These weird sports and wacky games in Bali show you that there’s more than meets the eye to the known cultural sights on this exotic island. You can witness these ‘only in Bali’ scenes as part of annually held festivities, some full of competition and rivalry with a whole village cheering on, while others are outright peculiar pastimes that locals have joyfully engaged in for generations.
The Balinese are keen on preserving their traditions, and some of these pastimes serve as seasonal highlights that bring societies together, from groups as small as a village right up to the inclusion of a whole island. The annual Bali Kites Festival is an example, which sees a month-long competition of giant kites created by troupes all over Bali. Below you’ll find the collection of odd sights that can become great cultural experiences should you encounter one on your visit.
- Bali Hai Sunset Dinner Cruise
- Bathe & Breakfast with the Elephants
- Royal Mengwi Temple, Monkey Forest & Tanah Lot Excursion
- Quad or Buggy Driving Adventure & Tubing Excursion
- Romantic Aristocat Evening Cruise with 5-Course Dinner
- Bali White Water Rafting at Telaga Waja River
- Fast-Track Waterbom Bali Admission
- Lembongan Island Leisure Day Trip
- Private East Coast Tour
- Highlights Of Bali Full-Day Tour
Jembrana, West Bali (July-November)
Head out to the West Bali region between the months of July and November for this annual local festivity, which features water buffaloes in a major ‘grand prix’. Makepung is a principal highlight in the regency of Jembrana, and involves farmers in the region entering their hundreds of pairs of buffaloes into scheduled races in different harvested rice field circuits, teamed up together with jockeys who mount race-modified wooden ploughs. There will be mud! Read More...
Tenganan, East Bali (June-July)
This major highlight is part of a ceremony held around June and July each year in Tenganan, a well-preserved old Balinese village in East Bali. The age-old tradition is unique only to the village and is referred to locally as 'mekare-kare' and 'megeret pandan'. The coming-of-age ritual sees friendly duels between all male villagers, who bout each other armed with a tied packet of thorny 'pandan' leaves in one hand and a small rattan shield in one hand and the other. There will be blood! But all are friendly matches, with participants smiling and cheering on. Read More...
Bali, island-wide (March)
Every Saka New Year Eve, or the day before the Nyepi day of silence in Bali, village meeting halls island-wide will engage in festive street parades featuring bamboo torches and papier-mâché effigies called ogoh-ogoh. These are built throughout the weeks leading up to the Saka New Year, and showcase the creativity of youth groups, mostly depicting mythical figures out of bamboo frameworks. Creations have become bigger and more intricate throughout the years, and competitions are held by the provincial government to foster creativity and preserve this unique tradition. Read More...
Bali, island-wide (July-August)
This series of kiting events take place over the windy season in Bali, between the months of July and August, and sometimes through October. The festival runs through various dates and locations, but the main island event that features competitions amongst kite troupes from all over the island is held along the eastern coast of Padanggalak in Sanur. Balinese kites are gigantic, with frames measuring up to eight meters in length (not counting the tails of some models). Hundreds of these colourful giants will take to the skies for this unique spectacle. Read More...
Omed-Omedan 'Kissing Festival'
Head down to the village of Sesetan in Denpasar on the day following the Saka New Year celebration, and get ready to witness one of the most peculiar festivals in Bali. The whole village descends to cheer on participating youths who get in line for the omed-omedan – roughly translated as ‘pull and tugs’, or even loosely, the ‘kissing festival’. This much localised event sees boys get in one line and girls in another, and elders armed with buckets and hoses dousing them with water as the two ends heave and push into each other, with two successively chosen couples in between.
Mepantigan Mud Wrestling
Gianyar, Central Bali (all year)
This is a revived sport from what was a nearly extinct pastime. Balinese martial artist, Putu Witsen, set out to preserve the art of mud wrestling and has created Mepantigan Bali, an integrated multi-sensory performance featuring Balinese martial arts combined with fire dances, traditional drama and gamelan – in empty and muddy rice fields. If you’re not watching the dance which depicts the drama about Kebo Iwa, a legendary giant warrior in Bali, you could join in on the fun of getting down dirty and learning some wrestling moves with the troupe yourself!
Bali, island-wide (incidental and during ceremonies)
Despite its controversy, particularly in the aspects of animal welfare, cockfighting is pretty much at large in Bali. The tajen rituals, otherwise known as 'tabuh rah' or blood sacrifice, usually precedes temple rituals, and you can possibly witness one at ceremonies throughout Bali. However, the pastime of raising cocks for 'friendly matches' is also prevalent in villages. Cockfighting is widespread throughout Southeast Asia, and much of the history of the sport in Bali dates back to the Majapahit kingdom via the neighbouring island of Java.
Bali, island-wide (all year)
‘Mepalu jangkrik’ as it is known in the local tongue, cricket fighting involves crickets that were traditionally caught in the rice fields by young boys, who put them in special bamboo tube cages to be kept as pets for their chirping, or occasionally entered into a ring for battle. Some crickets were also selected, and ‘trained’ specifically for fights. These include a special diet, physical training, and even baths and massages!
Megangsingan Spinning Top Contests
Tabanan, West Bali (June-July)
Visit the village of Pujungan in the regency of Tabanan in west Bali, and you might stand the chance to witness this favourite local pastime, involving wooden spinning tops. Pujungan villagers have preserved this age-old tradition, enjoyed by young and old. Oftentimes when played by adults, gambling is involved. And just like the tradition of Balinese kites, megangsingan usually takes place after harvest times.
Panjat Pinang Pole Climbing
Bali, island-wide (August)
This fun and cheerful activity is usually one of the highlight games during the Indonesian Independence Day celebrations, every 17 August. A well selected palm log is smothered in motor oil, and at the top end hang various items to be won by successful climbers who can reach the top. Prizes range from umbrellas, shirts, and even unthinkable things such as bicycles and surfboards! The scuffle of human ladders collaborating to grab the best prizes at the very top is the big part of the spectacle.