TRAVELLING TO BALI
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country. It has 300 different ethnic groups speaking over 740 different languages and dialects. It has over seventeen thousand islands across nearly two million km2. Yet for all of that choice, the majority of visitors are travelling to Bali and staying there.
I have visited Bali a few times over the last several years, most recently in May 2017. It is interesting to note how much it has developed during that time. This was always going to be the future for Bali. It has the makings of a cheap and easy holiday destination for even the most inexperienced travellers. Whether you are a budget backpacker or a luxury resort princess, Bali will have something for you.
In 2017, Bali won the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award for Destination of the Year and for good reason. While it might not be every travellers perfect spot, it is definitely somewhere to check out at least once. If you are travelling to Bali for the first time, or even if you have been to Bali before, have a read of this summary about Bali.
BALI IS EASY
Even if you haven’t travelled much, nervous about culture shock, and have trouble learning even the basics of a local language, travelling to Bali is still relatively simple to get around. Bali thrives on tourism and while there are many negative aspects of this, one of the positives is that some areas are nicely set up for travellers. If you want somewhere you can relax and get a taste of a different culture with people who are generally very friendly, Bali is an excellent place to do it.
Most areas in Bali speak English, if only a few words. You should have minimal issues talking to hotel staff, taxi drivers, or shop keepers though you may have to point, smile, and apologise a lot. Most Balinese are happy to accommodate you, even if you’re just a stupid tourist.
It is a good learning ground for those who want to step outside their comfort zone and visit a different culture, one with different expectations and rules, while still enjoying luxuries like WiFi, eggs for breakfast, hot showers, and flush toilets. Keep in mind much of it is western culture, dressed up to look like something else. Most of the resorts and hotels are owned by foreigners, but staffed by Balinese.
RELIGION: BALINESE HINDU CULTURE
Indonesia has the largest Muslim-majority population in the world, however on Bali close to 83% of the population are Hindu, or more accurately, Balinese Hindu. This is evident everywhere. As you walk down the street you will see a small shrine in every home, statues of deities adorning gates and gardens, and of course littered everywhere are Canang.
Canang are small baskets woven from coconut leaves, filled with flowers and an assortment of gifts for the Gods. They are topped with a stick of burning incense.
These simple daily banten or offerings, are made by the women of the household and take time, patience, and no small amount of money to make. They are offered to honour both the higher and lower spirits of the home, bringing harmony by balancing negativity with positivity.
As a visitor here’s a quick note: while the incense burns and the sari or essence is leaving, avoid stepping over, stepping on, or kicking the canang. Once the incense goes out they are ready to be removed but it pays to try and avoid them even after they have finished burning. You are a visitor, so treat them with care and respect.
In addition to the daily offerings, major days are marked by temple festivals where more offerings are given. Mountains of fruit, rice-cakes, and flowers are piled around the temples and people gather together to celebrate, pray, and honour the gods.
The celebrations around the temple festival differ depending on which day it is, but they are fantastic to watch and visitors are often welcome. The Balinese are generally a friendly and open people with their beliefs.
BALI IS CHEAP…AND EXPENSIVE
It is entirely possible to travel around Bali on a budget. However, it is also possible to spend huge amounts of money as well. I was able to travel through Ubud and Canggu for around AUD$40 a day, including accommodation, food, drinks, and sightseeing. Then on my last night I spent AUD$140 on dinner and some drinks. In Canggu, I could buy two beers for 25,000 rupiah, less than AUD$2.50, then next door the price tripled. Not everywhere in Bali is cheap so it pays to shop around a little.
WHERE AND WHEN TO GO
Bali is the number one tourist destination for 2017. That means it can get extremely busy, especially during peak season in the popular places such as Seminyak, Canggu and Ubud. In these places, crowds of people fill every spot of sand on the beach, and weaving through them are locals selling sunglasses, necklaces, massages, and a hundred other things you have no real use for.
