person living in Bali on a moderate lifestyle.
Average Monthly Expenses
Rent (private guesthouse vs full villa rental)
$270 – $1,300
Transportation (motorbike + fuel—buying vs renting)
$50 – $90
Food (groceries + dining out and light on the alcohol)
$250 – $700
Activities (yoga, massages, diving, etc)
$70 – $200
Misc. (cleaner, laundry, phone, etc)
$80 – $300
$720 to $2,590
Fast Facts About Living in Bali
Currency: Indonesian Rupiah; pegged roughly 1 : 14,000 with the US dollar (IDR rate here)
Expat Scene: Bali is the playground for Australians since the flights are so cheap. There is also a solid expat scene of both short-term expats (3-6 months) and those living full-time on the island. Ubud has a growing startup scene and as of 2016 was vying with Thailand and Vietnam for this crowd of expats. By and large, Bali is popular with Aussie spring-break backpackers and those in their 30s. The island has a very different vibe from the scene in the Thai islands, and although there is a budget-conscious new-age crowd in Ubud, much of Bali’s expat scene caters to those in on comfortably middle class budgets. Those living on the low-end of the cost of living range are generally short-term expats—in Bali, you pay for the creature comforts that most expats prefer in a homebase.
Average Local Salary: The minimum wage salary for a local in Bali is about $140 per month; those in high paying jobs bring home around $500 per month.
Visas: The most common visa for Bali is a paid tourist visa ($35), which lasts for 30 days and you can pay to extend it to 60 days. At the 60-day limit, you must leave and re-enter. This usually works for short-term expats. Long-term expats often opt for the the social-cultural (sosial-budaya) visa, which lasts for 60 days and can be extended for 30 days up to four times. Retirees will likely qualify for a residence visa, but this is very hard for non-retirees to secure.
Child Friendliness: Similar to other places in Southeast Asia, Bali is very child-friendly. There is a large family expat scene, and as such there are several great international schools. You can expect to pay dearly for some, however, so you’ll need to do your research. Prices for school range from 3K annually to as high as 20K per year.
Internet: High speed internet is not widespread throughout Bali. Although you can find internet in every corner of the island, Ubud is your best-bet for a solid, reliable connection. Smaller towns and the beach communities have internet access, but it can vary wildly. Expats in rural areas often rely on satellite internet.
Safety: Relatively safe. Motorbikes are the preferred style of travel; while this is convenient, it is also dangerous. The “Bali Kiss” is the name given to the muffler burn and road-rash on the bodies of travelers who don’t understand how to properly use a motorbike. Motorcycle accidents are common; it’s advisable to carry an expat insurance policy that covers such accidents.
Possible Issues: Burglaries of expat villas is possible since most villas do not lock securely. You will either pay for better/secure accommodation, or opt for security guards. I also highly recommend gear insurance—I carry Clements insurance for my laptop and high end camera. Many beaches have riptides and few lifeguards; use your own ocean safety knowledge to avoid problems. The weak medical infrastructure is a also concern for many retirees.
Water: Tap water is not drinkable. When you live there, you will buy reusable jugs of water. If you’re visiting on a reconnaissance trip, consider a SteriPen or LifeStraw.
Pet Friendliness: Bringing pets into Bali is iffy. There is a huge stray animal problem on the island, some even from expats who thought it a grand idea to bring their pet from their rabies-free home country to Bali. Due to the prevalence of rabies, there have been times in the very recent past where it was impossible to take your pet with you when leaving. It’s a situation in flux and you should count on 14-day pet quarantine on one side or the other, and be OK with periods lasting months or years where you cannot leave the country with your pet. Rehoming your pet with family or friends could prove less traumatizing unless you are sure you’ll make Bali your permanent home.
What’s the Quality of Life?
One of the best parts of living in Bali is just how small your life becomes. It’s a small island and you can live in one area but easily spend a weekend exploring any other part of the island. There are also boat trips to surrounding islands, so there’s a lot of life that expands out from your island home. Within a few hours you can get between most cities, and this is particularly true if you live in Ubud, which is where a lot of expats live. Generally, expats on a tight or moderate budget choose the lifestyle and convenience of living near Ubud, while many expats also live in the more resort-like coastal towns.
