May 30, 2013

Bali With Children

The Fam Bam in Bali, Indonesia
My family just came from Bali, Indonesia. The first time we knew that we were going there our first question was: “What are we going to do in Bali?”
We have been to the beautiful shores of Bohol and Boracay as a family and we believe they’re better than what we can find in Bali (or any other places in the world to be honest) that’s why we were skeptical. My parents, who are frequent visitors of Bali, replied nonchalantly: “FOR CULTURE”! You know what we said to that? I’m not kidding you, we replied: “Culture my ass, Philippines has culture! We want to go swimming”!

Of course we went and yes, we had a very rich cultural experience. As always, my parents know what they’re talking about when it comes to art and culture. Come on, I grew up going to museums and watching plays, pushing us to see Bali "for culture" was really not surprising. 

We were a party of 20, a large group and almost half of which are minors. Having said that, on how deep we dove in Bali’s culture depended on the children’s level of comprehension and appreciation. Also, it was really hard to mobilize a large group and traffic jam had to be considered.

From the moment we landed, I deeply felt Bali’s confidence in their cultural identity. They’re consistent, proud, beautiful, inspiring, non-compromising, distinct. Marvelous sculptures, rigorous rituals both deeply integrated in their daily lives. With the onslaught of tourists, they never faltered. The foreigners that keep on crashing on their shores like their ocean’s hard waves co-existed with their calm, serene, and almost ancient-like way of life.
To be honest, Bali is the first place in Southeast Asia that I have visited apart from my own country, so I guess my opinion on this is from an ignorant’s point of view. Or rather from someone who is Asian but grew up with heavy Western influences. Regardless, I can safely claim that Bali is extremely rich in culture. I’ve been to the United States and to Europe and I haven’t been blown away like this with regards to arts and culture. 

I am glad that we went to this place instead of Singapore or Hong Kong. (Although of course we hope that someday we’ll be able to go there with our kids.) You will realize you don’t necessarily need highly commercialized characters and high-technology rides to entertain your children. One time my oldest son even asked me if he can sculpt soaps when we get home. That’s how Bali art gets to you: it makes you want to touch it, hold it, feel it, and yes, do it. That’s when you’ll know how well the art is – when it has the power to INSPIRE. Going to mainstream Western theme parks will not give you that kind of inspiration.

That's my cute nephew who enjoyed being a "local" for a day.
Going to Bali with children is really different. It’s not like they’re diving inside a cartoon channel. It’s showing them diversity in life, depth in culture, and the beauty of nature.

Please do READ ON to know more about our experience and for TIPS:

I initially prepared books and notebook for my children but my brother and his wife had 
something more awesome for ALL the kids! So sweet and thoughtful!
Of course our “cultural experience” was limited due to the fact that we had 6 kids and two babies with us. Their interests/comfort zones were greatly considered when we designed the itinerary. Consider traffic jams especially now (2013) where they are constructing/fixing new/existing roads. Get a cab/van from your reception so they can get those they trust.

Since our party is really hard to control, we weren’t able to maximize our days. We went out of our villas only around lunchtime. I suggest you explore Bali as soon as you get out of your bed! Prepare "entertainment kits" for your children! As much as possible don't bring your iPads and other similar gadgets. You'll need these kits while on transit.

Ubud is THE place to shop. They have lots of interesting boutiques, and there are restaurant after restaurant that serves good food. There’s also a palengke-like place where you can buy interesting things for pasalubong and souvenirs. It’s an hour and a half away from the airport. I wasn’t able to shop because I was at the zoo but my mother who has been to Ubud plenty of times swear that Ubud is the perfect place to shop. This was where we watched the shadow puppet play as well.

Kuta is THE happening place. If you want to enjoy night life in Bali, this is where you will go. Also, most international events are held here. There are also souvenirs shops and restaurants.

Hit the spa. We went to the spa where we stayed, but if there is no spa in your place there are spas everywhere else. I think this is also a must-do since almost all of the spas in Manila are Bali-inspired. Might as well check out what it’s really all about!

The conversion of the currency might confuse you but at the end of your calculation you will realize that their rates are similar to ours (Philippine Peso). 


The children appreciated the sculptures that are ubiquitous in Bali. No museum visits required! We saw them on the streets, in restaurants, in shops, in the villas where we stayed, in the airport, even in supermarkets. Even the simplest sculpture exuded motion, weight, and character and they easily took our breaths away opposed to the sculpted modern heroes that are stoic, flat, static, and uneventful that we have here in Manila. Even the textile thrown around the temples and sculptures are pieces of art on its own! They’re really different from the opulent and heavy textiles I am used to see wrapped around our saints in our places of worship here in our country.