However there are still places in Bali that run at a slower pace, both on the mainland and on nearby islands. The mountainous regions and the less-explored eastern coasts around Padagbai offer quiet places with natural beauty and relative peace.
Keep in mind that low season in Bali is the rainy season. It may be very cheap, but also rather wet. Personally, I recommend visiting Bali in May or June. It is the end of the rainy season, so you may still get rain, however it is still early in the peak season, so prices haven’t yet jumped up for tourists. You’ll hopefully avoid the worst of the crowds.
Personally, I avoid Kuta at all costs and so do a lot of the locals. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
BE PREPARED FOR HAWKERS
The first time you encounter the near constant buzz of people trying to sell you things, it can be quite overwhelming. It is easy to become frustrated at people shoving worthless things in your direction. You can quickly become annoyed at the chirping “taxi taxi” or horns tooting as vehicles drive past.
If people are trying to sell you something, the best way to deal with them is a polite shake of the head and a ‘no thank you’. Keep smiling. You do not have to be rude to send them on their way. A common phrase is ‘Tidak mau’ which means ‘Don’t want’. Always keep in mind, this is often their only means of income. While they may be annoying, they are merely trying to earn money to survive.
If someone approaches you and tries to engage you in conversation, be careful with what you tell them. Do not make promises you don’t intend to keep. Don’t try saying you will come back or you are just going up the road. They will follow you until you give them a clear ‘No’. I give them a lot of credit. I couldn’t handle as much rejection as they must get.
A common method, one used by the chuggers (charity muggers) in other countries, is to try shake your hand and then refuse to let go. Personally, I avoid the handshake, smile, and keep walking.
Be warned, if you buy one thing, you will be descended upon by every hawker on the beach.
As Bali has started catering for tourists the selection of western food is huge. While you can still walk along the road and buy chicken satay from street vendors, or nasi goreng from small warungs, there are now restaurants serving everything from Italian to Mexican. Be prepared to pay significantly more for meat, especially beef which is rarely eaten by locals.
Be warned, there is often a service charge added to a bill. Legally there should be a 21% surcharge on all bills. Some are shown on the menu, others aren’t. It is difficult to say where and when this is applied.
There are several local beers in Bali and while I prefer the taste of Prost, there is something special about drinking Bintang in Bali. Maybe it just makes me feel like an Australian bogan, lying on a bean bag on the beach, watching the sun set, and yelling obscenities at friends.
Cocktails are generally cheap and good, depending on where you go. However heed my advice; do not drink Arak. It is still largely unregulated and if you get a bad batch, it could kill you.
A lot of people have the idea to base themselves in one place and then do day trips to other parts of the island. Take note; the drive times in Bali can be extremely long. Getting from Canggu to Seminyak may take 20 minutes under normal conditions, but other times it may take an hour and a half. Congestion on Bali can be extremely bad. Outside of Kuta, the roads are single lane and shared with bikes, motorbikes and pedestrians. It can be intense.
RENT A SCOOTER
In order to ride a scooter in Bali, you will usually need an international drivers license. Let me rephrase that. You can rent a car or a bike from anyone. In fact everyone in Bali knows someone who can rent you a bike. But if the police stop you, you will need an international drivers license. To avoid having the police stop you, wear a helmet and closed footwear.
The bottles of yellow liquid sold on the side of the road everywhere are not bottles of weird, home-distilled piss. They’re petrol.
Three taxi companies operate in Bali. Take the usual precautions using them, such as asking them to run the meter and following where you’re going on your phone. Try to carry smaller notes with you because drivers may tell you he doesn’t have change, even though every transaction he does is in cash and it’s his job to have change. Watch out for any hidden costs as well, such as charging you more for carrying an extra person.
Private drivers also operate in Bali. Generally you will agree on a price to take you somewhere and they will drive you. The only way to really know if you’re getting ripped off is to do some research before you go. You can book private drivers through most hotels and lodges. They’re also lined up along busy roads.
