Bali is one of our favorite island destinations in the Pacific Rim. The beaches here are nice, though not nearly as impressive as the beaches in Hawaii, or many other places. We do not recommend travel to Bali for the beaches, but, rather, for its beautiful lush interior, most unique Hindu-animistic culture and for its luxurious world-class, high-touch resorts. During our last Christmas visit to Bali, Bev, Zen and I very much enjoyed walking through the lush green terraced rice fields and villages near the artists’ enclave of Ubud. Religious festivals are held throughout the year and add a special dimension to any stay. The verdant Bali countryside is quite idyllic and surreal, mirroring all of the beautiful images you see in the various travel images.
Bali’s Unique Hindu and Animistic Culture
We are particularly drawn to Bali’s compelling Hindu/Animistic culture, perhaps unique only to this one place. Hinduism was the dominant religion in Indonesia until the great Hindu Kingdom, the Majapahit, evacuated to Bali. The Balinese happily adopted and integrated Hindu beliefs into their native animistic faith. Balinese worship the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu.
Animistic beliefs are expressed in many forms, including large stones, trees, and other objects which are thought to be the dwellings of gods, ancestors, spirits, and demons that live in Bali. They are presented with offerings throughout each day to show respect and gratitude (in the demon’s case, to make them less dangerous!) A gift to a higher being must always look attractive, hence each offering must be aesthetically pleasing. The basic form is fresh food arranged on a palm leaf and a crowned leaf decoration called a sampian. Once presented to the spirits, it cannot be used again.
Our Favorite Temple Walks
When visiting Balinese temples, it is suggested you wear a sarong and sash (worn by men and women alike). Respectfully, ladies with their period are expected not to enter the temple ground.
Bali’s Idyllic and Lush Green Rice Fields
UNESCO recently recognized Bali for its lush, green, inland farming system, one of the new wonders of the world. The cultural landscape of Bali consists of five rice terraces and their water temples that cover 19,500 hectares. The temples are the focus of a cooperative water management system of canals and weirs, known as subak that date back to the 9th century. Included in the landscape is the 18th century Royal Water Temple of Pura Taman Ayun, the largest and most impressive architectural edifice of its type on the island. The subak reflects the Balinese concept of Tri Hita Karana, which symbolizes the bringing together of the spirit, human world and nature. The philosophy was born of the cultural exchange between Bali and India which over the past 2,000 years has shaped the landscape of Bali. The subak system of democratic and egalitarian farming practices has enabled the Balinese to become prolific rice growers in the region, despite the challenge of supporting a dense population.
Ayung Valley Walk (1-2 Hours)
Bev and I feel this is one of our favorite walks when staying at the Amandari (our favorite luxury property in Ubud) – natural beauty + fun! This guided walk into the lush Ayung Valley is best done early in the morning. The big reward at the endpoint is a picnic breakfast at Amandari’s bale (a traditional Balinese rectangular open-sided pavilion with a steeply pitched thatch roof)! Your walk will take you through rice paddies and sacred springs, shrines, and stone statues that have existed for centuries for the surrounding villages. At Bongkasa Village you may relax in the shade of what is considered to be the oldest banyan tree in Bali.
Pura Gunung Raung Taro – 45 Minutes from Amandari
One of the oldest temples on the island where Rsi Markandya settled in the 8th century, after moving from Mount Raung in East Java. The beautiful Bale Agung is one of the longest Bali-supported by one very very long piece of wood. The huge Kul-kul-village alarm sounder is housed in its own pavilion in the temple compound. Taro is famous for its Albino cattle herd. These used to be slaughtered for ceremonies, but now they merely make an appearance and return to the temple grounds.
Para Samuan Tiga, Bedulu – East of Ubud, 25 minutes from Amandari
One of the oldest temples on the island, it was set up by the three highest priests at the start of the Trimutri Hindu belief. The Balinese come from far and wide to make offerings and prayers to help them in their business ventures.
Telaga Waja, Kapitu – 25 minutes north of Amandari
An ancient meditation site at the confluence of 2 rivers, in a cool leafy valley, this temple is fed by holy spring feeds from 2 beautiful crystal clear ponds. A small temple to Winsu, the water god, it is located on the sacred ground surrounding the pools, with stone meditation niches. The villagers still bathe here and make offerings. Please note this temple is at the bottom of a steep staircase.
Pura Griya Sakti, Manuaba – North of Ubud, 25 minutes from Amandari
Hidden from the tourist trail is one of the most popular temples for the local community. The founder of the temple is Pendanda Sakti Wawu Rauh, a supernatural priest who came to Bali in the 15th century from East Java. The locals visit for all kinds of blessings, and to gather holy water to bless new cats! On ceremonial days, the atmosphere is wonderful – a performance pavilion and a serious cockfighting “stadium” draw large crowds.
Pura Gunung Lebah, Tjampuhan – On the way into Ubud, 10 minutes
In the valley on the way into Ubud, this is one of the ancient sites in Bali. Markandya, the founder of Taro, came here around the 8th century. He found many medicinal plants – Ubad in Balinese – and decided to stay where he found the village of Ubud. The temple was restored recently and has beautifully decorated pavilions.