Nov 1, 2022
BALI HAS REOPENED for foreign visitors, but tourism numbers have hardly reached the overwhelming peaks of years past, making this an especially divine time to explore the Island of the Gods. From observing religious traditions in small villages to trying your hand at new workshops that rework timeless textile techniques, it has never been easier to get a taste of the island’s rich heritage without the crowds. Here are some wonderfully immersive cultural activities to give you inspiration for your next trip to Bali.
Try your hand at calligraphy
The stunningly ornate Balinese script (known as Aksara Bali) is an evolution of the ancient South Indian Brahmi script that dates back to the third century BCE. Today, Aksara Bali is mainly used in traditional ceremonies or in religious texts; however, calligraphy-style classes are available for those who want a deeper understanding of this centuries-old art form. Available exclusively at Amandari and Aman Villas Nusa Dua, two of the island’s most luxurious hotels, guests are invited to try their hand at basic writing and reading with the brand-new Balinese Script Class.
Go into the blue at an indigo dying workshop
Bali is famed for its rich arts and crafts scene, and textiles are a large part of this living and evolving tradition. At the boutique luxury wellness retreat, The Asa Maia, made up of ten wooden Javanese gladaks, guests are invited to take part in the craft of natural cloth dyeing. The new experience takes you to an off-the-radar indigo plantation in Payangan, just north of Ubud, where you’ll work alongside a Dutch and Balinese family of producers to harvest indigo from assam indigo plants with a traditional sickle, extract the all-natural dye, and create a one-of-a-kind souvenir that is both in fashion and rooted in tradition.
theasamaia.com; Indigo Dying Workshop Rp2,500,000 for group classes or Rp3,500,000 for private workshops.
Take a culinary class with a twist
Nestled in the foothills of the island’s highest peak, Mount Agung in the mythic eastern stretches, Bali Asli is a restaurant and culinary school that takes you off the well-beaten track with an authentic Balinese kitchen of wood-fired, mud-brick stoves and a larder stocked with ingredients grown onsite or sourced locally. While Bali Asli has plenty of cooking classes and culinary adventures to choose from, The Day in the Village experience will top your traditional megibung (family-style feast) with an exploration of the nearby rural village of Pangi to try tuak, a tipple made from fermented palm tree sap.
baliasli.com.au; A Day in the Village Cooking Class and Adventure Rp1,050,000
Embark on a tour of a different kind
ToursByLocals connects travelers with highly curated local tour guides. There are 110 cultural activities in Bali to choose from, but for something a little different, try The Ancient Megaliths tour with Balinese tour guide Mully, a graduate of the Hotel and Tourism Training Institute in Nusa Dua, Bali. Highlights of the 10-hour tour include a stop at the Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave temple with menacing entryway (designed to keep bad spirits away) and the Gunung Kawi temple and funerary complex, with imposing eight-meter-tall carvings. The tour concludes with a boat ride to the village of Trunyan (sometimes called Skull Island), known for its fascinating funeral rites, where purified bodies are left unburied to decompose under a sacred taru menyan, which literally translates to “fragrant tree.”
toursbylocals.com/uniqueBalivillagetour; The Ancient Megaliths & Ancient Village Full Day Tour by Mully K. Rp2,300,000 per tour for up to five people
Observe an Odalan
An Odalan is a relatively frequent Indonesian Hindu occasion when a village comes together in celebration and worship to mark the birthdate of the village temple. Since Bali has thousands of Hindu temples, several Odalans may be celebrated every day, but it’s not always easy for travelers to find out the dates, times and locations of these temple festivals. At Amankila, balanced atop the clifftops of east Bali, guests are invited to come along to an odalan if one falls during the duration of their stay, an experience we’d rank among the consummate insider’s cultural activities.
aman.com/resorts/amankila; Odalan Cultural Insights; complimentary