Bali is a portal, where in the midst of the tourist hustle—full of vegans and yogis racing through the streets (as if it were New York) in search of pranna—there are the Balinese people, who open up a world of new magic if you simply share a smile. And so off you go, smiling all day to these Balinese who live their lives below the surface of the tourism: they tend the rice patties, and beat drums with the buzz of the bugs. They present hand-made offerings to the temple gods, who seem to have more real estate on this island than the Balinese themselves.
In case you haven't heard, it might be worth noting that Bali is not for you if you are a clean-freak, have gecko-phobia, are freaked out by insects, or have trouble with mild heat + humidity. With that said, if you are willing to get over it, you are up for a real treat!
No visa is required for most nationalities including Americans. Entering Bali is easy and smooth, you get a 30 day stamp. Click here to read more about visa requirements and to check if you are eligible.
Airport name: Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) in Denpasar.
EVA AIr (Taiwanese airline) is great, especially if you're a "Hello Kitty" fan (themed airport and plane, haha).
Driving: driver sits on the right (like the UK) and driving is in the left lane.
Small island + many tourists = horrible traffic. Most areas are about a 1-2 hour drive from each other, so plan accordingly. Prices you should expect to pay for such trips are about 15-25 USD.
You can ask your Airbnb host/hotel/resort to arrange for a driver to wait for you at the airport upon arrival. It may be a few dollars more expensive but might be worth it for the first time. We paid 300,000 IDR (about 23 USD) for our 1.5 hours pre-arranged transportation from the Airport to Tegalalang (15 min' north of the heart of Ubud).
Everyone and their uncle is a driver in Bali, don't be shy to negotiate a price that you are comfortable paying.
Another good point A to point B driving option is Blue Bird Taxi, which is a traditional taxi company. Their drivers always use a meter and the prices are very fair/cheap, probably about 60-70% cheaper than a private driver. They are not as "clean" nor communicative as private drivers, however.
Uber is operating in Bali but we never used it, the only time we tried, there were no cars available. You don't really need to use Uber though. Any local that you approach will either take you themselves, call a driver they know, or call Blue Bird Taxi for you upon request.
We really only used drivers for longer hauls to/from the airport, and when we moved in between cities in Bali. You should definitely rent a scooter (as low as 3 USD per day), when you stay in an area for a few days. Driving through the roads and the rice fields is a magical experience.
It is very easy to rent a scooter and most of the time, the place you stay will have some for rent. They don't ask for payments in advance, deposits, license, or documentation. If the place doesn't have it, you will find a rental place a short walking distance from practically anywhere. Just ask around if you can't find one.
While we did not experience this personally, friends and local tour guides have told us that local police will sometime pull tourists on scooters and claim that something isn't up to code. What they expect in order to "let it go" is a small bribe. If they see that you have a lot of cash, they will try to take it all so what we did as a precaution was hide most of our cash in an unexpected place. We kept only around 200,000 IDR (15 USD) easily accessible in our pockets.
Exchange rate: At the time of writing this, the exchange rate for 1 USD is 13,100 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). Check for current rate here.
Credit cards: Many places accept credit cards but will charge an extra 3-4% in processing fees.
Getting local currency: I find it best to withdraw money from the ATM. Usually a better exchange rate than most money exchange counters. Make sure to inform your bank of your travel plans so your card doesn't get blocked.
Mostly pre-tax prices: Similarly to the U.S., prices are mostly shown pre-tax. Unless the place mentions that the prices shown are after tax, expect to see a 10% sales tax/VAT and most of the time, another 5% service charge. We usually add another 10% tip to make it 15%, people seemed to appreciate that.
Bali is cheap! Some examples: A local beer bottle costs around 2.30 USD, a liter of fuel costs around 0.53 cents, average local lunch/dinner for 2 (including drinks) is as low as 16 USD, and there are many quality hotel/homestay accommodations for under 50 USD a night.
- Pack light! I promise that you won't use half of what you bring, anyhow. All you really need in Bali are a pair of shorts, a bathing suit, a couple of T-shirts, flip-flops, and your running shoes for hikes. If you do hike/camp on one of the mountains, be sure to bring a warm sweatshirt and a beanie. Otherwise, leave your fancy clothing, expensive toiletries and makeup at home. Paulina has an awesome travel hack you may adopt. When it comes to her beauty routine, she literally only carries two different color lipsticks, one dark color and one light color (she's into brown and orange!). That's her quick hack for a day to night change while on the go. Works better than Clark Kent's reading glasses. I was impressed.
