Your guide to being a decent man on the Isle of the Gods.
When you think of Bali, you probably picture black sand beaches, rainforests, vibrant sunsets, and maybe a yoga class. This beautiful island has developed rapidly after the epidemic, and more and more tourists are flocking to Indonesia to enjoy its island culture again.
While most of these newcomers have easily adapted to life in Bali and all its magic, a few bad apples are proving that even in paradise, human folly persists.
Bali, like anywhere in the world, has its own unique nuances. While you might have a hard time having a bad time on this tropical island, you’ll have a great time if you first understand how the island works and how to treat people with respect. Consider this your official “how not to be an asshole when traveling in Bali” guide and you’ll find your trip just got a lot smoother.
But, before we get started, a few house rules:
When in Bali, you shouldn’t be riding a motorbike into the sea with the name of Instagram. You shouldn’t be photographing yourself naked on the holy mountain. You shouldn’t mix local workers with bikini-clad foreigners and make them pay you a ton of money while amassing a ton of cash. Hope this clarifies things.
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You also should not climb temples, pose nude on temples, or play around in temples. Maybe don’t touch the temples at all, okay? Now that everything is settled, let’s take a look at the dos and don’ts of visiting Bali.
Use common sense when riding a motorcycle
In Bali, you might see an entire family crammed onto a motorcycle, usually carrying a piece of furniture or a box full of chicken. Motorbikes are the most common form of transportation on the island, and renting one is easy (although this may change in the near future) without any boring legal formalities, such as having to prove you can safely drive a motorcycle.
Motorbike taxis are frequent and inexpensive, meaning there’s no need to drive unless you’re legally able to do so. If you do want to own your own bike, most rental companies also offer lessons before you hit the open road and cause a fatal accident or go off the road and into a rice field. Note that the latter happens quite frequently and is usually captured and posted on one of Bali’s famous Instagram accounts.
Insider informationNot only is it extremely stupid to not wear a helmet, it’s also illegal. If you ride without a helmet, you can get fined by the police – and it doesn’t look cool.
Don’t make ridiculous swaps for the sake of swapping
As you’ve probably heard throughout Southeast Asia, bartering is common and expected. This is usually the case in markets and street taxis, but not in restaurants or services like massages.
Remember that salaries in Indonesia are among the lowest in the world, and an extra $1 you try to barter can pay for a meal for the person providing the service. It’s also incredibly offensive because the item/service you’re trying to get a discount on may have been drastically reduced compared to what you paid back home.
Don’t ask for 50 cents off a haircut: it’s embarrassing for everyone involved.
Remember this is a religious country, dress appropriately
Needless to say, it is illegal to take photos in the nude on Bali’s beaches and sacred mountains. But unfortunately, some tourists seem to forget or ignore this. Not only do you get serious retribution for flashing Mount Batur or something like that, but you also get a deportation bonus if you get caught.
You should also dress appropriately when visiting other religious or formal venues. This means that shoulders and knees are covered (for all genders) when exploring temples. It’s also worth noting that visiting religious places is prohibited during menstruation, and lying about it is also a big no-no.
Be patient: things run on Bali time
Bali time officially operates as GMT+8. But it’s easier to imagine a time zone where Bali time is closer to around GMT+8:30. The 11am boat might leave around 11:30, but don’t get mad about that. This laid-back world doesn’t place as much emphasis on timing as it does elsewhere, and things often take longer than expected.
Balinese people are very polite and easygoing by nature, which means confrontation is not the way to show affection here. The best way to deal with Bali time is to give yourself much more time than it actually takes to get from point A to point B, and accept the longer wait, as it’s one of the island’s quirks.
Do not cancel trips or other excursions at the last minute
This applies to the whole world, especially Bali and wider Indonesia. Many, if not most, tours here are arranged by individuals rather than large corporations. These guys usually go out of their way to make sure your trip is incredible, and that means buying snacks and water ahead of time to enjoy on the way, and getting up early to pick you up.
Tourism in Bali is still recovering from the pandemic, meaning last-minute cancellations could cost travel agencies a day of lost revenue. If you have to cancel at the last minute for any reason, it’s worth paying a cancellation fee or the full cost of your trip if possible.
respect local culture
First, don’t call Kanan Sari The floor was covered with “zucchini noodles,” as one major publication did. It goes without saying that eating snacks from offerings or smoking cigarettes reserved for gods is a first-class ticket to more very bad karma.
Bali is a Hindu island and there are frequent island-wide celebrations throughout the year. The most important of these is ‘Nyepi’, the 24-hour period of silence during which no one can leave the house or use electricity. Breaking Nyepi rules is extremely disrespectful and will almost certainly result in arrest by the police.
Other important rituals in Bali include Galungan and Kuningan. Know a little about their significance before visiting, and when you arrive, you might even be invited to celebrate with the family of your hotel/Airbnb owner.
learn at least a little language
Two languages are widely spoken in Bali: Bahasa Indonesia (the official language of Indonesia) and Balinese. Some easy to remember words are “Thanks“(or just”Thanks”) to express thanks and “please” Say please.
“Suksma“This is a welcome greeting in Balinese and is always appreciated. Even something simple“morning! ” (morning) or “night! ’ (good night) can go a long way in terms of respect. No one expects you to be fluent, but learning some welcome sentences can definitely make a difference.
Don’t call it “Bali belly”
You wouldn’t call it a “Texas belly” or a “British bug”. You can call it like this: gastroenteritis or stomach flu. It’s normal to have an upset stomach once or twice when traveling to a new destination, especially if the water used and the dishes prepared in that new place are different from what you’re used to at home.
If you’re concerned, bring charcoal tablets, antidiarrheal medicine, and a rehydration bag to Bali. You can also take further steps, such as avoiding drinking tap water or eating fresh salads that go with traditional Indonesian dishes like nasi goreng. But don’t call it a “Bali belly,” even in the process of throwing up. This is offensive.
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Do not take pictures of locals without permission
Nobody likes taking photos without permission. Especially those local workers who are just going about their daily lives. So try to avoid taking close-up photos of people as you explore rice fields, wander the markets, or take in other beautiful sights in Bali.
If there’s any confusion, uploading these photos to social media is not only frowned upon, but downright rude, with the caption: “Think how different my life is from someone who picks rice fields every morning.” Just don’t.