How to follow the locals in Bali

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Well, if you’ve known us for a while, you know we have a thing about following the locals. And we want to show you how to do this thing anywhere, even when you’re in a touristy and popular destination.

When we visited Bali more than 5 years ago, it was probably much less touristy than nowadays but still welcoming tons of visitors. In a place like this, it’s really hard to stay off the beaten path and not fall into tourist traps.

The more time we spent there, the more we noticed how locals act versus how foreigner visitors do. We decided to put together a list to reveal ways of doing things like locals do, or experiencing stuff with the locals too.

Bali - local lady giving a frangipani in the Orchid garden
A local guide handing me a beautiful frangipani flower.

 

Massage

Yes, you can indulge in those plentiful spa centers and many-stars hotels. You can experience all those different kinds of massage techniques, you can sink in various aromas while being taken care of the all-mighty hands of the masseurs.

BUT you can also head to any beach, look for an improvised massage tent and bargain for the best back massage by the crafty hands of a self-employed local. Or you can just lie on the beach and accept that offer for 2-dollar feet massage. You’ll remember the real meaning of “happy feet” for long.

Massage on the Jimbaran beach in Bali
Massage on the beach? Yes, please!

 

Drinks

It can get pretty hot in Bali. So you might want to have a beer or five. Bintang is the local Indonesian beer you should go for. And while having any kind of beer is pretty expensive compared to everything else to drink in Bali, you can go for something else recommended by a local.

We saw this Balinese sangria in a menu, and although the waitress gave us some strange look when we ordered it, we finished the jug. We still remember following diarrhea and vomiting as it was yesterday. Sometimes we must be cautious with “local” delicacies.

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It’s very easy to make friends with locals on Legian beach.

 

Transportation

The majority of locals in Bali ride motorbikes and this is the main meaning of transportation across the island. Renting a motorbike is easy and cheap – it cost us about 5 dollars per day. Just don’t forget your international driver’s licenses.

On the other hand, you may always rent a car and be stuck in traffic jams forever, while those nasty little motorbikes are passing you. Hiring a driver with a car is another thing we wouldn’t recommend if you want to experience the real life in Bali and get wherever you’re headed to.

Bali, near Amed, with scooter and helmets
A stop to absorb the view while motorbiking the area of Amed.

 

Laundry

It was a beautiful morning. We had just found out that we need to deal with the laundry ASAP (nothing in the “clean” bag). Our host in the village of Canggu said we can go to any laundry we notice. We picked the nearest to our house and we left the dirty bag with the humble hope that it will be ready the next day. It was!

Clean and fresh, without being able to communicate with the laundry staff anyway, we were proud to say we handled domestics. That means we were more steps closer to the local life.

Bali, religious processing on the street
It’s not uncommon to stumble upon a religious procession in Bali while picking up your laundry.

 

Sailing

You can rent a boat from your hotel, you can board the ferry, you can board a yacht or a cruise ship. You’ll have fun either way.

BUT you can walk on the beach and find a nice local person who offers you to join his son for a fishing trip. So you board the jukung boat at sunset and learn and practice new fishing techniques. And the result is one family will be fed with that catch tonight!

Some fish, some play with water.

Gas

I’m sure there are enough gas stations in Bali, but they were a rare sight for us. So how did we fuel up our motorbike?

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By petrol bottles. Yes, they are sold at every stall, around every corner, in or outside villages. They receive a lot of sunshine, be it bad or good for the quality. One bottle of gasoline is just enough for a day trip and you have it delivered right to your motorbike tank. It goes with a smile by a local, too.

The Water Palace in Bali
We fueled up so now we could freely explore beautiful temples like the Water Palace in Bali.

 

Food

We indulged in many local and international restaurants. The food was so tasty we probably gained a few kilos.

We didn’t have quite the same luck with street food and food stalls. Nothing impressed us. Except for one thing – the perk of a living on a tropical island. The super tasty fresh and sweet fruits. We ate tons of them!

The romantic dinner setting on Jimbaran beach. Food to arrive soon.

 

Shopping

You can visit some of those shiny foreign stores and even shinier shopping venues, and stumble into many tourists with widely open wallets.

OR you can visit the market and master your bargaining skills while buying anything from food to souvenirs, from clothing to kitchen facilities. And you will stumble with many tourists and locals there, but at least you’ll be able to make some of the producers happy.

Shopping for arts in Bali
It’s beautiful Balinese art but we have to bargain first.

 

Dressing

Yes, you can shop for anything with Balinese and Hindu motives. Or you can buy a T-shirt with a temple or a Bintang on it. Bali merchandise is full of ideas. You can get dressed from head to toe with everything shouting Bali.

OR you can rent traditional clothing, get some makeup and styling and be the model in a photo-shoot. For us, this was the perfect way to experience not only Balinese culture but also a bit of typical dance and get into stories for princesses and princes. What an entertaining way to finish our time on the island.

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Bali - dressed like locals, traditional costumes
The eye-work is the toughest thing about dancing in Bali.

 

Doctors

After trying some “local” drinks (as far as sangria can be Balinese) we were in need of a doctor, dehydrated in the middle of the night. So eventually we called a doctor who arrived right at the hotel to take care of us. Everything was OK in the end.

BUT the bill was about 200 USD. We strongly believe locals don’t pay that amount of money for a doctor. Next time we’ll rather explore local medicine and ask for a healer.

Bali, Ubud, Nace with a big rice hat
Rainy day to recover from last night. Those hats are better than umbrellas.

 

Festivities

The art culture in Bali is so rich it may take months to explore it. You have to watch Balinese dance and music drama kecak, fire dance, you may discover your next favorite painting or sculpture, or Batik dress. Arts and performances in Bali are endless and can be experienced for a small or a bigger fee.

One festivity you can experience for absolutely free is a moon ceremony on the beach. But you need a local to tell you when, where, how. You need to hide in order not to spoil the peace, the harmony, the holiness of that moment. Those festive ceremonies of the locals who chose to have faith and preserve their religion over the years and the disturbing outside world.

Kecak dancer walking on fire!

Bali is one of the fairytale destinations we describe in our book “The Magic of Traveling: Follow the Locals”. What is hidden in the secluded villages and rice fields when you’re on a bike to explore the island?

 

How to follow the locals in Bali, Pinterest photo
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So this is our list of recommendations how to experience the real Bali and its locals. Would you follow the locals? What pieces of your culture would you show them?

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