For me, I had planned to live in Bali for four to six months, at least. I had this wonderfully romantic notion of living outside of Ubud, taking yoga classes regularly, and powering through some new internet projects. And I was woefully reluctant to abandon the dream even when I saw Jonathan Fields’ post about his flee from Bali for lack of good internet just weeks before I was due to leave. That post is now woefully outdated, but it did prove true for my trip. The internet was awful. The rest of my dream, however, did play out as planned. Ubud has a huge community of new age expats, entrepreneurs, and other expats from every walk of life. It’s an odder mix than many other places that I have lived over the years.
If you’re moving to Bali, then you have options on where to live. Ubud is the a popular spot; the bulk of expats live in or around the central part of Bali. That said, the beach towns are also popular—budget and lifestyle will dictate which area of Bali you prefer to live. Denpasar is busy and lacks charm. The only expats generally living in Denpasar work for the government or international organizations based out of the city.
Ubud has a reputation as a new age, hippy, spiritual town. Coffee shops and healthy cafes fill the city. Yoga is popular and you’ll have a surprising range of options considering the city’s small size. A friend who lived in Ubud for a season did a “Don’t Knock It ‘Til You’ve Tried It” series sampling the wide range of spiritual and physical activities on offer (from cleanses to kinesiology to meditation). Ubud is also home to arguably the island’s best restaurants. I love this list of vegetarian options. It has a hippy vibe and is undeniably touristy. But it’s also popular and expats tend to love it or leave it—you’ll find older retirees making their life in Ubud, but also a plethora of yogis and expats of all ages from all over the world. Ubud attracts less of the party vibe and more of those living there for the culture and with long-term lifestyle goals.
Seminyak and Canggu are popular beach towns that mix pockets of the local culture with a clean beaches and nice accommodation. The beaches in Seminyak are quieter without a party scene you can find in some areas. Vendors are also more low-key, and it’s an area popular with both vacationing couples and families. Seminyak is a bit more upscale and expats might enjoy finding a place nearby here. You can still access any amenities in what was once the hub of tourism in the Kuta beach zone, but the beaches are cleaner and the vibe is much calmer. Canggu has a lot of digital nomads, influencers, and whatnot (and a popular co-working spot called Dojo Bali).
Balinese food is wonderful, and the traditional dishes are quite healthy (and vegetarian-friendly too!). The local restaurants, warungs, have affordable meals and tasty options. Many dishes contain rice, chicken, and even tempeh. You can each on a budget here if you stick to local spots. The fresh fruit and vegetables are also gorgeous, so it’s easy to buy local produce and cook at home. As a rice-based culture, it’s fairly celiac friendly too. With the number of new-age hippy types living in Bali, the locals are familiar with the concepts of vegetarianism and gluten-free. In general, it’s a good option for those with dietary restrictions.
Notably for many expats is the cost of alcohol. Alcohol is highly taxed in Bali and it will not fit into the budget for those on an extreme budget. If you are looking to live somewhere both affordable in general, and affordable for a daily drink, consider other spots in Southeast Asia like Thailand and Vietnam.
Medical care is a concern for some expats considering moving to Bali. The main hospital, Sanglah Hospital, is located in Denpasar. If you have a major injury or illness, this is where you will need to be treated. Other areas of the island have clinics, but there is not a strong medical infrastructure and life-threatening injuries are treated at the Denpasar hospital. Additionally, many expats report that they fly to Bangkok or Singapore for planned surgeries and procedures.
What Does it Cost to Live in Bali?
All prices on the right column are adjusted to form a best-estimate on the budget for a single person in that city. The case-studies, however, include a range of couples, families, and retirees. Additionally, most landlords offer rental discounts for year-long leases. Several single expats in the digital nomad crowd report higher expenses than the rock bottom that is possible. In general, some of the digital nomad crowd, versus the expats or families, live in the trendier areas and splurge on a few extras. Areas for splurging include which district you live in, the level of westernization on the apartment, and A/C consumption.
In short, the cost of living in Bali depends on your lifestyle and which city you choose as rent varies wildly in places like outskirts of Ubud versus Seminyak. Lowest tier rent buys you a room in a family compound, a bit more affords a lovely bungalow in the rice paddies. Higher-end rents afford more Western-style apartments with full A/C and kitchens, or large private villas (which will require a full year paid upfront when renting). Living costs also depend on diet as Bali has an organic health-food craze and those meals are priced much higher than local fare. Case studies below show what a range of lifestyles looks like when living in Bali.
