I’ve travelled a little but never to Bali so this was always going to be a journey of discovery. I do know how to use the internet and can google the answers to most things but some things are so variable or changeable that it doesnt matter what someone said last week, this week it can all be different. So here’s my rundown of the key things I’ve learned two days into my trip (in handy bullet point list format no less!). Just as an aside, if you’re worried about going to Bali because of what you’ve read just remember that the horror stories you read are the exceptions. Thousands of tourists visit Bali every week without incident, soak up the sun, enjoy the local vibe and have a great time – you don’t hear about those cases because they’re boring ordinary but it’s the norm. Sure it’s good to be prepared for potential issues (like take out travel insurance – seriously I can’t stress this enough!) but don’t let it spoil the excitement of going on holiday – you are one of the lucky ones who gets to travel somewhere new, different and beautiful, it’s a rare privilege. Getting there
- Virgin Australia run a good (fully-catered) service to Denpasar airport. My only criticism is the lack of toilets on the 737-800 – theres just two at the back so don’t leave it to the last minute (and personally I would avoid seats near the back unless you dont mind a toilet queue hovering around a lot of the time)
- Bali airport seems to run pretty well. Step 1: Pay your Visa on Arrival (unless you’re one of the lucky countries that get in free). It’s $35USD and you can use your credit card – a lot of people seemed to just use cash (they accept different currencies), and its probably easier since not all cashiers accept cards and it took 3 attempts to get a successful transaction. Step 2: Go through passport control with your new visa. Step 3: Collect your baggage – this seemed to take a while but our plane had been parked quite far away so maybe that was why. Step 4: Go through customs. Step 5: Exit the airport and find some transport. Blue Bird taxis are best as they just run on a meter making it cheaper and less of a hassle trying to negotiate a fare but you have to go out of the airport and find them on the street (walk past the public transport and taxi stand and through the carpark on to the street – alternatively go the Arrivals area upstairs and try to get one as theyre dropping off passengers – look for the Blue Bird Group sticker on the windscreen). Just watch taxi drivers with giving you change – they sometimes try to hold something back.
- We stayed in a hotel not far from Legian beach (Hotel Neo). The hotel was fine but dont come with western expectations on things like cleanliness. This is SE Asia and they have different standards. Don’t expect hot water or hot food – most things are lukewarm and thats just how it is.
- Didnt seem to be a huge variety of places to eat – the ones we could find seemed to be overpriced or built to cater for hard-drinking aussies (complete with aussie flag and badly sung cold chisel covers).
- Sunday nights on Legian st (party central for Kuta) didnt seem to be very alive – maybe it picks up during the week.
- Touts on the beaches werent as bad as I expected – they mostly left us alone. Prices for things like surfboard hire (50,000/hour or you can generally get it for the whole day for 100,000) and loungers with an umbrella (50,000 for 3 hours) seemed reasonable.
- The surf is generally pretty good for beginners. Its a nice beach break, wasnt overly crowded and I didnt notice any rips or anything.
- Beer wasnt as cheap as I thought it would be (around for 40,000 for a large bintang).
Plugs and adapters
- Dont bother bringing those flat travel adapters with you – the plugs in bali (like they are around most parts of Indo) are indented so they need to be the circle shape – you can buy one here from any minimart for about 18000.
- The voltage is 240v and seems to be pretty reliable (but im not sure about some of the outer islands).
- Personally I think its a mark of respect to your hosts to at least try and learn some basic phrases so download an app or buy a phrasebook and do your best – the locals will appreciate it
- Technically most balinese speak yep you guessed it balinese but unless youre a whizz with languages keep it simple and just try and learn a few indonesian phrases, it’s easier to learn and more readily available, and widely understood by everyone
Bargaining & Shopping
- Generally most places allow you to haggle – keep it friendly and remember if you suggest a price youre generally expected to follow through and buy if the shopkeeper accepts your offer.
- Keep your wits about you – its not that everyone is trying to rip you off but theyre in the business to make money, not friends even if it sounds like its the other way round. Prices can vary significantly, even in the same area.
