Bali is the first country I have visited in South East Asia (although definitely not my last, I am flying to Thailand in January 2017).
Be it that it was my first time in a country that is so culturally different to my own or to anywhere else I have previously travelled to, I was left immensely intrigued by the way of life, customs and traditions.
As I came across things that left me mouth gaping, fascinated or perplexed I made a note of them on my phone. Here is rundown of my notes:
RELIGION & SPIRITUALITY
Bali is a very spiritual place, this is apparent as soon as you step out of the airport and are welcomed by the scent of incense. As you walk along the streets you will come across numerous offerings perched outside doorways, steps and ledges:
These offerings are a representation of the people's faith and a daily gift to the gods. Unlike the majority of Indonesia which is a mostly muslim country, Bali challenges the status quo by practicing Balinese-Hinduism.
If you wake up early you will come across Balinese people sweeping the streets ready for the day ahead. This daily cleaning ritual is then followed by women holding baskets full of flowers and incense, praying and blessing the front of their businesses and homes.
During the late afternoon, I was also startled by the sound of people meditating. I am ignorant in the matter, but I always thought that meditation involved people being quiet and absorbed in the internal practice...however, what I could hear from the other side of a temple's wall was loud, involved music and people chanting.
What I came across was Mantra Meditation which is the practice of combining chanting mantras and silent meditation. I am intrigued by the topic of mediation but I know very little about it, so I won't pretend I do, but I would definitely like to learn more.
APPEARANCE & CLOTHING
Although the majority of people you come across in Bali will wear standard 'western' fashion, the presence of traditional balinese attire is still strong. This is especially the case during prayer and other significant social occasions such as ceremonies and weddings.
During a tour of one of the temples, I came across some newlyweds in their wedding outfits. Both the bride and groom were wearing a lot of make up for the occasion. I love the vibrant colours and intricate designs of the robes and accessories.
SMOKING & ALCOHOL
I was surprised to find that you are allowed to smoke inside the majority of public places/venues including restaurants and bars. I felt like I had taken a trip back in time to Europe in the 1990s.
I was also shocked by the very low cost of cigarettes. As a comparison, a pack of 20 cigarettes in Australia will set you back around $20, whereas a pack in Bali costs the equivalent of around $3 (PLEASE NOTE: I am only sharing this information for the purpose of cost comparison and not because I am advocating or encouraging smoking.)
Just as a word of warning, you will notice or even be approached by people on the streets selling valium, sleeping pills, viagra and the like. Unfortunately there is clearly a market for it, but in my experience all you need to do in the event of being approached is politely decline and keep walking.
SPA & MASSAGE GALORE
Something you should take advantage of whilst in Bali are the extremely affordable prices of beauty treatments and massages (I certainly did!). Many of the massage parlours on the high streets will lack atmosphere and quality of service...nonetheless, when you are paying the equivalent of $10 AUS for a one hour full body massage you can't expect 5* treatment.
I also had a manicure and pedicure for a total of $11 AUS and was very happy with the results!
CRAZY TRAFFIC & CHILDREN RIDING MOTORBIKES
I grew up near Palermo, Sicily. So I know what bad traffic looks like. People weaving in and out of lanes, no indicators or road signs being used and everyone having a 'I come first' attitude on the road. Well, Bali takes all of that to the ultimate level.
Surprisingly for some obscure reason, it still works. People get from A to B day after day and seem to be comfortable and confident with this system...or rather the lack of one.
Something which left me astonished was seeing children as young as 10 years old riding motorbikes, whole families of 5 squished on a single bike and little old ladies riding bikes loaded with enough stock to fill a warehouse!
This was a regular occurrence and seemed to be a common custom...which makes you wonder what on earth the police is doing? Then again, if this is the only means of transport that a family can afford, who are we to say that their way of living is wrong and ours is right? This topic is far too political for me to delve into, but it did make me wonder if in the western world we have become too reliant on rules and regulations rather than just using our good old wits and instincts.
One of the things I love about travelling is opening my mind to the fact that people all over the world live differently. The way I have been brought up, my habits, views and traditions are not the benchmark for everyone else and that is ok, in fact that is more than ok, that is beautiful.
There is nothing quite like getting the chance to observe someone else's daily rituals, watching them go on about their mundane life effortlesly, especially when their daily habits are alien to our own. It is easy to forget how big and varied the world is, and one of the most precious gifts that travelling will you is the reminder of that very fact.