Canggu Cost of Living: $900 – $1,800
Cam and Kels have lived in Bali for several years and are still currently expats living on the island in Canggu as of 2021. They are Instagrammers and also have an active YouTube channel—they mostly share lifestyle and yoga vlogs, but you can find the odd cost of living video or practical tips videos mixed into their channel. They seem to live a lifestyle I peg as on the high end for most expats—they have a part-time cleaner ($105) rather than full time, but they eat out for every single meal on more Westernized food (meals average $6 per person regardless of meal, with splurge dinners of $20 person for dinner and drinks). They rented an entire villa for a year (and paid up front, as is required!) for $15,325—this is $1,275 per month; last year though their rent, scooter, and bills all totaled $1,140, so they’ve upped their lifestyle in the past year. They also actively explore the island and travel a lot—those expenses are not included in this baseline range.
Lerato is a South African traveler who recently lived in Canggu for six months and candidly shared her living expenses—which bear out that you can really find great deals on accommodation no matter where in Bali you choose to live. She lived in a private homestay (six small studios in a building) for $293 per month, and spent about $50 per month on moto-taxi services since she did not rent a motorbike. She never used her shared kitchen to cook but instead at local food for dinner and occasional splurges, still only coming in at ~$300 per month on food. Her total expenses came in at under $1000 all told, and that’s not bad for living in a popular location such as Canggu!
Daneger and Stacey share their digital nomad costs of living all over the world, and in Bali they deviated a bit from their normal lifestyle. Dane lived in Canggu in a shared villa with other expats for $363 per month. His food costs came in at about $300 per month with a mix of dining out and groceries. Total costs were USD $782 for the month in Bali, but in his video he talks about how some of his choices were too budget to sustain long-term. For that reason, you’re likely looking at closer to a minimum $1,000 for a Canggu cost of living that you would maintain long-term.
Ubud Cost of Living: $700 – $1,500
Expat Victor shared his monthly Bali expenses in late 2019 to share that, even though some of the other expat expenses below might seem outdated, it’s all pretty accurate. As of 2019, Victor was enjoying a 2-bedroom rice paddy flat for just $267 a month, and motorbike rental and gas for under $60 a month. You can get a massive food haul of fresh veg for almost nothing, so it’s still in 2021 completely reasonable to expect a baseline cost of living in the $700 range for one person.
When I landed in 2010, within a few days I knew that the party vibe on Kuta beach was too much for me. I headed inland to the cultural heart and booked a few nights at the Artini guesthouse, which are dead center in town. Once I started wandering around town, I found an enormous expat community able to help me find long-term accommodation. Many coffee shops have notice boards. You can use a real estate agent, or you can wander through the outskirts of town asking for rentals. I had lined up a small one-bedroom private accommodation in a rice paddy for roughly $300 U.S. Friends staying in town were living in a bedroom in a family compound for $100. Even in the time I stayed in Bali, however, I knew that food would become my real expense. Although local food is quite affordable for foreigners, the number of fancy, organic restaurants are enticing. It’s easy to go into town for an afternoon and end up spending $8 for an organic lunch, $3 for single-origin coffee and another $10 on a yoga class or activity. For this reason, although Bali is budget for many, most expats will end up closer to a mid-range budget if they live in Ubud.
Darren and Shelley reports from 2017 bear out some of the older cost of living posts that exist for Ubud. They spent a total of $811 per month and $390 of that went toward a one-bedroom villa. The rest went to a mix of food, motorbike rental, and various other expenses that fall right in line with what most expats tend to spend on the budget end of the spectrum. They were not splurging, and so this is what you can expat if you are looking to enjoy your time but save money, too.
My friends Simon and Erin lived in Bali for a season in 2015. They have a similar lifestyle to my own, which is a vegetarian diet, limited partying, and the bulk of outings are cultural activities. They stayed in Junjungan village, which is a bit outside of Ubud but still accessible. You will likely need to rent a motorbike to navigate between the two, but Erin reports that it was quite easy and she navigated into the city for yoga classes. Their cost of living budget splurges on nice accommodation, and Bali is no exception. They found a beautiful, quiet spot and paid about $900 per month for their rental, and spent $40 per month for a motor bike rental (in most cases a monthly scooter rental comes closer to $70 per month as of 2021).
And if you’re a family moving to Bali, the Benders report in that their family of four lived in Bali for about $2,000 per month. They only spent a month in Bali, which means they did not get a long-term rental discount, and spent about $1,400 on their 2-bedroom villa that included wifi, daily cleaning, television, and breakfast (daily cleaning is about $3 million Rupiah, or USD $210, or three times per week is half that).
