Bali basics: 19 very handy things to know before you come to Bali

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Bali is the tropical island paradise of your dreams, whether you’re on your very own ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ journey, or you’re just chasing waves and cheap cocktails. Whatever the case may be, the following list is all the important things to know before your first time in Bali.

  1. the currency

The currency used in Bali is Indonesian Rupiah. Some places will have an eftpos machine, but the vast majority won’t, so your best bet is to head to an ATM once you land and get some notes out. If you’ve got cash to be converted, avoid doing it at the airport as their rates are not as competitive as other places on the island.

2. visas

Three things determine what kind of visa you can get;

  • Your nationality

  • The purpose of your visit

  • How long you intend to stay

A 30-day, non-extendable free tourist visa is your most likely option if you’re just here to see the sights, but for more information, click here.

3. when to visit

Bali doesn’t really have the regular four seasons. Instead, they have the dry season (May – September) and the wet season (October – April).

During the dry season, thousands of tourists descend on the island, and hotels and tours will often hike their prices up during these times as well. However, if you visit at the tail end of the wet season, between February and March, you get the best the island has to offer. The days are warm but not oppressively so, the humidity has started to lessen, and prices are significantly cheaper.

4. water

Don’t drink it. Even the locals don’t drink water from the tap/shower, so don’t think for a second you can handle it.

5. the arrival hall

Your first introduction to the chaos of Bali, the arrival hall at the airport is certainly a shock to the senses. Scores of taxi drivers and hotel representatives line the barrier where you exit, all vying for your attention. Be wary of the groups of men dressed in blue ‘uniforms’ who look very official and will offer to carry your bags for you. They charge a steep fee for this small service, so carry your bags yourself or make use of the free trolleys.

6. taxis and cars

There are numerous taxi options in Bali. Depending on where you’re staying, you’ll be able to organise private drivers for day trips, the price depending on where you’re going and for how long. Alternatively, there are several taxi cab services operating throughout Bali. Be sure that the meter is working and turned on BEFORE you get in the car, otherwise the drivers may attempt to raise their price.

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7. scooters

Everyone drives them here; locals and tourists alike. It’s by far the best and easiest way to get around, provided you know what you’re doing. While motorists use the left side of the road in Bali, the middle line is pretty much non-existent, so there are a few key things to keep in mind if you’re going to be riding a scooter or bike in Bali.

  • Wear a helmet. People die on Balinese roads nearly every day because of a vehicle related incident, and far too many of these deaths are tourists. Don’t be a statistic, helmets save lives.

  • The toot. The little ‘beep-beep’ of scooters, cars, and bikes is a constant in the cacophony of noise that is Bali. The toot has many uses; saying hello, indicating around blind corners, overtaking, or just because. It can be confusing at first, but just do as the locals do.

  • Speed. You may be a confident driver in your own country, but the pace of things is different here, add to that the state of the roads, the often very narrow streets, and the ever-present animals and children, and you get one chaotic situation. Be cautious.

 8. the language

Balinese people are incredibly friendly, even more so if you make an effort to speak the local language. While most will know at least some English, being able to communicate in the local tongue of wherever you are always adds a little something special to the experience. If you’ve travelled to other parts of Indonesia before, you may notice that Balinese Indonesian is a little different to regular Indonesian. It’s not a huge issue, just something to be aware of.

Here are a few basics to get you started;

Ya – Yes

Tidak – No

Terima Kasih – Thank you

Salamat Pagi – Good morning

Salamat Siang – Good day

Salamat Sore – Good afternoon

Salamat Malam – Good evening

Warung – Restaurant

 
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9. respect the culture

Bali has very strong ties to its culture, so as with visiting any new destination, it’s important to be mindful of the local laws and customs.

Here are a few things to keep an eye out for;

  • ‘Canang Sari’ – these little offerings made daily by Balinese Hindus are hard to miss. They’re out the front of nearly every building you pass and quite often litter the streets. Try to be mindful as you walk around to avoid stepping on them.

  • Temples – Another religious consideration, some temples in Bali will require you to have covered shoulders and knees. Covering your shoulders is easy enough, just wear a t-shirt, but due to the heat and humidity, wearing long pants can be impractical. If that’s the case, simply wrap a sarong around your waste, or if you don’t have one, hire one from the temple - most will have sarongs for hire for a small fee.

10. laws

While Bali might seem like a pretty relaxed place, the Indonesian government is super strict on several things. Drugs, for instance, are a definite no go, as being caught with them is serious prison time or even the death penalty. Just don’t do it.

11. bartering

Like many countries around the world, bartering is part of daily life in Bali. If it has a fixed price tag on it and you’re in a mainstream store, don’t try and barter. However, market stalls and the like are fair game. Always remember to be respectful though, what may seem like a lot of money is often only the difference of a few dollars to you but is the livelihood of the vendor.

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12. animals

Dogs in Bali are commonplace. While most might seem stray, they often just don’t have a collar. It might be heartbreaking to see so many dogs roaming around, seemingly without owners, but don’t try and ‘rescue’ them, there are several organisations on the island that take care of such things.

Bali also has several animal-based tourism attractions. Luwak Coffee is one. Animal tourism is more often than not a cruel practice where the animal’s needs are forgotten for the sake of gawking tourists. Don’t buy into it.

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13. surf culture

Often lauded as a surfing hot-spot, surf culture in Bali is massive. During the peak seasons swell can get pretty serious, but there are scores of surf schools around the island catering to all levels, and surf board rental at the beaches is fairly cheap.

14. tourism

Due to its steep rise in popularity, tourism has seeped into many aspects of life in Bali. However, Bali has far more to offer than Kuta markets and Ubud monkey forest. Get off the beaten path and explore some less well-travelled areas of the island and you’ll quickly find that Bali is far more than its reputation of a tourist hot spot.

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15. pollution

Pollution and rubbish are a huge issue in Bali. Due to a lack of infrastructure to deal with a massive boom in tourism, a lot of rubbish is simply dumped or burned by the locals. You’ll find plastic in the streets, on the beaches, and even in the mountain jungles. There are many pro-active programs combating this problem, but the least you can do is not make it any worse. Use a re-usable water bottle, say no to plastic bags, and pick up and dispose of rubbish whenever practical.

 16. tax

At almost all places you eat, there will be at least one form of tax. It’s actually a government tax, not just simply the restaurant owners trying to make some extra cash. While some places will have it built into the prices on their menu, others will have it in the fine print, so be aware as it can make what you thought was a bargain meal not so cheap.  

Image credit: @georginaashleigh

Image credit: @georginaashleigh

Image credit: @georginaashleigh

Image credit: @georginaashleigh

Image credit: @georginaashleigh

Image credit: @georginaashleigh

17. no need to go hungry

Bali has restaurants that cater to every need. In fact, in popular places like Seminyak and Canggu, vegetarian and vegan restaurants are almost the norm. So don’t feel like you have to jeapordise your beliefs to come to Bali.

18. Go-Jek

This handy app is your one-stop-shop for almost any need you could have in Bali. Used to order scooter taxi’s, food, and other goods and services, the app is a must for anyone spending any length of time in Bali.

19. mosquitos

Thankfully, the majority of Bali is pretty low risk for contracting malaria. It’s only if you’re staying for long periods of time in rural areas that you might need to consider protecting yourself against malaria. However, there are still swarms of nasty biting mosquitos about. Invest in good repellent, wear clothes that cover your arms and legs in the evening or bring your own mosquito net if you’re concerned.


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