Visiting Bali is an adventure in and of itself. Experiencing a new culture helps you broaden your horizons and opens your eyes and senses to new ways of living. An easy way to get even more out of your trip is to learn the local language.
Learning Indonesian, or Bahasa Indonesia as the language is commonly referred to (Bahasa being the word for language) definitely has its perks. No one will expect you the learn the full vocabulary – but there are some key phrases that will make things easier and your travels that much more fulfilling.
Here is the simple guide to Bahasa Indonesia for your next trip to Bali.
Languages in Bali
The most important thing to understand is that there are two different languages used in Bali. One is Bahasa Indonesia. The other is Bahasa Bali, which is the local language for the island of Bali. In other words, Bahasa Indonesia is used throughout Indonesia, whereas Bahasa Bali is local to Bali only. The words and phrases most travellers learn when visiting Bali are Indonesian, not Balinese.
An example of just how different the two languages are:
- Thank you in Indonesian = Terima kasih
- Thank you in Balinese = Matur suksma
Most locals in the touristic areas of South Bali know at least some English, so getting by without local language skills won’t be a problem. Still, it’s a nice gesture to know at least a few phrases in the local language when visiting any country.
Knowing a few words of Bahasa will help you connect with locals in a new way – and help push down prices at local shops and markets! If you venture outside the main tourist hubs, people won’t necessarily speak English so knowing at least a bit of Indonesian will come in handy.
Is Indonesian Hard to Learn?
Though learning a new language always has its challenges, Bahasa Indonesia is one of the easiest ones to tackle. The language uses the Roman alphabet (as opposed to local alphabets used in Thailand, Sri Lanka or Japan) and it’s not a tonal language like Thai, where changing your intonation can change the whole meaning of the word.
There are no tenses in Indonesian and words are pronounced as they are written. All of this makes Indonesian a very traveller friendly language where it’s easy to pick up the basics.
The Very Basics
Like everywhere else in the world, knowing just a few key phrases in the local language will go a long way in Bali. These are the basic phrases that will put a smile on your waiter’s face and which you can practice with your villa or hotel staff.
- Apa kabar? = How are you?
- Baik = Fine
- Terima kasih = Thank you
- Sama sama = You’re welcome
- Permisi = Excuse me
- Ya = Yes
- Tidak = No
Saying “Hi” in Bali is easy, as both “Hi” and “Hallo” are commonly used as greetings. For more formal greetings, you combine the word “selamat” (literally translates as “safe) with the time of day.
- Selamat pagi = Good morning
- Selamat siang = Good day (11am – 2pm)
- Selamat sore = Good afternoon (2pm – 6pm)
- Selamat malam = Good evening
Selamat is a handy word, as it can also be used when dining and heading to bed:
- Selamat makan = Bon appétit
- Selamat tidur = Sweet dreams
Useful Phrases in Restaurants
Indonesians love food and the country has an incredibly rich culinary landscape. From a traveller’s perspective, there are two culinary features that are distinctly Indonesian and need some looking out for:
- Pedas = Spicy
- Manis = Sweet
Indonesians love their sambal (spicy chilli sauce). Even if you like spicy food back home, authentic local food in Bali might be too hot to handle. It might be a good idea to ask if the food is spicy while ordering – simply point at the dish on the menu and ask: Pedas?
When it comes to the sweet stuff, Indonesians love adding a lot of sugar to both tea and coffee. Especially when ordering at small local warungs, the following phrases might come in handy:
- Jangan terlalu pedas. = Don’t make it too spicy.
- Jangan terlalu manis. = Don’t make it too sweet.
Some of the most common words to appear in Indonesian menus include:
- Nasi = Rice
- Mie = Noodles
- Ayam = Chicken
- Sapi = Beef
- Babi = Pork
Another nice phrase to know when dining out:
- Enak sekali = Very tasty
This is a nice way to complement the chef and finish off your meal with a smile.
Useful Phrases When Out & About
Navigating the streets and beaches of southern Bali is easy, as most road signs and ads are printed in English. That being said, there are certain Indonesian signs that you’ll see over and over again.
- Buka = Open
- Tutup = Closed
- Hati hati = Be careful / Drive slowly
There are two basic variations of the “hati hati” road signs:
- Hati hati, ada proyek = Construction, drive slowly
- Hati hati, ada upacara agama = Religious event, drive slowly
The are two words that indicate something is forbidden:
- Jangan = Don’t
- Dilarang = Don’t
Some of the most common signs include:
- Dilarang parkir di depan pintu. = Please don’t park in front of the door.
- Dilarang buang sampah di sini. = Don’t throw garbage here.
Useful Phrases at Your Villa
First things first: you don’t need to know Indonesian to communicate with the staff at your villa or hotel. All of Ministry of Villas’ properties have English speaking staff, so knowing a few key phrases in Indonesian is a courtesy, not a necessity.
A good way to charm the staff from the get go is to learn the basic phrases discussed above. The staff will be delighted if you ask them how they are or wish them a good morning in the local language.
Funnily, beside the basic niceties, some of the most useful words to know are hot and cold. These words are helpful if you want to inform the staff that the AC is running a little too high, or if you simply want to make some small talk about the sweltering weather outside.
- Panas = Hot
- Dingin = Cold
Knowing these two words is also helpful with drink orders, as you can ask your tea or coffee to be served either hot or cold.
Even if you don’t know a single word of Bahasa Indonesia, you can respect the local culture by adjusting your body language and tone of voice to suit the local way of life.
The Balinese are easy going and soft spoken people. No matter the situation, don’t raise your voice or get aggressive – this is considered a big no-no and won’t get you anywhere. When bargaining at the shops, it’s easy to get carried away, but try to maintain a sense of humour and keep things light. An extra dollar here or there is really not worth getting an aneurism or disrespecting the local culture for.
Living in one of the most diverse countries in the world (Indonesians speak more than 700 languages!), Balinese and Indonesian people by large are generally very friendly and welcoming towards outsiders. Keep a smile on your face and remember to have a sense of humour and you’ll be fine – no matter which language you’re speaking.