Bali may be a world-renowned holiday destination but it’s also quite traditional in many ways. As a Hindu culture, the people of Bali are very much dedicated to their religion and ceremonies that honor their gods. As visitors we must be respectful of their cultural and religious customs. Below are some of the things to be aware of and some helpful etiquette tips to be a courteous tourist in Bali.
Bali is often called the island of a thousand temples, although I’m sure there are more. There are temples for all different occasions, dedicated to different gods, and also for each family. Then of course there are larger temples like Besakih, Lempuyang, Uluwatu, Tanah Lot and plenty more that are very important pilgrimages for the Balinese people.
When you visit a temple, both men and women must wear the traditional sarong and sash. You should also cover your shoulders and not show too much skin. Women should also be aware that it is forbidden to enter any temple if they are menstruating.
It is also very important to be aware of where you step and sit. It is extremely disrespectful to sit, climb or stand on any carvings, walls, or places higher than those sitting on the ground to pray. Of course someone may offer you a spot to sit, which is ok. A good rule of thumb is follow the locals and don’t stray from where they walk or sit.
Religious Processions & Ceremonies
You can follow most of the same rules for religious processions and ceremonies as you can for temples. Give locals their space and if you are invited to come along, follow respectfully not straying from where they go.
Balinese processions are colourful, fun occasions and foreigners are welcomed to photograph or film them. If you are lucky enough to come across a procession and want to catch the moment on camera, just make sure to not get in anyone’s way or disrupt them from what they are doing.
In temple ceremonies you mustn’t walk in front of or over worshippers or try to get up high to take pictures from above. The priest should always be in the highest position in the temple.
What to Wear
Bali has a hot and humid tropical climate, which means you probably don’t want to wear so many clothes. However, there is a time and a place for bikinis, short shorts and crop tops.
There are no real rules for what to wear in Bali, but just be sensible and don’t show too much skin when you’re not on the beach. And on the beach both halves of bikinis should stay on.
Bargaining & Tipping
The Balinese love to bargain. In the local markets the women haggle with each other over the prices of just about everything and it’s expected for foreigners to do the same.
It’s often said that sellers will start at about double the price they are hoping for. If you start at just under half of their first price, you’ll probably find yourself going up a bit but still getting a good price. Just remember that you want a good deal but also for the seller to be able to make a profit. If both of you give a little, everyone ends up happy.
Interacting with People
If you’ve never been to Bali, you’re in for a treat! The Balinese people are incredibly friendly, warm, and happy to help. They will often invite foreigners to see and experience their culture first hand. Don’t be surprised if you’re eating and drinking with a local family within hours of landing!
There are a few personality traits and cultural rules to be aware of when it comes to interacting with the Balinese though. First thing to know is they don’t deal well with confrontation. If your bag doesn’t turn up, the driver is late, or you find something wrong with your room, stay calm and don’t raise your voice or gesture violently. This won’t get you anywhere.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s very rude to touch people on the head. You may think a friendly pat it ok, but for Balinese Hindus the head is the holiest part of the body and should not be touched by others.
Now You Know Some Basic Etiquette Tips for Bali
When you’re visiting a culture so very different to your own it can be daunting. It’s good to know all the above tips but you can also rest easy knowing the Balinese are very forgiving people. Most are very used to foreigners and understand the differences. Do you find visiting different countries wonderful or worrying? We’d love to know in the comments below.