Bali is renowned as a tropical paradise home to beautiful beaches and a fascinating culture however your dream Bali holiday could easily turn into a nightmare if you don’t take the time to understand the local laws and etiquette. While you’ll always find the locals to be friendly, it’s helpful to be informed to ensure you stay on the right side of the law while visiting Bali. While some advice may seem obvious, others offer a bit of an insight into the quirks of Balinese culture.
Steer clear of drugs: Don’t buy them, don’t take them, don’t even think about them. Bali’s drug laws are very strict and often use hapless tourists to make an example of. Despite the draconian laws, many tourists will encounter sly drug offers on the street – if this happens, simply walk away. You may find yourself trapped in an undercover drug sting or simply tempting fate.
Avoid smoking in public areas: In late November in 2011, a bylaw was passed banning smoking in public places all across Bali. Common areas where smoking is banned include hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, temples and tourist attractions. Anyone caught smoking in these non-smoking areas are subject to up to IDR 50 million (US$5,500) in fines of up to six months in jail.
Dress and act modestly: Whilst this may not be a legal requirement, it’s certainly respectful of the culture as the Balinese are much more conservative than many of the western tourists that visit. Of course swimsuits and flip flops are fine for the pool or beach but when visiting temples or rural areas both men and women should ensure their shoulders and upper arms are covered and should avoid public displays of affection. When entering a Balinese temple it is mandatory for both men and women to cover their legs with a sarong and wear a temple scarf around your waist.
Never use your left hand: Touching people or handing something over with your left hand is a no no. Traditionally the Balinese do not use toilet paper but rather using water to clean themselves after going to the toilet. As this is normally done with the left hand, it is considered somewhat unclean and would be offensive to the Balinese. The only exception to this rule is giving something to someone with both hands which is considered high praise.
Don’t touch the head: The Balinese people believe the soul resides in the head and therefore consider it a great affront to touch anyone on the head, including children, so ensure you avoid this while visiting Bali.
Do not gesture with your index finger: Pointing or beckoning with your index finger is considered rude. If you need to call someone’s attention, face your palm down and extend your hand while making a downward waving motion.
Watch your step: Canang Sari are offerings to the creator and are left out on the street first thing in the morning. These little packages can be found on the sidewalk and even on stairs and stepping on one of them would be deeply offensive to the locals so be sure to watch your step, particularly earlier in the day.