So you’re heading for Bali, the beach capital of Indonesia? What do you need to know to survive this tropical adventure where so many have fallen before you? Here’s our top 10 tips for surviving your Bali holiday.
1. Get your “visa on arrival” first
No matter what currency you’re taking or what travel cash cards you have, you’re going to need US$35 in cash (per person) just to get off the starting blocks, because that’s what the kindly Indonesian authorities like to charge tourists for a “visa on arrival”. After you get off your flight and before you line up for the immigration queue, do yourself a favor and grab your “visa on arrival” from the kind ladies at the visa desk.
2. Bring your duty free alcohol limit!
No matter where you’re coming from, alcohol in your home country (especially at the duty free shop) is going to be a lot cheaper than the same alcohol in Bali. Yes there is cheap alcohol in Bali and young stupid tourists go mad on it, but this is home made spirit and just as likely to kill you as make you drunk. A bottle of half decent whisky or bourbon in Bali will cost you at least US$60 and you are allowed to bring one liter of alcohol per person (man, woman and child) into the country. So max your duty free limit! However, local beer is very cheap, about S1-2 a bottle, and it’s pretty damn good on a hot Bali day.
3. Don’t let the porters grab your bags
As soon as you clear customs, someone is going to try to help you with your bags. These are the Bali Airport porters and although they only actually charge around 50 cents (500 Rp) per bag, because you’ll almost certainly only have 50,000 or 100,000 Rp bank notes they won’t have any change and you’ll end up paying a lot more. So don’t use them unless you have very heavy bags and can’t manage them yourself and you have small notes (1000 and 5000 Rp) to tip them with.
4. Be careful which taxi company you use
There are lots of taxis in Bali and as you head out of the airport there’ll be lots of guys trying to get you to go in their taxi or minivan or even on the back of their scooter. Take care and take your time to choose. Genuine taxis are very cheap in Bali but get in the wrong one and you could find yourself paying a lot more. Look for the fully kitted out Bluebird taxis like the one above and insist on the meter (most genuine drivers will use it anyway). If the taxi looks odd or the driver says the meter doesn’t work or whatever, just get out.
5. Hire your own tour bus!
If you’re travelling as a family or as a group, it is often much cheaper to hire a private minivan and driver for the day rather than book yourselves on a group tour. A van and driver can cost as little as US$30-50 (300-600,000 Rp) for a whole day. And you don’t even need to be going anywhere special, just shopping or to a beach away from your hotel. They don’t mind and will wait for you in a designated spot, so take your time. But organising someone through your hotel or guest house will be better than trying to negotiate with someone on the street.
6. Don’t buy anything special on the first day!
You can buy some really cool stuff in Bali, like carved elephants, wooden chess sets, stunning beach and village paintings, dolls, sarongs and much more. There’s also lots of knock-off t-shirts, shorts, shoes, sunglasses watches and the like. But if you jump in or allow yourself to get pushed in too soon, you’ll end up paying a lot more than you should. All prices are negotiable in Bali but it takes a few days to realize that. You need to practice your bargaining skills on small things first, and work your way up to what you really want to buy. Be prepared to walk away if you can’t get the price you want, but be aware that walking away from a price you asked for is considered very bad and may lead to some trouble. If you don’t want to haggle, try buying what you want in a supermarket or the Bintang store.
7. Don’t spend all your money before you leave!
It’s so easy to spend lots of money in Bali, even though everything is very cheap. You spend it on food, on drinks, on nightclubs, on girls (or boys), on taxis and tours, on clothes and souvenirs. But make sure you save some because you’ll need 200,000 Rp per person at the airport, in cash, when you leave to pay the departure tax. When you take your first lot of money out of the ATM, make sure you put 200,000 Rp away in your passport so it’s there on the day you leave, otherwise you might not leave!
8. Don’t wave big banknotes around!
When you go to the ATM or the money changer to get some Rupiah, you’re almost certainly going to end up with 50,000 and 100,000 Rp bank notes. Get these changed into smaller notes (ideally no larger than 20,000) as soon as possible because lots of people in Bali will tell you they don’t have change for large notes (and maybe they don’t if most people are running round trying to use them all the time). The money changers may allow you to exchange your large notes for smaller ones, but I find the banks are usually much nicer about this.
9. Don’t fall for the “free hotel” offer!
Hotels in Bali are pretty cheap, but nothing really comes for free. Yet if you walk the streets of Kuta or Legian for a little while, someone will offer you a free hotel. Sometimes they’ll offer you two or even three nights for free. It ain’t free! They are trying to sign you up for a hotel club or a time share or something that will end up costing you a lot more than your hotel. And they are very smooth about it too.
In fact, booking your hotel with a reputable booking site, in advance, will save you a lot of possible grief and disappointment. Check out the best hotel and guest house accommodation deals in Bali on TripAdvisor.
10. Don’t bring or take drugs, seriously just don’t!
As you enter Bali at Denpasar airport you’ll see signs that say “Drugs are punishable by death”, but as you wander the streets of Kuta and Legian you’ll be offered drugs all over the place, especially in the bars and nightclubs. Just say “no” and mean it. Although drugs are easy to get in Bali, the people who sell them are often police informants and they will not hesitate to earn a few extra Rupiah by selling you to the police. And if you are caught, the penalties are very, very severe. You may end up spending 10 or 20 years in Kerobokan jail or, even worse, face a firing squad. This is no joke and you need to take it seriously.