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Books & Movies
  • A House in Bali by Colin McPhee. Written by a Canadian writer/composer, this book captures McPhee’s journey to Bali during the pre-WWII era and accounts the life he decided to build on the island, mainly through his understanding of Balinese music culture and all its complexities. McPhee was one of many artists that flocked to Bali for inspiration in the 1930s and settled in Ubud (when Bali’s cultural center was still a teeny-tiny village). After encountering a rare gramophone recording of Balinese gamelan music in New York, he came to Bali to “set foot on the island where the clear, metallic music originated”, and in addition to learning the technicalities he also discovered its place in relationships and day-to-day life amongst the Balinese.  
  • Love and Death in Bali by Vicky Baum. It’s difficult to imagine Bali in Dutch colonial times, but reading Vicky Baum’s prominent historical novel allows you to do just that. Capturing the chilling account of the Dutch military intervention in Bali, this novel interweaves several different stories detailing the lives of various actors in colonial life, from casteless peasants, feudal lords, impulsive youths, slaves, mystics to bureaucrats. Their stories tragically culminated in the infamous puputan (mass suicides of Balinese royalty that has come to symbolize resistance to foreign aggression). It is a novel about love, death, and also rebirth. Like A House in Bali, the setting in this novel captures Bali prior to its role in the modern age as a tropical tourist hotspot. Some parts of the book may be a little dry and a tad on the historical side, but the gripping story makes it worth turning the pages over.  
  • Under the Volcano: A story of Bali by Cameron Forbes. Under the Volcano is dramatic history written by a master storyteller. Travellers come to Bali looking for paradise. Nehru called it “the morning of the world”. Yet this small island has seen much bloodshed – from the ritual suicides of Balinese warriors fighting the Dutch, to the massacres of 1965-66 and the bombings of 2002 and 2005. In Under the Volcano, Cameron Forbes looks at the blood and beauty of Bali through interviews, legends, reporting and history. He tells the stories of explorers, colonisers, surfers, artists, jihadists and drug-runners and above all of the Balinese themselves. In doing so he brings the island paradise into vibrant and disturbing focus. 
  • Balilicious by Becky Wicks. Becky Wicks lifted the burqa on Dubai In BURQALICIOUS. Now she turns her attention to Bali as she hilariously navigates life as an adopted Balinese local. A lot can happen when you set out to 'find yourself'. Sometimes, you can even lose the plot. From visiting ancient healers with cellphone addictions to leaving a shaking ashram intent on extracting her soul, Becky Wicks soon discovered that six months travelling round Bali wasn't all going to be about finding inner peace and harmony. In fact, the perils of possessed teens, eating raw, yogic headstands, diving shipwrecks and dicing with black magic and demons all took their toll on the Island of the Gods. And that was before the vaginal steaming. Becky Wicks lifts the sarong on real life in Bali in a blur of locals, tourists, expats and other other eating, praying lovers who arrive... you know... not really knowing who they are.
  • Bali Conspiracy Most Foul, Investor Singh investigates by Shamini Flint. Fans of Agatha Christie and Michael Connelly will enjoy this modern-day mystery centered around the temperamental turbaned Inspector Singh whose superiors decided to ship him off to Bali upon news that a terrorist bomb attack has occured. Unfortunately, Inspector Singh’s forté lies in catching murderers, not terrorists. He ended up working on a murder mystery anyway, when skull remains of a British expat was found amongst the bombing rubble with a bullet hole through it. Throughout all of this, he has to deal with his designated Australian sidekick, a peppy police officer who he finds way too optimistic for his liking. As with many mystery novels, this one has many twists and turns and red herrings that will keep you turning the pages. While the book is funny in parts, there is an underlying darkness to the serious storyline attempted, as Flint also depicts the way which the Balinese try to move on from this tragedy that struck their island.
  • A Little Bit One O’clock: Living with a Balinese Family by William Ingram. If you like your books to give you warm and fuzzies, you might want to reach for A Little Bit One O’Clock, where the author shares his take on Balinese family life through experiencing many intimate moments with them. Ingram takes readers through his transition from wandering backpacker to Bali expat (no doubt a transition experienced by many these days in the Island of the Gods). We experience the culture shock that hit him and his wife in this transition, in an account that somehow manages to escape any deprecation towards the Balinese or the westerners.
