We all know Bali as one of the top tropical destinations in the world. Whether it’s picturesque sandy beaches and uncountable surf spots, luxurious villas, ancient temples, lush natural attractions, or affordable local grub… this Indonesian paradise has it all! It’s no wonder many travellers find it such an intriguing and fascinating place to visit.
While it may come across as highly modern and somewhat westernised, religious devotion and traditions remain a huge part of locals’ daily lives. Despite nearly 90% of the Indonesian population being Muslim, the majority of inhabitants in Bali are Hindu; hence, some customs and traditions tend to differ. And as friendly and tolerant as most locals are, they’re extremely proud of their culture and heritage. That said, foreigners are expected to be conscious of Bali etiquette during their stay.
To get you started, we’ve gathered some important Bali travel tips — especially now that the island is welcoming foreign visitors again! Read on for a list of do’s and don’ts that you need to know about. Most are related to etiquette, while others are simply general tips to help you make the most out of your trip.
Basic Bali etiquettes to keep in mind
1. DO learn some useful Indonesian phrases
Locals always appreciate it when you make the effort to converse in their language! For example, Terima kasih means “Thank you”, Selamat pagi means “Good morning” and maaf means “sorry”.
Also read: Travel Better: 15 Best Ways to Help Locals While Travelling
2. DO dress modestly when outside your resort
Most of the people who work in Bali resorts and hotels wouldn’t bat an eye when they see tourists in… somewhat revealing clothing. (Hey, it’s a holiday spot that’s popular among different kinds of travellers, after all). However, it’s not the same if you’re going to explore certain tourist attractions — especially temples and mosques!
3. DO obey the rules when entering a temple or any religious site
For instance, you must wear a sarong and a sash, and leave your footwear at the entrance when entering a Hindu temple. Also, always remove your footwear before entering a local’s house.
4. DON’T walk in front of someone who is praying
Also, when taking pictures of someone praying, make sure to keep the camera flash off! If there is a religious ceremony going on, you’re free to stay and watch but do not interrupt.
5. DO talk with someone at eye level
If the person is seated, you should either sit down or bend down so that you are at the same height.
6. DO use the local social titles
When talking or referring to someone older than you, make sure to use Pak for men and Ibu for women.
7. DON’T touch the head of a Balinese local!
Even patting a cute child’s head is forbidden. For them, the head is the most sacred and purest part of the body.
8. DON’T use your left hand when giving money or handing over something
The left hand is considered unclean, so always use your right hand to give, and both hands to receive.
9. DON’T point with just one finger, and never touch or point at something with your feet
These acts are extremely offensive.
10. DON’T walk over the Canang Sari in the streets
These are daily Balinese offerings to the Hindu god, Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, thanking him for the peace given to the world. They can be spotted on the ground, in front of houses, shops, and temples — so keep an eye out!
Other do’s and don’ts to remember on your Bali vacation
11. DON’T raise your voice or lose your temper in public
For most Bali locals, showing signs of being confrontational is considered vulgar, offensive, and borderline shameful. This is why some of them get turned off when they come across foreigners (Westerns, most especially) who tend to be loud — whether it’s intended or not.
12. DO bargain a bit with the street vendors and beach merchants
It’s the way of shopping in Bali! Still, you must always be friendly and respectful. Bargaining is part of the culture in Bali, and tourists should see it as a fun experience rather than a war.
13. DON’T use or bring drugs into Bali
Among all the Bali travel tips, this is probably the most no-brainer. Indonesian drug laws are among the strictest in Asia and it makes zero difference whether you’re a foreigner or not. The death penalty still exists there and the Kerobokan Prison houses plenty of tourists who thought they could get past the system.
14. DO always wear a helmet while riding a motorbike
Yes, even if you see plenty of people riding without one. The police can stop you anytime and might make you pay a “fine” (the amount will probably depend on their mood).
15. DO eat at the warungs
These are the restaurants that you see on the streets that offer you an authentic local experience! The food there is absolutely delicious and as cheap as it can get.
16. DO sign up for a Balinese cooking class
It’s a unique experience and a great way to learn more about Indonesian cuisine during your Bali vacation.
17. DO avoid getting the “Bali belly”
Or more commonly known as the “traveller’s diarrhoea,” which is mainly caused by unclean food and water — especially inadequately-cooked meat and seafood. Enjoy the warungs but only enter the ones that appear to be hygienic. And for goodness’ sake, get bottled water or bring your own tumbler with filtered water.
18. DON’T drink odd-looking drinks served at cheap bars.
Those colourful glowing cocktails? They have a lot of artificial ingredients and will likely make you ill in a snap. Another important thing is to never let your drink out of sight! But if it happens, just order another one. There are have been several stories of drugged tourists being kidnapped or hurt while travelling in Bali.
19. DON’T mess with the monkeys!
Especially those that you’ll spot in tourist spots such as Uluwatu and Ubud. If you get too close, they might steal everything they can get their hands on — be it your sunglasses, hats, or even your bag! If this happens, try to give them a few Rupiahs, or ask a local for help.
Yes, you heard me right, a lot of the monkeys are trained to take your belongings and make you pay to get them back.
20. DO wear a face mask whenever you’re in a public space
To end this list of Bali travel tips and etiquettes, let’s talk about the most important health and safety precaution during this pandemic: wearing face masks. It doesn’t matter if you’re from a country that doesn’t have a mask mandate (or you’re one of those people who think it “hinders your freedom”). In Bali, they take mask-wearing very seriously, and as a tourist, you must adjust accordingly.
Oh, and don’t even think about pulling a dangerous prank for the sake of online clout either. Back in April 2021, a Bali-based Taiwanese YouTuber and his girlfriend got in serious trouble after wearing a fake surgical mask. Whatever made them think that would’ve made for a funny video in the middle of a global health crisis, we’ll never understand. In sum — yeah, don’t be that foreigner.
Also read: The Bali Breakup Curse: Are Couples Who Visit Bali Doomed to Split?
So, on your next holiday, make sure to follow these essential Bali travel tips on local etiquette and customs for an enjoyable time!
Haven’t decided on where to stay? Check out our top picks for the best hotels and resorts in Indonesia here.
Featured image credit: Jamie Fenn | Unsplash