Ah, Nyepi. A truly unique festival celebrated by Balinese Hindus during which you’re not allowed to leave your house, hotel or villa for 24 hours. Yes, really.
When I was first told that this island of 5 million+ people shuts down for a whole day, I assumed there were exceptions. For people flying in and out that day, for example, and for international businesses that needed to keep operating. I mean, you can’t just stop everything for a whole day, can you? Well yes, apparently you can.
On Nyepi, which falls in March each year – the exact date depending on the Balinese lunar calendar – the whole island really does stop. The airport is closed, nobody is allowed outside, and the local ‘pecalang’ patrol the streets to catch anyone not following the rules.
All day you must stay inside (or within your hotel grounds) and keep noise to a minimum, and at night, you’re not allowed to have any lights on – at least, none that can be seen from the street.
If you’re following it really strictly, there’s no working, no entertainment, and for some even no talking or eating from 6am on Nyepi day to 6am the following morning. It’s intended to be a day of quiet self-reflection.
Of course, with a toddler, there is no such thing.
So I’m approaching Nyepi in much the same way I would a long-haul flight: in survival mode.
In previous years I quite enjoyed having an excuse to stay in all day. Watch a couple of movies, play some games, have an afternoon nap, maybe do some work… but without any real expectations that anything would be achieved.
This year, with our nearly-two-year-old confined to a 70sqm house, we’ll just do what needs to be done to get through it.
You can read my account of the day itself in my Nyepi Diary, but here are some things I found helpful in preparing for 24 hours of lockdown (and many of these apply even if you don’t have kids to entertain).
Book a hotel
Really, this is the most sensible thing to do. Most hotels on the island offer a special Nyepi package which includes 2 nights of accommodation, all your meals while you’re there, and sometimes extras like a massage. The ones I looked at this year cost anything from 700k upwards, depending on the hotel.
With a hotel stay you have the freedom to roam the grounds, you can swim, you can use any facilities like a playground or kids’ club, and you have all your meals cooked for you.
Why, then, didn’t we just do this? The simple answer is, we definitely were planning to stay in a hotel this year. I had picked one with a kids’ playroom and everything. But then we decided we were going to do a road trip around Lombok at the end of April, and the hotel money would be better spent on that holiday. I also felt that, knowing we had the holiday coming up, I could tolerate one more Nyepi at home. Next year, we’ll either be in a hotel or out of the country.
If you go for this option then you can ignore the rest of my advice. But if you’re looking for ways to prepare for Nyepi with a toddler at home, keep reading.
Plan your meals
And snacks. And snacks between snacks.
You might do this as a matter of course anyway, but if you rely heavily on warungs and the shop around the corner when it comes to mealtimes, you’ll need to get organised.
Remember it will start to get dark inside around 6pm and you’re not allowed to put a light on (unless your kitchen is completely hidden from the road) so whatever you cook, it needs to be something you can do in advance and heat up again later. Otherwise you’ll find yourself trying to chop onions by candlelight.
I find that snacks are a pretty good distraction when my daughter gets bored, so I’ve made sure I have plenty of things I can give her during the day. I’ll be honest; in years gone by we have survived off mainly Pringles, instant noodles and Oreos at Nyepi, but I have made an effort to be healthy this year.
This means we have plenty of fruit, and I’m going to make a simple dip to go with veggie fingers and breadsticks (she won’t eat the veggies but at least I can say I tried).
Check that you have enough water to get you through the day – if your Aqua galon runs out at 10am you’re screwed.
Don’t leave your shopping until the last day
I believe the day before Nyepi must be the busiest shopping day of the year in Bali. You’d think that we were on the verge of a zombie apocalypse. People flood to the shops and stock up on way more food than they can get through in one day, presumably just in case Nyepi is unexpectedly extended?
It’s crazy, but it happens every year and I am guilty of getting caught up in it myself.
This year I did as much of my shopping as I could a few days in advance, and just left the fresh stuff to the last minute. I bought most of that at a local market stall, and then braced myself as I went out to pick up the rest.
The trip wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. The supermarket car park was busier than I’d ever seen it and the shop was packed, but they had enough staff on to keep the queues moving. Actually, I think the reason it’s so busy is because people take way too long deciding which flavour noodles to buy, and whether they need 3 bags of crisps, or 4. I quickly whizzed around, picked up the few things I needed, then headed home.
Most supermarkets close at about 3 the day before Nyepi, by the way. Local minimarts will stay open longer.
Stock up on toys/DVDs
This is where the long-haul flight approach comes in. When stuck in a tube in the sky for 12+ hours with a little person who doesn’t understand how to sit still, you need to have something new to whip out whenever they start fidgeting.
While being at home allows slightly more freedom, it’s still a good idea to have some new toys stowed away that will have that extra novelty value. I hit up our local Alfamart and got a set of beach toys and some animal stickers for less than 50k. The beach toys will be great in the bath.
I also have a few things left over from our trip home at Christmas which haven’t made it out yet, including a set of finger paints, so I’m feeling quite well prepared on this front.
For older children (and adults!) DVDs are easy to get hold of and provide a good hour or two of entertainment. Just keep in mind that if you’re watching them at night, you need to be careful that no light is getting outside. If you have a room with no windows facing out to the road, that’s great. Otherwise you can buy some black bin bags and tape them over your windows. Even then, it’s best to keep the light as dim as possible (watch on a small screen rather than a huge TV) because even the smallest crack will be easy to spot from outside.
Don’t count on having cable TV and internet
The reason I recommend DVDs is because cable TV usually gets switched off during Nyepi and internet can be unreliable. I think I have always had some kind of internet connection in previous years, but it can be a lot slower than usual (which is saying something).
If you’re planning to watch movies, better to buy DVDs or have them saved to a hard drive rather than trying to stream them.
Get some candles
For the couple of hours between sunset and your kids going to bed, you’ll need some kind of light to get them through the bedtime routine. The soft light of a candle or two is ideal here. If the pecalang do come along and call you up on it, politely explain that you have young children and you will put the light out as soon as they are asleep.
Look at the stars
Once the kids are in bed and you’ve poured yourself a glass of whatever was on your meal plan, take a moment to look outside at the stars. With all the island’s lights off, the sky is beautifully clear and you will see more stars than you can take in. Perhaps now, if you wish, you can have your time of quiet self-reflection.