First time to Bali? Some helpful facts
As I sit on the Virgin non-stop flight from Brisbane to Denpasar I have to kill a few hours because there is no wifi and no free entertainment for the next 6 hours.
So there’s the first tip for you if you’re flying Virgin to Bali; make sure you download their ( Virgin’s) entertainment app before you fly. If you don’t, you are going to have zero in-flight entertainment.
If this is your first time to Bali then you are in for a real treat. For some people, the 3rd world experience can be a bit overwhelming at first. But, I always tell fellow travellers to relax and let Bali do its thing while you sit back and enjoy the unfolding spectacle that Bali is so famous for. It really hits you from the moment you arrive. The airport is not so bad but at the time of writing this Sept 17, I can tell you that the immigration queue is going to be a nightmare. I am adding this next sentence 10 days later to let you know that the immigration line was worse than expected. It literally 90 min to get through. Apparently, a KLM and China Eastern flight arrived at the same time so the place was jam-packed. At least I could check my emails while waiting.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why a popular tourist destination like Bali cannot streamline the immigration process. I’ve waited in one instance for well over an hour. The customs guys seem to enjoy going real slow while the rest of us have to suck it up and wait patiently. It’s all part of the fun and games but it is well worth the wait because we all know what’s on the other side. A good tip as well is visas soon as you get off the plane run to the immigration area. Get in front of your fellow passengers and bolt to the front. Whatever you do not amble and take your time walking there as there are heaps of flights landing all the time and the last thing you want is to be at the end of a queue of a huge 747 that’s just landed from Europe. You’ll be waiting 2 hours for sure!
Clearing immigration is one thing, the next is organising transport or a taxi to your hotel or villa. As you exit the airport terminal you are assaulted not only with new sites and sounds but there would literally be well over 100 drivers waving signs of peoples names in all languages dominating the arrivals area. It can be confronting for some people and I will add to this the immediate attention you will draw from local Balinese taxi drivers all wanting to pick up a quick fare from unsuspecting and preferably naive tourists. They will be able to smell you out and: ‘kerching’, up goes the cost of the taxi fare. Tip number 2: the word ‘tidak’ means no, ‘Suksema’ means thanks and ‘mahal’ means expensive. Get these 3 words right and they will think you’re a local ex-pat and you will get a better deal.
But how are you going to pay for this taxi if you haven’t changed any of your Aussie dollars into Rupiah? Well, luckily for us there is a really good money changer as soon as you leave the terminal on your right-hand side. It’s legit so there’s no worry about getting ripped off or short-changed. My advice is to change ( let’s say you are in Bali for a week) $750 for 2 people and $500 for 1 person at this money changer. Most villas will have their own safety so you can rest easy knowing that your money is ok while you out and about. If you are staying in a hotel and prefer to change your money there then be prepared to get a much lower exchange rate. Hotels especially the Seminyak, Legian and Kuta areas are notorious for charging excess exchange fees and be prepared to get about 20% less than you would if you changed your money at the airport.
If you don’t carry cash, there are heaps of ATM’s all over the main areas and there’s always 1 in your local convenience stores like Circle K, 7 Eleven or the larger supermarkets like Pepito or Popular. My experience with AM’s has always been fine but there was one instance where the machine did not dispense the money and my account got debited. Westpac was cool with the refund but it’s just the hassle. Then there’s the paranoia about getting your card skimmed. This happens everywhere so just use your better judgement and perhaps go to an ATM that looks like other people have used it. If there’s a bit of a queue there then that’s a good sign. There are Commonwealth Bank branded ATM’s you can see all over the place but, to be honest, I’m not sure if this is the real deal of a fake. Again, go where the people are to put your mind at ease and if someone gets their card chewed up or swallowed then at least you know not to use that machine. Better them than you!
Take care when renting a scooter
If you are the adventurous type who wants to rent a scooter then Bali is the scooter kingdom. I reckon it’s the scooter capital of the world. Hondas, Suzuki, Vespas, and Yamaha scooters are all over the place. The streets are absolutely jam-packed with them. This is the favourite form of transport of over 5 million people all crammed into a small space. Do you get the idea now? It is non-stop, has 24/7 zoom zoom and the bikes are really easy to rent. For most Aussies getting a scooter in Bali is just what they do. It’s easy to get around, cheap to hire (about $5 per day) and petrol prices are about half of what they are back home. Be warned that riding a scooter in Bali is bloody dangerous and every week, if not every day someone comes off their bike and is hospitalised.
