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In South East Asia, in the archipelago of Indonesia, lies beautiful Bali, triggering emotions of romance, gorgeous hotels and beaches, and paradise. For this experienced single-mom traveler, Bali also means sharing Balinese culture with a toddler. Here’s how.
Can a Toddler Appreciate Bali Culture?
Balinese people are incredibly welcoming. After four visits plus a brief stint living and working there, I am well familiar with the Island of the Gods
Experiencing Bali culture with my toddler daughter, however, is a whole new world.
Can local cultural experiences happen naturally with kids and make traveling the world as a family meaningful and magical? Here’s what I figured out.
Finding Culture in the Midst of Romantic Beauty
Bali is known for gorgeous hotels, romantic beaches and friendly Balinese people. Top it off with yoga retreats and surfing, and the island seems to be featured in more Instagram photos than any other tropical destination on the planet (except maybe dreamy Hawaii).
Bali is unique in the archipelago of Indonesia, not just for its beauty. Also notable is its rich Balinese culture rooted in Hinduism but with its own unique twist.
Excited to return with my daughter, I wondered if a toddler could appreciate the rich cultural heritage of Balinese Hinduism. Would she understand its religious ceremonies, and Balinese temples that provide the backdrop for daily life on the island? Could she be touched the same way I had?
Book a Tour. The Guide Makes a Difference
We booked a tour to some of the island’s most photogenic spots. The tour included waterfalls, royal gardens, and of course one of the most famously photographic of Bali’s temples, the Gates to Heaven.
Our amazing tour guide, Sumi, made a big difference. He’s passionate about his culture, and knowledgeable about the history of Bali.
Lining up to get photos for our Instagram account became a course in Balinese calendars, the concept of Hindu Dharma, and the island’s overall cultural magnificence. So much more than just waiting for photo ops with other hipsters.
Being that we are both parents, entrepreneurs and the exact same age, Sumi and I could appreciate each other on the same level. By the end of the day, he had invited us to meet his wife and daughter, who at three was close to my daughter’s age.
After we left Bali, Sumi and I stayed in touch. And it wasn’t long before we were back, catching up over nasi goreng (fried rice) and gado-gado (a sort of Indonesian Nicoise salad) on our next trip.
To an outsider, traveling alone, this might seem like luck.
TravelingMom Tip: If you travel with your kids, really travel, out of resorts and heavily touristic areas, you will find that your children are your VIP pass into any local culture. Parents all over the world are just as interested in gushing about their kids as you and I are. They will open doors by simply being.
Accept Special Invitations
This time Sumi invited us to Besakih Temple, the mother temple in Bali, to see and participate in a ceremony that takes place over a whole month every five years.
I jumped at the cultural opportunity. Pura Besakih is one of the oldest temples in Bali, dating back to the first Java settlers in the 11th century.
On the day of our trek to the temple, my daughter and I dressed in traditional Balinese clothing given to us by Putu, Sumi’s wife and his daughter, Claudia. We set out to the temple early. But when we arrived, it was already flanked by hundreds of people.
Putu had the hardest task. She carried the offering of chicken, rice, flowers and other delicious treats up the thousand steps into the mother temple. Sumi and I carried our daughters.
To enter the actual temple is a privilege only Balinese Hindus normally enjoy. Tourists visiting Besakih generally see it with a guide. Even then, it’s only the first and largest level at the foot of the temple.
We walked up what felt like thousands of steps in the heat into the inner temple. There, Putu and Sumi put down the offering Putu had spent the night before making. They lit incense and prayed.
Participate Fully in Balinese Cultural Traditions
Someone on a microphone led the praying. We kneeled together with our daughters and prayed to our respective gods. Then, several Hindu priests came through the kneeling crowd and blessed us with holy water and rice.
It was a once in a lifetime chance to see the inside of this famed and ancient spiritual place, among Balinese people. It was also one of my most memorable experiences with my daughter.
Because she and Claudia are only a year apart, they spent the day twirling and giggling and hugging their parents as little girls do – spreading joy in their laughter everywhere they go.
Celebrate Children Acting Like, Well, Children
Even though I can barely speak ten words of Bahasa Indonesia, people welcomed us and smiled when they saw the girls.
The ceremony, like most ceremonies in Balinese Hinduism, is rooted in the idea of harmony between people, harmony with nature and harmony with God.
Even though I am an outsider, culturally a million miles away from my friends Sumi and Putu, we spent most of the day celebrating our similarities as parents and friends.
That is exactly why I started traveling with my daughter in the first place – to open her up to a diverse world where we are all basically the same.
More Tips on International Travel
Anna Von Frances is a Canadian-born single mom living and loving in Mexico with her daughter, Luna. Before becoming a mom, she traveled extensively to over 30 countries in more than 20 years on her own. She’s still a traveler, having been to eight with her daughter in under three years. They have a YouTube channel about their family travels and the excitement and challenges of women raising women in our modern world. You can follow them here: https://linktr.ee/travelmamaannavon