A WORD ON UBER
Uber exists in Bali however use it with some caution. Uber drivers are regularly chased by local taxi drivers, dragged out of their cars and beaten up. This is because Uber grossly undercuts all the other drivers you will find and they don’t like it. You will often find Uber drivers will call and tell you to get in the front seat and to act like you’re being picked up by a friend.
WHAT TO WEAR
Bali gets hot and humid so of course you probably won’t be wearing a jeans and a hoodie, but be prepared to cover up at times. Bali is a Hindu country and while many locals may be accepting of people wearing a bikini or shorts, others will not. Bars and restaurants will often have a strictly enforced dress code and you will get turned away at the door if you’re showing too much skin.
If you are a solo female traveller, be more conservative. When walking around by yourself, cover up. Unwanted attention from the local males is one of the main things that solo female travellers have complained to me about. Friends of mine have been warned by expat locals to keep themselves covered when they’re not at the beach. Do I agree with it? No. Can I change it? Also no.
You’re a foreigner in Bali so generally speaking, you’re in the wrong. You can argue of course but you probably won’t get very far.
You must wear a helmet on a motorbike. I know all the cool guys aren’t wearing helmets as they drive back from the beach with their surfboards. Don’t worry, they’re the same idiots you’ll see later getting an on-the-spot fine by police. If you are fined, pay it. The official fine is in the ballpark of Rp250,000. And some advice, wear a shirt and don’t wear a bikini. If you don’t you’re just screaming “I’m a tourist, please pull me over and take my money”.
Prostitution and gambling are both illegal in Bali.
I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but don’t do drugs in Bali. Foreigners are regularly caught and sentenced to extremely harsh punishments. Marijuana is a class one substance in Indonesia, along with heroin, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), and LSD. Possession of even a small amount carries a jail term of 4 – 12 years.
THINGS TO DO
VOLCANO AND NATURE HIKES
Hike up Mount Batur for sunrise. While I haven’t done this hike, I have climbed Mount Rinjani in Lombok. The views will likely be incredible. Expect a bit of a crowd, but it will be worth it. There are a number of nature walks and hikes in Bali. Get to see parts of Bali you would never see if you stayed in the air conditioning.
There are a number of temples around Bali, including Uluwatu and Tanah Lot. Whenever I am in Bali, I visit Tanah Lot. This temple is built on a rock formation in the sea and makes for awesome photos. The area is nice to wander around and there are local markets to buy cheap souvenirs for those people back home who like to collect fridge magnets.
Lie on the beach. Get a massage. Do a cooking class. Learn to paint, or whatever Elizabeth Gilbert did in Eat, Pray, Love did.
Personally, I prefer diving in the other islands, such as in the Komodo National Park, however there are some spots with good reputations around Bali.
SURF BREAKS FOR ALL LEVELS
Whether you’re a surfer or not, you probably know there is great surf in Bali. Not only is there great surf, but you can find great surf for all levels. Beginner breaks around Kuta, Medewi, and Canggu, or Uluwatu, Impossibles and Padang Padang for the experts. If you are going to Bali, then it is a great place to learn to surf, with one slight issue.
The water is generally pretty dirty. Sometimes the water is like a garbage dump and every local has a different person to blame. It washes over from Java or it comes down from China. Either way, it magically appears overnight. If people the local resorts don’t come out every night and rake the beaches, in the morning they are covered in waste.
RUBBISH AND POLLUTION
Unfortunately, with an increasing population and a high tourist influence, there are pressures on the local infrastructure, especially in areas like rubbish removal. Tourists create a lot of waste. Those single use packets and plastic water bottles don’t just disappear when you throw them in a rubbish bin.
It is estimated three million water bottles are thrown away in Bali every month. Three million!! Indonesia has almost no recycling. With any luck, some rubbish will make it to a landfill, however a lot will be burned, or thrown onto vacant land where it makes its way to the ocean.