If you think it can’t happen to you cause you ride at home, think again. Road rules in Bali do not exist and if they do they are at the bare minimum. I’ve seen kids as young as 5 years of age on a scooter on the main highway without a helmet. Indonesian laws are nothing like ours and cops are really there to enforce the law to their benefit. That is, if they see a foreigner on a bike then you are fair game to pull over and ask for a bribe. They hang at most major intersections in Seminyak, Canggu and Legian and if you’re not wearing a helmet they will stop you and then the fun begins.
They will tell you that you need to follow them to the police station and for most Aussies the thought of going to an Indonesian police station is terrifying. They prey on this fear and will tell you that you can pay the fine then and there to avoid the hassle. Take my advice and pay the guy. What’s $20 or even $50 when it comes to keeping you out of the clutches of bent Bali cops. You may think you’re being smart and you may think that you are a smooth talker and can work your way out of this but believe me when I tell you they have seen hundreds of young Aussie tourists tearing up the roads all before and you are just another dumb tourists who they will fleece. Accept this fact and move on. If you want to go to the station to do the paperwork then be prepared for hours of waiting with the eventual same outcome.
Renting a scooter
If you’re going to rent a scooter in Bali then these tips are golden and make sure you follow these exactly as we have been there and done it before dozens of times.
Wear a helmet at all times. You may think it’s cool not to wear one but the police are on the lookout for this and if you fall off well, a helmet is the only thing between your head and hard Balinese bitumen.
You don’t have to spend more than $7 per day for your bike hire. Obviously, if you come across as a naive first-timer they are going to try to get more out of you and I’ve heard some stories where people are paying well over $50 per day. Just say NO to these prices and walk away. There are hundreds of places where you can hire a bike so if you are prepared to walk, they will come down in price.
It’s OK to fill up with petrol at roadside stalls that have petrol in old Absolut Vodka bottles. Local vendors looking to earn extra money will see petrol at about Rp 8000 per litre. If you go to a Pertamina Government station you will pay less but these are out of the way and the last thing you want s to run out of juice on an Indonesian back road.
Make sure you have a current drivers license. The jury is still out whether or not you need an International Drivers License as I have never had one and I have rented a bike for over 20 years. No one will ever ask you for this and if the police pull you over your stuffed anyway regardless of license. Have a close look at the following video, study it and take everything on board.
Make sure you have full travel insurance
Make sure that you take out the full insurance. Bike rental places love it when you stack your bike or it’s damaged as they can repair it cheaply while you are slugged hundreds of dollars for the smallest dent. This is a bit of a scam and some places will milk this to the fullest. When you return the bike they will go over it thoroughly and blame you for existing scratches, don’t fall for this and take pics of the bike with your smartphone before you take it on the road as proof of its current condition. Remember you are the dumb gringo tourist and if they can take advantage of you they will. Bali is not always the land of smiles and the Javanese (not the Balinese) are well known for gladly taking your money if you are prepared to let it go. Now I’m not saying everyone is like this but you do have to keep your wits about you.
Wear shoes not thongs and if you are without shoes don’t rent the bike. The helmets you get in Bali are also pretty bad but it’s better than nothing.
Lastly and I know that this point is going to fall on deaf ears to those under 20, but don’t drink and drive. Essentially, you can ride to a bar or club, drink 20 buntings and get on your bike. There are no booze buses in Bali so it’s basically the wild west here. Fun for some people who enjoy the novelty of this but a visit to the local hospital should change your mind. There are so many bike accidents in Bali that it’s not funny and most deaths occur because of a late-night drive when you are sloshed.
If you’re coming to Bali and you are on a bit of a budget then there is the temptation to eat at local stalls or from vendors. They are everywhere and are known as warnings and they sell everything from sate to nasi goreng. They are cheap, convenient and are probably your first step in the process of getting the dreaded Bali belly. If you have never had it before you are in for a world of pain and hours spent in the bathroom with the worst stomach pains of your life. It can last for days and will put an end rot your dream holiday.
