Mind Your Manners: DOs and DON’Ts in Bali

in Culture/Destinations/Tips by

Bali is a treasure trove with plenty to discover, unique local culture and is inhabited by the warmest of people. The Balinese are so polite that most wouldn’t even dream of pointing out even the most horrendous cultural transgression delivered unknowingly by a visitor. Here is a list of some cultural nuances which will serve you well when you visit the Island of the Gods.


1. Learn a few thoughtful Indonesian phrases such as ‘thank you’ – terimah kasih or ‘good morning’ – selamat pagi. To surprise the Balinese, say a few words of their indigenous language. ‘Hello’ is om swastiasu; ‘thank you’ suksma and ‘you’re welcome’ suksma mewali. The locals will appreciate the fact that you made the effort.

2. Dress appropriately when visiting temples. The island is full of extraordinary open-air temples and everyone who visits must wear a sarong and waist sash. Frequently visited temples may have these garments available for visitors, but for smaller temples, take your own. Don’t show too much skin up, out of respect. T-shirt style coverage is perfect.

3. Take off your shoes when entering a temple, a home and often shops. Take your lead by checking the entrance for evidence of others’ shoes and follow suit.

4. Observe one of the many ceremonies that you are likely to chance upon. It is not considered rude, so feel free to watch the locals but do sit behind the priest who is easy to spot given the accoutrements of the role. Please do not sit higher that the locals. Better to sit on the ground as they pray on the ground, too.

5. Ensure you buy travel insurance. Accidents happen, in the most unexpected of places. Did you know that gravity’s pull on a falling coconut harms more world travelers every year than sharks do?

6. Be sensitive when money is clearly counted out to the last rupiah in front of you. Indonesians are highly transparent with money. It leaves no space for accidental short-changing.

7. Haggle at the markets as it is expected and a bit of fun, but do so with a smile and in a polite, fun manner. Enjoy the rolling of the eyes and all the associated drama but don’t suggest unreasonably low prices. A dollar means more to a local than it perhaps does to you.

8. Keep your cool. Hawkers on the beach and other tourist destinations can be annoying. Keep your emotions in check. It’s a hard way to make a living and being openly angry or confrontational is offensive.

9. If you choose to ride a motorbike, do get a briefing on how to drive well in Bali’s seemingly chaotic flow of traffic. Villa staff can impart advice and instruction, as required. Always wear a helmet and carry an up to date International Driver’s license. Police may randomly check for both helmets and unlicensed riders/drivers. Avoid wearing a bikini while riding a bike.

10. Stop and chat. The Balinese are very curious about other people. You’ll often be asked where you are from and all about your family, children or siblings. Locals will love to see some photos if you have them handy. It’s not a ruse to pull you into a shop.


1. Don’t drink tap water. Carry a refillable water bottle because every villa kitchen has a dispenser of high quality chilled water ready to go. Think of the environmental impact of buying multiple plastic bottles of water.

2. Don’t use your left hand when giving money or touching someone else. Indonesians reserve their left hand for nether region hygiene, so stick to the right.

3. Sidestep the ubiquitous and pretty offering baskets found on the ground. Dogs are allowed to eat from them as part of the religious process, but make sure you don’t step on them by mistake.

4. Don’t try to gain attention – say, from a waiter – by shooting your arm into the air with fingers pointing to the sky. Raise your arm with the palm facing down and flick your wrist up and down.

5. Do not enter a temple if you are bleeding. This could be a shaving cut, a recent wound or menstruation. Blood is considered impure in the context of a temple.

6. Do not touch the head of a Balinese person because it is considered to be the most sacred part of the human body and touching it is to defile it. This includes kids and babies. Also, never point your feet at a person or temple altars. Keep your feet flat on the ground.

7. Don’t touch monkeys or other wildlife. Macaques in popular tourist areas like Ubud and the sea temple at Uluwatu are active and sneaky thieves. They will snatch sunglasses off your head and mobile phones out of your hands. Keep your belongings inside a bag. If you see turtles on the beach, give them space as they are endangered and the Balinese will help them.

8. Avoid using your index finger to point at anything or anyone. Many Indonesians consider this common western gesture obscene.

9. Dodge any situation that feels uncomfortable. Some street sellers may offer prescription medicine – or any other drug – for sale. Indonesia has strictly enforced drug laws, so just keep walking.

10. Don’t walk the streets in a state of undress. This is fine for the boat, beach or poolside but always throw on a shirt, shorts or sarong when hitting the streets, shops, a café or restaurant. The Balinese are modest in their dress. No one – other visitors included – want to see near-nudity off the beach.

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