Bali Travel Tips
I went to Bali over the Chinese New Year holidays with my sister. It was nice, but it was really HOT. At first we planned to stay 2 nights in Kuta and 2 nights in Ubud; but we changed our minds when we went on a local tour.
We booked this tour for our second day through a brochure we found at our hotel on the first day; and this tour took us to many places throughout Kuta and Ubud. I was surprised at how much we could cram in one day; but then there wasn’t that much to see in each place. We watched the famous Barong and Kris dance (a one-hour performance on a local legend) which was a bit lost on us in spite of the paper handout with the synopsis – it wasn’t all that entertaining anyway. We also saw the silversmith (which gave us an explanation on how handmade silver jewelry was made) and the woodcarver (and a brief explanation about the different types of wood used) – both of which were just excuses for us to buy things to provide commission for our guides.
We saw the Tegenungan waterfall, and had lunch overlooking the Mt Kintamani volcano. We also had a stop at the spice garden where we were served welcome drinks of hot chocolate and ginger tea (and where my sister was kind of goaded into buying the hot chocolate and ginger tea powder mixes). We took a look at the monkey forest in Ubud, the elephant cave in Bedulu, took photos of the rice terrace, and finished off looking at Tanah Lot.
Sounds like a lot, right? We managed to cram all that in one day because we didn’t spend more than a few minutes at each stop. There wasn’t really much to see anyway.
Because of what little we saw in Ubud, we changed our plans and decided to stay in Kuta for all 4 nights. Ubud was a fine art village, but neither my sister and I are artsy persons. And there was no beach!
The third day was spent walking along most of the streets looking at shops, and hunting for different places to try to eat. Indonesian cuisine isn’t very fascinating. It’s similar to Malaysian food (except for their famous babi guling, of course), except that Malaysian food tastes way better.
I got my hair braided and nails painted on the beach. My sister and I also tried the Balinese massage. It was really good!!
I wanted to go surfing on the third day, but there wasn’t much time so I had to do it on the fourth day. I managed to stay on the surf board all the way to the beach on my first attempt… and last attempt!! I kept falling with all the attempts in between. I didn’t mind the falling. It was the salt water getting into my eyes, nose and mouth that I didn’t like.
My first attempt at surfing, caught in video. Yay, me! Yeah I know it’s not very graceful but bear in mind it’s my first time, and I hadn’t even learnt to steer.
Oh, and I got a pretty bad sunburn because I didn’t wear a wetsuit. I did put on sunblock, but at high noon it was of course not enough. Fortunately I only tried surfing for two hours. If it was the whole day I don’t think I’d have been able to walk thereafter due to the burn.
Couldn’t sleep well that night because there was kinda like a furnace under my skin. In fact I suffered the next few nights, but fortunately I was home by then. Now I’m peeling like an onion. Ugh.
What I didn’t really like about Bali was how aggressive the hawkers can get. There were plenty of “independent” hawkers… like when we went on the tour, a lot of the stops we made had many people selling useless trinkets and they taught their children to run up to us and wave them at our faces. And they’re relentless. Even when we say NO and we’ve gotten back into the car and shut the doors, they’d still wave them at us through the window.
Even along the streets, the hawkers would make catcalls, and someone even offered to be our gigolo (ugh!!!). And on the beach, there were plenty of freelance surf teachers, masseurs, hairbraiders, nail-painters (calling them manicurists/pedicurists would be a crime against nail art!!!), and temporary tattoo-ists who often harangue and shove their services in our faces, even to the point of touching us and grabbing our arms. It was enough to spoil the beach, which was actually quite pretty. It certainly didn’t make us stay to enjoy the beauty of nature; we always felt like leaving so that we could be left in peace.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject, here are my Bali travel tips! Bear in mind that they only apply to Kuta because that’s the only place I went to (the rest don’t really count because they were part of the tour).
- Pack light. You don’t have to pack enough clothes for the entire duration of the trip. There are plenty of stalls selling cheap great-looking clothes that are suitable for the local weather – which you are sure to buy at least one!
- Be wary of your bags. Lock up all outside pockets on your bags which you check in. It’s been known that drugs have been slipped into unsuspecting bags. Like Malaysia and Singapore, drug-smuggling is a crime punishable by death in Indonesia. You don’t want to have your head on the chopping block when you’re innocent!
- Another reason to watch your bags: at the airport, porters will help themselves to your bags and carry/wheel them for you from the luggage carousel to outside the barrier (barely 10 feet away), and then have the cheek to ask you for a tip. If you have no objections to providing a tip for this unnecessary help, by all means go ahead. Otherwise, take your bags BEFORE anyone moves them. Even if someone’s already carrying them, take them firmly from him. I was nearly a victim; and I did not see the need to pay a tip for such little exertion! I only had one really light bag that I could manage on my own, thank you very much. By the way, this doesn’t only happen in Indonesia, it happens in many undeveloped countries too.
- Indonesia charges IDR150,000 per person for airport tax, so be sure you have enough cash. No one told my sister and me this (not even her faithful Lonely Planet book… or maybe she missed that part) and there weren’t even signboards in the airport except at the very counter we were supposed to pay at (at the entrance of immigration). Luckily my sister had enough cash on her to pay for us both … I had very little rupiahs left!
- The prices of items in the stalls are not fixed. I find that most hawkers pluck a value from the air when you ask them how much an item costs, and it’s rarely anywhere near what it’s worth. If you want to buy something, bargain, and bargain hard. Keep in mind that you should be aiming to pay less than half the original amount quoted, so always start off with a value less than that. However if the value you quoted is really too low, the hawkers usually won’t even try bargaining. If you’re unable to reach an agreed price, don’t go back!!! The price will be jacked up even more. Be prepared to walk away; if the hawker is desperate, he’ll agree to your price. Also, never let a hawker bully you into accepting a price you didn’t agree on. There’s a tactic I’ve noticed a lot of hawkers use by suddenly saying “OK” and they start wrapping up the item even though you haven’t agreed on a price yet. I always had to stop them to find out what this “OK” price was. If you don’t agree on the price, walk away; I find that they end up agreeing to my price in the end.
- If you have agreed on a price, honour your end by paying!! Never change your mind and say you don’t want it after all. I have never experienced this for myself, but I’ve heard that in Thailand, whenever a customer backs out, ALL the hawkers (even from the other stalls) gang up and beat the customer up. I’m pretty sure the same happens in Indonesia too. Be fair to them; they make their living by selling through bargaining, and if customers don’t honour their end of the bargain, they can’t survive.
- Wear a wetsuit when you go surfing!!! Don’t try to be a hero like me. It is no fun not being able to sleep at night for the pain in your back, and my skin is shedding like a snake. Actually, more like an onion, cuz it comes off in bits of dead skin. Snakes shed their skin whole.
- BRING YOUR OWN SOAP AND SHAMPOO! Most hotels and even lodges provide soap and shampoo and towels… but not in Bali. If you’re lucky, the hotel or inn you’re staying at will provide towels, but nothing more. They don’t even have liquid soap. So make sure you bring your own soap and shampoo. While you’re at it, bring your own towel too. Just in case. Trust me – we went around enquiring at the other budget hotels.