15 Bali Don'ts: Common Mistakes to Avoid

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5 min read
by Marlin
February 21, 2023

Bali is not only a different culture but also has plenty of unique customs that may differ from what you're used to in your hometown.

I've put together a list of 15 things not to do in Bali based on my knowledge as a local to help you avoid issues such as getting deported, getting sick, becoming a victim of a scam or fraud, or finding yourself in legal issues.

Don’t drink tap water

This one is perhaps the most crucial to keep in mind during your Bali vacation, as drinking tap water in Bali can result in getting sick with what's known as Bali belly and potentially ruining your trip.

tap water in bali
Tap water in Bali

In tier-1 countries like the United States and Australia, the processes used to treat tap water are generally more advanced than those in Bali.

So be sure to stick with bottled water and other safe drinking options to keep yourself healthy and hydrated throughout your Bali adventure.

Don’t make out in public

In Bali, displaying affection to your partner in public is often viewed as taboo and can be seen as equivalent to committing adultery.

You'll often see Balinese parents freak out and cover their kids' eyes when they come across tourists kissing in public.

So, if you want to respect the local culture and avoid making Balinese parents uncomfortable, it's best to keep public displays of affection to a minimum while in Bali.

Holding hands or giving your partner a hug in public are acceptable, but kissing is considered to be too much.

Don’t act disrespectful at temples

It's not just in temples, but anywhere that's considered sacred in Bali. The Balinese really respect their gods and ancestors, so it's important to show some respect while you're there.

Disrespecting sacred places can get you into trouble, as seen in the case of a Russian model who took inappropriate photos near a centuries-old tree, resulting in her and her husband being deported and banned from returning to Bali for six months.

There's also the case of an Australian man who was ordered to pray for forgiveness after he climbed a sacred tree in Bali while shirtless.

Please don't vlog or make TikTok videos at temples during ceremonies - it's really disrespectful. Let people pray in peace and enjoy the silence.

Don't wear revealing clothes

For the Balinese, covering only 10% of your body is seen to be not wearing any clothes at all. As a sign of respect, female tourists are generally expected to dress modestly in Bali by covering their shoulders, belly, and thighs to at least a little above the knee.

Too much open skirt

While there's no strict requirement to cover up, if you want to show respect for the local culture, it's a good idea to try and keep your skin covered, even in the hot weather in Bali.

Balinese parents understand that tourists flock to the beaches and that it might not be a place for young children. So, feel free to wear your favorite swimwear without worrying about offending anyone.

Don't step on ceremonial offerings

Ceremonial offerings, also known as Sesajen, are a significant part of Balinese culture. These offerings are meant for the gods and the spirits of the ancestors, and are typically placed in temples or at the front of homes.

ceremonial offering
Ceremonial offering

When walking around Bali, you'll often come across these offerings placed on the streets. It's important to be mindful not to step on or over them, as they hold significant cultural and religious value to the Balinese.

Doing so can be seen as disrespectful and cause offense to the local community.

Don't think it’s safe

Bali may have a lower crime rate compared to the United States, with only 0.2% of crimes reported in 2021, but it's important to take precautions to ensure your safety and security during your visit.

While the island may seem like a paradise, petty theft and pickpocketing can still happen, especially in crowded tourist areas.

It's best to hold your belongings tight and keep an eye on your surroundings, especially in crowded areas such as markets, busy streets, or public transportation.

Don't jump into the paddies

A lot of farmers in Bali rely on their crops for income, and their work in the paddies is essential for their livelihood.

It's important to respect the hard work and livelihoods of these farmers by not jumping into the rice fields and destroying their crops for the sake of social media.

bali rice fields
Rice fields in Bali
Rice fields in Bali
Rice fields
rice fields in bali
Path between ricefields

If you do want to take pictures in the paddies, make sure to get permission from the owner or pay a fee for access. Otherwise, it's best to admire the beauty of the paddies from a distance and avoid damaging them.

When I mentioned jumping, I meant jumping into the paddies, not walking on the path. Walking on the path is allowed even without permission.

