Bali – Part 2

Welcome back for the second instalment in the Bali Series! In this post i’m going to look at traditional wood and skull carving, how to decide where to buy in the the saturated art markets, before finishing up with a look at the traditional shrines and offerings which are literally around every corner in the paradise that is Bali!

Selection of Balinese carved masks

Storytelling and the associated myths are engraved in Balinese culture and history. Form the shrines you pass in the street to the carved wooden motifs and Barong masks found in local shops, you’d be hard pushed not to be aware of the prevalence and influence of these historical legends that adorn walls and property everywhere you go! I found a great shop in Ubud that specialises in hand carved wooden masks and wall hangings. The owner was kind enough to talk me through the meanings behind some of the characters and when it came to choosing one to take home it was VERY difficult! I settled on a small, hand carved piece that wards off bad spirits to hang on my door.

As with most art I encountered on my travels, I would have loved to take away much more… next time!

Carved skulls

The next form of carving is a tad more controversial as the material used is animal skulls! It is a process associated with Indonesia as a whole and I was happy to have had the chance to see some, although i’m not sure I’d want one in my house…

They are beautifully intricate and take hours to create. I went to a shop specialising in them and they were stunning… however, they are coming from deceased animals and I can’t help but wonder (due to the heavy influence of tourism) where they get the skulls from? A lot of them were very small, I hope just a coincidence and not related to the fact there is a monkey park nearby! I think for me, the larger pieces can look very striking as wall hangings but I would want to research further if I was thinking to buy one.

Colourful Balinese Art Markets

Bali is a renowned tourist hot spot, it welcomes over 112,000 tourists each week. With this in mind it is heavily heavily catered towards tourism and providing visitors with the FULL EXPERIENCE. As such, the various markets are jam packed with wares and souvenirs, each with a very enthusiastic local trying to get your attention and ultimately, your money! It can be an exhausting experience, especially if you’re trying to find authentic items. Here are my 10 TIPS for getting the most out of your Balinese shopping experience!

  1. Be prepared. Try and do a recce the day before so you can work out where you want to go, try to stick to key areas.
  2. Decide on a budget and only take out that amount with you.
  3. Its difficult but try not to make too much eye contact as you move from place to place. There will be plenty of stalls all vying for your attention, so politely acknowledging and moving on quickly is key!
  4. Split your money into smaller amounts and hide in different locations. This will make it easier when haggling down a price as they can see how much you have and are far more likely to give you a better deal if they think that’s all you have! Don’t let them bully you into going to a cash machine, just walking away will give you more leverage and often they will call you back and drop their price.
  5. Talk to the vendors, especially if trying to buy artwork. Every art stall and shop all look the same and sell a lot of the same styles. Talk to vendors to work out which are supporting REAL artists not just the cottage industry of supply and demand. If possible try to get an invite to meet the artist or see the studio. Most of them say that it’s a family business with one fronting the shop and various Uncles, Cousins, Brothers making the art elsewhere. A lot of the time this is just a line but if you look long enough you will find authentic pieces.
  6. Lots of work is mass produced, they follow a set design and are made quickly with no real skill or love for what they are making – these are easy to spot – THEY LOOK GENERIC – don’t overpay for these! These are the ones to barter for.
  7. Don’t be afraid to really take your time and look at the work in detail,  a good shop owner will back off and let you do this if they have quality stock. It’s the ones constantly talking and distracting you that you should  be wary of!
  8. Take a bottle of water with you and make sure you’ve had a good meal before you begin. It might seem a bit obvious and a tad dramatic but it really is such an assault on the senses that hunger and dehydration will lead you to impulse buys, leaving you with less to spend on the things you really want!
  9. Pay a fair price for original artworks made by skilled artists. These will be harder to come by and I’d advise trying to meet the artist if you can. In an over saturated market, where its hard to spot the originals from the mass produced, try to make sure a fair price is given to those who create authentically – these are the REAL artists that need our support and business.
  10. Enjoy it! It’s a jam packed experience and a complete sensory overload but its oh so worth it when you get to come away with all your treasures! And, as you’re in paradise, you can head back to the pool and relax with a fresh coconut when your all done, away from the madding crowd!



Something you can’t help but notice/love/admire in Bali are all the shrines. These are found at the entrance to every property, place of worship and even outside places of importance; like Palaces and Government buildings. Offerings (or canang sari – roughly translated as canang – basket of flowers and sari – essence) are made daily to these shrines. They are comprised of a square origami style open box made from a palm or banana leaf, and are  filled with a brightly coloured mix of: flowers, herbs, rice and incense. Each flower/item is chosen for its specific significance and these offerings are found everywhere! On the street, shrines, walls, alleyways, temples and more! They are so intricate, delicate and beautiful. They are an art form in themselves and adorn the urban landscape in a way that reflects and enforces the country’s strong Hindu beliefs. It was one of my favourite things about Bali.

The Canang Sari are a representation of the Balinese peoples devotion to their (Hindu) Gods. They are a sacred form of gratitude for what they have and represent: A wish for peace and abundance in the world. 

Beautiful Canang Sari

With this truly beautiful sentiment it is difficult not to get swept up in the beauty and idealistic practice of ritual and purity in Balinese culture – it really is truly inspiring.

I hope you enjoyed this post and are looking forward to the next and final in my Bali series! For that i’ll be looking at street art, traditional dance, foodie delights and the rather cliche but oh so prevalent in Bali – digital nomad lifestyle: is it all yoga and chai lattes?

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