  • Snowing in Bali by Kathryn Bonella. It's snowing in Bali. Among Bali's drug dealers it's the code for a huge cocaine shipment having just landed. For the men who run the country's drug empires, it's time to get rich and party hard. Snowing in Bali is the story of the drug trafficking and dealing scene that's made Bali one of the world's most important destinations in the global distribution of narcotics. With its central location to the Asia Pacific market, its thriving tourist industry to act as cover for importation, and a culture of corruption that can easily help law enforcement turn a blind eye, Bali has long been a paradise for traffickers as well as for holiday-makers. Kathryn Bonella, bestselling author of Hotel Kerobokan, has been given extraordinary access into the lives of some of the biggest players in Bali's drug world, both past and present. She charts their rise to incredible wealth and power, and their drug-fuelled lifestyles, filled with orgies, outrageous extravagance and surfing. But running international drug empires in Bali can also be a highly risky business, with terrible consequences for those caught and convicted. From the highs of multi-million dollar deals to the desperate lows of death row in an Indonesian high security jail, Snowing in Bali is a unique, uncensored insight into a hidden world.  
  • Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. A celebrated writer's irresistible, candid, and eloquent account of her pursuit of worldly pleasure, spiritual devotion, and what she really wanted out of life. Around the time Elizabeth Gilbert turned thirty, she went through an early-onslaught midlife crisis. She had everything an educated, ambitious American woman was supposed to want—a husband, a house, a successful career. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed with panic, grief, and confusion. She went through a divorce, a crushing depression, another failed love, and the eradication of everything she ever thought she was supposed to be. To recover from all this, Gilbert took a radical step. In order to give herself the time and space to find out who she really was and what she really wanted, she got rid of her belongings, quit her job, and undertook a yearlong journey around the world—all alone. Eat, Pray, Love is the absorbing chronicle of that year. Her aim was to visit three places where she could examine one aspect of her own nature set against the backdrop of a culture that has traditionally done that one thing very well. In Rome, she studied the art of pleasure, learning to speak Italian and gaining the twenty-three happiest pounds of her life. India was for the art of devotion, and with the help of a native guru and a surprisingly wise cowboy from Texas, she embarked on four uninterrupted months of spiritual exploration. In Bali, she studied the art of balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence. She became the pupil of an elderly medicine man and also fell in love the best way—unexpectedly. An intensely articulate and moving memoir of self-discovery, Eat, Pray, Love is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society’s ideals. It is certain to touch anyone who has ever woken up to the unrelenting need for change. 
  • The Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman. A riveting and poignant novel of one woman’s journey to Bali in search of love, renewal, and a place to call home—perfect for readers of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Alex Garland’s The Beach. It starts as a trip to paradise. Sent on assignment to Bali, Jamie, an American adventure guide, imagines spending weeks exploring the island’s lush jungles and pristine white sand beaches. Yet three days after her arrival, she is caught in Bali’s infamous nightclub bombings, which irreparably change her life and leave her with many unanswered questions. One year later, haunted by memories, Jamie returns to Bali seeking a sense of closure. Most of all, she hopes to find Gabe, the man who saved her from the attacks. She hasn’t been able to forget his kindness—or the spark between them as he helped her heal. Checking into a cozy guest house for her stay, Jamie meets the kindly owner, who is coping with a painful past of his own, and a young boy who improbably becomes crucial to her search. Jamie has never shied away from a challenge, but a second chance with Gabe presents her with the biggest dilemma of all: whether she’s ready to open her heart. 
  • A Tale from Bali by Vicki Baum. Vicki Baum's evocative historical novel recounts the lives of peasants and nobles in colonial Bali, reared against a backdrop of bloodshed and cultural invasion. Dutch imperialism brings upheaval and revolution to the beautiful island, and the Balinese rebel in what would become a powerful and poignant example of symbolic resistance. A Tale from Bali culminates with the historic Battle of Badung, in which thousands of Balinese soldiers, clothed in white and armed only with daggers, threw themselves upon the merciless efficiency of the Dutch guns. 
  • Island of Bali by Miguel Covarrubias. First published in 1937, Island of Bali has come to be regarded as a classic work on the Balinese people and their civilization. Written with remarkable clarity, Covarrubias describes the geography and nature of the island, along with the history of the people, providing a thorough account of the community, family, and individual in all spheres of Balinese life.
