There are probably 101 things to know before travelling to Bali for the first time, but the 25 we’ve listed below are some of the most useful tips we discovered before and during our trip.
We hope they make planning your first trip to Bali a breeze because the last thing you’ll want to be doing during your trip is reading up on culture, etiquette and rules.
So, grab a cuppa and spend some time reading up on everything you need to know about Bali and being a tourist there. Enjoy!
25 Things To Know Before Travelling To Bali For The First Time
1. Avoid the tap water (even when brushing your teeth!)
The tap water is so contaminated in Bali that you should avoid drinking it. You shouldn’t even brush your teeth with it!
Stick to bottled water from a reputable shop or seller and you should be fine.
Or if you’re staying in a decent hotel (which are much cheaper than you think in Bali) then they’ll probably leave multiple bottles of water in your room when they stop by to clean it each day.
But seriously… those bottles of water by the sink are there for a reason. Don’t go on autopilot and forget to use them!
2. “Bali Belly” is real!
Speaking of tap water and contamination, “Bali Belly” is real! Please don’t ask me how I know that…
While you might have done everything in your power to avoid the tap water and only eat food from restaurants with good reviews on Tripadvisor (like we did), you might still find yourself on the gross end of “Bali Belly”.
Best to pack some diarrhoea tablets in your suitcase… just in case.
3. Menstruating women aren’t allowed inside the temples
When visiting Bali’s beautiful temples – yes, even the touristy ones – you’ll see signs at the entrance saying that menstruating women aren’t allowed inside.
You might also find that locals at smaller or more off-the-grid temples actually ask you to confirm you’re not menstruating as this rule isn’t widely known among your everyday tourist.
The reason for this rule is because the Balinese people don’t want to risk anyone leaving behind a “piece of themselves” at their place of worship.
There was once a time when even long hair was frowned upon as individual strands of hair could easily fall on the temple floor!
Today, the menstruating rule remains. This also applies to anyone bleeding, for instance, if you’ve recently cut yourself.
4. The traffic is insane!
You’ve probably heard about the crazy Balinese traffic before. But honestly, nothing could possibly prepare you for just how crazy it really is over there!
Picture this for a moment: thousands of people, hundreds of scooters and cars, fifty market stalls, thirty stray dogs – and seemingly few rules of the road.
Are you picturing a fairly chaotic scene? Now double what you have in your mind!
The funny thing is, though, the locals are so accustomed to how it is that half the time, it feels like coordinated chaos. But chaos all the same…
5. Expect to see lots of stray dogs around
Nothing could have possibly prepared us for just how heartbroken we would feel upon seeing as many stray dogs as we did during our honeymoon in Bali.
While the dogs seemed pleasant enough, we kept our distance just in case. But even when we were walking past a pack of dogs towards the Campuhan Ridge Walk, they barely even glanced at us.
We like to think the locals’ leftovers keep the dogs ticking over, but still, prepare yourself if you’re an animal lover as it’s heartbreaking to see.
6. Don’t step on the offerings!
All throughout Bali – in temples, by the side of roads, at rice terraces, even on the beach – you’ll see little baskets of flowers, food, money and incense.
These are Balinese offerings called Canang sari.
The locals put them out every single day without fail to thank the Gods for peace and to honour the demons in hell (so that they stay there).
Canang sari is all about balancing the good with the bad – and it’s considered incredibly offensive if you step on them. So watch your step!
7. The monkeys steal!
Bottled water. Snacks. Keys. Money. Sunglasses. Whatever it is that you’ve got on you that the monkeys can see, they may well decide to steal it!
So keep an eye out when visiting the Sacred Monkey Sanctuary or any large temples since monkeys are probably nearby and waiting for unsuspecting tourists.
When we visited the monkey sanctuary in Ubud, we were on our guard. We just kept walking and kept everything inside our bags and all was fine. But we saw plenty of monkey muggings!
When we visited Uluwatu Temple in the south, though, we were surprised to find monkeys nearby… especially when one tried to snatch our water bottle from my hand. Lesson learned.
