I've lived in Bali for almost 20 years, and these are 6 mistakes tourists should avoid making when they visit

Ryan Lee Banks
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Lucienne Anhar; a shot of the Gate of Heaven in Bali.

Lucienne Anhar; Bali's Gate of Heaven.
Courtesy of Lucienne Anhar; Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images
  • Indonesian Lucienne Anhar moved to Bali in 2004 and spent many summers living on the island as a child.
  • Over the years, she has seen tourists be disrespectful at sacred sites and show too much PDA.
  • Anhar said tourists should be more mindful of local norms when traveling to Bali.

1. Don't sunbathe topless and avoid wearing skimpy clothing.

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The 'gate to heaven' at Pura Lempuyang Luhur temple in Bali.
Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images

Balinese people are too polite to say anything, but many find overly revealing clothing to be inappropriate. For example, many locals find it offensive for tourists to wear shorts that show your butt fold, or to walk around in G-string bikinis. Tourists should avoid wearing see-through or fishnet dresses on the streets. It's also not appropriate to be topless on the beach. 

As nature is considered sacred in Bali, rules on how to behave don't only apply within temples. Tourists should avoid taking Instagram photos showing off their body on Mount Agung, the most sacred mountain in Bali, or hugging sacred banyan trees naked.

I mean, you wouldn't do this in your home country, right?

2. Avoid showing too much physical affection in public.

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A couple riding a scooter in Bali.
Martin Puddy/Getty Images

Indonesia made headlines last year for criminalizing sex outside marriage. However, tourists can only be charged by this law — which will go into effect in 2025 — if they are reported to the police by the Indonesian national's parent or child, according to The Guardian, citing legislator Taufik Basari.

While most Balinese people are very open-minded, there are limitations to how much PDA is acceptable. For example, making out or acting overly sexual in public can make locals feel awkward. 

However, it's fine for friends of the same gender to hug or hold hands, as this is something you'll see among locals as well.

4. Balinese people attend many ceremonies, so don't expect them to adjust their schedules for you.

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Balinese woman placing down incense during Melasti Ritual prior to Nyepi Day.
Agung Parameswara/Getty Images

Balinese people perform many ceremonies throughout the year, including praying at their house temple, village temple, attending cremations, and even for things like filing teeth — one of the most important ceremonies for Balinese people. For every ceremony, locals ask a priest for the "hari baik" — which means the blessed date in Indonesian — that can depend on the moon, gods, and Balinese calendar.

In Bali, there are times when locals can't come to work because of these ceremonies. Some expats employ or live with house staff, so they shouldn't expect staff to work on the days they have ceremonies, or force them to reschedule the events they have to attend, as locals find these occasions very important.

There's even one day a year, Nyepi, when Bali goes silent. The airport is shut and everyone — including tourists — is meant to stay inside. This year, the "Day of Silence"  was celebrated on March 22. 

6. Don't get aggressive when driving on the road.

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Traffic in Canggu, one of the most populous places in Bali.
Catwalk Photos/Shutterstock

Traffic in Bali has only gotten more intense over the years as more people move to the island and own cars. Even when it comes to short distances, tourists can expect to spend some time in their cars as it can get quite crowded on the road.

However, Balinese people have a very chill attitude especially when driving on the streets, and there is often no honking or swearing. Even when nobody follows traffic rules, it just works — so visitors should try to go with the flow while driving in Bali.

Correction: March 28, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misstated the extent on Indonesia's ban on premarital sex. The entire country has banned it, not just Bali.

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