The woodwork was mind-blowing and it just makes you want to take it home with you. We saw carved doors and carved furniture all over. It makes you think everyone in Bali is an artisan!

The architectural details were also consistent and proud. You can see it in schools, stores, simple houses, hotels, everywhere. No wonder it has influenced the entire world! It's beautiful!

For those who have time, it is best to go down and really appreciate them up close. Go inside shops or better yet visit the workshops. You can buy huge pieces, the items are relatively affordable, BUT it’s the tax of our post offices that will/may burn your wallet when you have it shipped.


The Acintya, or the Supreme God of the Balinese, is depicted as an Empty Throne and temples for offerings are everywhere.  Animism, an ancient practice where men worship animals, is also practiced in Bali and they even have Sacred Monkey Forest. This is a good chance to show the children that there is “more than one God”. They were able to see how diverse religion can be as Ganesh, Krishna, and the like dot the place. They easily saw how important the offerings to the Gods were, they made sure not to step on them. My nephews and nieces, who are all studying in sectarian schools, can use a bit of exposure like this.

Visit temples and, if you can, observe the locals worship and do their offerings.


We went to see a shadow puppet show for everyone to enjoy. Although both my sons failed to go through it (my baby cried, my teenager fell asleep), the others were patient enough to appreciate the play even though they couldn’t understand what was going on. They were amazed to see what the puppets were made out of and how impressive the craft is. The puppeteer is already 80 years old! The story has a classic good versus evil plot, the theater so simple and unpretentious.

We were supposed to watch traditional Barong dance but we missed it. Make sure to check out the schedules.

Schedules of shows are available online or you can ask around or inquire at the information desk of your hotel/villa. Plan this ahead.


We ate babi guling which is actually a suckling pig but what sets it apart from our lechon baboy is the spicy and pungent stuffing. No sweet liver sauce required.  Try drinking their local pop sodas, too. We ate at a carinderia-style restaurant that was, to be frank, quite smelly and dirty but that’s just part of the whole deal I guess. We also had a chance to eat buffet-style at Ubud which offered a wide variety of Indonesian food. It was a memorable gastronomical experience… for me, at least. My husband and my son didn’t quite enjoy it but keep in mind that my boys are the vanilla-type kinda boys – they like their food plain and unadventurous.

My parents had experienced dinner-by-the-beach several times but they weren’t impressed. Just to let you know, there is such a thing, it’s up to you if you want to try it. 

Babi guling is a must-try but the ones in Ubud, like the Ibu Oka, are already too commercialized. It was suggested by the locals to eat at the non-touristy restos for this pig. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals where they think it’s best to eat.

I have been dreaming of seeing/touching/riding an elephant practically my whole life and when it was about to happen, I was so self-absorbed that when my oldest son expressed fear of elephants I didn't bother encouraging him or anything. Good thing his ever-loving Lola reached out and even sponsored his ride. I was able to fulfill my dream with both my sons with me and I will forever treasure that. I realized personal dreams are better achieved with your children. If only I have lots of money I would have loved it if we all took the Elephant Expedition (173 USD), an hour worth of riding an elephant in a Safari setting. You’ll even ride them while they swim! But alas, we only took the 15-minute ride (65 USD), which is, actually not at all bad. I had my one-year old with me, it was a blessing his attention held for 15 minutes otherwise he would have been cranky.

Indonesia and the Philippines has almost identical flora and fauna, the difference was how Bali Zoo showcased the animals. It was like trekking in a jungle, you barely feel the cages that separate you from the animals. The children saw animals up close and personal.

Ride the elephants. Enough said!

The beach and the pools are just icing on cake. It’s not like our country doesn’t have those. But children are children and swimming is top priority. Swam they did on all the days we were there. Each of our villa has a private infinity pool and the children (and yes, some adults too) took advantage of it whenever they can. The weather was perfect it wasn’t scorching hot like Manila.

Personally, our beaches here in the Philippines are the best but if you are into surfing or you simply love the beach, by all means, head for the beach. If your hotel or villa has its own pool, then it’s up to you if you want to take advantage of that. In our case we didn’t bother with the beaches but the kids thoroughly enjoyed the pools we had which were conveniently just outside our rooms.

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