8. Cover your knees and shoulders when visiting temples
Everyone – including men – are asked to cover their knees and shoulders when visiting temples in Bali.
You’ll be provided with a sarong at the larger, more touristy temples, but you’ll need to bring your own if visiting lesser-known ones so as to not offend anyone.
9. Cash is king in Bali
In Bali, cash is most definitely king. You’ll also probably feel a bit like a king when spending your cash since the smallest banknotes are for 5,000 Rp (Indonesian rupiah).
Most modern hotels, for example, usually accept credit or debit cards.
But you’ll definitely want plenty of cash for things like eating out at local restaurants, having a traditional Balinese massage and buying souvenirs at a local market.
10. Check your bill as service charges and fees may already have been added
In Bali, service charges are sometimes automatically added to your bill – especially in hotel restaurants and chains.
These fees usually go to the government and/or the running of the establishment you’re in and they can be anywhere from 5 to 20% of your total bill.
However, individual staff members often do not see any of this service charge, so if you do want to tip extra then this is always greatly appreciated – though not expected.
It can be tricky to know exactly how much to tip but rounding up is usually the most common approach (e.g. if something costs Rp 38,000 then you could round up to Rp 40,000).
11. Keep PDAs to a minimum
As the Balinese culture is a rather conservative one, public displays of affection (PDAs) should be kept to a minimum. Holding hands is probably the max level you’d want to get to in public.
12. The Balinese drive on the left
Even though Bali was once a Dutch colony (and the Dutch drive on the right), Balinese people actually drive on the left.
Handy if you’re from the UK. Not so handy if you’re from the US or most European countries.
13. Avoid using your left hand
Balinese locals consider the left hand to be dirty so people will usually give and receive something with either the right hand or both hands.
You’ll see this when exchanging money or being given the menu in a restaurant, for example. Try to remember to use your right hand, or if you get stuck, then using both is a sign of great respect.
14. Don’t touch anyone’s head
Of all the things to know before travelling to Bali for the first time, this is certainly one of the most important ones.
According to the Balinese culture, the head is sacred as it’s where the soul enters and leaves the body.
So never touch someone’s head in public. It’s probably best to avoid touching your spouse’s head in public too.
15. Use the Sembah salute when greeting locals
Although people like your tour guide or hotel concierge will shake hands with you, the traditional Sembah salute is more commonly used in public.
This is when the palms are joined together and placed vertically against the chest – think Namaste in yoga. This is usually done at the same time as saying “Om swastiastu” or “May peace be with you”.
If you’re struggling with the language, the Sembah salute on its own is enough to show gratitude, respect and kindness towards the locals.
16. Don’t show anger in public
Balinese people dislike confrontation and they actually believe those who show anger have lost control. Try to remain calm and centred when in public so as not to upset any locals.
17. The pavements aren’t that great in Bali
In busy areas such as Ubud, pavements are often crammed with people, animals, market stalls and Canang sari offerings, so you’ll need to take extra care when walking along.
But in some areas of Bali, pavements are non-existent!
Google Maps was telling us that the Campuhan Ridge Walk was about a 45-minute walk from our hotel. As we were planning on doing a fair bit of walking that day anyway, we thought we’d save our taxi fare for another day.
But we’d neglected to realise that some – alright, most – of the roads wouldn’t have any pavements by the side of them.
Although the roads weren’t too busy at the time, there were certainly a few hairy moments around corners and by the side of steep drops.
We’ll probably just opt for a taxi next time!
18. Know which vaccines you should have (and when) well before you travel
You’ll need to have various vaccines and boosters ahead of your trip to Bali – and it’s your responsibility to find out which ones you need.
We often use the NHS Fit for Travel website, which has vaccine information on destinations across the world. But you may need to consult other websites if you’re based outside of the UK as your travel rules might be different.
When we went to Bali in 2019, we had to have jabs for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Rabies, Typhoid, and possibly one or two others as well. This took a bit of planning as we weren’t allowed to have them all in one go.