Really useful tips for eating in Bali.
# 1. Always eat fruit that is not peeled. If it’s peeled like in a fruit salad then I would be very wary. Who knows how long that fruit has been left standing in the sun
# 2. Never ever drink the water. This is self-explanatory but if you are the forgetful type and accidentally wash your mouth out after brushing your teeth or taking the random mouth full of water in the shower this could be an issue. It’s a matter of wait n see but my money is on the fact that you’re going to cop some kind of intestinal bug or the belly. Be prepared for some vomiting and again the time on the toilet.
# 3. If you are a victim of point 1 or 2 above make sure you have Lomotil and stemetil handy. Buy it at the chemist before you leave. It will be your best friend if your suffering.
# 4. Avoid all forms of sate sold on the street or Bakso. I don’t want to venture what the meat is but it ain’t going to be healthy.
# 5. Try to eat in hotels or restaurants where you can see other tourists. If you’re off the beaten track and find that you are the only person in the restaurant try to order some white rice with fried vegetables. This is the safest option. Avoid salads of all types as you cannot be 100% sure that they didn’t wash the lettuce or tomatoes using tap water. The smallest drop will do damage
# 6. Drink bottled water at all times.
# 7 . If you are lucky enough to be staying in a Bali holiday villa then most of them will come with breakfast included. Use this option and eat big-time before you venture out exploring. Buffet breakfasts in most resorts are also a good and very safe option.
# 8. Avoid alcohol from local vendors. Who knows what they put in there and in some cases you will end up robbed (without passport, money, wallet, watch, jewellery etc) after a few glasses of the local firewater. Drink at established venues only. If you planning a big night out and want to have a few drinks in the hotel before you hit the clubs then buy some Bintangs at the convenience stores or use your duty-free. The local brew is known as ‘arak’ is ok if you buy it in a bottle but the hangovers are quite severe.
# 9 Eating at local markets. This is OK but only eat the fruit and make sure that it’s fresh which is more than likely at traditional Balinese markets. Eat bananas, papayas, dragon fruit and coconuts.
Lastly, if you are travelling to Bali with the family and have young kids there are heaps of kid-friendly cafes and restaurants all over Seminyak, Batubelig, Petitenget, Canggu, Berawa, Ubud, basically any place where there are tourists you will find kid-friendly menus. Hamburgers, chips, kinds of pasta, pizzas, wraps etc are all on the menu and what’s even better for families is that there the ice cream/yoghurt craze has hit the island so there’s no shortage of post-dinner desserts to keep the kids happy. The following video is taken at Gustos in Kerobokan / Seminyak and is without a doubt the most popular ice cream place on the island.
# 10. Download the Go Jek app. Before you come to Bali download the Go Jek app – you can do this here and use it to get around the island. Go Jek is the biggest ride-sharing and home/villa food delivery service and it’s an invaluable tool to help you get around if you don’t have a scooter or car. It’s super cheap and there are thousands of Go Jek drivers so waiting times are next to nothing.
If you are the healthy type then there are also heaps of cafes where you can get healthy salads ( safe to eat) and organic dishes if that’s your thing. Head for areas like Seminyak and Oberoi’s Eat St as well as Canggu where there are dozens of places to satisfy even the most discerning foodies.
I know I did say that you should be wary about eating at warnings but there are a few exceptions to the rule. Try Warung Bu Mi or Jaba along Jalan Batu Bolong in Canggu. I’ve eaten there hundreds of times without any issues and the food is really cheap, fresh, tasty and packed the whole day with backpackers, surfers and people wanting to try real Balinese food for about $5 for a full plate. It’s a weird system where they give you a plate and you point to dishes that you want to eat in the window display. There are about 30 to choose from. They will them pile it up with fish, chicken, rice, veggies etc and it’s so good. I generally don’t like giving free plugs but this place is worth it.
If you are a surfer then Bali is paradise.
Simply put, it has some of the best waves in the world. If you’re coming to Bali to surf then you probably know all the decent spots and breaks so it’s pointless for me to go on about these but for the sake of newbies, the following beaches and degree of difficulty should be helpful.
Kuta Beach – is one of the most popular in Bali and this is where many Aussies come for cheap packaged holidays. The beach is patrolled and it’s a great place for beginners to intermediates.