Seminyak Cost of Living: $900 – $2,000
Seminyak has a lot to offer for expats with a mid-range budget. This family shared how they travel Bali with kids. Although they don’t share their costs, they report that of the beaches—Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua—that their family prefers Seminyak. As an expat, you’ll find the local warungs with affordably priced food, and the less touristy places that make Seminyak more like home than like a tourist haven. Another family, Stewart is the owner of the best site about traveling Southeast Asia, Travelfish. He has lived in Bali with his family for many years.
In the expat forums, the general consensus is that you can find a long-term rental in the southern beach areas for about $500 per month. You can spend a whole lot more than that too, but that’s a good baseline.
Overall, living in Bali is comparable to a few other spots in Asia in terms of costs, but there are clear differences in the quality of life. While it is possible to live on $650 per month in Bali on an uber, bare-bones budget (which is actually still a lot more than locals make and live on), many expats will need more than that for a comfortable lifestyle with Western amenities. The huge expat scene in Bali means that it’s very easy to spend more on luxuries like fancy restaurants, diving, and yoga. Places like Vietnam and Thailand are better for uber budget expats; you will enjoy life more by expanding your budget and allowing for extra activities and events.
A baseline of $1,200 a month is reasonable for a nice life in many desirable areas of the country. And while all this research gives a good baseline of vibes for each place and possible costs, I can’t stress enough that you should plan a trip to Bali so you can do research in person. If you have the time, consider spending your tourist visa as a research trip. You could visit the island for two months and see a whole lot.
If you’re still researching various expat spots, check out our other Cost of Living Guides for a close look the what it takes to move to the world’s most popular expat spots.
Resources For Moving to Bali
These resources will help you more thoroughly each aspect of moving to Bali and what it might look like in your own situation. Other expat cost of living breakdowns can only roughly approximate what your expenses might average if you move to Bali.
A Better Life for Half the Price: A Mexican expat breaks down all the major expat spots in the world with costs, quality of living, and resources. I learned a lot and found a couple of countries I hadn’t previously considered. It’s worth buying if you’re still searching out which country is best for the life you want to live.
Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America: There are a lot of these general guides. The book above, Better Life is about where is a good culture fit, whereas this is the better of the lot of “move overseas” books that covers the practicalities and very hands-on information you need as someone considering living anywhere outside the U.S. If you’re new all the researching, this can kick-start your process. And if you are laser-focused on the retirement topic, versus moving overseas at a different state in life, this retirement guide has great advice.
The Tax Book for U.S. Expats: This is well-priced and unique to expats and retirees filing abroad. It gives a granular look at forms, terms, and sorting out exactly how to file—good for those with complicated tax situations. More recently released, U.S. Taxes for Worldly Americans goes broader and is aimed at younger expats and digital nomads still working and handling how to earn income overseas, pay taxes, and live a nomadic life. It doesn’t explain the terms or niche situations/forms as well as the other book, but instead acts as a guide for younger travelers. Depending on your situation, pick up a copy of one of these guides before you leave so that you will have a tax system in place that maximizes the opportunities to easily file.
A House in Bali: The story of composer Colin McPhee’s obsession with Balinese gamelan music after listening to a rare gramophone recording and his journey to Bali to experience the music firsthand in the 1930s.
Bali: A Paradise Created: This book is a fascinating read which acts as a bridge between scholarly works and popular travel accounts. A mixture of the history and culture of Bali, as well as a look at the foreigners who flock to it.
Bali Daze: Freefall of the Tourist Trail: Written by expat Cat Wheeler, Bali Daxe explores a side to Bali that few tourists see, and offers valuable advice and tips. As someone who has lived in Southeast Asia for 25 years, Cat is a valuable resource for anyone thinking of calling Bali home.
Digital Nomad Guide to Bali: This is a thorough post detailing what you need to know if you plan to work from Bali, completely with coworking recommendations and advice on how to find good wifi.
Overview of Ubud: My friends give a great look at various areas and offer up a list of activities and class you can partake in while you’re there.
Ubud has several coworking spaces, all of which have strong internet connections that usually guarantee you can get online if your own internet is dicey that day. These are also a great way to get to know the other digital nomads, startups, and entrepreneurs. The coworking spaces are: Hubud, Outpost
Ubud has a large expat community, consider joining their Facebook Group to find answers to questions and to seek advice.
Planning a Research Trip to Bali?
