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Bali’s Secret Art Markets and Villages: How to Visit Them

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Bali Secret Art Markets

Bali is one island in the long chain of islands that makes up Indonesia, and as you might expect from an island in Southeast Asia, it’s an incredible, tropical, brilliant experience. It’s also much less isolated and more connected to the wider world than something like, say, Tahiti or Bora-Bora.

There’s a ton to see and do in Bali, from hiking trips to see isolated temples to surfing and diving and other water-based sports to experiencing the native culture as it has developed for thousands of years. But, as any seasoned adventurer knows, there’s always some downtime to fill. Time that isn’t enough to go on a lengthy excursion but enough to leave you bored if all you do is stay in your hotel room.

That’s where Bali’s famed art markets come in. They’re markets, plain and simple, places where locals and residents set up shop selling a variety of handmade and commercial goods, ranging from traditionally-made sarongs and hand-painted art pieces to handcrafted jewelry and sculptures. And, yes, there are often commercialized products, too, from mass-made magnets to screen-printed t-shirts, but don’t let that dissuade you. There’s virtually always something new and interesting around the corner.

Traveling to Bali

Bali is, as we mentioned, a lot closer to major hubs of civilization than some of the more isolated tropical islands you can visit. It’s relatively central to a variety of cultural hubs, like Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and even the northern reaches of Australia like Darwin. As such, whether you fly into Australia or start your journey by landing directly in Jakarta, it’s relatively easy to reach.

Do you need a visa to visit Bali? Technically, yes, but as long as you don’t plan to stay for more than 60 days, you can get a Visit Visa either in advance online or upon arrival. It’s a short and simple process, and you can read more about it here.

Are there any specific travel regulations for Bali? Yes. There are a bunch of small details that might not seem important at the outset but can get you denied entry into Bali if you get them wrong.

  • Your passport needs to be in good condition, with at least one empty page, and it has to be valid for at least six months after the date of your visit.
  • You must have a return ticket out of Bali. No one-way flights to the country, you need to have a planned exit, though you may not be required to show it upon arrival.
  • You need to fill out a customs declaration form either upon arrival or up to 72 hours prior to arrival online.
  • You must have an international driving license if you want to rent a scooter or other motorized vehicle to get around Bali. Alternatively, the Gojek app is like Uber for local taxis.
  • You do NOT need medical travel insurance anymore – which used to be a requirement – though it’s not a bad idea to have it regardless.

What’s this I hear about a tourist tax? Bali has long been a hub for tourism, but as a consequence, they’ve suffered under the press of people. Local taxes and tourism spending haven’t been enough to really sustain the island, so the Balinese government decided to implement a Tourist Tax, effective February this year. Funds from this tax on all foreign travelers will go towards things like supporting local businesses, promoting sustainable tourism, improving local infrastructure, and addressing the negative effects of tourism, like pollution.

The tourist tax isn’t a significant burden, truly. If you’re already planning a vacation to Indonesia, paying an additional $10 for your trip to Bali is a drop in the bucket compared to airfare, lodging, and everything else. And that’s really all it is: a fee of IDR 150,000, which is only about $10 USD.

Tourists in Bali

When is the best time to travel to Bali? The Balinese government recommends sticking to the dry season, between April and October, though they also recommend avoiding the peak of the summer heat in July and August. That said, you can visit any time of the year; it’s just that rainy weather might wash out or otherwise leave you soggy for some of your adventures.

Do you need to learn another language to get around Bali? Not really! The local language is Bahasa Indonesia, and the native Balinese population speaks Bahasa Bali, but since Bali has been an international tourist destination for a very long time, English is perfectly sufficient to get around. Learning a few words won’t hurt, but you probably don’t need to if you have no head for languages.

What does the State Department say? It’s usually a good idea to check with the US State Department for travel advisories for any foreign country you plan to visit. Bali is part of Indonesia, and Indonesia is under an “Increased Caution” advisory, though most of the reasons center around Papua, not Bali. Natural disasters aren’t uncommon. Also, make sure to take steps to minimize mosquito exposure; Dengue Fever is present and can spread via bites.

What is the Bali Behavior Guide?

As a tropical tourist destination, many people visit Bali as a way to let loose and relax. Unfortunately, sometimes people take things too far and misbehave. That’s true of any tourist destination, but in Bali, there are a lot of local religious and sacred sites and locations, and viral videos of tourists becoming rude, violent, driving drunk, and other dangerous behavior have circulated in the past few years.

In response, the Balinese government issued an official tourist guidelines document to help people know what is and isn’t crossing the line. For the most part, it’s all reasonable! Don’t be rude or disrespectful in religious areas or with religious symbols, don’t dress inappropriately, comply with local laws, particularly traffic laws, and so on. There are a few specific areas they don’t want you to visit outside of specific sacred ceremonies. They also prohibit single-use plastic bags and straws and follow principles similar to Leave No Trace when it comes to littering.

