It is the first day of your Bali holiday and your first night at a Bali rental villa.
Welcome to the paradise called the Bali Island.
However, unless you have been living in the tropics for a while, welcome to what I call the ‘mini-environmental culture shock’. Well, at least if you have chosen a good villa in a non-urban setting, you are in for some new, exciting and really interesting sights, sounds and experiences.
This free travel guide is intended to help you most of your Bali holiday, and the new sights, sounds and smells that await you.
Balinese rice terraces are an art form in themselves, which has taken centuries to perfect.
Quite likely, around your rental villa, you will be surrounded by rice terraces which are still being tended by the local community, using the traditional techniques.
The wonderful climate of Bali allows for up to three sets of harvests to take place every year.
Depending on what time of the year you are in Bali, you are going to experience one of the following:
Preparation of the Terraces
This is when the fields look like layers of serene lakes, shimmering in the sun.
Planting of the Saplings
An exciting time, when local farmers will be working busily, planting young saplings, with an amazing speed and technique. If you have a video camera with you, this is the time to get close and personal with the locals community. Most will respond to your request to photo/film their activities with a pride and a smile.
Growing & Protecting
During this period, you will note the farmers continuously in the fields from sun-rise to sun-set. They will either be mending and managing the terraces, or trying to protect their crop from the birds. Protection of the fields from the birds tends to attract the whole community, especially the young and the elderly. You will see interesting home-invented contraptions being put up to scare the birds away, and hear old ladies trying to personally scare the birds away making some very interesting (and obviously time tested) sounds
Given the nature of the rice plant, this is typically a very rapid process. One which is followed by the very labour intensive and slow process of separating the rice from the chaff, manually, by hand, using again centuries old methods.
Once the rice harvest has completed, you will note the local community collecting the stalks, and burning them in preparation for the next plantation.
During this final period you may see smoke towering from the fields. Please note that there is no need to be alarmed, as these are controlled fires which take place in the middle of the rice terraces, surrounded by water.
If you have never had the chance to do so, we would highly recommend that you take a stroll through the rice terraces. You will find the local farmers very friendly and welcoming, and if you wanted to take some photos, some will even go out of their way to pose for you!
However, please note that it takes a lot of effort and sweat to keep the rice terraces in working condition. Please keep to the ‘foot-paths’ between the terraces, and avoid walking into the actual water-ways themselves. Also, we would recommend wearing soft shoes (sandals/flip-flops) to minimise damage (to the rice fields). Or like locals do, you may want to go barefoot!
The Local Community
The local community in Bali is organised around a very strong network of Banjars (local councils/cantons).
However, unlike the western concept of councils, each local community is locally managed and run, and is almost a state onto itself, with its own local values, rules and guidelines. So much so, that it can actually be up to the local Banjar to decide if a new building can be built or not, or what purpose should the new developments have.
Typically your Bali villa will have close relationship with the local Banjar, and the local community. Many of your villa staff will probably be from the local village.
The Local Religion in Bali
Like most of the rest of Bali, at Mia Villa we live in a Hindu community.
Balinese Hinduism is a fascinating subject in itself, enshrined in local culture and tradition. We would urge all our guests to track down a temple ceremony and experience this festive religion first hand themselves. (Typically, your Villa Manager will be more than happy to advise you on where the next/nearest public ceremony is likely to be.)
In like with the local traditions, many villas have their own full size temples or at least a mini-temple attached to a wall (quite likely near the kitchen area).
It is perfectly alright to take pictures of the temple, and the villa staff praying, making offerings at the temple. However, as a show of respect to the local traditions a level of respect does indeed go a long way. Using the temple as a towel rack (you would be surprised what some people will do!), allowing children to climb the temple or play with the offerings, and being in the nude around the temple are best avoided.
You will note that, every single day your villa staff will visit the villa temple, making offerings and prayers. These prayers are made to protect the villa, its guests, and its staff from harm and negative forces, and to keep the evil spirits away from your Bali villa.
Balinese Hinduism is a very open minded and accommodating religion. If you wanted to find out more about it please do not hesitate to ask your villa staff, who will often share the subject with you very willingly.
Sights of Nature
Most Bali villas enjoy extensive tropical gardens, and you will be surrounded by a wonderful range of tropical trees and flowers.
Whilst, some like the Heleconia and the Lotus Flowers are easy to spot and appreciate, there are many other smaller varieties of plants that you will come across which provide subtler insights into a tropical garden.
If you want to take certain varieties back home, and try growing them, please do not hesitate to speak to your Villa Gardener or your Villa Manager who will be happy to introduce you to some of the better nurseries on the island. (Of course, please first check that your destination country does allow for import of tropical plants.)
Sounds of Nature
Permanent and non-paying residents of most Bali villas is the Gecko (lizard-like creatures).
Totally harmless to humans and pets, the gecko are welcome guests as they feed on ants and small insects, providing a natural and environmentally friendly pest control.
Gecko also provide the signature sound-bite of the tropics. You will hear the very distinctive call of the Gecko on a regular basis. (It is said that if you count a Gecko call up to seven times in one go it will bring you good luck.)
Possibly the only down-side of Geckos is that they tend to eat a lot, and as a result pooh a lot too! So if you come across small droppings on the floor, you know who the guilty party is.
Some gecko can grow to quite large sizes (30 cm / 1 ft)+, and become quite a bit louder. They are still totally harmless to humans. However, if you find that you are bothered by the louder gecko, you will need to raise this with your Villa Manager.
Another permanent resident of Bali is the Kodok, or frogs as we know them in the English speaking world.
The Kodok are such a big part of the life in Bali (as a result of the rice terraces), that you will see their statues throughout the island, often depicted as mischievous and fun loving characters.
Needless to say, the Kodok are totally harmless, and more often than not, heard rather than seen. (Unless it has been raining, when they will be brave enough to come out for a shower.)
Some evenings you may hear gentle rhythmic drums, and chanting at a distance. (Especially during full moon or dark moon.) These are the sounds of the ceremonies being held at the local villages around you.
Sometimes there is nothing more relaxing than, turning off the TV/music, grabbing your favourite drink, and enjoying these ceremonies from a distance. I believe this is one of the most pleasurable benefits of staying at Bali villas.
Traffic, Motorbike, Night-Club Noises
If you have chosen the location of your Bali rental villa correctly, you should hear very little (if any) of noise.
However, if you are having withdrawal symptoms; Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak do indeed provide that bright-lights / big city experience to rival most holiday resorts in the world.
Hopefully, armed with these insights, you can now ease into your new rental villa in Bali, and enjoy your holiday in this island paradise.
Many happy returns…
Joanna M Lawson is an independent travel writer based in SE Asia and splits her time between London and Bali. Ms Lawson is not directly affiliated with Bali Villa Rental. To reuse this article you are required to link to the site above.