I highly recommend that you take a research trip to Bali before you decide to go through the process of moving your life there.
Pick out a good travel insurance policy like World Nomads (I’ve used them since 2008 and fully reviewed them here) to cover you while you’re either in transit visiting your future home—this is not an expat policy, it’s travel insurance. For comprehensive worldwide expat insurance, I have always used IMG Global—I’ve made claims on IMG and gotten emergency care abroad and it’s always worked quite well. Make sure you have travel insurance like World Nomads. You will likely want to rent a motorbike to explore, and you should absolutely cover your personal safety before doing so—take note that travel insurance only covers you if you are legally allowed to drive a motorbike in your home country.
Airbnb is growing in popularity throughout the island and it’s a good way to see how you can live like a local by renting from a local.
Consider staying at Gerhana Sari 2 Bungalows for a nice mid-range place from which you can research. I stayed at the Artini Cottages, and they were very nice. They have a range of rooms at every price level (they run under a few names, Artini 1, Artini 2, and Artini 3—check out each for the range of price options).
This sweet little girl hid behind her mother for the full ten minutes that I was chatting away and purchasing my bright red shoulder bag at the market in Ubud, Bali. Her little brother hammed it up for the camera with barely recognizable peace signs and grins, but this little girl flatly refused all of the prompting from her mother to join the photo session.
The mom was delighted to see the photos of her son on my camera’s display and she actually vogued for me herself! No joke, she started displaying her purses and striking model-y poses for me as we chatted more.
I think it was the delighted laughter that did it for the little girl, that showed it was more than a photo but a chance to be in on the joke because we had spent ten minutes enjoying and being a little silly. Just as I was about to walk away and all of us were grinning because of our ridiculous poses (mom and baby and even me!) this little girl felt the opportunity passing her by and flashed me just the briefest opening—a shy grin through a cheek full of candy and the tenuous offering of a cautious peace sign.
I lifted my camera to ask her if she wanted her picture taken too, and the smallest of nods and the sustained pose told me she wanted, even if in a small way, to be a part of the moment.
And so she was—I love looking at her bright red dress and remembering how much fun I had that afternoon at the market.
The grandmother figure at my guesthouse in Ubud didn’t speak a lick of English, but her friendly smile—coupled with a gentle beckoning of the hand—was the only invitation I needed to sheepishly shuffle over to the assembly line of family members weaving and plaiting palm leaves into tiny three-inch by three-inch containers.
The little pallets of offerings in Bali take so many different forms and are one of the first things I fell in love with wandering the streets of Ubud. Bali is a little anomaly in the middle of Indonesia; the daily nature-based worship of Balinese Hinduism is a stark contrast to religious practices in the rest of this majority-Muslim country.
Every day as I dashed in and out of my guesthouse, these little carafes of flowers and piles of petals dotted the perimeter of the compound—some of these unique Balinese offerings appeared in the early morning hours as I sipped my tea (I’m an early riser and was able to silently watch the construction and distribution of these dozens of daily offerings), and others replaced the trampled petals later each afternoon.
And on the days when I slept in until the sun rose, I awoke to pretty offerings perched on the table of my patio area.
Life Cycle of a Balinese Daily Offering
Before most tourists are wandering the streets the Balinese are out sweeping up all of the previous day’s offerings from around their businesses and homes. Using buckets of water, they wet the sidewalks and scrub not only the perimeter around the doorways, but the gutters too.
The streets of Bali are spotless in the early morning hours as locals prepare the sidewalks, steps, statues, and temples for the daily gift of offerings meant to appease and please the various gods and demons of Balinese Hinduism.
These little tributes are perched all over the city. Some are as simple as a small and fragrant frangipani adorning each and every step leading into a housing compound.
Others are more elaborate, designed to guard the house’s doorway and appease the gods—these are often represented by statues placed throughout the house.
Detailed and complex or simple and plain, the Balinese place offerings simply everywhere.
These offerings represent daily devotional gifts to their belief system. When I put it more in the context of my Christian background I think of it like saying the rosary—a repeated act of faith.
The darker side of it is that they use these offerings to appease demon spirits hanging around. So, as much as I present this sunshine-y side to the offerings, they are so much more than mere street decorations to the Balinese—they form a cornerstone of the daily practice of nearly every Balinese person I met.
Locals spend large parts of their day in the construction of new offerings, then dispersing them around their compounds. Once it’s seemingly completely, they make more holders and palm leaf patterns to distribute in other forms.
