Bali life can be a bit of a culture shock for first timers; it’s busy, overwhelming, loud and you will get hassled.
But if you relax into your first few days, be friendly and let it all sink in, Bali can be a wonderful place to shop, dine, sightsee and soak in the local culture.
Here are nine rules every tourist should know before they visit, from why you should BYO bags, to which cab companies to use.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Bali is a land of beauty and contrasts, and as such, there’s plenty to see and experience.
From the hustle and bustle of beachside Kuta and Seminyak, to the laid-back vibes of Canggu and Nusa Dua and the cooler mountainous regions of Ubud and Kintamani, Bali is really like a choose your own adventure when it comes to deciding what kind of holiday experience you’re after.
There are a few basic things you need to know when planning your Balinese escape.
Like all international destinations, Indonesia requires a minimum six months’ validity on your passport from your entry date into Bali. If travelling on an Australian passport, you can get a free visa on arrival into Indonesia, unless you plan on staying for 31 to 60 days. If you are, buy the $US35 visa on arrival at the immigration counter in Bali Airport in Denpasar. Departure tax is included.
There are numerous Facebook groups offering advice for first timers to Bali about everything from where to get the coldest Bintangs and best value nasi goreng to how much to pay for souvenirs, clothes, bags and shoes, but be choosy as some have questionable standards when it comes to the ethical treatment of animals in Bali. If you do want to have a wildlife encounter, be informed about which animal attractions are ethical and offer sustainable, cruelty-free activities. The TripAdvisor and World Animal Protection websites have the latest information on animal tourism.
BALI SHUTDOWN: BAN YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT
HILARIOUS TRUTH ABOUT EVERY AUSSIE IN BALI
$6 ITEM EVERY BALI TRAVELLER NEEDS
BRING YOUR OWN BAG
Shopping is an Olympic sport in Bali, so make sure you’ve got some staying power — and a good sense of humour. You can buy anything from T-shirts and drink holders to jewellery and penis-shaped bottle openers. The Balinese love to haggle. And hassle. You’ll be catcalled and followed with offers of lower prices and better value, but it’s all in good fun.
It’s not a bad idea to bring your own reusable shopping bags on an outing too. Not only is it good for the planet but you’ll avoid being “labelled”; if you do happen to get ripped off, some shop owners will place your goods in a certain coloured plastic bag, which means you are an easy target for inflated prices. Just remember, haggling is supposed to be fun, and often you’ll be squabbling over a few dollars. Sometimes it’s better to give in and move on. There is also a rise in the number of fixed price shops in major shopping areas, so you can avoid haggling altogether.
ONLY USE BLUE BIRD TAXIS
Bali can be chaotic when you first land at Denpasar International Airport, so arrange a pick-up before you leave home and avoid the craziness. Make sure you get an airconditioned van or car as the Bali heat can be stifling.
Travel charges around the island vary immensely. If you’re using taxis, only use metered Blue Bird Taxis. You can download the Blue Bird Taxi app and order a ride, just as you would with Uber. You can also hail one on the street, but be careful it’s not a Blue Biro Taxi, or Blue Bire Taxi … some drivers go to great lengths to make their taxis like an official Blue Bird.
Traffic is horrendous, so allow plenty of time on top of the “expected arrival time”. Hiring a scooter to get around is quicker and more economical, but it can be hair raising if you’re not experienced. Also, no insurance company will cover you for vehicle, scooter or motorcycle accidents unless you have a valid Australian licence for that vehicle as well as an Indonesian licence, so a local driver may be the best option for longer sightseeing trips. The going rate for a reputable driver is $50 per day, up to about eight hours of sightseeing. If you’re after supplies, you can download and use the Gojek app to have just about anything delivered to your hotel door.
ALWAYS ASK FOR AIR CONDITIONING
Accommodation is plentiful in Bali — you can easily find a hotel, resort, homestay or beach shack in the area you like to suit your needs — and budget. The main tourist areas are Kuta on the south-west coast, Seminyak which is slightly north of Kuta, Nusa Dua on the south-east tip of the island, Ubud in the uplands and Canggu on the south coast.