19. You’ll probably get a sore bottom while watching a Kecak Fire Dance
Heading out to a performance of the infamous (and mesmerising!) Kecak Fire Dance? Be prepared to get a sore bottom!
At Uluwatu Temple, you’ll be sitting on concrete, and at many other performances, you’ll be sitting on the ground. Did I mention the performances usually last for over an hour? Ouch! But well worth it!
20. Avoid pointing at anyone
Pointing at people is considered rude in Bali. And to be fair, it’s considered rude in many cultures (even the British one!)
If you need to call or beckon someone over, it’s best to use your full hand with your fingers pointed downwards.
21. Don’t expect to be able to get anywhere quickly (or at all!) during parades
Whether it’s because Bali’s President is driving by, or a Ngaben (cremation) parade is happening at the time, don’t expect to move anywhere until the parade has ended or passed on by.
We were unfortunate enough to hop in the back of a taxi just as a parade came by and we just sat there for nearly an hour or more.
Had we known what was happening, we would’ve just watched the parade alongside the throngs of people as it looked captivating. Oh well, c’est la vie!
22. Nyepi (The Day of Silence) has to be observed by everyone – even tourists
The Balinese New Year known as Nyepi (The Day of Silence) changes each year as it’s based on the Balinese Saka calendar, which follows the lunar phases. But as a guide, Nyepi usually takes place in either March or April.
During Nyepi, you’ll be expected to stay within your hotel’s grounds and keep talking and noise to a minimum for a full 24 hours (6am to 6am).
If you want to get out and about to see the island then you’ll need to wait until Nyepi is finished. And don’t even think about flying into Bali on Nyepi Day – the airports and flights also shut down for 24 hours!
If you’re visiting Bali during Nyepi, then don’t be surprised if you hear A LOT of noise the day before it begins.
This is when the locals “get it out of their systems” by making as much noise as possible like banging pots and pans, throwing firecrackers and parading the streets with gamelan instruments.
23. Expect to be a little disappointed by the Bali Swing (unless you’re an Instagrammer)
We’ve always liked to keep it real here at Wanderers of the World, even if that means sharing honest truths and dispelling myths.
Well today, we want to talk about the Bali Swing.
It’s an incredibly famous attraction near Ubud, which means it’s also turned into something of an Instagrammer’s paradise.
Cue women in floaty dresses, high heels and long queues while they take photo after photo. By the way, there are lots of huge uneven steps here, so high heels are probably not a great idea anyway.
I mean, if that’s your cup of tea, then by all means, you’ll probably love the Bali Swing and all the wonderful photo opportunities it presents for your Instagram feeds.
But if not? Perhaps go and find some adrenaline and fun elsewhere.
24. Don’t forget to travel around the island
There’s so much to see in Bali beyond the tourist hubs of Kuta, Seminyak and Ubud, while each part of the island seems so different as you travel from place to place.
So do make it your mission to see as much of Bali as your itinerary allows.
We saw a lot during our 10 days in Bali, but there’s still so much more land and incredible areas that we didn’t experience. That’s a good excuse to go back one day though, right?
Anyway, my point is, try to get out and about if you can. If you don’t want to hire a scooter, then day tours are a great way to see and experience so much. Well worth doing.
25. Include the nearby Gili Islands in your itinerary
If time permits, you might also want to visit the nearby Gili Islands during your trip. It’ll take you a few hours to get to them by fast boat from Bali, so you’ll want to spend a few days exploring them as part of your itinerary.
We spent four nights on the island of Gili Meno during our honeymoon – and they included some of the most unforgettable moments from our entire trip. Scubadiving to see great big Green Sea Turtles, for example, or snorkelling over the Gili Meno statues.
And then there was the most magical sunrise either of us have ever seen. Such incredible memories!
And there you have it – 25 important (and hopefully useful) things to know before travelling to Bali for the first time. Do you have any questions or comments about anything we’ve written? Let us know in the comments below…
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