Indonesia is a magnificent destination, whether you're a traveler on a brief holiday or an adventuring backpacker. Filled with otherworldly natural wonders, awe-inspiring places of worship, and your usual tropical island pulls, it's easy to see why so many visit Indonesia.
Along with this nexus of culture comes a level of etiquette that may not be usual for the regular western visitor.
Here are some tips to ensure you have a fun and safe visit.
Many aspects of Indonesian etiquette and culture may not be obvious to a first-time traveler. Here are some general pointers:
No one will expect you to know everything from the jump. If you remain humble, curious, and polite, even if you make a mistake you will not be offending anyone. Simply apologize and learn how to do it right.
Religion holds a very strong significance within Indonesia, and each area of the country will have its own predominant religion. For example, the majority (90%) of people in Sumatra are Muslim, whereas Bali is considered a Hindu island, with the vast majority (87%) of Balinese locals practicing Hinduism.
This means in each part of Indonesia there will be different religious customs and practices to be aware of.
If you're traveling around a predominantly Muslim area you'll need to be considerate about your clothing, and how you interact with Muslim women. Visiting women should ensure they are adequately covered (shoulders, chest and legs) and possibly wearing a head covering – as simple as a scarf – depending on how strict the area is. Men should avoid initiating contact with a woman they are not familiar with, and affection between a man and woman is not to be shown in public.
A lot of this will also ring true for the devout Christian areas of Indonesia.
In Bali, the island is much more accustomed to foreigners, so you won’t need to be as cautious about what you're wearing day-to-day. However, don't wander the local village streets in skimpy clothes – this will draw attention and could insult some locals who aren’t as used to visitors. Make sure you are properly covered for visiting temples and religious sites.
Much of the culture of Indonesia is influenced by their religious practices. Mosques will have a call to prayer in the early mornings, Balinese close their streets for ceremonies, and overall, Indonesian people are much more calm and considerate in the face of disagreement. Ensuring you are respecting Indonesian culture is mainly a matter of common sense.
Of course, Bali can be considered very differently from the remainder of Indonesia. Although there are still very strong customs and etiquette to be followed, if you are planning on only visiting the tourist towns and lounging on the beaches, this won’t be of much concern to you.
LGBTQ+ matters are a very sensitive topic in Indonesia and not something to be pressed when in a discussion with someone – especially in stricter religious areas. If you are a LGBTQ+ member and traveling around Indonesia, avoid public displays of affection.
Headed to Bali specifically? Check out Balipedia for more do's and dont's of exploring this magical place.
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