Despite rampant commercialisation of much of Bali, there is still a strong adherence to traditional arts and crafts throughout the island. There are large pockets of cottage industries producing intricate handicrafts in time honoured traditional ways. These can make lovely presents for jealous family and friends left back home.
The Gianyar and Ubud areas in central Bali have the largest concentration with numerous artisans’ villages specialising in textiles, stone carving, basket ware, carpentry, painting and ceramics. Many of these villages are world renowned and the very best workshops produce high quality goods specifically for export markets.
While there is no shortage of cheap mass produced crafts and souvenirs in Bali, there is nothing like browsing the genuine article that often takes months to complete. Basing yourself in Ubud is the best option for serious souvenir hunters, and there is even the option to take a craft class and make your own fabulous creations with a little instructions from local artezans.
From here it is quite feasible to visit half a dozen different arts villages in a day. To begin with have a wander around the maze of craft stalls at Ubud market which is a good reference point for the variety and price you can expect elsewhere. This is the foremost hub for handicrafts in Bali and should be on any visitor’s tour itinerary of the island.
Just south of the town centre is where you will find the celebrated wood carvers of Mas village which comprises countless galleries and workshops devoted to decorative functional and ornamental items. There is everything from eccentric religious effigies to modern rattan furniture.
The nearby villages of Tegallalang and Nyuh Kuning are both also renowned for wood crafts. Other definite must visits include the stone carvers of Batubulan, Celuk for silver jewellery and Batuan and Tampak Siring for exquisite textiles and batik garments. It is a relaxing place to while away an hour or two simply watching master craftsmen at work.
Wherever you wander in search of bargains, always use your haggling skills to get value as opening prices are often very high. Expect to pay around 50 per cent of the initial price. You can often find the best deals at the smaller family run workshops located away from the tourist orientated galleries. Here you will find small studios set in family homes that have a less businesslike atmosphere.
The Bali handicrafts industry is worth millions of dollars a year and there are many Bali based companies that deal exclusively with overseas buyers and visiting tourists. It is a popular route into business for many expats too, with exports to their home countries being snapped up at many times the manifacturing cost.