Dressing for the tropical sun in Bali

Bali sits 8 degrees south of ther equator. That means during the dry season (May-October) we get clear skies and strong sunlight. In the wet season (November-April) we get slightly longer, if somewhat cloudy days, with even more intense sunlight. As a foreigner, how do you dress for the tropical sun in Bali?

Just walking down th street in Bali can gt you a suntan / sunburn, depending on what kind of skin you’ve got. Someone once told me I had a complexion like boiled fish. That soon changes to boiled lobster, if I’m out in the sun too long. Tourists from Europe and parts of Australia, that do not get such strong sunshine, often stroll around shopping, without a care in the world. I see whole families fresh off the plane, sporting tans like mine, (milky white) and wearing no hat. By the second day of their trip, some of them have splashed out and bought a baseball cap.

Expats have to take things a bit easier, as they are subjected to strong sunlight year round. Now it true, I see these ‘Sylvester Stallone’ type Italians, who can walk around all day without a shirt. Great for them, but for us mortals, we look to cover up a bit.

Starting with the feet: I sometime wear Nike’s or Vans in the dry season, to give my feet a break. My feet sweat, however and my shoes stink, so I usually go back to wearing sandals.

Shorts, pants or sarong? For me shorts are more comfortable in a tropical climate. The only downside is my thighs get toasted when I ride a motorbike. For long rides I use a pair of thin cotton pants. In the dry season light pants work well. During the wet season, when its rainy, humid and streets flood, long pants are a pain. Some people, particularly older Euro guys (is he gay, or European?), like these 3/4 length pants. I really don’t like them, but can see they do give cover when riding a bike. Newly arrived tourists and ‘older geezer’ expats, can often be seen out wearing a sarong. Sarongs keep the heat in and are awkward to walk in. The only times I wear a sarong are at a temple, or if I need to rush out of the shower.




Shirt, tank-top or t-shirt? This depends on ho much sun you can take. A long sleeve shirt with a collar will give you the most coverage and many expats pair this with a pair of cotton pants in the dry season. Its looks cool, and spotting someone with a long sleeve white shirt and colored pants, while everyone else has footy shorts and Bintang tank-top, instantly points out the fact they have been around for a while.

Bali expats never wear Bintang tank tops / t-shirts, in the same way Aussies don’t walk around with a kangaroo t-shirt.

For the best sun protection wear a black shirt, although its also the worst for attracting heat and mozzies. I have a selection of long sleeve polyester Nike shirts, which are cool and give okay protection. For my neck area, I use a sarong when riding the bike. One of my Nike shirts is designed for jogging in cold weather. Slightly padded, it had a polo neck and is perfect for the dry season, providing sun protection in the day, and a little bit of warmth for riding at night.

If you are holiday and are not riding around on a bike, a short sleeve cotton shirt with collar is fine, for both wet and dry seasons. I’d steer clear of the thick cotton t-shirts, in the wet season (Christmas / New Years), as they are ‘heat-boxes’. In the wet season, you’ll sweat like a ‘stuck pig’, and I see tourists, perspiring through their new surfer t-shirts. By the way, I think 99% of what’s on sale in surfing shops in junk. They’ll take a thick brown cotton t-shirt, spray a logo across it, and charge $25…no thank you.

Hats: For some reason hats don’t seem to be popular in Bali. Locally made straw hats suck, they are too small and are ugly and uncomfortable. Baseball caps provide some cover, but not much, and the woolen type hats the Kuta beach vendors wear, and that are sold in handicraft shops, are something you’d only want to wear on the beach, not walking around. My hat selection includes and Aussie cowboy hat, a khaki hat with a 360 degree brim, that I can fold up and chuck in my bag and my USC baseball cap, used more for late afternoon glare than for real sun protection.

Japanese ladies almost always bring their own sunhat with them, basically a giant visor with a top. My advice is to shop around before you come to Bali for a hat with a brim, that fits and is something you can wear everyday.

Hopefully these tips will make your trip to Bali more enjoyable.

Related Content