Bali, the "Island of the Gods," has an estimated 20,000 puras (temples) and shrines. Unlike the predominantly Muslim peoples of other Indonesian islands, Balinese are Hindu and animist, making their culture unique, and quite different from that of neighboring Java. Interwoven with art and ritual, Balinese Hinduism has produced a graceful people, decorous in their behavior, in harmony with their land, at ease with themselves and one another. Self-assured, curious and genuinely friendly, they bathe naked at rivers in rural areas, but outsiders should await an invitation before joining in. Sexuality is seen quite differently than in the West, and though tolerant and gay-friendly, Balinese themselves rarely embrace gay lifestyles as an identity.
The tourist-popular Seminyak-Kuta-Legian area is mostly a place for foreign visitors and off-island Indonesians to play, and young guys arrive here from all over Indonesia for the freedom to live more openly. Some of those might sideline as freelance "money boys" for tourists, and the Javanese are well represented among drag divas.
Androgyny figures prominently among mythical figures of traditional music and dance, and homosexuality is not listed among the various sins. So while marriage and children are vital to full participation in village life, same-sex intimacies are no big deal for the young and unmarried. Even after they yield to family pressures to produce children, many continue to have relationships with men. Blogs tell of flings with horny locals, but encounters might involve only playful flirtations. Some knowledge of Balinese or Indonesian can be helpful outside tourist zones, where English is the most commonly spoken foreign language.
Food is inexpensive, with a wide variety of foreign cuisines to complement the intriguingly different flavors of Balinese food with their complex blendings of spices and fragrant roots. Unlike Indian Hindu preferences for vegetarian food, the Balinese eat meat, including pork, not eaten elsewhere in Indonesia where Islam predominates. Fresh fruit and seafood are plentiful, and young green coconut milk is a daily staple, considered very good for health.
Neighborhoods/ gay scene
Kuta and nearby areas on the coast, to the west of the capital city of Denpasar, are where most gay and gay-friendly hangouts can be found. Some famous ones, still listed in online guides, are now gone. New places that took their place on the Jalan Caplak Tanduk strip (formerly Dhyana Pura) include: Bali Joe, Bottoms Up, Face Bar and Mixwell, often with drag shows and go-go boys. The Double Six at the beach is the after-2am dance club of choice for gay people and their straight friends, with a bungie jump alongside, and pool too. Several spas, including Antique, Banana, Bonita and Young Generation, offer man-to-man massage services in many varieties, at hard-to-resist prices.
A number of Seminyak resorts market themselves to gay men, some exclusively so - such as the clothing-optional Spartacvs Bali, Phil’s Place and Villa Layang Bulan - the latter with dorm beds for under US$20/night. Ganesha Beach, at the end of Jalan Petitenget, is known as the ‘Gay Beach.’ Nudity is not okay here, but bushes behind the beach can be cruisy, and there's an open-air bar and restaurant, with chaise chairs for rent and massage services.
The Ngurah Rai International Airport (aka Denpasar) is located just to the south of Kuta, on the isthmus at the southernmost part of the island. Lt.Col. Wisnu Airfield is found in north-west Bali. Visas are issued on arrival for Europeans, North Americans and Oz/NZ folk; 30 days for $25 in US currency. An exit fee of around $18 is required for departure, so hang onto a 20 for that purpose.
There are plenty of public taxis for the trip to town. Fixed-fare tickets for anywhere on the island can be purchased at the ticketing booth, and a driver will be assigned to you.
Besides Blue Bird metered taxis, there are "bemo" minivans to get you around quite inexpensively in Kuta and beyond. Bali street maps are hard to follow, but drivers generally know all the resort, restaurant and nightclub locations.
Motorbike, moped and car rentals are widely available with an international permit, but Bali can be informal about traffic rules, roads are crowded, and they drive on the left -- so first-timers might want to resist that temptation, and hire a seasoned driver to handle the roads.
The rupiah (Rp) is the official currency of Indonesia (code IDR). Indonesians also use the word "perak" ('silver'). Each rupiah was subdivided into 100 sen, but with inflation (one US dollar equals around 8,500 rupiah) sen are now obsolete. ATM machines are to be found at banks and other locations in major cities. Inform your home bank of plans before leaving for credit card transactions and cash withdrawals to work smoothly, and for info on partner banks or ATM networks to save on fees. US dollars are widely accepted, but exchange rates vary widely, and crisp new hundred dollar bills are preferred over old, damaged, or smaller denominations.
Media & Resources
Baligay.net, Bali Gay Guide and My Bali Guide websites have information on where to eat, sleep, shop and party in Bali. Utopia, and Travel Gay Asia, the gay Asia websites, also have up-to-date listings for Bali, including explorations of the "real" Bali, away from the commercial Kuta scene. There also list gay-friendly resorts all over the island from central mountain jungles around Ubud to the North or East Bali coasts.
For general news and information see a full range of English-language Bali newspapers and magazines at BaliNewspapers.
Other useful sites for visitors include: the Bali Tourism Board, the Bali Tourist Authority, and Lonely Planet/ Bali For an opportunity to observe Legong, Kecak and Barong dance performances, see the schedules at website Bali Dance.
The Beat is a bi-weekly print, and daily internet magazine on the clubs and entertainments scenes of this island, and Jakarta too. They also have a radio station, Radio Plus 98.5FM, with internet live stream and archive shows.
The Yak is a slick fashion, culture, food, music, travel and lifestyle magazine about Bali and beyond.
See the Jonathan Copeland blog for photo essays of Bali sights.
For gay and gay-friendly business listings, with map locations and website links, see our gay Bali listings page.