Taman Ayun Temple

You can read the full guide here. There are a few interesting elements on it, including unique hand gestures and other social behaviors you may want to brush up on. Many people won’t know or care about them, but showing that little bit of extra respect can go a long way towards earning you the good graces of the locals.

Visiting Bali Art Markets and Villages

While there are many different things you can do in and around Bali, one of the things that makes the region famous is its art and arts culture. Most major cities in the area have an art market, and some of the art markets are the main draws to the area in the first place. Art markets and art villages can fill a whole itinerary, and since virtually everyone in Bali is cheap outside of luxury lodgings, you can afford pretty much anything you could want on a very small budget. So, the question is, which art markets and villages should you consider visiting?

Kuta Art Market

Kuta Art Market is a traditional market in one of the most populous and frequently visited cities in Bali. Many people have fond memories of Kuta’s history and contributions to the region. It’s considered something of a culturally-important market, and it’s often one of the first markets mentioned in discussions of the Bali art market scene.

Kuta Art Market

Unfortunately, modern social and commercial pressures and the reconstruction of at least one iconic building have meant that the Kuta market is a shadow of what it once was. Many of the buildings in the market are now streamlined and modernized, and the shops are more likely to be selling tourist kitsch than local art, with many recent visitors complaining that they all have more or less the same inventory. The whole place has been overshadowed by the more modern Kuta Square Arcade, which is more like a modern shopping mall than a market.

It can still be worth a visit – and Kuta, in general, is still a wonderful place to experience – but there are better art markets to check out now.

Ubud Art Market

Located in one of the “cultural epicenters” of Bali, Ubud is a vibrant and active marketplace with a wide range of different kinds of art, but more than anything, textile and fabric crafts abound. There are also handicrafts and hand-painted items that can fit perfectly on a shelf back home.

Ubud is also close to the royal palace, which is itself a great piece of culture to visit. These days, it outshines Kuta by a significant margin and is definitely worth checking out.

Sukawati Art Market

Sukawati is considered the artistic heart of Bali, and the art market located here is the oldest and most respected of the markets across the island. Pretty much every kind of art can be found here, from painting and sculpture to fabrics and crafts, and even performance art like traditional dancing and ceremonies are common sights.

Sukawati Art Market

A big part of the experience in Sukawati’s Art Market is the art of haggling. Haggling is part and parcel of the art scene on Bali, but the immersive experience of discussing the merits of a piece and the pricing is a touching and memorable experience for tourists, especially those who aren’t used to cultures where haggling is more commonplace.

Seminyak Market

Seminyak is nearly the opposite of what you get from Sukawati; it’s trendy, it’s modern, and it’s full of a mixture of modern commercial products and traditional crafts, often in a kind of unique artistic fusion you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Seminyak Market

You can duck into a trendy restaurant and step back out into a bustling flea market with pretty much anything you could desire somewhere in the stalls.

Guwang Art Market

Guwang is actually located very close to Sukawati, so you can visit both of them in the same trip.

Guwang Art Market

Guwang is smaller and a lot more sedate, for a leisurely experience instead of the popular hustle and bustle of Sukawati. It sprawls across three blocks and change, and offers a wide range of jewelry, clothing, woodworking, and painting for sale.

Badung Market

Badung is very much the largest art market in the city, and it’s almost as much a superstore as it is an art market. People visit not just for art and tourism but for daily necessities, so you can find handcrafted jewelry and statues right next to a vendor of spices or a meat or produce stall.

Badung Market

It’s also one of the few markets in Bali that broadly accept non-cash payments and has Wi-Fi hotspots throughout, which is almost completely unique to the area.

Getting the Most Out of Bali’s Art Markets

Stepping into one of the art markets for the first time is a daunting experience. It can be noisy, hectic, and an assault on the senses.

Visiting a Bali Art Market

So, how can you make sure you’re getting the most out of your experience?

  • Try the early morning. Vendors are often trying to score their first sales and may be more willing to accept better deals, especially since the tone of that first sale sets their good luck for the day. You’ll also have the best selection, as other people haven’t bought the best stuff yet.
  • Don’t be afraid to haggle. While most Americans aren’t really comfortable with the practice right away, bargaining is an accepted and even entertaining aspect of shopping in Bali, as long as it’s kept friendly and done with a smile.
  • Be choosy. The things you find in Bali’s art markets can be dazzling at first glimpse, but if you buy something based on how unique it seems, only to find five more identical versions down the street or in other markets, you might feel disappointed. Be picky, and remember, you do have to have space to bring these things back home with you.

Above everything else, though, just remember to have fun! You’re there to experience the culture and see the sights, not to make a deal or a profit. Fortunately, it’s not all that difficult to have a good time in Bali.

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