Updated: May 23
I am too old and decrepit to be an Instagram model and, to be honest, I get really annoyed by those "models" who interfere with the enjoyment of other travellers, so how the heck did I find myself in a fancy dress swinging over the Ubud jungle with my driver and a professional photographer taking approximately 5 million photographs and videos?
The Bali Swing is a fairly new tourism activity that has become a hot craze for island visitors and can be found everywhere that tourists visit. Anyone planning a trip to Bali or scrolled through Instagram in the past few years will find many beautiful photos of beautiful people swinging over stunning landscapes. I saw these and recognized how lovely the photos were and could see their attraction for those seeking "Instagram-model" type experiences but I'm a retired woman in my early 60s. My travel has always been about seeking cultural experiences and learning about local life, so I really didn't consider adding a swing experience to my itinerary.
As I planned a day trip with my private driver, I explained that I really wanted to experience and learn about Balinese culture. I was surprised to learn that these swings have traditional origins where swings were used in religious ceremonies and for children's entertainment. The original bamboo swings were used by the priests in the ritual purification of temples and considered sacred. The priests and other important temple people would swing as they recited prayers and mantras, believing that the motion helped to spread the cleansing and purification to all parts of the temple and surroundings, bringing good luck and prosperity to the community. Children could keep themselves entertained and busy on less-sacred swings during festivals, celebrations, and playtime. The sacred swings are still used in some religious ceremonies but those ones are only accessible to the prayer community.
The first commercial swings were introduced in 2016, by clever entrepreneurs who realized they would provide a unique experience for tourists and are now found all over the island, located to take advantage of the incredible views that the island's volcanic geography of mountains, lakes, jungles and rice terraces provides. Even with this new perspective, I wasn't convinced I needed to include a visit but, in the spirit of checking out everything that Bali had to offer, I agreed to visit the original Bali Swing experience at Ubud Bali Swings, and later, I also visited the Hidden Hills Wanagiri swings. Even though it was a silly bit of fluff for someone of my age, I have to say I enjoyed the experience and love that I have some photos of myself where I don't look old and tired. If they can make me look good they will make you look very glam, too!
The first visit, at Ubud Bali Swings, was the most expensive. It cost about $35 CAD with an extra fee to rent a dress or to get professional photos taken. It was my first excursion and had no idea the photographic talent of every driver, so I sprung for the professional photos but if you are using a driver, I would recommend just handing your phone over and letting them do it for you. I was absolutely NOT going to do the floaty dress thing. That seemed very silly... until I got there. At this point in my trip, I had no real idea of what things cost and I thought the whole experience with swings, photos, and dress for just under $100 to be a bit expensive but reasonable. (As I spent more time in Bali, I realized that was quite extravagant!) At the end of the experience, they uploaded all the photos -- over 100 in all and every single one was beautifully composed. The dresses come in every colour and shade imaginable. They are wrap-around one-size-fits-all and are adjusted by ties. It was my first stop of the day and there were very few people but I was told it gets very busy in the afternoons. There was no waiting or line-ups for any of the swings. Because I was alone, I bypassed the "couples" swings.
The swings come in various forms. There are the typical plank seats on ropes with the ropes adorned with flower garlands, bali bed-style swings, and hanging nests. There are also nests and pods placed on the ground for those who are less sure they want to swing. For most, it's a simple step onto a platform and, with a gentle push, you will swing over the platform. There is also a very tall swing that requires a ladder. These platforms are located at the edge of a ravine so the photos look like you are way above the jungle, but the reality is you are not very high up -- except for the super-swing.
The basic structure of the circle pods and bird nests are made from wood wrapped in rattan. These are usually handmade by local artisans who form part of the wood-carving and furniture-making community. These makers have learned their skills within their families or through an apprenticeship with a master. The rattan industry in Indonesia employs thousands of people and is a very important source of income for many rural communities.
At Ubud Bali Swings, they were very careful about safety procedures. At all times I wore a safety strap (colour co-ordinated to my dress). For the huge swing, I had a complete safety harness. I was a little nervous walking up to the super-swing but once on it, I felt very safe. The operators constantly checked with me to determine my comfort level and how much push I wanted. I watched some other tourists choose a much more forceful push. I didn't feel that was needed... mainly because I was still feeling quite foolish to be doing this.
At the Hidden Hills location, there was no safety strap or harness and fewer swings to choose from, however, I didn't feel any danger. There were fewer swings and instead of soaring over the jungle, the background is a caldera lake. In doing some research, I learned that there was one tourist accident in 2018 where a tourist died at a swing in Bali. This unfortunate fellow was not on a swing but was pushing a swing a Tegalalang. Following this accident, the Indonesian government now requires regular inspections and monitors the sites. I felt safe at all the locations.
For this old broad, two swing locations was plenty. I saw many as I travelled around, so for those who want to have backgrounds over various beautiful locations you will have many choices. Walking the rice terraces at Tegalalang can include many opportunities to swing or sit in pods and nests. The Kopi Luwat plantations usually have at least one swing and a pod or nest. Ask the locals for their recommendations to find some more quiet locations that are lesser-known.
So, what's my bottom line about Bali Swings for the non-beautiful, older, non-Insta crowd? I say do it! It may be a bit of fluff but I have to admit, that I loved the fun and the stunning photos where I look the best I've looked in years. Your photos and poses will likely be exactly the same as hundreds (maybe thousands) spread all over the web, so they won't be necessarily unique but they will be unique for you! Look for a safe operation with a beautiful location. Go ahead and rent the fancy dress or wear your own clothes that will flutter in the breeze and revisit your youth. Don't bother with the professional photographer if you have a driver -- the best videos and photos I got were done by my drivers who operated my phone camera like pro
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