Balinese etiquette and customs

Religious adherence and tradition permeates every aspect of daily life which makes Bali such a fascinating place to visit. It is very easy to immerse yourself in a little of this unique culture as there are colourful rituals and festivities to witness almost on a daily basis. Bali has been an immensely popular island retreat for decades and locals are well used to the different habits and attitudes of Western travellers. All the same, visitors should still employ common sense and show the same restraint and modesty as is expected in any Asian country.

Away from the beach, revealing dress is frowned upon and you should definitely cover up in more rural areas of the island. Public displays of affection are also to be avoided, although people will rarely make their feelings known. Bali should hold no fears for gay and lesbian travellers as there is a vibrant scene in the Legian and Seminyak area with plenty of bars and clubs.

You should always remember that the hectic resort of Kuta is far removed from average Balinese life. This is a hedonistic playground awash with scantily clad bar girls and public displays of drunkenness which is tolerated here but elsewhere in Bali attitudes are much more conservative.

The Balinese in general dislike any confrontation and tend to react indifferently to raised voices or threatening behaviour. Always bear this in mind when bargaining for goods and services and always try to keep the conversation good humoured.

Remember that you may be haggling over just a few thousand rupiah which to a foreign visitor is a tiny amount that is hardly worth losing sleep over.

One of the major irritants of Indonesian life is the distinct lack of punctuality and they have even coined a phrase for it. Jam karet translates as ‘rubber time’ and is present at every level. From a rendezvous with a Balinese friend, public transportation delays or even a business meeting, tardiness has become an art form.

Visiting a Hindu temple is a must during any break in Bali and learning a few simple rules on etiquette will certainly make it a more rewarding experience. Everyone who enters a temple must wear a sarong and sash and at the most popular temples there is always a few kiosks who rent them out for a few thousand rupiahs. Donations are expected and always ask permission before taking photographs as some places strictly forbid this. Those that do allow it may charge an extra couple of thousand rupiah for the privilege.

Flamboyant annual festivities take place at all temples along with huge island wide celebrations such as Nyepi and Galungan. Visitors are most welcome to attend and experience the wonderful atmosphere but are requested to keep a polite distance and not to interfere with praying or processions.

Balinese people are very sociable and will freely strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. Don’t be surprised if a casual chat turns into an open invitation for dinner at a local home. Indonesians are always keen to learn of life in the West if only to dispel the long held preconceptions that every foreign visitor is extremely wealthy.

There are no special considerations for eating out in Bali as tipping etiquette here is similar to many places around the world. Tipping is not compulsory although ten per cent is considered a sufficient amount for a decent meal. Many tourist-orientated eateries already impose a service charge of ten per cent and in upmarket restaurants and hotels this could add up to a combined 21 per cent tax and service charge. Other areas to consider rewarding good service include tour guides, hotel room service and taxi drivers.