10 things you never knew about Bali

Fancy yourself an expert on all things Bali? Here are some surprising need-to-know facts about your favourite holiday destination.

The rice paddies are protected from development.
  • Theodora Sutcliffe
  • March 2019

Beautiful beaches. Iconic rice paddies. Bubbling volcanoes. Most people think they know all there is to know about the Indonesian island of Bali but if you dig a little deeper you’ll find there’s more to learn about this hotspot.

The rice fields are a World Heritage site

It takes a complex communal system to grow rice in Bali – if one person doesn’t look after their crop, an entire village’s can be lost. Called subak, the system was developed at least 1000 years ago and UNESCO has recognised it with World Heritage status.

The sun isn’t shining all year round

The island has two main seasons – the dry (roughly April to September) and the wet (roughly October to March). But it also boasts a bewildering range of microclimates: it can bucket down all day in one spot and down the road deliver blue skies without a drop of rain. The highland town of Bedugul, in the centre-north, is so cool and rainy that locals grow cool-climate fruit and veggies throughout the year.

You can cook breakfast in an active volcano

Bali’s Mount Batur and Mount Agung are both active volcanoes. While Mount Agung is currently off limits, scale Mount Batur for sunrise and your guide will help you cook eggs in the volcanic heat.

The sunrise hikes up Mount Batur are breathtaking.
The sunrise hikes up Mount Batur are breathtaking.

The entire island shuts down once a year

For Balinese New Year (usually in March), or Nyepi, the entire island shuts down for a day and night. Even the airport closes and no-one is allowed onto the beaches or streets. Leave your hotel room at your peril during this time – cultural police called pecalang enforce the custom and can even put you in jail.

There are still quiet places without tourist crowds

Throw a stone over your shoulder in Kuta and you’ll be sure to hit an Australian in a Bintang shirt. But that doesn’t mean the entire island is full to bursting. For blissful rice terraces, serene jungles, waterfalls and volcano views, escape south Bali and busy Ubud for tranquil Sidemen or Munduk. The Bukit Peninsula still boasts some pristine beaches or you can head north for tranquil smaller bays.

Embrace the wild jungle surrounding Sidemen villages.
Embrace the wild jungle surrounding Sidemen villages.

Not all beaches are for surfing

Year-round surf and world-class breaks like Uluwatu and Padang Padang has made Bali a surfing mecca since the 1970s. But that doesn’t mean every beach offers barrels, rip-tides and foaming breaks. The calm waters around Jimbaran and Sanur are perfect for families and stand-up paddleboarders, while the peaceful beaches of Amed offer access to some of the island’s finest diving.

You should respect the dress codes

You’ll need a sarong to enter most temples and you should cover your shoulders as well. While there are no laws around dress code in Bali, what looks great on the beach can look a lot less appropriate in town – a bikini will win you no favours at the local market. As a general rule of thumb, the further away from south Bali you get, the more skin you should cover.

Respect Balinese culture by wearing modest clothes.
Respect Balinese culture by wearing modest clothes.

Yoga is not a Balinese tradition

The overwhelming majority of Balinese people are Hindus and meditation is an important part of their lives. Yoga poses? Not so much. While the island is bursting with spectacular yoga pavilions and lush retreats, the practice originated in India. And remember, striking yoga poses in temples – particularly for a selfie – can cause huge offence. Some popular temples have signs banning yoga, so save your splits for the studio.

You need a licence to ride a motorbike

It may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer but there are laws of the road in Bali and you need a licence to ride a motorbike (like in most other places). Bikes are an amazing way to explore, whether you’re winding through landscapes of rice fields and waterfalls or zipping to deserted beaches – but it is key to do so safely. Wear a helmet, ensure you have valid travel insurance, follow the road rules and aim for a little more skin protection than boardies and thongs.

Bali is not the place to start learning how to ride a motorbike!
Bali is not the place to start learning how to ride a motorbike!

Bali is not a country

As many as 30 per cent of all Australians believe Bali is a country all of its own – an illusion apparently shared by late singer-songwriter David Bowie, who requested his ashes be scattered “in the country of Bali”. But the island is actually just one province of Australia’s largest neighbour, Indonesia, where it sits among more than 17,000 other islands – or roughly that number, anyway… the government hasn’t finished counting yet.