Bali Temple Mystery – To sarong or not to Sarong?

Do I need to wear a sarong? This is a question that all tourists will ask over and over again when going to a temple in Bali.  People get confused and wonder what other dress codes and rules there are specific for females and males. I wanted to share my thoughts and experience in this regards from a recent trip to Bali.

For starters, I will say that the dress code rules vary base on the temple being visited. I dare say there are somewhat-strict and strict-strict temples in Bali which result to this differences in dress code for guests.

To help anyone understand better, let us consider some possible ideas concerning Bali temple dress codes.

Idea One – Guests are required to wear long sleeves to cover their upper body.

This idea is false.  During my visit, I saw people wear tops ranging from long sleeves shirts to singlets and semi low-cut tops.  Whilst, I did not notice any signs or anyone saying people had to ensure their arms were fully covered, being modest is a show of respect.

Idea Two – Women are not allowed to enter the temple if they are menstruating.

This idea is true.  Women will be outrightly asks whether they are in their menstruation period.  While we see this as not something of anyone’s busy; in the Balinese culture, as a rule, women who are bleeding are not to enter into the grounds of the temple. It is considered as taboo.  This is a general rule based on a Balinese concept called “Cuntaka”.  It translates as “unclean” or “spiritually impure”.  Personally, I would not think badly of anyone who chooses to walk into a temple during their period, as it is a personal choice.

Idea Three – A sarong or scarf is necessary and must be worn at all times.

This is only true for certain temples.  Regardless of whether you are male or female, wearing a sarong is required for the major temples.  Pura Besakih is one such temple where they will demand you to wear a sarong.  This is regardless of gender and what the person is wearing. I classify Besakih as a strict-strict temples.  There are certain temples who would allow one to enter without a sarong, which brings me to the next statement.

Idea Four – Wearing long pants is enough to replace the sarong.

This idea does not work at major temples like Besakih, but may pass as possible at other temples.  An example is Pura Goa Gajah.  The temple require guests to wear a sarong if you’re legs are not covered.  If guests wear long pants or a long shirt, entering without a sarong is permitted.  The temple staff will inform you to wear a colourful belt piece around the waist.  This can be borrowed at the entrance with a small donation of 1000 to 200 Ruphiah.  A less strict example is Pure Amal Tanah.  This temple will allow guests to enter the temple wearing long pants without a sarong, and there is no need to borrow any belt.

Idea Five – Wearing shorts or short skirts in temples are not allows. 

This is true.  A sarong is a must here.  There is no arguing about this.

Idea Six – All temples have free guides to show you around. 

This is not true.  In fact, it is a tourist trap. Unless you go with a guided tour yourself, any random tour guide you meet along the way is there to take money off your hands.  They claim that work for the temple but they don’t.  Some of them will back off when you say no, but some will stalk you.  They can be very persistent and are pushy.  The only way to stop them is to continue saying no and be polite. Eventually, they will leave you alone.

Idea Seven – Wear least colourful sarongs because it can attract monkeys who live at the temples. 

This isn’t true.  Regardless of what sarong you wear, the monkeys should not attack you.  Do look out for signs of monkeys if possible.  The only temple I went to that had monkeys was Uluwatu. These animals are astonishing to look at, but very cheeky and aggressive.  Colourful sarongs do not make them response, but filled water bottles and colourful phone or bag accessories do. Very quickly the monkey would pick its next victim and take what they want.  These monkeys usually get what they want, especially water bottles.

Idea Eight – Sarong can be rented.

Yes, this is true. Some temples will offer sarong renting service for a small fee.  The only way to confirm this is to show up at the temple entrance, try to walk into the temple and someone will either stop you or let you in.

So, the mystery of sarongs is really very simple.  Sarongs are not always compulsory. It is possible to relieve yourself from a lot of misunderstanding if you just bought one and kept wearing an upper wear that had mid-length sleeves and wasn’t too low cut.  But, unless you feel it is a worthwhile souvenir, I personally would avoid purchasing one. 

Try to not fall in the traps of street markets and folks who claim to be local guides at the temple.  The people you should trust most is the guide you travel with if you are on a tour and staff members at the entrance. Temples do costs to enter and that should be all you pay for.  Anything that gets mentioned afterwards, isn’t obligatory.  So, be street smart and be careful.

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