Don't engage in criminal activities

Obviously, this applies not only in Bali but everywhere. I bring this up because many foreign tourists have been involved in property crimes here in Bali.

So here are some examples: there was a case of someone snatching a bag in Canggu, another of stealing a $30 flip flop from a mall, some people have been caught skimming ATMs, and then there was one where someone pretended to be confused when presented with the bill. That one's kinda funny 🤣

Oh, and there was this lady claiming to be a TV host in America who refused to pay for her meals at the same restaurant two days in a row. Can you believe that?

When someone commits a crime in Bali, people often take note of their nationality, and so far Australians seem to have the highest number of foreign tourists who have committed crimes in Bali.

Don't touch the head

The head is sacred to the Balinese or Hindus in general. They believe that it's where the soul comes in and goes out of the body, which makes it like the holiest part of you.

Touching the head will be seen as rude and disrespectful, you should never touch a person’s head in Bali, not even a child.

Don't use left hand when giving or taking

The Balinese consider the left hand to be unclean, not because of dirt or oil, but because it’s typically used for cleaning up after using the toilet.

Giving or receiving something using the left hand is considered disrespectful in Bali. Try to avoid using the left hand when giving or receiving something from a Balinese.

But if you really can’t, like you’re holding something with your right hand and cannot drop it, you can use the left hand and say excuse me.

Don't point someone with your index finger

Pointing at someone with your index finger is seen as either angry or disrespectful. However, there is a better way to do so.

In Bali, it's common to use your thumb instead of your index finger when pointing at someone to show respect.

thumb pointing
Pointing with thumb

Simply raise your hand with your palm facing up and extend your thumb. This is a polite way to gesture and avoid being seen as rude or disrespectful.

Don't say Kamu

"Kamu" is an Indonesian word that means "you" in English. When someone has been living in Bali for a while and starts to speak Indonesian with the locals, they may use "Kamu" to refer to someone, but it's not a polite way to address them.

“Kamu” is considered a rude word and should only be used with people who are very close to you, like your close friends.

Balinese never use Kamu when talking to their parents or strangers or someone who is not close to them, otherwise it’s disrespectful.

A good way to say Kamu is by changing it to just mom or dad, or kak for strangers.

For example: “Mom, are mom going to the grocery store?”

"Kak" is a shortened version of "Kakak," which means "older brother/sister" in Indonesian. It doesn't matter if you're older than the person you're talking to, using "Kak" is a way to show respect.

Don't abuse your visa

If your visa is for tourism purposes, don't try to do business activities, like this British guy who sells burgers in Bali.

I know there are a lot of expats in Bali who work online using tourist visas. I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I know, there's no specific law that regulates online work.

However, it's still not allowed on a tourist visa and if you get caught, you could be deported.

Don't be clueless

If you're a savvy traveler, you'll know that there are plenty of ways to save money, avoid getting lost, and steer clear of scams while exploring new places.

Whether you're a seasoned adventurer or a first-time explorer, knowing how to stay street smart can make all the difference when it comes to having a successful trip.

Let's say you're someone who's visiting Bali for the first time and you haven't done your research. You could easily end up buying a sim card at a price that's five times more expensive than what you should be paying.

But with a little bit of preparation, you can avoid these kinds of rookie mistakes and enjoy a smooth and hassle-free trip.

Don't post controversial content about Bali on social media

I'm not sure if I should bring this up, but it's probably important to know. Bali is actually a province of Indonesia for those who may not be familiar with the country.

Indonesia is home to over 270 million people who are known for uniting when they feel offended by outsiders.

So, if you post something that mocks or makes fun of Indonesia, be prepared to apologize because your DMs will be flooded with people calling you out 🤣

For instance, there was this British political youtuber who posted a tweet intended to mock world leaders who were wearing the Indonesian national dress called Batik.

However, many Indonesians found the tweet to be insulting to the dress itself. As a result, the guy got a bunch of threats in his DM and ended up deleting the tweet and apologizing.

Here's the tweet See on Twitter

I really hope you found this article helpful and learned a thing or two about what not to do when you're in Bali.

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