Traveling to any country invariably includes visits to local temples and other religious centers. Whether you're in Egypt, France, Bali, or Zimbabwe, you will be offered an introduction to the local religion. This is a correct, interesting, informative practice that helps better understand the way of life and beliefs of different communities.
Unfortunately, tourists often don't consider that there are specific rules regarding attire when visiting temples. The typical tourist attire of a tank top and shorts becomes a staple in the vacation wardrobe, and it's in this attire that the "average tourist" appears, even in sacred places.
In general, dress codes in most religions are quite similar. Women are usually advised to cover their bodies with a skirt that extends below the knees and a blouse without any low necklines and with sleeves. Men are also encouraged to wear long trousers and a shirt. In such attire, you should be allowed into any temple. However, it's important to remember that each religion has its own specific practices. In Christianity, for instance, women are traditionally expected to cover their heads with a scarf or hat, and men are supposed to remove headwear when entering a church. In Islam, it's customary to remove shoes when entering a mosque, and women wear a special head covering during prayers. Bali also has its own dress code nuances when visiting temples.
It's worth noting that when visiting a temple, the closer your attire aligns with Balinese tradition, the easier it will be for you to enter, the less they may charge you at the entrance (usually, any missing elements are provided for an additional fee), and the more positively you'll be regarded by the Balinese people present in the temple.
A women's Balinese outfit consists of a serendang, kebaya, and bulang. The serendang is essentially a long piece of fabric that is wrapped around the waist and can be transformed into a skirt. It is often confused with a sarong, although a sarong has a slightly different appearance. The serendang is a highly versatile item. It can be fashioned into a skirt or top, and if the ends are tied and thrown over one shoulder, it becomes a bag or a sling for carrying children. Twisting it into a coil can be used as a base for carrying loads on the head. In general, the ways to use the serendang are limited only by your imagination.
The kebaya is a lace blouse with long sleeves. It can be incredibly beautiful, with wealthy and upper-class ladies sometimes owning exquisitely crafted kebayas made from delicate handmade lace. Naturally, they reserve such attire for special occasions. For everyday visits to temples, simpler kebayas made of natural cotton or basic lace are more commonly worn.
Bulang is essentially a belt, the most crucial element of the costume. It is equally important for both women and men. If you arrive at the temple looking decent (covered arms and legs) but without a belt, you will still be offered to rent one. With a bulang, you automatically look elegant, dressed up, and worthy of entering the temple.
Women do not wear headgear in the temple. Only occasionally, for very important occasions, do ladies tie a small band around their heads. On special occasions, women's heads are adorned with hairstyles featuring incredibly beautiful ornaments.
Men in the temple typically wear the same serendangs, a regular or dressy shirt, bulang, and udeng. The serendang is used similarly to how women use it, wrapped around the waist like a pancake skirt. The shirt (usually short-sleeved) is cinched at the waist with a bulang.
Udeng is a traditional headgear. Nowadays, you can buy a ready-made "assembled" version or a "semi-finished" one in stores, which needs to be wrapped around the head and tied with a knot at the front. Traditionally, it is a square piece of fabric that every Balinese person knows how to fold correctly according to their preference.
I'll reiterate that the closer your costume adheres to these Balinese traditions, the better the locals will treat you in and around the temple, and the less money you'll spend.
And finally, here are a few rules for visiting Balinese temples:
1. Do not climb the walls of open temples, peeking inside.
2. Your head should not be higher than the head of the priest leading the ceremony.
3. Do not stand in front of or between those praying and the priest.
4. Follow the actions of the people in the temple. If everyone takes off their shoes at the entrance, do the same. If everyone is sitting, sit as well. If everyone is sitting, and you urgently need to leave, do not stand up at full height. Bend down as much as possible and exit without violating rule #3.
5. Do not use flashes during the ceremony unless you have special permission. If you plan to take pictures, coordinate your actions with the ceremony organizers in advance. Find out what is allowed and what is not.
6. Do not sit with your legs crossed.