Don’t make a faux pas when visiting this gorgeous Island of the Gods. The Balinese are so polite that they wouldn’t even dream of pointing out even the most horrendous cultural transgression delivered unknowingly by a visitor. Here are some pearls of wisdom and cultural nuances for you to keep in mind, while on holiday in Bali.
1. Learn a few phrases in Bahasa Indonesia such as terima kasih, which means ‘thank you’; or selamat pagi which means ‘good morning’. As a thoughtful gesture, say a few words to the Balinese in their indigenous language. ‘Hello’ is om swastiastu; ‘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 out of respect. T-shirt style coverage is perfect.
3. 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. Do not sit higher than the locals. If they are seated on the ground, you should follow suit.
4. 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 travellers every year than sharks do?
5. Ask for a Tri Datu bracelet when visiting certain temples such as Besakih. This thread bracelet is considered holy and will be willingly offered to you. Tri Datu etymologically comes from the words ‘tri‘ which means three, and ‘datu‘ meaning king. It’s the manifestation of the Tri Murti Gods; Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The colours of Tri Datu bracelets are red, white and black, which also represent the life-cycle of birth, life, and death. It is considered respectful to offer some money in the charity box when asking for a Tri Datu. There is no stipulated minimum amount, but IDR 50,000 is considered fair.
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.
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 briefed 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 Driving License. Police may check for both helmets and unlicensed riders/drivers.
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. 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, from a waiter, for example, 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. Temples are to be avoided if you are bleeding in any way. This could be from a shaving cut, a recent wound or even menstruation. Blood is considered impure in the context of a temple.
6. Do not touch the head of a Balinese person. 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 or ride a bike in your swimwear. 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 and you may even attract a ticket from the police.
When visiting a foreign land, it’s always best to do what the locals do. Once this is achieved, expect your holiday to be hassle-free. For the ultimate getaway, book and secure one of our villas in Bali.