  • Bali: A Paradise Created by Adrian Vickers. To this "old Bali" has been added the lush and erotic Bali of the European imagination - the tropical paradise that in the 193Os became an extension of salon life for the rich and famous, providing inspiration for artists and Hollywood writers. During the 196Os, "hippie" surfers discovered Bali's beaches, waves and cheap digs, and today young European, Australian and Japanese visitors barter for bargains and dance till dawn on Kuta Beach. Tourists, students and armchair travelers alike will appreciate the fresh insights which this book brings to the history and culture of a traditional island faced with a massive invasion of paradise-seekers. After reading this book, your view of Bali will never be quite the same again! 
  • The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali by Geoffrey B. Robinson. "The Dark Side of Paradise is an effective attempt to put the politics back into Bali's twentieth-century history. With a sure mastery of both Indonesian and Dutch sources, Robinson analyzes the class tensions between aristocrats and commoners during the late colonial period."--Times Literary Supplement"Robinson's work reaches beyond history, amply illustrating the possibilities of what might be termed a 'comparative historical sociology' approach."--Indonesia"Robinson's incisive, well-written work demolishes the fiction of the 'peaceful Balinese' that pervades academic and popular literature, and, for the first time, places modern political history directly into the middle of Balinese scholarship."--Choice"This is a brilliant book that must be read by anybody interested in modern Indonesia."--Journal of the Royal Institute of Linguistics and Anthropology
  • Bali Daze by Cat Wheeler. Beyond beaches and backpackers, spas and five star hotels is a Bali seldom revealed to the casual visitor. Bali Daze tips the reader off the tourist trail as long-term resident Cat Wheeler hurtles into the fascinating, complex and often bewildering adventure of putting down roots in Ubud.
  • Bali: Cultural Tourism And Touristic Culture by Michel Picard. Celebrated for the richness of its artistic and religious traditions, the island of Bali has made its distinctive culture the brand image of its tourist product. This has aroused fears among foreign observers and indigenous authorities alike, who wonder whether Balinese culture will survive the impact of tourism. The author also explores how tourism has contributed to the shaping of modern Balinese culture. An in-depth collection of tourism brochures, advertisements, postcards, newspaper cartoons, tourist snapshots, and fine art illustrate this analysis of not only has viewed Bali but also how the their visitors and the tourist industry.
  • Yoga Bitch: One Woman's Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment by Suzanne Morrison. What happens when a coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking, steak-eating twenty-five-year-old atheist decides it is time to get in touch with her spiritual side? Not what you’d expect… When Suzanne Morrison decides to travel to Bali for a two-month yoga retreat, she wants nothing more than to be transformed from a twenty-five-year-old with a crippling fear of death into her enchanting yoga teacher, Indra—a woman who seems to have found it all: love, self, and God. But things don’t go quite as expected. Once in Bali, she finds that her beloved yoga teacher and all of her yogamates wake up every morning to drink a large, steaming mug…of their own urine. Sugar is a mortal sin. Spirits inhabit kitchen appliances. And the more she tries to find her higher self, the more she faces her cynical, egomaniacal, cigarette-, wine-, and chocolate-craving lower self. Yoga Bitch chronicles Suzanne’s hilarious adventures and misadventures as an aspiring yogi who might be just a bit too skeptical to drink the Kool-Aid. But along the way she discovers that no spiritual effort is wasted; even if her yoga retreat doesn’t turn her into the gorgeously calm, wise believer she hopes it will, it does plant seeds that continue to blossom in surprising ways over the next decade of her life.
  • Balinese Dance, Drama and Music: A Guide to the Performing Arts of Bali by I. Wayan Dibia, Barbara Anello. Lavishly illustrated, this book introduces the most commonly seen traditional performing arts in Bali. The gamelan music, dance, drama and puppetry covered here are sure to mesmerize Western readers. Ideal reading for visitors to the island as well as for anyone interested in Balinese culture, the book fully explains the history and function of each performance genre. The book is enhanced with a bibliography, a discography, and over 150 specially prepared watercolors of Balinese performers and performances. 
