Bali is a fantastic and magical place to visit. Like any foreign city, there are plenty of surprises waiting for tourists upon arrival (both good and bad). If you want to be fully prepared for whatever Bali might throw at you, you’ve found the right article.
There are 7 different and specific details about Bali you need to consider before you arrive on the Island of the Gods.
- Temple Rules
- ATM Skimmers
- Motorbike Driving
- Balinese Nighttime
- Drug Laws
- Moonshine (Arak)
99.99% of tourists visit Bali and head home unscathed and without issue. However, for an unlucky minority, the unexpected happens. If you want to avoid negative predicaments relates, you need to be aware of the most common problems in Bali.
The most common religion in Indonesia is Islam. This means that it can be challenging to find pork and alcohol throughout the country. However, this is not the case on the island of Bali.
Balinese Hinduism is a bit different than Hinduism found elsewhere in the world. In Bali, it combines Hindu worship with local animism, ancestor worship, and an appreciation for Buddhist saints.
Indonesia received independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1945. This independence granted freedom of religion. However, in 1952, the Indonesian Ministry of Religion was largely taken over by hyper-religious partisans. While ‘freedom of religion’ was still the rule of law, they change the accepted definition of a ‘religion’. To be acceptable as an official Indonesian religion, said religion must be monotheistic and posses a prophet.
By this new rule of law, Balinese people were declared as ‘people with no religion’. They were then denied Indonesian citizenship and also prohibited from voting in elections. The Balinese Hindus were forced to adapt.
They declared their form of Hinduism to be monotheistic. To do so, they got creative with their religious phrasing. The singular prophet they worship was defined in the following new phrase – “Om, thus is the essence of the all-pervading, infinite, undivided one”. While the government inappropriately shaped this religion, the Balinese people found a way to have their cake and eat it, too.
In order to retain Bali’s status as a Hindu island, many local temples increased the number of weekly religious ceremonies. The belief was that those who were constantly preoccupied with their own spirituality would not convert to another religion.
The increased number of religious events in Bali exists today. Every week, you can see large parades, events, and ceremonies. In my belief, this has helped increase tourism throughout the island. Tourists line up to watch, film, and capture these spiritual events. It’s what draws so many to the island.
The Very Weird Rule About Temples
This is a bizarre aspect of Balinese tourism. Almost everyone makes an effort to visit a temple while in Bali. However, there are signs that prohibit certain people from entering the holy sites. The signs are very weird to Western tourists.
If a woman is menstruating, there are multiple signs in every temple which inform her that she is not allowed in the temple. This can create a very awkward situation. The men who sell entry tickets are not afraid to directly ask Western women if this is the case. While seemingly misogynist (and I maintain that it still is), the Balinese people say it stems from a specific religious purpose.
Their belief is that temples are a place to connect with the Gods. A temple is a place to honor the spirits of the sky. Any bodily fluids are explicitly human and fail to properly pay respect to those spirits. Those who are bleeding from an injury are prohibited from entry, as well. They believe that demons can sense this and will cause irreparable harm to those who do not obey the rules.
Of course, I haven’t read any signs that bar entry to people who have recently been in a scooter accident…
There are constant reports of ATM skimmers in Bali. While in Gili Meno, I even found an ATM that had been beaten with baseball bats and left completely wide open (cash missing, of course). Unfortunately, police do not pay a proper amount of attention to this issue.
Every week, it seems as though a new person is arrested and publicly forced to remove their own ATM skimmers. If you wish to avoid this, there are several things you can do. For starters, never visit an ATM that is isolated and in a quiet part of town. The best place to withdraw money is inside of a bank.
When you enter the ATM booth, try to jiggle the handle and see if anything comes loose. If it’s every slightly off, find a new ATM. Check your account religiously to make sure there aren’t extra charges. Again, best advice – visit the bank for your ATM needs.
Driving a Bike
Scooter rentals are extremely affordable. If you rent for longer periods of time, you can save money in the long run. Above everything else, please wear a helmet. Tourists get seriously injured quite frequently. Driving in Bali is a tad bit crazy (think Mad Max) so be safe and honk your scooter’s horn a lot.
If you drive a bike, you must already know how to drive. Don’t take the trial by error approach. For example, many people are uncomfortable driving a motorbike in their hometown, but somehow feel comfortable driving in Bali (a city without road rules and regulations). That’s stupid.
If you don’t have experience but want to try, post on a Bali Expat Facebook group. Explain your situation and several motorbike-driving lesson companies will reach out. This is a reliable way to learn.
You need travel insurance if you’re driving a bike. If not, you could end up with a hospital bill North of $30,000. It’s significantly more common than one would think. Try to avoid driving late at night or during rush hour. If you’re having fun on the bike, you’re doing it wrong. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it should strike the fear of God into you.
Late at Night
Keep your belongs in a backpack that you keep close. Don’t hold your iPhone out otherwise you might have it snatched from your hands by a thief on a motorbike. As a general rule, try to avoid walking alone late at night (especially as a woman). I have met countless women who have been groped at 2 in the morning while walking back to their hostel. It’s not safe. Stay in a group.
There are several mafia-like groups that operate in tourist zones – specifically outside of Old Man’s in Canggu. Don’t wave your iPhone around. Don’t be flashy with your money. Be smart.
If you’re driving a scooter and another bike gets close to you, you need to get away from them. People will often try to grab your belongings even if it means you get in a bike accident. There are several police reports every week.
The Balinese people are trustworthy and have even been known to create mobs to bring justice when these individuals are caught red-handed. Almost everyone will offer help if you find yourself stuck in a bad situation late at night.
Don’t Be Stupid
Unless you have a death wish, DO NOT USE DRUGS IN BALI. You will end up in Hotel K (a very rough jail) and no mercy will be spared. You might be offered drugs in popular tourist areas – say no every time.
There is a version of Indonesian moonshine named ‘Arak’. If prepared properly, it can be a very tasty liquor. If it is not prepared properly, the arak will turn into methanol (which can kill you).
If you notice a restaurant has absurdly low drink prices, they are likely using Arak in place of vodka or rum. Make sure you ask your waiter for clarification.
Is it safe to drive a scooter in Bali?
While most people who drive a scooter leave Bali unscathed, it is largely not safe. Tourists get into accidents every single day. People die every week. If you drive in Bali, implement a defensive driving system and wear a helmet. Drive slow and ensure you have travel insurance.
What is the national religion of Indonesia?
By law, there is no specific national religion in Indonesia – they offer freedom of religion for citizens. That being said, the most common religion in Indonesia is Islam. The most common religion in Bali is Hinduism.