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Short guide to Bali

These pages contain a number of tips for travelers that are going to bring a visit to the Indonesian island of Bali soon. They are simple tips about the daily life on the island and what to expect when visiting the island. Many things will be just slightly different than at home, but it is important to locals that you at least somewhat adhere to their lifestyle.

Introduction to Bali
Tips for first-time travelers to Bali

If traveling in Bali for the first time, spend some extra money and begin your stay in a nice, comfortable hotel to lessen the initial impact. Once you meet other Western travelers, you'll become part of the traveling community and won't feel so alone. Traveling in the out-areas, you need to get accustomed to the lack of privacy.

If staying in a budget hotel, you immediately have to adjust to the noise level. The kampung of Bali are noisy-dogs howl, roosters crow, cassettes blare, women quarrel, horns blow, and motorbikes whine. Your only defense is to rise when the cocks crow and get into the daily rhythm of the island. Use your imagination, energy, daring, and style to avoid following well-worn tourist ruts. Staying a week in accommodations in or near a kampung will give you a faint glimpse of what it's like to be Balinese.

Travelers should also be prepared to forgo an occasional night's sleep. Make of the night, the day. Many forms of entertainment, wayang, prayers, and religious festivals run all night long. The Balinese often stay up the whole night of a full moon simply for the cool temperatures and the magic still to be found on Bali.

When trying to get someone's attention, use common "call names." For someone older or of higher social standing than you, Pak is short for the Indonesia word bapak or father. When calling an older woman, Bu is short for the Indonesian word ibu or mother. When addressing a young woman, Geg is short for the Balinese word egeg, or "pretty," and when addressing a young man, Gus is short for bagus, "good."

Don't say thank you for everything that's done for you. It sounds ridiculous because Indonesians seldom say thank you. Don't show any sentimental attachment to animals; this is Asia. Balinese treatment of their fellow creatures reflects the revulsion they have for all forms of animality. Balinese children jump with glee while dogs die horribly from a rifle shot or drowning.

Polite conversation will be initiated by the usual exchange of greetings. When meeting strangers it's polite to introduce yourself without waiting for someone else to do the introductions. Shake hands when greeting people; both men and women will offer their hands. The inevitable questions will follow about what country you're from, whether you are married, how many children you have, and where you bought the sarung you're wearing.

If you take a business card, spell out the person's name phonetically on the back, being sure to divide their name into syllables and put in the correct accent. An especially gracious gesture on Bali is to give the Hindu greeting "Om swasti astu" while holding your hands together in the traditional Hindu blessing. After a conversation with a Balinese, it's polite to ask permission to leave.

Remote villagers have not become used to the presence of Westerners (orang asing) and can stare unmercifully for long periods of time. If this occurs, it may help to say "Jangan melihat saya." ("Don't stare or look at me.") This usually is enough to make them too embarrassed to continue.

Children will yell out "Hello Mister!" and "Hello Miss!" and other calls from the lexicon of tourist greetings. You can answer "Pergi ke mana?" ("Where are you going?") or "Dimana jalan kaki?" ("Where is the footpath?") and watch their surprise. Pass your cigarettes around, and if you've been into town bring back biscuits for the kids.

Last revised on January 30, 2010
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