WIFI and BOOKINGS
While the service might be spotty, you can find WiFi almost anywhere.
Booking accommodations and tours on-the-go (rather than in advance) is not a problem, as there are many available options at all price ranges. It is even recommended that you book on-the-go, as many hidden gems and activities do not have an online presence. They can only be found by strolling in the streets and spotting their sign. Book your first hotel/homestay for when you arrive and then get spontaneous!
The food is good! Fresh, always made to order, and again, pretty cheap. Many vegetarian and vegan options, and the chicken and eggs taste way better than in the United States.
Balinese will always repeat your food and drink order. This means dining mistakes and inconveniences are rare.
If you have sweet blood and are prone to getting lots of mosquito bites- lather up on the bug spray! We like using Repel Lemon-Eucalyptus Deet-Free spray.
In the more jungle-like areas make sure that the place you are staying at has a mosquito net, this is an absolute must.
If there is an AC, turn it on in the afternoon and leave it on overnight, that always helps.
Pro tip: make sure to tell the maid to leave the mosquito net closed. If you don't do that and come back later at night, you will have to spend 20 minutes seating inside of your mosquito net and terminate each and every mosquito that is already in there.
- Language 101:
How are you?
Apa kabar? (AH-pAh KAH-bar?)
Fine, thank you.
Baik, terima kasih. (BAYK, TREE-muh KUS-see)
Terima kasih kembali.
Tidak. (TEE-duh), Tak (TAH)
Small local restaurant
Where is the toilet?
Di mana toiletnya? (DEE muh-nuh TOY-leht-nyuh?)
Excuse me. (begging pardon)
Selamat pagi. (slum-mut PUH-GUEE)
While Indonesia as a whole has a Muslim majority, the majority in Bali are Balinese Hindus. Prepare yourself to see some beautiful temples (literally everywhere and in every household--especially in Ubud), beautiful traditional clothing, and colorful ceremonies and offering practices.
The Balinese are very welcoming, nice and feature big, bright, sincere smiles almost all the time. They speak surprisingly good English, although in some cases it is limited to the sentences that they need to know for work. Most likely, the deeper or more intricate conversations will end up in laughter and smiles.
Don't touch people's heads, not even children, as the Balinese believe that the head is the very sacred.
The Balinese are not "pushy" at all. That is, they rarely try to convince you to buy anything or use any services if you simply smile and say "no thank you". Makes saying "no" quick and pain-free.
When it comes to "adventure" activities, the Balinese aren't the best with volunteering useful (and sometimes very important) information. One example (of many): we used a private tour guide to hike Mount Batur (1717 meters) in the middle of the night to watch the sunrise at the top. He didn't mention to bring anything in advance so we took the liberty of asking ourselves. "Do we need to bring some warm clothing for when we are at the top?". His answer was simply "no". By the time we got to the top of Mt. Batur, we froze our asses off! Of course, he was kind enough to give Paulina his own coat; thankfully, he brought one. One more tip: wear Lycra while surfing, no matter what they say. You'll thank me later.
In general, Balinese Hindus name their children based on the order in which they are born. The firstborn child is named Wayan, the second is named Madeh or Kadek, the third child goes by Nyoman or Komang, and the fourth is named Ketut. If a family has more than four children, the cycle repeats itself, and the next ‘Wayan’ may be called 'Wayan Balik', which loosely translates to ‘another Wayan’. :) This is true for both males and females, and that means that you're sure to meet many Wayans!
Cats are sacred animals if you're a Balinese Hindu.
Google Maps is a must. Google Maps has the option to download a map area for off-line use. Definitely do that as it comes very handy when you don't have service/WiFi.
Electrical outlet/socket: you can expect the 2 pin socket and plug as used in larger parts of Europe. Whether you are staying in a hotel or in a private villa you should be able to get an adapter if you ask for one. The pins are round, not flat or rectangular.
That sound you're hearing is a gecko. You will know what I mean when you get there.
"Where should I stay in Bali?"
To answer this question, it is important to learn a bit about the different areas in Bali since they are all very different and cater to different wants/needs. I will only talk about the places we were able to stay in personally. I do recommend however, to stay in at least two different areas in Bali.