- The best place we found to shop was Hardys department store (South Kuta) – prices were a lot better than most of the hawkers! Its all fixed price too so makes it really easy. An excellent place to shop up on gifts and souvenirs. They also have a supermarket.
- Know your notes – Because you’re dealing in thousands even for small purchases it’s easy to hand over a 100,000 note and miscount the zeros, thinking it’s only a 10,000. Don’t flash your cash around and keep it organised.
- If you just cant be bothered playing the bargaining game and dancing around what the price is, look out for stores that offer fixed prices.
- Taxis – Generally the most common way to get around, the easiest and cheapest (unless you a good negotiator) are the Blue Bird Group taxis (as mentioned above). It’s roughly around 10,000 per km plus flag fee of 7,000. So from Kuta to Ubud expect to pay around 250,000.
- Private driver – There are lots of independent taxi drivers who are happy to be hired for the day at reasonable rates. We used Nyoman (firstname.lastname@example.org) while we were in Ubud and he helpful, punctual, spoke perfect english and reliable.
- Scooters – Ridiculously cheap to hire (full day rental is around 50,000, around the same as a large beer) and petrol is about 8,000 per litre (unless you get it from those roadside stores in the pretty vodka bottles, which is 10,000 per litre – and it’s an approximate litre). Technically I think you’re meant to have an official international license but no one seems to bother about it and we never got stopped by police (in the Ubud area) and asked to show it. Scootering around Ubud was great fun and an easy way to get to some of the sights (I used a GPS app on my phone) including the rice terraces and surrounding villages but I’m not sure I’d be as keen to scooter around Kuta just due to the more intense traffic – it’s not for the faint-hearted. You have to go with the flow and blend in with the chaos; just don’t expect rules to be followed and a horn honking just means someone’s coming through, it’s not an insult! Also just check your travel insurance doesn’t exclude the use of a motorcycle, some do.
- Currently located in Seminyak and it seems laundry’s charged by the item (I prefer by the kilo, its just easier).
- I did a walk around and there are plenty of laundry places – the few I did find who offered by the kilo wanted 50,000/kilo – at that price I’ll just do it myself.
- The main beach, which stretches from Kuta up to Seminyak, while technically the same beach is divided up into areas, each with their own pros and cons.
- Bring sunblock! The sun can be as intense as NZ and Australia in terms of burnability. If you don’t you’ll regret it! Most Minimarts and Apoteks (pharmacies) sell it.
- Kuta and Legian beaches are generally cheaper for things such as loungers (100k for two for the day) compared to Seminyak where you pay double that.
- I dont believe the beach is any better (in fact for surfing I think the break around Kuta is better) but at least in Seminyak you wont be bothered by hawkers – apparently theyre not allowed beyond a small creek which marks the line between Legian and Seminyak.
- I did see some rubbish and the occasional stray dog but for the most part the beaches are clean and trouble-free. Prices for food are unreasonably high, even from beach stalls (45k for a small burger) but this is a high traffic area for tourists and prices reflect that.
- In general the beach is safe to swim at, although always keep an eye out for any surfers in the area as well as heavy shore breaks (typically around low tide).
- Come sunset you can either stare wistfully at the lowering sun into the Indian ocean or you can join a game of beach soccer that generally gets started around this time.
- Surfboard hire is available just about anywhere along the beach. Most of the boards are the big learner type although you will get some shortboards as well. Price is generally 50k an hour although you can often negotiate 100 for the whole day. Just be sure to check the board and leash to make sure it’s in good condition so it doesn’t fall apart while you’re using it. Follow surfer etiquette especially when it’s busy, eg dont drop in on someone who’s already on the wave (inside shoulder).
- Nusa Dua (and Benoa) beaches are nice but only swimmable on high tide so time it right. You also have to beware of areas that are guarded by hotel security and protected as private beaches.
- Uluwatu was amazing with a nice blend of dramatic cliffs, rugged surf reefs and beautiful sandy beaches – worth exploring!
Bali is a fantastic place and caters for a lot of different traveler types – from families to singles. Be alert, be nice to the locals, be polite and don’t get worked up if things aren’t going your way – just take a breath, smile and move on.
Let us know about your Bali experience in the comments…