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 local 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.
The town of Ubud, set among the rice paddies and steep ravines of the central foothills, is the cultural center of the island, with museums, art galleries and performance spaces, but there are others scattered across the island. See the Bali-Indonesia and BaliGuide websites for listings.
The Kecak Fire Dance, Balinese dance and music drama based on the Hindu Ramayana, employs gamelan suara, storytellers, and a choir of a hundred or more men sitting in concentric circles. Performances can be seen by members of the Taman Kaja Community at Pura Dalem Taman Kaja, Jalan Raya Ubud.
The Bali Theatre mega-stage complex at the Bali Safari & Marine Park in Gianyar, presents grand productions with over 150 dancers and performers along with puppets and animals.
Consult the Bali Dance website for more information about traditional dance and music in Bali, and where and when to see performances.
Neighborhoods/ gay scene
Seminyak, North Kuta and nearby areas along the coast, to the west of the capital city of Denpasar, are the heart of the island's newer tourist district, home to most of its gay and gay-friendly businesses, north of the more established parts of Kuta between here and the airport. Jalan Laksmana (also known as Jalan Kayu Aya), at its center, is Bali’s ‘Eat Street,’ just east from the coast at Legian Beach, with plenty of restaurant options, and some fashion boutiques too.
To the south a bit, along a short strip on Jalan Camplung Tanduk (formerly Dhyana Pura), there are a half dozen or so gay bars all in a row. Also marketing themselves to gay men, sometimes exclusively, are a number of Seminyak resorts, some with clothing-optional pools. The area has several men-for-men massage spas as well, one with a sauna. See below for listings.
Batu Belig Beach, on Jalan Pantai Batu Belig near W Retreat and Zen 4 Men, north of Seminyak, is known as the ‘Gay Beach’ but nudity is not permitted. An open-air bar and restaurant has chaise chairs for rent, and there are massage services and free-lance escorts on offer. Double Six Beach, a small strip of sand next to Ocean Hotel, can be found where rainbow flags flap above beach chairs and umbrellas for rent, and cold drinks can be bought. Find it near the Blue Ocean Restaurant on Pantai Double Six, once a hippy hangout in what was then the middle of nowhere.
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, Australians and Kiwis; 30 days for $25 in US currency. An exit fee of around $20 is required for departure.
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. Hotel shuttles and transfers are often available too, free, or for as little as $15 to Seminyak resorts.
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 the resort, restaurant and nightclub locations.
Motorbike, moped and car rentals are widely available for those 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
Bali Gay Guide has an overview of LGBT information for the island.
Utopia, and Travel Gay Asia, the gay Asia travel websites, also have up-to-date listings for Bali, including explorations of the "real" Bali, away from the commercial Kuta scene. They also list gay-friendly resorts all over the island from central mountain jungles around Ubud to the North or East Bali coasts.
Bali Friendly offers special deals on gay accommodations and spa services, and Bali Pink Pages is the Bali GLBT business association site, with lists of members and contact information. Dive the Rainbow is a diving outfit designed especially for gay people interested in diving.
Bali Medika is a modern clinic providing GP consultation and sexual health care at international standards.
Utopia reports that some Indonesian ISPs block gay content websites, and suggest avoiding Telkomsel or Indosat SIM cards, or hotels that use these providers. The locals have found other ways to get around the problem, so ask around.
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, Lonely Planet/ Bali and the Bali Travel Guide. For an opportunity to observe Legong, Kecak and Barong dance performances, see the schedules at website Bali Dance.
Indonesia.travel is the official Ministry of Tourism website.
The Beat is a bi-weekly print, and daily internet magazine and facebook page about 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.
Our gay Bali listings page has a map of gay and gay-friendly businesses.
The gayest bars and nightclubs are clustered along a short strip of Jalan Camplung Tanduk (formerly called Dhyana Pura).
Bali Joe (Jalan Camplung Tanduk, 8), gay/mixed crowd, men/women, sofas, bar/lounge, drag shows, dancers on the bar.
Bottoms Up Bar (Jalan Camplung Tanduk 10), gay club, men/women mix, drag shows, go-go boys and shower dancers.
DIX Club (Jalan Camplung Tanduk 7), large gay/mixed bar/lounge between Bali Joe and Mixwell; divas and male dancers.
Face Bar (Jalan Camplung Tanduk 10), gay pub, drag shows, go-go boys and ladyboys, theme parties.