If you are going to travel, I highly recommend taking a cloth grocery bag, and fill your own water bottles…though perhaps not from the tap. A lot of places have filtered water available. I also carry my own filter bottle.
DOGS AND CATS
There are a lot of domesticated animals in Bali, mainly dogs in varying states of health. There are also a lot of street dogs in Bali. Seeing them running around can be heartbreaking as they often look sick and underfed.
There are some cats in Bali, though more on the other islands. You will probably notice they all have weird looking tails. Either tiny and stumpy, or with a possum-like curl. Don’t worry. They (usually) have not been harmed. They are descended from Japanese bobtails and their weird looking tails are a genetic trait.
Don’t ride the elephants.
I have seen snakes in Bali. Yes there are snakes and yes they should be taken seriously. The king cobra is common throughout Indonesia. It is not the kind of snake you want to stand on. And speaking of standing on a snake, I came extremely close to standing on a sea snake. I was within half a metre of a banded sea Krait. Where was I? I was wading in ankle deep water around Tanah Lot. Watch where you put your feet.
I hate monkeys. They’re assholes. They steal everything they can get their weird little hands on. I am not joking. They’re gross little shits covered with fleas and rabies. They know people are a source of food and they will do whatever they can to get it.
Probably the most annoying and dangerous animal in Bali is the drunk Australian bogans found in Seminyak and Kuta throughout the year. Unfortunately, due to it’s close proximity and the favourable currency exchange rate, Bali is flooded by Australians, in particular those who drink too much cheap alcohol and care too little about what they do while drinking it. Luckily you can hear them coming from several hundred metres, like thunder in the distance, except it is crass swearing and dopey laughter at fart jokes and boobs.
Bali belly is definitely a thing, but the risks have definitely dropped over the years. Kitchen and hygiene standards have increased and the chances of getting sick are lower than ever. Still exercise some caution when you’re eating chicken or sea food, and be prepared in case the rumblings start. I eat as much street food as I can, and I’m still alive.
Definitely make sure you’ve washed your hands before you eat.
Generally people arrive into Denpasar International Airport. The airport itself is fairly easy to navigate and it has been through some refurbishment over the last few years.
- There is a taxi service desk inside the airport. You would think this is the cheapest way of getting a taxi. It isn’t. If you’re on a budget, you’re better off checking the board next to the taxi service desk for the current rate, then going outside and negotiating a better fare.
- There is a Telkomsel desk where you can get a local SIM, however there are no advertised prices and they only take cash. Basically you will likely pay more than you could up the road. It just depends whether you’re willing to wait. I was charged 400k for 12GB data for 30 days. I have since learned it should have cost 300k at the time.
- If you’re staying on Bali then you can probably shop around for cheaper carriers, however if you’re going to more remote places, then Telkomsel is probably your best option as they have the best coverage. I only lost coverage while I was in the middle of the Komodo National Park during diving days.
The majority of countries can visit Bali as a tourist without requiring a visa. The Free Visa service is not extendable and you will need to leave the country before your 30 days. This includes the days you arrive and depart. You can check if your country is included here.
If you are planning to stay for longer than 30 days, you will need to pay for a Visa on Arrival. This visa can be purchased at customs in Bali and can be extended once to a maximum of 60 days.
If you overstay bad things can happen like being charged a fine for each day you have overstayed and possible issues getting a visa in the future.
During my last trip, I stayed for 32 days. I was told by customs not to bother paying for an extendable visa. When I tried to leave the country, I was marched down a red line to an office where a cheerful man gave me a fine of USD$30 per day. He happily explained to me that this worked out cheaper than the cost of the visa, smiled at me and then let me go. As far as I am aware there were no further repercussions.
Bali is definitely worth visiting, however keep in mind there are islands close to Bali that have as much, if not more to offer as well. Lombok and the Gili Islands are an easy ferry ride away and have a lot to offer. Get over there and check it out!!