These abundance of flowers adorning buildings, homes, and businesses are a lovely addition to wandering Bali, but more than anything, sitting and watching the women and men plait palm leaves day after day took what I had viewed as a cute religious practice and grounded it into a much clearer window into the beliefs and daily lives of the Balinese people.
It’s so easy to travel to these countries and pick out the fun parts and view it from the outside—as a Westerner looking in on what could be regarded as cute or kitschy practices. But sitting there, with them every day? It’s so very much a lovely and honest part of their everyday life that these ornate offerings provide such a pretty opening to something deeper within the Balinese culture.
Learn More About Bali and Balinese Hinduism
Bali: Sekala & Niskala: A wonderful book if you want to truly understand Balinese culture and thought. The book is a collection of essays with topics life Hindu mythology and modern gamelan music.
About time I posted an update from Bali! I actually broke my laptop my first day in here- and by first day I mean within hours of landing in Bali after 36 hours flying from US my laptop simply would not turn on – so with some initial tears and “holy crap, I’m screwed” thoughts rolling through my head I was forced to hunt down a local computer repair center recommended by the locals (details at the bottom).
Telephone Conversation with my Computer Technicians
I’m going to jump right into my side of a telephone conversation I had on day two with the technicians fixing my broken laptop – I thought it was an absolute hoot – it’s only my side of the conversation because the other half was in Indonesian…and I don’t speak Indonesian…yet.
– Yes, hello? Hi, English please?
– Do you speak English?
– Um, the person who speaks English please. (side note: I left my computer with a technician fluent in English)
– Could you please get the person who speaks English?
Tons of animated voices and at least six people laughing really hard on the other line.
Guffaws. Flat out belly laughing and the same amount of rapid Indonesian spit right back at me. In fact, they were laughing so hard I could all but hear the droplets of tears forming at the edges of their eyes.
– Hmm…Dell yesterday. English person. You fix?
– Ok Yes! DELL! Me Dell! Yay, you remember. Fix, yes?
– Fix? Good? All better?
– Turns on?
– Works now?
– Good or Bad?
– I come and pick up?
– Um, ok, thanks, guess I’ll see you tomorrow!
So why is this so funny…because I hung up not knowing anything knew about my laptop but man were they cracking up on the other side of the phone. I guess it would be like picking up the phone and only hearing someone jabbering gibberish on the other side of the line!
My Takeaways from Fixing My Laptop in Bali
Relax Sans Technology: With my laptop in the shop for at least two days I truly had no choice but to sit back and relax with my book and a cold beer. It was actually an entirely different experience to not process my day through technology by sorting pictures, writing a blog, and working.
Perspective: Best piece of advice I got was “hey, at least you still have pen and paper!” Simplistic, but you know, it hadn’t even occurred to me. Because 75 percent of what I do is internet based, I just plum forgot that I could still jot down ideas and be a bit productive without my IV-line of technology pumping into my system.
Flexibility: Time is elastic in Bali…and pretty much most places outside of the West. This is one of those patience building lessons – if they say to come pick it up in two days…that really meant three.
Negotiate, It’s a Fact of Life: The price I paid was seven times what we agreed. What to do? Negotiate. Since I don’t know what they added to the computer I just paid, but I went into this knowing that as a foreigner I was never going to get the cheapest price.
Learn Some Language!: Maybe the most important was learning just five phrases in Indonesian. In Bali, a smile goes a long way and an attempt at the language can only help, so by the third day, when I went to pick up my laptop I went in knowing just a few words that made all the difference: “good,” “bad” and “thank you very much.” From just those three phrases I pieced together that one of my boards was jelek, or rather bad.
Just Accept and Move On: I really have barely any idea what they did to fix my laptop. And I probably never will. They couldn’t tell me and the English speaking technician never showed back up on the scene. But it works now. Yes, I want to know. It’s frustrating that I don’t know what beyond my “board” was jelek but oh well. What can I do but accept and move on?
I got my computer back completely working yesterday so expect a more some more regular updates as I explore Ubud, Bali…my home for the next few months!
Quick Tips: Computer Repair in Denpasar, Bali
Where: Cyberlink Computer on the fourth floor of the Rimo Computer Center in Denpasar, Bali How to Get There: Tell your driver Rimo in front of the Ramayana shopping mall. Tips: Check your receipt and make sure each piece/part you hand them is itemized out and labeled so that you get it back!