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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.

Tips for first-time travelers to Bali

Ninety percent of Balinese are Hindu; their temples are roofless, open to the air, and very informal. Guests (tamu) may enter a temple any time as long as they are properly dressed and follow some simple but strict rules meant to preserve the temple's sanctity. Since the early 1970s signs in English have been posted in front of temples and government offices showing graphic examples of appropriate and inappropriate dress.

When entering temples, traditional adat dress is required: the legs must be covered; if you don't have a sarung then you may rent one to wrap around shorts or short dresses; if wearing long pants, sashes should be worn around the waist. Smile when you pay the token fee which goes to the upkeep of the temple. Except when praying or attending a ceremony, temple courtyards are not for sitting in, and don't use your flash during ceremonies or praying.

Menstruating women are believed to be "impure" (sebel) and may not enter temples or participate in any religious activity. If a Balinese woman enters a temple during her period and makes an offering, she could be severely fined. This does not reflect a sexist attitude but is based on the prohibition of unsanctified blood on sacred ground.

When ceremonies involving revered objects are underway, sit on the ground or move to the back of the temple. Keep out of the way and don't move in front of worshipers. It's forbidden to climb up on temple walls (to take a better photograph, for example) or to put oneself on a higher level than that of a priest. It's also considered sacrilegious to step over or stand with one's head above a revered barong mask or other sacred object in a temple. Clothes should never be hung to dry on temple walls including those surrounding domestic shrines.

The Balinese aren't offended easily, but they do have their own opinions on religion. If you're an atheist, don't tell everybody-the Balinese will react with confusion, disbelief, even scorn, thinking you're a godless communist. For them, it would be like discovering that a person was alive without a heartbeat.

Last revised on January 30, 2010
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