Bali is an incredibly interesting place to visit, partly because its culture and traditions are so unique. It isn’t too difficult to navigate the differences but it is really important to be aware and learn a little about Balinese etiquette before you arrive. Minor missteps in holy places and in people’s homes are usually forgiven but it is best to avoid if possible. Here are a few things to know about before you visit Bali.
Clothing and covering up
This is one of the most major issues you will come across in Bali. In most places, especially in tourist areas, it is perfectly acceptable to wear summer clothes like short shorts, sleeveless tops, just a bikini top, or going shirtless for men. In other places you should have your shoulders and chest covered and even legs sometimes.
The most important place to be covered is in temples. Both men and women should at least wear a sarong (kamben) and shirt that covers at least to their elbows. There is also sash called a selendang that is tied around the waist. Men should cover their head with an udung, a fabric head wrap.
Using your right hand
This is one that takes some time to get used to and is easily forgiven by local people. It is especially difficult if you are left-handed. You should never shake hands, eat, or give or take anything from someone with your left hand.
Your right hand is called your tangan mains or sweet hand because it is traditionally the clean hand. The left hand is used for cleaning after using the toilet in most of Asia and Bali is no different.
Other body parts you should be aware of are heads and feet. You should never touch anyone’s head as this is a sacred part of the body. Feet on the other hand are the least holy part of the body, which is why you should try not to point them in anyone’s direction or touch things with them.
There are some differing opinions when it comes to offerings in Bali. They are everywhere and sometimes it is unavoidable to walk or drive over them. This isn’t really a problem because once they are laid down, they are no longer used again and will usually be swept up and thrown away later in the day.
Offerings in temples are a slightly different story. You shouldn’t touch, rearrange, or take anything from them as they could be waiting for a priest to bless them. If someone offers you fruit or snacks from offerings on the way out or outside the temple it is fine to accept and eat them.
In general Balinese people are very calm and softly spoken. They like to talk around subjects rather than getting straight to the point and avoid confrontation at all costs. Things can move very slowly in Bali and this can often be infuriating to foreigners. There are many lessons to be learned in Bali, one being staying calm and even tempered in tense situations is usually much more productive than getting angry and shouting.
The most important thing you should consider when you visit Bali (or anywhere else in the world) is to stay aware of what’s going on around you. If you see people in temple clothing, you probably shouldn’t be there in shorts and a crop top. Make sensible judgements about how you should behave as people won’t always tell you directly.
Have you been to Bali and have something to add to this list? We are always happy to have additions in the comments box below.