Airport Left & Rights & Kuta Reef
You have to take a boat out of the reef here so it is more for the intermediate. If it’s big, forget it unless you are experienced. The boat ride out to the reef will cost you Rp 50 000 per person and it’s a fun start to the surf. Just rock up to the beach and approach a local and they will point you in the right direction. The wave is a fun left-hander and it does break over a reef so even in small swell conditions if you fall off you can hurt yourself.
Canggu – Old Man’s – a great place for beginners to learn to surf as the waves are gentler here. You hire a longboard and an instructor who will go out with you to where the waves break. Again, in big dangerous conditions stay well clear.
Canggu – Echo Beach and Restaurants – only for intermediate to advance. Echo Beach is notoriously territorial so locals rule here. It’s one of the best right-handers in Bali so expect it to be really crowded and very hassled.
Seminyak Beach – OK for beginners to intermediate but watch out for rips. It’s a sandbank so if you fall off damage will be minimal but if you’re a beginner be warned that it’s not patrolled.
Uluwatu – the world-famous break at the southern tip of the island known as the Bukit. Extremely dangerous and only for those who are strong paddlers and experienced. Beginners can forget about surfing here.
Padang – is the next beach up from Uluwatu but it is protected and ideal for beginners. Avoid big swells.
Sanur, Nusa Dua – you will need boats to get out to the reef but only for those who are experienced.
Keramas – an awesome wave for the experienced. A perfect right-hander but really packed when the swell picks up.
Medewi – great left-hander about a 90-minute drive up the east coast from Seminyak.
If you want to surf and you have never tried it before stick to the main patrolled areas. People die all the time in Bali when they try to be heroes out in the surf. It’s a dangerous sport and doing it in Bali needs extreme caution. There are lots of surfboard hire places in the main areas including the beach and you will pay about $20 per day. If you damage the board watch out as they will slug you with some heavy ding repair fees. Like most avid surfers who talks their boards over to Bali f you do get a ding don’t stress too much as there are lots of places to get it repaired and they are cheap and really good. If you want to buy a board in Bali there are many shops in Canggu and Seminyak including Al Merrick and Chilli stores plus the dozens of Rip Curl and Billabong stores that sell boards, fins, wax, jetties and board shorts.
There are lots of other activities you can do if you are an adrenaline junkie. Try white water rafting, parasailing, scuba diving, dirt bike riding, snorkelling, even horseback riding. They are all here for you to enjoy but like with any sport anywhere in the world you will need to exercise caution. Most water activities can be organised by your villa manager or hotel tour desk operator. Make sure you use reputable companies and never try to randomly organise this on your own by some dodgy street vendor. You will only end up losing money.
Most newbies will be aware of this but doing any type of drug in Bali is dangerous. I have to touch on this point here as the last thing I want to see is a fellow Aussie end up in Kerobokan jail or worse in front of a loaded gun waiting for the execution. Look, I know that if your reading this and you are really young and ‘bulletproof’ you won’t listen to me but please whatever you do save the drugs for home if you’re into that. Narcotics are a death sentence in Bali and there are people out there looking to sell you the stuff all over Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. They will have no hesitation approaching you to buy drugs but these guys are really working or the cops and you will be busted! The consequences are too dire to go into. But if your coming to Bali to party just stick to the beers, spirits and wines.
I haven’t really spoken about seniors or the elderly coming to Bali but here are some really good tips for those over 55’s coming to Bali for the first time.
a) It can get really hot so you do not want to be out in the middle of the day in the sun. You will fry! Try to limit exploring the local area or sightseeing to the hours of 9-11 am and after 4 pm. Anything in between is too severe. Hang by the pool or better be in the shade.
b) Watch out walking the footpaths at night. Some of these are damaged with huge potholes. You do not want to fall into one of these. It will be the end of you.
c) There are some really good doctors in Bali and they have a good hospital in Denpasar. Having said that if you really sick I would get the first flight back home if you can. make sure you have all your travel insurance up to date.
d) There are lots of tours where you can sit in the comfort of an air-conditioned bus to take you to places of interest. Don’t try to do it on your own or rent a bike – leave this to the under 35’s.
e) Avoid areas like central Kuta or the main part of Double Six beach. This can get noisy with party-goers and there are day clubs especially in the Double Six beach area that play very loud doff music from morning till late. My advice for the seniors is to either rent a private pool villa in a quiet area or stay in a resort in Nusa Dua, Jimbaran Bay or Sanur which caters mainly to the seniors market.
