Have you booked a trip to Bali recently? Be prepared for an awesome cultural ride through temples, festivals, and streets. Here, we’ve listed down travel tips that will help you on your way. Before entering Bali, you should be familiar with the customs and traditions that locals follow. Be informed of the strict laws, improper gestures, the topics you should avoid, and the acts of respect that are expected when entering temples. While you might find these tips a hassle, they will keep you from angering or even offending locals or authorities. In the long run, these helpful pointers will contribute to a memorable vacation. Check out this list of what not to do in Bali, Indonesia.
1. Do not do drugs
First of all, you shouldn’t be doing drugs in any part of the world unless a jail term is on your itinerary! Now let’s talk about why, among all countries, you wouldn’t want to be caught with drugs in Indonesia. As they are facing a growing drug problem, Indonesia follows one of the strictest drug laws in Southeast Asia. Possession of a small amount of drugs alone could lead to up to 12 years of imprisonment and one can be fined up to more than 800,000 USD. For large amounts, the possessor could face life imprisonment. That doesn’t sound enticing, does it? To avoid any unwanted trips to the police station, always be aware of your surroundings and valuables while you enjoy a cultural trip in beautiful Bali.
2. Avoid talking about politics
Just recently, there has been political unrest in Indonesia following the results of their May 2019 general elections. Politics, like everything else, is deeply rooted in the economic status and culture of a native. Be careful about responding to political views that are extremely different from yours. You don’t want to offend anyone just because of cultural differences, right? If you haven’t done much research about the political situation, you can be honest about being unfamiliar and swerve the conversation to a more common topic. Instead, you can talk about traditions, upcoming festivals, and more travel spots that only the locals would be aware of.
3. Do not eat only western food
You’re already in Bali and Indonesian cuisine is within an arm’s reach. You have to live the experience! You can’t say you have immersed with the locals until you’ve tasted what they eat in their daily lives. There are a plethora of food items that you can eat in Bali. One of the must-try dishes is “babi guling” or suckling pig. It is made by seasoning the skin and stuffing the pig with spices and roasting it over wood or coconut husk. Back in the Philippines, a similar dish is known as “lechon”. You can also try some authentic Indonesian coffee from leading brands like the Seniman Coffee.
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4. Never leave your drinks unattended
Since 2017, reports of drug spiking in Bali and other areas have risen. Anyone can be a victim, but tourists with not much knowledge of the area are vulnerable and easy targets. Some people might take advantage of the situation, knowing tourists bring foreign currency. Here are steps you can take to avoid spiked drinks. Politely decline drinks from strangers by saying that you’re full. If you’re in a bar, insist on getting a drink for yourself. Here’s the most important one: always travel in twos or more! A travel buddy not only makes you safe, but they also add fun to your joyous Bali trip.
5. Do not point fingers at anyone
Many locals may find it rude if they see you pointing your index finger. Anyone might interpret it as being patronizing, bossy or insulting. If you need to point to something, you can use your right thumb politely. Folding hands over the chest might also give the wrong impression. Be careful! There are different norms in different places in Indonesia, so you might want to research acceptable hand gestures before traveling. For instance, shaking hands with the elderly is enough to show respect in some places. Meanwhile, in other areas, tradition requires young ones to also kiss the hands of elderly people.
6. Avoid walking on ceremonial offerings on the street
A beautiful token of religious offering is the colorful and heartfelt token for the gods made by the locals. The “canang” is a square woven basket made from dried coconut leaves filled with gifts to gods and an assortment of flowers and incense. These spiritual and traditional tokens are unique to the Balinese. You’ll find the “canang” in every corner and street. You might even watch the local performing the ritual in traditional clothes. It’s a rich, cultural experience. As a tourist, you’re expected to pay the highest respects for the rituals and the offerings of the land. Never step on the “canang” or disrupt a ritual while you’re in Bali.
7. Avoid drinking tap water
If you come from a city where tap water is clean and safe for drinking, you’re quite lucky! But while traveling in Bali, you need to stick to your tumbler or bottled water. You can’t risk drinking dirty water and miss out on your adventure. The issue with tap water in Indonesia is the poor pipe infrastructure, which means that we don’t know for certain if pathogens or contaminants have leaked into the water. These contaminants could be heavy metals or pesticides that are unfiltered. If you’re left with no choice, you can boil the tap water for a few minutes before drinking it. Stay safe!
8. Do not get angry at locals
Not all locals will be kind and accommodating and it’s always the traveler who needs to adjust to that. After all, we’re treading on their land. While most of the Balinese people are welcoming, you might meet the greedy and rude ones if you’re unlucky. You’ll be an easy target as an unknowing tourist, especially when you’re traveling alone. They’ll be pushing you to give tips, haggling you to buy their goods, aggressively inviting you to their stores and quoting prices higher than the retail price. In times like these, what you need to do is do your research beforehand, secure your belongings, stick to your budget and firmly say no to unwanted attention without getting angry. But if you encounter locals with pleasing and friendly service, give them a generous tip!
9. Do not enter a temple if you are menstruating
Yes, many temples in Bali do not allow menstruating women to enter. They believe in the division of the world into two realms. The upper realm is for the gods, while anything related to blood belongs to the lower realm. The tradition may also include anyone with an open, bleeding wound. It may sound offensive, but we shouldn’t take it personally. Always remember that there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to menstruation. It’s a completely normal process that comes with womanhood. But we still have to respect the traditions and historical foundations of the temples.
10. Do not touch the head of a local person
Touching a local’s head? That’s a no-no! Locals believe that the spirit resides in a person’s head. It is therefore considered sacred. Aside from pointing fingers and touching a local’s head, there are plenty of other gestures that may be too offensive for a local. Public display of affection is also frowned upon especially when the locals aren’t familiar with you yet. In some places, the left is considered impure and unclean. It may offend someone if you use your left hand to touch your food or a person. Don’t forget these tips!
11. Don't go for less than a week
Bali is one of the most sought after island destinations all over the world. Many people from all corners of the globe come during the summer for some sun, surf, and sand. The island has been commercialized in the recent past and has flourished to be a tourist go-to during the holiday season, with various cuisines besides Balinese food in several parts of Seminyak, Ubud, and Canggu.
Shops, cafes, clubs, and other frequented establishments have popped up as well in all corners of the island, making it a perfect place to lay low and relax for a few weeks. Best to book a week or two when visiting Bali since there’s a lot of island hot spots to cover that can’t possibly be done in less than a week. Maximize your summer vacation and embrace Balinese culture without sacrificing your solid need for some rest and relaxation.
12. Don't enter the temples without covering your knees with clothes or sarong
Sightseeing in Bali is a total experience as the island is more than just a tourist destination, but also a cultural bubble to discover. Temples, historic landmarks, and various sacred tributes are to be seen everywhere.
Balinese people are very religious with everyday offerings made and manifested in every corner of the streets, thus the need to show respect by dressing properly when visiting such sacred landmarks and temples.
It’s a must to cover your knees with a sarong in every temple you enter as it is part of Hindu culture show adoration in prayer in your humblest attire. So, best to avoid exploring temples in short and skimpy outfits at it is often frowned upon, or alternatively, rent the sarongs that are usually available in the temple entrance or bring your own to avoid extra fees.
Exploring beautiful Bali
Now that you know what not to do in Bali, you’re ready to get a plane ticket and fly to the place! Stay safe and don’t offend locals. May you have a wonderful vacation.
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