Bali retains its own unique culture, which is probably similar to that of the other islands in the archipeligo before the Moslem conversions. Curiously, the Balinese language has no word for 'art' or 'artist.' Art was something everyone did as part of everyday life. Now of course, Bali is something of an 'artists colony' and every other shop in the major tourist areas are galleries.
The traditional crafts of stone sculpture, woodcarving and silversmithing are still very much alive and well represented in the many galleries around the island. But so are the dramatic dances that are often at the center of Balinese culture. Balinese classical dancing is comparable to ballet, in that the performances tell a story through music, dance and sometimes song. Story lines are often taken from the Hindu epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
Kindly note: The links on the rest of this page will take you to my Asia for Visitors Bali guide.
On Bali, dancing is still a regular part of Balinese life. Most Balinese dancing is closely related to the classical dancing of other Southeast Asian cultures. There are many similarities between the classical khon dances of Thailand and the Balinese Barong and Legong dances. These are all similar to western ballet, in that they tell a story.
But an absolute "must see" for visitors to Bali is the Kecak dance performance. This is the most unique form of Balinese dance, so be sure to reserve an evening for it. You've probably seen pictures of this dance. Rather than the Gamelan orchestra that is typical of other Balinese dances, as well as most Southeast Asian classical dancing, in the Kecak the only music is provided by a large chorus of bare-chested men and boys sitting in a circle just in front of the audience. This choir provides a constant accompaniment to the story, and even become actors towards the end.
Read more about the Kecak dance at AsiaForVisitors.
Where-ever you go on Bali, you'll see temples. Each village should have at least three. The most important temple on Bali is the Besakih Complex, often called the "mother temple" of Bali. Located up on the side of the Mount Agung volcano, the complex consists of more than 20 temples.
On Bali's east coast is the Goa Lawah Bat Cave temple. This temple is important for matters related to the afterlife, and thus is often the site of funerals, which generally take place on the black sand beach around the temple.
Among the most photographed temple on Bali is the seaside islet of Tanah Lot. It is popular as a scenic spot at sunset, but get there earlier if you want to avoid the crowds.
The "original Balinese" are known as the Bali Aga. They have their own distinct culture and village organization. The village of Tenganan is among the best preserved - and no doubt most visited - of the Bali Aga villages.