A totally random tip: is that you do not have to tip in Bali. I’m a firm believer in tipping but the Balinese don’t expect it. Having said that the average wage here is $200-$400 per month so it would hurt to tip a bit. Even a few dollars can make a huge difference. If the service has been outstanding in your villa or restaurant make sure you show them your gratitude.
One thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that Bali is really cheap. It’s part of Indonesia which is a third world country and currently, 2 Aussie dollars will buy you about Rp 20 000 which can buy you:
- 1.5-litre bottle of water
- red bull
- bar of chocolate
- t-shirt on the beach
- almost a dinner at some places
- 10 minutes in a taxi
- quick go-jek scooter ride from Seminyak Square to Petitenget Beach
But don’t be fooled by its cheapness you can spend up big time if you go out at night to some of the fancy restaurants in Seminyak such as Ku De Ta, Cafe Del Mar, Potato Head, Mama San or Merah Putih or even some of the less well-known ones like Biku, Kim Soo or Sea Circus. Going out here especially if you are with some hungry kids ( and you like to have a few drinks) will set you back as much as going out at home. If you are with a group of your mates or girlfriends and are having a big night be prepared to drop a couple of hundred dollars. Bali has this funny way of having money slip through your fingers. It’s so weird you change $500 Aussie and you end up getting a thick wad of notes and you end up feeling like a millionaire and obviously, you start spending like one. It’s a very odd feeling having millions of Rupiah in your wallet.
Also read: Changing Money In Bali, You Have Been WARNED
You buy 10 sarongs, t-shirts you don’t need, wood carvings you will never keep and odd souvenirs like kites that you never use or fake watches that break or fake bags and wallets that tear. Speaking of fake watches, don’t waste your money. They are really dodgy and are 100% NOT waterproof! Also with the sunnies, if they tell you there is UV protection, don’t believe them.
One interesting and beautiful aspect of Bali is the religious factor. The Balinese are Hindu and there are ceremonies going on the whole time. You can t miss them no matter where you’re staying. More often you will see them dressed in their traditional garments walking in the street accompanied by the melodic sounds of the gamelan.
This is one of the outstanding features of Bali and it’s what draws so many people. It’s the way in which people, religion and society seem to interact in harmony with each other. It is unique to this 1 island. The tip here: there are tons of little religious offerings all over the place. Please avoid treading them. Also if there is a ceremony in progress show respect and observe them from a distance. Balinese are very friendly and will enjoy and encourage your interest in their culture. Another tip. There is one day of the year in Bali called Nyepi. It lasts for 24 hours and the whole island shuts down so make sure you are not arriving or leaving that day. If you happen to be in Bali when it’s Nyepi be prepared to stay in your hotel like no one and I repeat no one is allowed outside. It’s a really weird vibe and if you are there for it you will know exactly what I mean. The whole buzzy, noisy, hectic island comes to a screeching halt.
If you like me and you can’t live without your laptop or phone when you are away you will be pleased and probably surprised to know that Bali has some fairly decent wifi. Yes, that’s true. hard to believe but most restaurants and I would say all hotels and I know that all our holiday villa rentals have reliable and pretty fast wifi. So if you are at all worried about being disconnected from your Facebook or Instagram or work email don’t be! The wifi is free and it’s really decent. Digital nomads, social media addicts, workaholics and Bali bloggers like me can all rejoice that there is now proper high-speed wifi.
These are just a few tips to help you on your way to what I would consider the best little island in the world. There’s a reason why millions of tourists come here every year. If you like me then this will not be your last trip. Personally, I have had over 75 trips to Bali and I cannot see this ever stopping. It’s such a wonderful place and I find that I learn something new every time I come here. Unfortunately for some people, they come once and that’s it for them. I often hear how they don’t like the traffic or pollution or the dogs on the street.
But for the majority of us, Bali is a lifelong pilgrimage. As soon as you arrive back home you start daydreaming about your next trip. It has that effect on so many people, just like you and me.