Mixwell (Jalan Camplung Tanduk 6), cocktail bar, terrace, DJs, dancing, mixed men/women early crowd, drag shows, go-go boys, theme parties.
Other mostly straight but gay-popular nearby establishments include:
The Double Six Club, at the eponymous luxury beach resort, the after-2am dance club of choice for many gay people and friends, with bungie jump alongside, and pool too.
The Ka De Ta (Jalan Laksman Oberoi 9), popular Seminyak beachfront restaurant and nightclub with international DJs and performers.
The Potato Head Beach Club (Jalan Petitenget) next to the W Retreat hotel resort; gay-friendly and known for distinctive old window shutters of many colors and sizes -- a nice place for cocktails by the pool, relaxing music and great sunsets.
Several spas, including Adam’s Apple, Antique, Banana, Bonita, Coco Grande, teMAN, Uma and Young Generation, offer man-to-man massage services of many varieties, scrubs and facials at hard-to-resist prices.
M2 Spa (Jalan Petitenget 41B, Kerobokan), men's club in addition to massage and spa services, has a sauna, Jacuzzi, garden plunge pool, and TV lounge with WiFi.
A number of Seminyak resorts market themselves to gay men, some exclusively so, and some with clothing-optional pools.
Balinea Villa & Spa (Jalan Merta Agung 11, Kerobokan), "a friendly rainbow private place," eight guest rooms each with terrace, around pool, garden, and Jacuzzi; with gym, massage services, restaurant and bar.
Green Chaka Paradise (Petitenget 41, Seminyak Beach), private 2-bedroom villa, short walk to beach, restaurants, bars; clothing-optional mineral water swimming pool and water-massage, lush garden, laundry, satellite-TV, WiFi.
Mango Villa | Fruits Villas (Jalan Drupadi 69, Seminyak), private gay 2-bedroom villas, swimming pool, sun terrace, cable TV, indoor/outdoor lounge dining, houseboy; near beach, gay bars.
Phil’s Place (Gang Melati 40), gay men-only five-room boutique hotel just 10 minutes walk from the gay clubs; with central pool, garden gazebo, breakfast, cable TV and DVD, plus massage services.
Spartacvs Bali (Jalan Pura Telaga Waja Petitenget), gay men-only boutique resort near the beach and fine restaurants; with restaurant, pool-side bar, Jacuzzi, and massage services.
Sunclad Villa (Jalan Benesari Umalas Kuta), secluded mixed resort, all-male dormitory beds, four private rooms, six bungalows; clothing-optional throughout resort, compulsory nudity pool and Jacuzzi, massage, common area living/ dining room, gazebo, sundecks and kitchen. Was the Laki Uma Villa.
Villa Angelo (Jalan Raya Seminyak 26d), men-only clothing-optional guesthouse, five guest rooms, big swimming pool, tropical garden; near commercial area of bars, restaurants and shops, international mix of many languages.
Villa Layang Bulan (Gang Daksina 10b), all-men 21+ resort/spa, dorm beds and private rooms, clothing-optional pool, home-cooked Western and Asian meals, motor-bike and car rentals; near gay beach, restaurants and services of male masseurs.
The Wood Villa (Jalan Baik Baik, Gang Taman Sari 7), gay men-only clothing optional villa resort near Double Six Beach and gay bars; pool, gardens, lounge, kitchen, cable TV, rain showers, massage sevices.
Zen 4 Men Beach Studios (Jalan Pantai Batu Belig Gg Papuan 8), 4 men-only studio apartments, just 60 metres from the Batu Belig "gay" Beach; private Japnese garden, sun deck, American breakfast, plus lunch/dinner options. Also with Luxury Villa & Spa off Jalan Raya Semer in Kerobokan.
The Seminyak coast has plenty of luxury resort options. With beachside gourmet dining, infinity pools, spas, lush tropical gardens, tour and concierge services and every other kind of amenity, you hardly need to wander -- but then the central gay nightlife and restaurant scene isn't far away either. Browse these websites to check out a few: Anantara Seminyak Resort, Double-Six, The Legian, The Oberoi, The Royal Beach, The Semaya, The Seminyak, and W Retreat Hotel Bali.
Some other resorts are less expensive, and there are many private full-service villas for rent all around the area. See more hotels and guesthouses, and some restaurant options -- from beach cafes, noodle shops and BBQ/burger joints to some of the finest world-class dining establishments -- at our map & listings pages.