If you ask me what I came to see in Bali, I won’t say “sun sea and sand”, because let’s face it; you can find that pretty much everywhere in Asia – I’m spoiled for choice here. I came to see unique Balinese traditions and find stories. The Balinese villages around Ubud are the center of art and craft in Bali and they filled my inner artist and culture junkie with joy. Here’s what I discovered when I went to Mas, Celuk and Tohpati:
Find out more of my stories HERE 🙂
*A note on currency: 1 USD = 13314.00 IDR
Balinese Village 1: Mas
Mas is a Balinese village that specializes in woodcraft. It brings out your inner artist just by driving through and being surrounded by furniture, masks and gods twisting and smiling either side of you.
Who it’s for:
Anyone who enjoys wandering around a little, as the whole area is filled with different galleries and producers. Also great if you enjoy watching Balinese dances and want to see where the masks are made.
I made a stop at the Astina Gallery. I didn’t go with any tour but I was still greeted warmly by the family who had been carving masks and sculptures there for nine generations.
Anom Suryawan, the owner and operator and himself an internationally acclaimed wood carver was happy to show me around. I asked him if wood carving as an industry was fading, or growing due to tourism. “The wood carving industry is growing slowly” he replied. “It won’t stop, because puppetry is a Balinese ritual. We keep this alive for our culture, but tourism supports it. It keeps growing like a flower that is blooming.”
Intrigued by that answer, I wandered around, asking about different mask characters and watching craftsmen work. Everyone was happy to chat to me and very helpful. Later, I met Anom’s brother Oka who had a brilliant conversation with me about Balinese culture.
It’s close to Ubud, so free apart from petrol if you drive. Astina gallery sells masks privately and offers a full day workshop on wood carving for $150.
Other things I learnt:
From Oka, I learned that Balinese masks are made from wood and not any other material, because the dance itself is a religious ritual and the tree from which the wood comes from is alive and so the wood is part of a transfer of spiritual energy.
Balinese people observe two different calendars. The numeric Pawukon calendar has 210 days and the lunar Saka calendar starts every Nyepi, which is the Day of Silence. Oka explained that masks are used for the festivities of Galungan, a Balinese holiday celebrating the victory of dharma (good) over adharma (evil). It is a time when ancestral spirits come to visit. 10 days later is Kuningan, the day symbolizing a fresh start when the spirits return.
We ended with a tour of the rest of the gallery. Upstairs, I saw a mask with one eye and asked if it was an ogre. Oka replied “It is Kala Rau, who swallowed the moon goddess to make the lunar eclipse.” More on that story very soon!
Balinese Village 2: Celuk
Celuk is a Balinese village that’s the hub for gold and silver craftsmanship. I headed down from Ubud and found Celuk just after Mas. It was mainly lots of different jewelry shops with handmade stuff. The work was beautiful and very delicately wrought – I especially liked the sterling silver showpieces. A little boring to wander around in compared to Mas though – my mum would have enjoyed this more than me.
Who it’s for:
Gold and silver jewelry aficionados.
Free apart from petrol to drive. The silver is obviously not cheap. A teeny tiny pendant ring costs around 300,000 IDR and a workshop to make your own jewelry with 10g sterling silver costs 650,000 IDR. That’s reasonable for Western standards, but not a priority for me to splurge on over here.
Balinese Village 3: Tohpati Village
Tohpati is the Balinese village that specializes in a traditional form of fabric painting called Batik. Textile design fascinates me and I wanted to see how the clothes were dyed and decorated.
Who it’s for:
Anyone with a creative or curious side. Designers and people interested in fabric and material would have a field day.
It was an easy drive down past Mas and Celuk. When I got to Batubolan, I stopped to ask Made, a local stone craftsman the way to Tohpati. After pointing me in the right direction, Made offered to accompany me as he had to go himself – I appreciated the nice gesture.
We reached Legong Batik and I went to take a look at the ladies working with the cloth. Here’s the process for anyone who wants to try at home – this would be a great activity for kids:
- The original cloth is white or beige and a wax is applied over the penciled outline of a pattern.
- The cloth is dyed in a bath filled with colour 1 and the pattern will remain white, because of the wax. The rest of the cloth will be dyed in colour 1.
- Another coat of wax is applied to different areas of the cloth before it is dyed colour 2. When the cloth is taken out, some areas are colour 2 and some remain colour 1.
- The cloth will be put in hot water to take off all the wax and then dried. More layers of wax and colours can be applied depending on what pattern you want.
Having observed that, as well as some weaving and sewing, I went to explore the gallery/shop of finished pieces and enjoyed looking at the fabric paintings upstairs with their bright, vivid colours. The shop downstairs had nice clothes and home-ware but wasn’t cheap.
After I bought a little fan for my niece and left, Made and his wife invited me inside their home and gave me a water bottle for my trip back to Ubud. Again this was really nice and I was touched.
Free to drive apart from petrol. From the shop, I bought a little fan for my niece and bartered it from 65,000 IDR to 50,000 IDR – I am rubbish at haggling so you can probably go lower. Batik shirts, dresses, pillow cases etc. are all available but prices are usually over 300,000 IDR and I’m a cheapskate.
Other things I learnt:
Evidence of batik work has been found in the Middle East, Central Asia, China and India that dates back to over 2000 years. It is likely that knowledge of the craft spread west through trade routes. From 1835, Dutch colonizers brought Indonesian craftsmen to teach the craft in several factories in Holland.
Balinese handicraft villages are a brilliant way to explore different forms of art. They are open to tourists and locals are accustomed to explaining different processes. There are many tours that you can find online – this one from Viator for $40 looks good, or by asking a travel agent in Ubud – this is handy if you’re only around for a couple of days and want to see them in one go, or if you don’t have a bike. However, I preferred just biking to explore on my own terms – people are just as welcoming.
The craft items for sale are unique and generally not cheap. But there’s not really that much pressure to buy. I just wanted to explore the Balinese villages and was not disappointed!
If you enjoy Balinese culture as a family, a trip to Lombok would be time well spent – check out Thrifty Family Travels‘ guide to the perfect stress free and budget-friendly guide HERE 🙂
Have you visited these Balinese villages? Do you have any to add, or any experiences to share? Let me know in the comments below I’d love to hear from you :).
What do you think of my thoughts on Canggu, Bali?