Bali is a hugely popular location for tourists from Australia year round, and for plenty of different reasons. Whether you want to shop, surf, laze on the beach, get cheap massages, go on an adventure or eat spectacular food you can guarantee Bali has it covered. The island of Bali is tiny when compared to Australia. It spans a mere 153km wide by 112km from north to south, and yet has a population of nearly 4 million people. I’ve just spent 2 weeks in Bali, and thoroughly enjoyed my stay. It is however, very different to Australia and it took a bit of getting used to!
Things to do in Bali
Bali has a massive range of things to do, and you it doesn’t take long to find something that you enjoy doing. In general, there are 3 types of people that visit Bali. The first are those who want to shop, and get themselves some great bargains. Everything is cheap in Bali – clothes, decorations for your house, transportation, furniture and food (and basically anything else that has a lot of labour involved). The second are those that come over to do tours. Bali offers more tours than you can imagine; everything from submarine rides through to water skiing, four wheel drive tours and just general exploration tours. Lastly, some visitors hardly leave their hotel and just enjoy relaxing by the pools.
I found myself doing all 3 things, but find it difficult to sit around doing nothing for too long.
What you need to know about Bali
If you have never been to Bali, the first thing I’d recommend is to be flexible. The culture in Bali is totally different to that in Australia, and there are a number of things that you might be a bit unsure about. To start off with, the traffic is very full on. There are road rules, but they seem to be very flexible and you should be prepared for more cars and scooters than you have ever seen, along with lots of horns.
The second thing that is very different is the Balinese attitude to getting business. On a busy street it is difficult to walk past anything, whether it is a popular restaurant, massage parlour, taxi stand or shop without having someone inviting you into the store. You just have to politely say ‘No thanks’, and walk on. This can be a bit tiring after walking past a hundred or more stalls, but that’s just the way it is.
Buying majority of things (exceptions include fixed price shops and most restaurants/tours/people involved stuff) requires bartering. This is a skill that Australians’ don’t naturally have. Be aware of where you buy things, as some of the Balinese will try to rip you off. In general, they are flexible though. From reading online the best way is to ask a price, and then offer them in between 1/5 and 1/3 of their price. While this might seem to be ridiculous, they will try to make as much money as possible (and it works very well on most people). I found that in order to get a reasonable price I’d often have to offer a low price (but not unfair), and then walk out when they don’t come to the party. You can guarantee that it only takes a few steps out of the stall before they drop their prices dramatically.
Balinese people in general are incredibly friendly. I couldn’t believe how friendly they were, and particularly in the tourism industry I believe Australians could learn a lot.
Bali Accommodation options
Accommodation in Bali ranges from tiny huts through to the most incredible resorts that you will ever stay at. Obviously the prices reflect this, but in comparison to Australian accommodation you get more bang for your buck. I suppose this is a reflection of the cheap labour.
Tours and Attractions
I guarantee you will find at least a few tours that will interest you, regardless of what you like. I’ve made a list of a few tours and attractions below:
Bali Bird Park
Bali Safari and Marine Park
Wakka Land Tour
Bali Hai Tours
Fun Cruise Ship
3 Islands tours
Tours around Bali (Ubud, temples, volcanoes etc)
White Water Rafting
Going in a Submarine
Glass Bottom Boating
A number of different companies offer similar tours. You can book different types of tours too (like bronze/silver/gold passes to the Safari Park). If you are staying at a hotel, there is a good chance that the cheapest deals are done by the agency that works there. Shop around, and you will find enough tours to keep you occupied (and spend all of your money) for weeks on end!
The tours were probably the most expensive part of Bali (asides from the accommodation), so you want to pick the best ones to go on. The Safari Park is well worth it, any water sports are fun and I really enjoyed the boat tours that we did.
Other things to do in Bali
You can hire a driver and very new vehicle for around 45 USD for 10 hours. Don’t be afraid to make your own tours up – if you have a few people this is a very cheap option. The rice fields are definitely worth a look, as well as the Volcano’s, Ubud markets and some of the hand crafted art. Find yourself a secluded beach and enjoy it, visit the mountains or just travel around finding the great restaurants (which there are hundreds of).
Avoiding Bali Belly
The food that is available in Bali varies from some of the best food I have ever eaten to the cheapest (and potentially dodgiest) food off the back of motorbikes and in food stalls. In order to properly enjoy your trip, you want to avoid Bali Belly at all costs. It could cost you a few days of sickness (as well as the feeling of being sick and it is apparently very terrible). For a few extra dollars at each meal you should be able to avoid it.
The general advice goes like this. Don’t eat anything from food stalls. Don’t eat at tiny, dodgy looking restaurants. Don’t drink the tap water (this includes brushing your teeth and swallowing any water in the shower). Bottled water is around a dollar per 600ml bottle – its cheap insurance. Stick to restaurants that have good reviews (Trip advisor is an awesome place to look on) and your hotels (if they are good). A good quality main meal shouldn’t cost more than around 10 dollars, and I had plenty that were brilliant for around 5 – 6 dollars.
Money and Bali
Going to Bali and using a different currency can be very confusing. I had a number of moments where I mixed things up, purely because of the way our currency converts. 1 dollar is approximately 10, 000 rupee (as of March 2012). 10 dollars is 100, 000 (one hundred thousand) rupee. It’s easy to get confused when it comes to this, and some of the locals will go along with the confusion if it is in their favour.
Transportation in Bali
Getting around Bali is cheap. It can however, be extremely slow, bumpy and painful. The number of vehicles and road system just simply can’t work together, and as a result you are often stuck going 5 – 10 kilometres an hour. For majority of my stay I’d estimate our average speed was around 25 km per hour. I did however hit just over 100km per hour on a long stretch of road (while being taken to the Safari Park).
My suggestion is to catch the Blue Bird (check this) taxi groups. These are the most trusted and recommended by everyone. Make sure they turn their metres on. It isn’t hard to get other transport – a lot of people own Suzuki APV’s or Toyota Avanza’s (both vans) and will offer transport. You are still better off going with the blue taxis. A lot of people hire scooters or motorbikes to travel the island. These are convenient and cheap, but I personally don’t like the risk of an accident very much. Although I never saw any accidents, I lost count of how many times they nearly happened (or I thought there was going to be a crash).
Bali has your typical tropical weather. It is split into two seasons; the wet and the dry. The wet season runs from October to April, and the dry season runs from May to September. The wet season is the most humid, but the temperature rarely goes below 23 degrees or above 33 degrees throughout the entire year.
In terms of a cheap holiday that enables luxury living, as much adventure as you want and a massive dose of culture, you can’t beat Bali. The proof is in the pudding – hundreds of thousands of people visit Bali every year, for a wide range of reasons. I would absolutely recommend a stay at Bali.