Wearing revealing clothing anywhere but on the beach is not OK in Bali, an Aussie expat is reminding tourists. Picture: Facebook
Wearing revealing clothing anywhere but on the beach is not OK in Bali, an Aussie expat is reminding tourists. Picture: Facebook

What you’re doing wrong in Bali

IT'S a conservative island in a deeply religious country, but to tourists, Bali is a carefree paradise where anything goes.

Night after night, hedonistic tourists pack its streets and nightclubs, foreigners hop on scooters with little regard for safety, and even flights to the holiday island aren't without wild behaviour on board.

But there's growing concern about a certain behaviour by tourists in Bali that too many of us don't realise is wrong.

And while locals who rely on our tourism may be too polite to call us out on it, one Aussie expat says it's time we got the message.

Australian woman Rachel Bergsma, who has lived in Bali for 10 years, posted a warning to travellers on a Bali travel forum on Facebook, telling them revealing clothes were "not acceptable" anywhere on the holiday island, except for the beach.

Swimwear is a standard holiday uniform but it’s not OK anywhere in Bali except the beach. Picture: Facebook
Swimwear is a standard holiday uniform but it’s not OK anywhere in Bali except the beach. Picture: Facebook

In her post, Ms Bergsma asked tourists to be understanding of the conservative Balinese culture and stop offending locals by wearing skimpy clothes - or going topless - especially around sacred temples.

She posted her message alongside a photo showing the all-too-familiar sight of a tourist in nothing but a bikini travelling along Bali's streets.

Ms Bergsma said Balinese people were often hesitant to tell foreigners to cover up but tourists had to realise wearing skimpy clothes, or going totally topless, was not OK in Bali.

"It is not new to Bali to see girls dressed inappropriately, it has been a problem with Europeans for a while now," Ms Bergsma told news.com.au.

"What is new ... is the latest fashion that young people wear. The shorts that show actual bum cheek and the crop tops."

Ms Bergsma said tourists often didn’t realise their clothes were causing offence to locals.
Ms Bergsma said tourists often didn’t realise their clothes were causing offence to locals.

Ms Bergsma, who runs a company that conducts cultural tours in Kedisan in Bali's northeast, said she didn't think Australian women meant to cause offence with their choice of clothing.

"I have found young Australian girls just follow the fashions, they are not meaning to be disrespectful," she said.

 

"When I have asked girls to cover up in our traditional village, the Australian girls are very apologetic. The Europeans are nasty."

Another problem was shirtless men, but it wasn't just locals who objected to that, Ms Bergsma said.

"Most people that are offended are other tourists who don't want to dine sitting next to someone without a shirt, especially Australians are offended," she said.

"Locals make comments on social media about these guys wearing no shirts on motorbikes and how they will lose their skin, et cetera. They don't really say they are offended, they just say [the shirtless men] are stupid, and also posts [things] like "Young people, please do not do this, do not copy this bule ["foreigner"]."

Ms Bergsma acknowledged no one wanted to be told how to dress, but in conservative Bali, tourists had to follow local standards.
Ms Bergsma acknowledged no one wanted to be told how to dress, but in conservative Bali, tourists had to follow local standards.

The worst part, Ms Bergsma said, was when tourists rocked up at temples wearing next to nothing.

"That is when locals do get pissed off," she said.

Tourists visiting Bali's many temples are asked to wear a sarong or skirt that covers their knees and a shirt that covers their shoulders and midriffs, in signs of respect not unlike those expected at most religious sites and places of worship.

But in Bali, which is influenced by Hindu, as well as Buddhist, Christian and Muslim faiths, conservative dress is expected everywhere except for the beach, Ms Bergsma said.

Others who commented on her Facebook post shared similar complaints and experiences of seeing tourists dressed inappropriately near temples.

In Bali, swimwear is OK on the beach, not in the streets. Picture: AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka
In Bali, swimwear is OK on the beach, not in the streets. Picture: AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka

Ms Bergsma explained Balinese people often changed their outfits up to three times a day, depending on the occasion and their audience.

"We have strict dress codes for all government buildings, temples, going to work, et cetera," she said. "However, they also would dress their best when they are a guest in someone else's home or country."

The Aussie expat said she was also naive about the appropriate way to dress when she first went to Bali in her early 20s.

"Back then the locals were more aggressive towards you if you dressed bad," she said.

"I never wanted to come back, I was spat on, had my crotch grabbed. Now, I know that was due to the way I was dressed.

"These days locals grin and bear it, as they don't want to scare away the tourists."

Australian Rachel Bergsma, who has lived in Bali for 10 years, is reminding tourists about the dress code on the holiday island.
Australian Rachel Bergsma, who has lived in Bali for 10 years, is reminding tourists about the dress code on the holiday island.

The Bali resident also said rice fields, which are becoming hot spots for Instagram-happy tourists, should also be considered sacred sites.

"We need quality [tourists], not quantity, and a lot of the people that used to just stay around Kuta/Legian are now venturing out for that perfect 'Instagram photo' in the rice fields, not thinking about how they are dressed [or] knowing they need to think about that," Ms Bergsma said.

"Balinese businesses are popping up all over the place with that perfect Instagram spot. "Tegalalang Rice Terraces has changed so much in a year. It's important for these business owners to also have information for their guests on what to wear, like you see at temples.

"Rice fields are supposed to be sacred, that went out the window at Tegalalang."

The attire of tourists has been a hot topic in many parts of Asia.

Last year US couple Joseph and Travis Dasilva, who had an Instagram account with 14,000 followers called the "Travelling Butts" featuring pictures of their derrières in exotic locations, were jailed after posing for a bare-bottomed photo at the Wat Arun temple in Thailand.

The 38-year-old men were arrested at a Bangkok airport and charged with public indecency. They narrowly escaped a five-year jail term and were instead fined $200 and deported after a week in a Thai prison.

Authorities at Cambodia's sacred Angkor Wat site imposed strict dress codes on tourists in 2016, which outlawed exposed knees and shoulders.

The crackdown followed a series of "nude photographs" at the Buddhist site.

The same year, India's tourism minister told female tourists to stop wearing short dresses, skirts and other "skimpy" clothes to protect their safety.

"Indian culture is different from western culture," Mahesh Sharma said.


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