Ahhhh, Bali. The place brought to fame by the Julia Roberts film, “Eat, Pray, Love” (based on the book of the same title). Since the 2010 release of the film, Bali has become a popular destination for tourists and digital nomads alike. From the bustling streets filled with scooters in Kuta, to the breathtaking rice terraces in Ubud, and even the beautiful waters down in Uluwatu, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this little part of Indonesia. But before jumping in blindly, I feel that I should share with you some insider tips from my 8 weeks of living in this tropical paradise.
Where to Stay
Bali has a lot of different activities, to accommodate many types of travelers. Before deciding where to plant yourself, you should figure out what you are most interested in doing. Seeing as my trip to Bali was my first time away from the US, I booked a hotel very close to the airport, so I was able to rest and recuperate from my jet lag. (It’s so very real!) I had no idea that meant I would be staying in Kuta, aka clubbing central for all of the Aussies that come over for a weekend getaway. If you’re looking for late nights and cheap drinks, Kuta is the place for you. Personally, that’s not my speed – so after a few days of resting and doing the time zone tango (see: Jet Lag) I moved to another area. I had also pre booked myself a very nice villa for a few days in Canggu, prior to my arrival, not realizing how far it was from the main city. Canggu (pronounced chang-goo) is a popular area due to Old Mans and Deus Ex Machina – the two most happening bars out that way. Be warned, though, it’s almost impossible to get to and from Canggu unless you can drive a scooter (which I can’t – I tried and failed miserably! I even had the bruises to prove it). For some reason, taxi’s have been banned from picking up in that area; unless you hired a driver in advance for the day or week. So my time in Canggu was spent relaxing in the villa and walking along the beach. I spent the remainder of my time in Bali staying in Seminyak – about 10 minutes from Kuta – but central to everything! Unfortunately I didn’t get to spend time in Ubud (yoga central) this time. I was able to spend a day in Uluwatu, though, about an hour south of Seminyak (and surfers paradise!)
As I mentioned before, getting to and from Canggu is difficult unless you can drive a scooter (Uluwatu has the same issue). But my saving grace in Bali came in the form of an app called Go-Jek. Go-Jek is the Indonesian equivalent of Uber or Lyft. If you weren’t aware, the streets of Bali are filled with tourists and scooters zipping about. Taking a taxi anywhere is a pricy option and takes FOREVER! Unless you have luggage with you, I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, download Go-Jek! It works in exactly the same way as Uber/Lyft. The only difference is – you get picked up on a scooter! Your driver arrives (you can monitor their location via GPS services, same as Lyft/Uber) and gives you a helmet. Just throw the helmet on, jump on the back of the bike, and hold on tight! These guys are good! They get you where you need to go – and fast. The best part is that the trip works out to about $2-$3 (USD) depending on where you go, and you pay your driver in cash at the end of your ride. Go-Jek also has a food delivery option, similar to Uber Eats. Just enter your address, select a restaurant, place your order, and BAM! (Don’t forget to have cash ready for that, too). This came in SO handy on a few “hangover days” when I couldn’t be bothered to leave my bed.
SIDENOTE: If you do need to take a taxi for any reason, be sure to ONLY take a Bluebird taxi. They are metered. Others have been known to scam tourists, make up insane prices when you reach your destination, and are severely unreliable.
Indonesia has a corruption problem. That’s nothing new – we are all familiar with corrupt politicians, judges, cops, and others of the sort. In Bali, however, they try to target and extort tourists. The more you look like you don’t belong, the more aggressively they will come after you. Their favorite scam is to pull you out of a crowd of scooters while you are driving, and demand to see a foreign drivers license. (Maybe 1 out of every 100 people has one – they are not required for scooter rental, but are technically required by law). They know that nobody wastes their time or money on getting a foreign DL, so when you cannot produce one, they demand a fee of $1 million IDR ($100 USD) or threaten to take you to Balinese jail. They have been known to go so far as to take your scooter key when you aren’t looking so you can’t drive away. Even if you claim to have no money on you, they will drive or walk with you to an ATM so they can get their big payday. Becoming a cop in Indonesia is as expensive as becoming a lawyer or doctor in the US – so of course they are looking for ways to make a quick dollar. My best suggestion is to just follow the rules of the road. Don’t drive crazy, obey the laws, and ALWAYS wear a helmet. Blend. Blend. Blend.
For those who don’t know yet, DO NOT DRINK THE WATER!! Indonesia is still considered a developing country, which means their water is not as clean as ours here in the US. Indonesian sanitation/waste disposal standards are not up to first world standards like we are used to. The risk of contamination is huge. Buy bottled water to drink and brush your teeth with, and try not to accidentally get water in your mouth when you shower. If you do drink the water, you could end up with a case of “Bali Belly” and spend the next few days becoming close friends with the porcelain god. Trust me, you don’t want that. So just be aware and stick to bottled water at all times. Also, be sure to ask for canned soda or no ice when you are out to eat. Another important thing to know is that it’s humid. Ridiculously humid. I remember stepping out of the airport and feeling like I had run into a wall of hot clouds. Translation – you are going to sweat. A LOT! Unless you spend all of your time in a bathing suit (which personally, I highly recommend) you will sweat through your clothes. This means quite a bit of laundry. Something I wasn’t aware of before visiting Bali is that a laundromat is a foreign concept. Luxuries like a washer and dryer are very rare, let alone having 10 of them in the same place! Instead they have shops where you drop your clothes off and pay either by weight or number of items. Expect it to take up to 2 or 3 days before you are able to pick your clothing up, as well. Otherwise, you can wash your things in the sink and hang them out to dry.
The best thing about Bali (especially coming from the US) is that your money goes a long way. The downside is, the Balinese know this and will attempt to price gouge you. That’s why I recommend learning a couple Indonesian words before you arrive. Being able to walk past a shop and say “tidak makasih” (Teh-dak muh-ka-see) or, “no thanks” shows that it’s not your first rodeo and you won’t stand to be taken advantage of. Other good phrases to know are:
- Terima Makasih (terra-muh kah-see) – “thank you” (formal)
- Sama-sama – “no problem” or “it’s fine” (said in response to terima makasih)
- Tidak (teh-dak) – “No”
Those should get you through most basic interactions, and the locals will be happy that you took the time to learn their language! One last money related tip – never change your cash at the currency exchange stores you see on the street. They are great slight of hand artists. The best bet is to withdraw cash for the week from an ATM – it will come out in IDR so there’s no need for exchanging!
All in all, Bali is a beautiful place with very genuine people. It moves at a relaxed pace and is sure to be your new favorite getaway spot. I hope these tips helped a few of you that may be heading there soon. Please feel free to leave any other questions in the comments and I’ll answer them the best that I can! Otherwise, grab your suit, surfboard, and yoga mat – and go enjoy Bali!