After being quoted and featured in this month’s in-depth feature of undiscovered Indonesia in Australia’s Traveller Magazine, we’ve been thinking a lot about Indonesia. One of the most common questions we get from travelers headed to Bali and beyond is how to show respect in a culture that is so devout yet so diverse. This applies especially to temple visits where etiquette is very important. With roughly 20,000 temples just on the island of Bali, a visit to a holy site is not only easy, but also a great way to understand regional culture, art, values and beliefs.
So, we’ve got you covered. Here are the top things to keep in mind when visiting an Indonesian temple, whether it’s a modest local site or UNESCO World Heritage–listed Borobudur:
No Skin: Because Indonesian culture values modesty, it’s important to stay covered up. At both Hindu and Buddhist temples, it’s customary for men and women to wear temple scarves (selendang) and sarongs (also known as kain kamben). If you didn’t bring your own, these items are available to rent at most temples.
Remember to stay covered up even when taking a dip in holy pools. Most people wear a T-shirt and sarong to enter Bali’s beautiful water temples.
No Shoes: You’ll no doubt see piles of shoes at temple entrances. Just follow the example of locals and leave your footwear at the door. Don’t worry—you can leave your shoes unattended. Cases of shoe theft are very uncommon.
No Pointing: It’s disrespectful to point at religious people or iconography, and feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body. When sitting, avoid pointing the bottom of your feet in any direction. Either keep them flat on the ground or tuck your feet under you.
No Flash: Photography is allowed at most religious sites, but flash photography is discouraged as it can be disruptive during ceremonies, prayers, and other services. Turn your flash off, and if you’re not sure if you can take a photo, just ask. Also, avoid walking or passing in front of anybody who is praying.
Timing: Timing your visit is important, as pregnant or menstruating women, or anyone with a cut or open sore will not be allowed to enter any temple.
Mind Your Head: When a priest is nearby, try to make sure your head is lower than the priest’s. This is a sign of respect in Indonesia. Avoid touching anybody’s head—even patting a child on the head is looked down upon.
By following these simple rules, you’ll gain access to some of Indonesia’s most stunning cultural sites. Not only that but you’ll know you’re being a respectful and responsible traveler.
If you’d like some ideas or recommendations on the best temples to visit during your stay in Indonesia, just contact one of our experienced Travel Specialists for suggestions tailored to your needs.