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Bali Travel Guide

How Not to Be a Jerk When You Visit Bali

Your guide to being a decent person on the Island of the Gods.

When you think of Bali, you probably think of black sand beaches, tropical rainforests, vibrant sunsets, and maybe a yoga class. This beautiful island is quickly picking up speed post-pandemic, with a growing number of tourists flocking to Indonesia to enjoy its island culture once again.

While most of those newcomers have easily settled into Bali life and all of its magic, a few bad apples are proving that human stupidity is alive and kicking even here in paradise.

Bali, like anywhere in the world, comes with its own unique nuances. While this tropical island is somewhere you’ll struggle to have a bad time, you’ll have an even better time if you first know a little about how the island works and how to be respectful. Consider this your official “How Not to Be a Jerk While Visiting Bali” guide, and you’ll find your trip goes a lot smoother.

But, before we start, a few house rules:  

When in Bali, you should not ride a motorbike into the ocean in the name of Instagram. You should not get naked atop a sacred mountain and film yourself. You should not round up a mixture of local workers and bikini-clad foreigners and get them to pass stacks of money to you while building a pile of cash. Hopefully, that clears things up.

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You should also not climb temples, pose naked on temples, or get frisky in temples. Maybe just don’t touch the temples at all, okay? Now that’s established, let’s get into the dos and dont’s of visiting Bali.

Bernard Hermant/Unsplash

Use Common Sense When Riding a Motorbike

You might see entire families crammed onto a single motorbike in Bali, often carrying a piece of furniture or a box full of chickens. Motorbikes are the most common mode of transport on the island, and it’s easy to rent one (although this may change in the near future) without any of the boring legalities like having to prove you can safely drive one.

Motorbike taxis are frequent and cheap, which means there’s no need to drive unless you’re legally able to do so. If you do want your own bike, most rentals will also offer lessons before you head out to the open road and cause a fatal accident or drive off the road and into the rice fields. Be aware that the latter happens pretty frequently and, more often than not, it’s captured and posted on one of Bali’s famed Instagram accounts.

INSIDER TIPNot wearing a helmet is not only incredibly stupid but is also illegal. You’ll be fined by the police if you ride without one—and it doesn’t look cool.

Don’t Barter Ridiculously for the Sake of It

You’ve probably heard throughout Southeast Asia that bartering is common and anticipated. That’s usually true in the markets and street taxis but doesn’t apply to restaurants or services like massages.

Remember that wages across Indonesia are some of the lowest globally, and the extra $1 you’re trying to barter can cover an entire meal for the person providing the service. It’s also incredibly offensive as the goods/services you’re trying to get a discount on are already likely heavily reduced compared to what you’d pay back home.

Don’t ask for 50 cents off your haircut: it’s embarrassing for everyone involved.

Remember It’s a Religious Country, and Dress Appropriately

It should go without saying that posing naked on beaches and sacred mountains is illegal in Bali. But, unfortunately, that’s something that some tourists seem to either forget or ignore. Not only will you get some seriously bad karma for flashing on Mount Batur or similar, but you’ll also get a bonus prize of deportation if you’re caught.

You should also dress appropriately when visiting other religious or formal places. That means shoulders and knees are covered (for all genders) when exploring temples. It’s also worth noting that visiting religious sites is banned when you’re menstruating, and lying about this is also a big no.

Be Patient: Things Run on Bali Time

Bali time officially runs on GMT+8. But it’s easier to imagine that Bali time runs closer to a time zone of around GMT+8:30. An 11 a.m. boat might leave closer to 11:30, but don’t get angry about it. This laidback part of the world doesn’t often stress about timings with the same importance that other parts do, and things can often take longer than anticipated.

Balinese people, by nature, are very polite and easygoing, which means confrontation isn’t the way to express your feelings here. The best way to deal with Bali time is to give yourself far more time than you actually need to get from A to B and just accept those longer wait as one of the quirks of the island.

Don’t Cancel Tours or Other Excursions Last Minute

This applies to the world as a whole but especially in Bali and wider Indonesia. Many—if not most—tours here are arranged by individuals rather than big corporations. And those individuals often go above and beyond to ensure your tour is incredible, which means buying snacks and water in advance to offer you en route and getting up super early to pick you up.

Bali’s tourism industry is still recovering from the pandemic, which means a last-minute cancellation can result in a day’s worth of lost earnings for the tour provider. If you do have to cancel at the last minute for any reason, it’s worth offering to pay a cancellation fee or the entire trip cost, if possible.

Mathis Jrdl/Unsplash

Be Respectful of the Local Culture

First of all, don’t call the canang sari offerings on the floor “a zucchini noodle dish” like one big publication did. It should also go without saying that eating the snacks from the offerings or smoking the cigarettes left for the Gods is a first-class ticket to more very bad karma.

Bali is a Hindu island and often has island-wide celebrations throughout the year. The most important one, Nyepi, is a 24-hour period of silence where no one can leave the house or use electricity. It’s incredibly offensive to break Nyepi rules and will almost definitely end up with the police.

Other important ceremonies in Bali include Galungan and Kuningan. Learn a little about their importance before visiting and when you arrive, you may even be invited to celebrate with your hotel/Airbnb owner’s family.

Learn at Least a Little of the Language

There are two languages spoken widely in Bali: Bahasa Indonesia, which is Indonesia’s official language, and Balinese. A few easy-to-remember words to keep in mind are “terima kasih” (or just “makasih“) to say thank you and “silakan” to say please.

Suksma” is a Balinese welcoming greeting and is always appreciated. Even a simple “Pagi!” (morning) or “Malam!” (good night) can go a long way in being respectful. No one expects you to be fluent, but learning a few welcoming sentences definitely makes a difference.

Don’t Call It ‘Bali Belly’

You wouldn’t call it “Texas Tummy” or “The British Bug.” You’d call it what it is: gastroenteritis or a stomach flu. It’s pretty normal to suffer an upset stomach or two when visiting a new destination, particularly if that new place uses different water and prepares its dishes differently from what you’re used to back home.

Bring charcoal tablets, anti-diarrhea pills, and rehydration sachets to Bali if you’re concerned. You can also take a further few steps like avoiding drinking tap water or eating the fresh salads served up alongside traditional Indonesian dishes like nasi goreng. But, even in the midst of throwing up, don’t call it Bali Belly. It’s offensive. 

Related: How to Navigate the Awkwardness of Stomach Issues While Traveling

Don’t Take Photos of Locals Without Permission

No one likes having their photo taken without permission. Least of all, local workers who are simply going about their day-to-day lives. So, when you’re exploring the rice fields, wandering around markets, or enjoying any of Bali’s other beautiful sights, do your best to avoid snapping close-up photos of the people.

If there was any confusion, it’s not only frowned upon but also super rude to then upload those photos to social media, captioned: “Thinking about how different my life is from the man picking in the rice field every morning.” Just don’t.

Avatar for tep1955
tep1955 June 14, 2023

"How Not to Be a Jerk While Visiting Bali”  Without exception, there is no place I've traveled to that I've not felt agitated over some American/Americans acting out their bravado on the locals. If you can't exercise some self control just stay home. Please!

Avatar for live42day
live42day June 12, 2023