If you ask any bucket-lister about their top ten travel destinations to visit, most of them will have Bali on the list if they have not already visited. This is not a surprise – Bali is a beautiful island sitting in Indonesia and is often referred to as the Island of the Gods.
Sunset From Uluwatu Temple. Photo Credit: Ronda Wright
Pictures of Bali flood Instagram highlighting the paradise-like beaches, temples from early history, and a rich culture that includes daily offerings to the Gods. Bali is such a sought-after destination that I wanted to share just a few things that you should be aware of before you visit this cultural wonderland.
1. Book your transportation from the airport in advance.
I urge my clients to book airport transfers in advance as much as possible. After arriving in Denpasar International Airport (DPS), I am now doubling down on this. On my most recent trip, I saw first-hand how chaotic it could be in the passenger pickup area. After grabbing luggage and walking out of the airport, I witnessed over one hundred drivers in a waiting area all with signs and yelling for attention trying to convince each traveler to let them be their personal driver! I saw people looking completely nervous and overwhelmed. It was welcoming to have a driver already waiting for us with a sign (and smile) waiting to drive us to our accommodations in Ubud. For this reason, I stand firm on booking your transfers in advance.
2. Traffic can be bad, which means it can take longer than expected to travel from Point A to Point B.
I never would have imagined this but, there are only three main roads connecting the major areas in Bali. Because of this, when we were traveling throughout Ubud and Southern Bali, it always felt like everyone else was also going to the same place. The roads are busy! In traveling from Nusa Dua to Uluwatu, the trip took ~40 minutes from our resort and, Uluwatu Temple was only 10 miles away. Because of this delay, many people (locals and tourists) have resorted to driving motorbikes. It is a quicker way to navigate traffic and a means to get to your destination much faster. Please be aware though that you will see moms with infants, families with groceries, and everything in between on these motorbikes. You will also see people riding bikes between cars while also passing on your right- and left-hand sides. So please be aware of this and be cautious if you choose to drive in Bali or if you choose to rent a motorbike while visiting.
3. The wait to take pictures in front of the Gates of Heaven (Lempuyang Temple) can be many hours.
Ok, so we have all seen the extraordinary pictures that travelers have taken in front of the Gates of Heaven with a pool of reflecting water in front of them as they pose with Mount Agung Volcano in the background. What goes unseen is the camera tricks taking place and the massive amount of people waiting for the same shot.
When you finish the hilly walk up to Lempuyang Temple, you will immediately notice two things: 1) there is no pool of reflecting water at the temple and 2) there are literally hundreds of people sitting or walking the temple courtyard to pass the time until it’s their pictures time. While I did expect a wait, I did not expect an attendant to hand out numbers as people walked in. We walked into the temple as they were calling out #208 and our number was #426. The couple that was #209 let us know that they had already been waiting for 4 hours to get their number called! There was no way in the world I was going to simply sit and wait that long. So, I took advantage of slow-walkers and created my own shots of the Gates of Heaven and was happy with that!
Gates of Heaven at Lempuyang Temple. Photo Credit: Ronda Wright
Oh, and back to my point about there not being a pool of water at the temple. While onsite, I learned that there is a “cameraman” that uses each traveler’s cell phone with another phone to create a mirror effect while taking the pictures. So, as I said, the image that people see all over Instagram is largely created by cell phone magic versus reality. Still, do visit Lempuyang Temple as there is more to see than just the Gate of Heaven but, please have realistic expectations of the crowd and the time to wait for pictures.
4. Entering temples require preparation.
Inside Tirta Empul. Photo Credit: John McKnight
When visiting a country like Bali, it is important to remember that these amazing temples are not set up for tourist attractions but many still serve as active places of worship. So before entering many temples, there are requirements to make sure each person is being respectful and following local tradition.
1) Both men and women are required to wear a sarong that covers the legs below the knee to show respect and be modest. If you choose not to buy a sarong, you can typically rent one at the entry to the temple.
2) Women with long hair will be asked to pull their hair up or tie it up behind their head. This is because loose hair is associated with chaotic mystical energies in local culture.
3) If a woman is menstruating, you may not be able to enter the temple as. This custom is rooted in the ancient belief that menstruating women were ‘impure’ and the desire to keep this from unsanctified blood from sacred grounds. While most Balinese are respectful of privacy, do not be surprised if a local asks you directly whether you are menstruating.
My friend with a shoe at Uluwatu Temple. Photo Credit: Ronda Wright
5. The monkeys can be “aggressive.”
Most people are aware that they can go to Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest to see the Balinese Long Tailed Monkey up close and personal. What many do not realize is that these monkeys are pretty widespread across the island, including several popular temples. Uluwatu Temple was an example of this. This species of monkeys has a long history of living alongside human beings and have also displayed learned behavior. In my mind, this explains some of the complaints people have of the monkeys being aggressive by grabbing their sunglasses or shiny necklaces. I personally saw a monkey at Uluwatu try to snatch someone’s phone from her hand. In fairness, the lady was intrusively close to this monkey and trying to snap its picture. I did not have any problems with the monkeys being aggressive as I gave them their space and admired them from a reasonable distance.
Bali is a place to fall in love with and one that you will want to come back to for more. Hopefully, these tips can help you as you’re preparing to experience this paradise for yourself.
Hey, I'm Ronda Wright 👋🏽
I'm the founder of The Wright Getaway. I love all things travel and helping other people experience the world.
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