  • Eat Pray Love (2010). After indulging herself in Italy’s culinary scene and India’s spiritual landscape, Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) flies all the way to Bali to find love. The movie paints quite a picture of Bali’s most amazing landscapes, from the pristine Padang Padang Beach to the breathtaking rice terrace and monkey forest in Ubud. There’s also a scene where Liz visits a traditional healer—an experience worth trying while visiting the island.
  • Ring of Fire: An Indonesian Odyssey (1999). Whether you’re planning to visit Bali or not, this is a film to watch anyway. The five-part documentary captures the Indonesian archipelago perfectly, including Bali and the islands around it, which are featured in the second film, Dance of the Warriors. The creators, Lorne and Lawrence Blair, are two daring filmmakers who went to great lengths to immerse themselves in the lives of Indonesians. The brothers arrived in 1972 and traveled around the country for a full decade. The films grant us the sights and insight they accumulated over time.
  • The More Things Change (2017). This documentary featuring American surfer, journalist, and actor Gerry Lopez, focuses on one of Bali’s most popular surfing destinations, Uluwatu. Lopez first fell in love with Bali when he surfed the waves there in 1974. When he returned to the scene 40 years later, the Hawaiian surfer observed a very different vibe and atmosphere at the exact same place. Produced in collaboration with local NGO Project Clean Uluwatu, the documentary highlights plans to improve the local community. If you’re planning to visit, this documentary will provide some important context and conservation concerns that will inspire you to act.
  • Bali Is My Life (2012). This documentary film is produced by the people of Bali, motivated by respect and care for the island’s culture and ecosystems. It’s like an insider’s guide to Bali’s best scenes, from picturesque scenery, to temple ceremonies. Bali Is My Life showcases the wealth and warmth of the island, including the friendliness of its people, who truly embrace life in the magical island. Covering social, spiritual, cultural and tourism aspects, this documentary will make you want to pack your bags and leave for Bali right away.
  • Toute La Beauté du Monde (2006). With a title that translates as “All the beauty of the world”, this French movie was shot in two of the world’s most beautiful spots: Bali and its sister island Lombok. The movie is about Tina (Zoé Félix), a French woman who travels to Bali after her husband’s death. During her stay, she finds love again in the blue of the ocean, the lively vibe of the city, and in the arms of a fine French gentleman. Watching this movie is a great way to discover how Bali’s main attractions like Seminyak and Tanah Lot would look like without all the crowds.
  • Alex Cross (2012). The film owes much of its visual appeal to the breathtaking views of Bali, especially for the epic ending shot in an exotic village in East Bali. It also bears an important message for anyone considering a visit to the Indonesian island: possession and distribution of drugs are punishable by death, according to Indonesian law. The movie portrays the rough life of Alex Cross (Tyler Perry) and a criminal leader (Jean Reno) who was caught for suspected drug smuggling and threatened by the consequences.
  • The Endless Summer 2 (1994). Portraying the story of surfers Robert Weaver and Patrick O’Connell, this surfing documentary traces their steps to the world’s topmost surfing destinations. Directed by Bruce Brown, who also created the original The Endless Summer thirty years earlier, the film’s impressive shots will take you out to the ocean, and sometimes inside the waves. Bali is featured, as one of the best surfing destination in the world, and the film captures the stunning beaches, rural village dynamics, and disparate human interests happening in the vibrant island.
  • The Fall (2006). A stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is hospitalized for a filming injury when he meets Alexandria (Cantica Untaru), who is recovering from her own injury. They develop an affectionate friendship as Roy tells her epic stories of a fantastical journey around the world, which dominates the screen throughout the movie. The movie, directed by Tarsem Singh, is like a window to view the planet’s most exotic spots, including Bali’s Mount Kawi temple and Tegalalang rice terraces. The Fall also features the majestic Balinese fire dance or Kecak dance, shot almost intimately.
  • Bali: Heaven and Hell (2014). Doing a bit more than presenting viewers with the obvious stunning landscapes of Bali, this short documentary portrays both sides of the island, the beautiful and ugly. Starting with scenes of the 2002 bombings, it continues by unfolding the island’s history. Based on a book by Phil Jarratt, the film offers contrasting images of modern and old Bali, giving us a more comprehensive picture of the past and present. As with everything else, Bali has its imperfections, but the documentary still reflects hope and love for the island.