Again, TripAdvisor is a great resource for hotel information. Basic tips are to ensure you get a room with AC and a safe, and always take your hotel’s details with you so you can easily find your way back — there are a lot of hotels with similar names.
BEWARE: YOU’LL BE A MILLIONAIRE
The Indonesian currency — the rupiah — can be a little overwhelming so get familiar with it before you go. Money changers are everywhere but only use those in popular areas. Be vigilant during your transaction to make sure you are the last person to count your cash before you leave. ATM skimming is common in Bali, so be careful when entering your PIN and make sure the ATM appears to be in good working order before you use it. If it looks dodgy, it is. Whether you use money changers or get it from an ATM, you’ll end up with wads of cash — $A1 will get you 10,500 rupiah so if you change $100 you’ll be a millionaire in Bali!
GET A LOCAL SIM
Most hotels, restaurants and attractions in Bali now have free Wi-Fi, you just have to ask for the password. You can also get a local SIM when you land at the airport and top it up as you go to avoid excessive global roaming charges from your home carrier.
STEER CLEAR OF STARBUCKS, AND ARAK
Bali has some of the best food in the region — from traditional Indonesian dishes at roadside warungs to five-star international degustation menus.
Don’t be afraid to try food from stalls as long as any meat products are stored on ice and are cooked in front of you. Restaurants and cafes are everywhere — you can eat right on the beach with the water lapping at your toes, or watch the sunset over a stunningly manicured garden. Popular restaurants book out fast so reserve a table online or by calling. Your hotel concierge can also help with suggestions. Service and Government tax will be added to your bill when dining at most restaurants, so keep this in mind. Bali also has a great coffee culture driven by expats and locals, so don’t just go to Starbucks.
Wine is expensive everywhere in Bali and unfortunately, methanol poisoning is a risk when ordering spirits from a bar or club. Only drink spirits you have bought there and opened yourself or your own duty free alcohol. Never drink arak — or Balinese moonshine unless you want a trip to the local hospital.
ALWAYS TAKE SUNSCREEN AND TISSUES
See your GP before you leave Australia about any vaccinations you may require. Make sure you let them know if you will be visiting animal attractions, such as the Monkey Forest in Ubud. You’ve heard horror stories about Bali Belly, and it is pretty common, so be prepared with a travel medical kit. You can also go to a local chemist, or Apotek, for advice. In severe cases, get your hotel to call a doctor or go to a medical centre and have your credit card and travel insurance documentation with you. Only drink bottled water and use it when brushing your teeth too. Resist the temptation to open your mouth in those wonderful outdoor showers and hotel pools. The sun is brutal in Bali so take plenty of sunscreen as it can be expensive to get there, and also stock up on insect repellent for mosquitoes, bed bugs and cane mites. Use hand sanitiser before eating and always carry tissues as some bathrooms don’t have toilet paper.
DON’T BE FOOLED BY ‘PEDESTRIAN CROSSINGS’
Always get travel insurance before travelling to Bali. You never know what might happen and medical costs can quickly add up. Keep your passport securely with you, or locked in the hotel safe, and it’s a good idea to copy all travel documents and email a copy to yourself or leave with someone at home.
Injuring yourself when walking around Bali’s uneven streets is pretty common, so keep an eye on where you’re going and be aware that the lines painted on Bali roads — the ones that look similar to our pedestrian crossings — are really just for decoration.
If you’re coming back to your hotel late at night, get a Blue Bird taxi or walk alongside main roads; don’t take shortcuts through neighbourhoods you’re not familiar with — it’s easy to get lost.
20 BEST SWIMMING SPOTS IN BALI
THE NO.1 RULE FOR BEATING BALI BELLY
20 BALI RESORTS TO BLOW YOUR MIND