Bali.. Bali.. well this island in the middle of Indonesia was on the top of my list of places to visit while living in Australia. While writing this post I have been there four time, for a total or 3 months and I will definitely go again. I’ve learned a lot during these trips and I want to share some stuff so you can get ready for your Balinese experience!
The more you discover Bali the more you get into the Balinese mood and that’s the thing i like the most. You start to be more relaxed, you learn to let thing slide around you without getting stuck, you learn how to keep your inner Buddha in peace (that’s how we call it with my girlfriend, and usually my Buddha is a little rebel punk, but in Bali it gets a bit better). Well now, is not that easy, but I believe that the only way to fall in love with Bali is to open your mind and seek your inner peace. Bali in most of the touristy places (and outside the resorts) is chaotic, messy, noisy, dirty.. but all of these in a way you start to love (or hate, because Bali is not for everyone to love). The traffic is unbelievable (especially in Denpasar, Kuta, Seminyak and Ubud), the heat is in between a oven (dry season) and a sauna (wet season). But is amazing. The ocean is mostly warm and not really clean (I’ll write about plastic and pollution soon enough), especially in the main surf beaches around Canggu and Kuta, and especially when all the dirt of the rivers travel to the beaches after a heavy rain. But is still beautiful, because you can find also crystal clear water and white beaches. In Bali and the surrounding islands you can find a bit of everything and is opposite.
Bali is an island full of contradictions, so to speak.
– BALIFORNIA SURFING –
Surfing in Bali is definitely an experience. The water is warm, the rental cheap and the number of spots huge. Sure the more tourist reach the island the more crowded the spots are, but I reckon there is still space and fun for everyone (unless you are a pro and you want all the waves for you, then it may be tough for you). If you are a beginner all the area from Kuta to Canggu can offer you the first wave of your life.
You can either rent a board and try out yourself (or check on youtube, but fella don’t do it), have a local guy in the water with you or take classes with a surf school. Decision is yours, but please respect the other surfers in the water and be aware that there are rules, just few, but important (here most of them). Most of this places are mainly beach brakes, but better ask locals if there are rocks in the water. If you are intermediate Canggu areas offers a lot of nice breaks but most of them really crowded, so you may want t move to Uluwatu or some other pro waves in other islands (Lembogan have some nice ones, Lombok and Sumbawa as well).
– FOOD AND DRINKS –
When you sit at the table in a small and a bit dirty local restaurant, or order some sate out of a motorbike vendor you don’t expect much, especially when is your first time in Bali. Sometimes you may even feel a bit scared about sitting in that place or ordering from that street vendor.. but once you give it a try and you taste it, well welcome to Balinese food! The local restaurant are called warung, most of the locals won’t sit down there to eat, that’s why you may find yourself in a local warung with only westerners. That doesn’t mean that local people don’t eat there, they do order food but they mostly take it away, and this make it hard to use the old golden rule: eat where locals eat, but still if you observe a bit and read some stuff in Tripadvisor you’ll find plenty of good places.
In most of the warung you will find the classics: mie goreng (fried noodles), nasi goreng (fried rice) and nasi campur (steam rice and a mix of small portion of meat, veggies, eggs, sate). In bigger restaurants you will find the balinese curry, a collection of soups (especially in the small islands around Bali), fried chicken, beef, fried eggs, and so on. There are also “point your choice” kind of warung (sorry, I don’t have the English word for this on!) where you can add to your rice/noodles any kind of small dishes that are displayed in front of you (some of this places are ridiculously cheap and yummy, see Canggu article).
During two of my visit on the island I went for a cooking class (in Ubud) and learned how to prepare some of these amazing dishes and started to cook them at home.
Now talking about drinks there are a couple of peculiarity about Bali. First the coffee, Balinese coffee is powdery and strong, really nice in the morning and (personal opinion) better when served in a pot (so you can avoid the powder when you pour it in the cup). I tried the Luwak coffee as well (read about it in the article about Ubud) but personally I don’t think is so much more special as the price may makes you think it is! In Nusa Lembogan we discovered the rosela tea (iced or hot, both amazing), with its many many healthy benefits (is apparently able to cure cough, acidity, cholesterol, hypertension and many others, read here, there is a all website about it!). Ginger tea is also on my favorite tea list, with lemongrass and honey (but is more a Nepalese thing).
I’ve almost forget one: young coconut! You can order it basically everywhere in Bali and all the surrounding islands, will cost you from 15k to 30k rupias and it’s more tasty when is warm (I know chilled is good as well).
Now down to alcoholic business: Bintang is definitely the beverage of choice of tourist in Bali. This easy (too easy) to drink beer is the perfect sunset chillin’ drink. Is also perfect at lunch, dinner and after dinner. The funniest thing about Bintang is that it is only good in Bali. I bought it a couple of time in Australia, trying to bring back the Balinese memories BUT, it tasted awful (not kiddin’). So drink it, drink it a lot, but only drink it in Bali! 🙂
Cocktail are really cheap in Bali (especially if you travel from Australia), even cheaper if you get the local spirits instead of imported ones (as cheap as 3 dollars sometimes). Many bars, especially in the touristy places, will offer you a couple of the happy hours (only few of them have the real “buy one get one for free” happy hour, some increase the price on this offer, other just have a discount during this time, so choose wisely), so now be aware: 4 to 6 s the time you will get wasted.
A funny story: we went for coffee once in Ubud, there was a place near our home stay with bunnies browsing around, so we though “okay let’s have a coffee there”. After ten minutes the waitress come to us saying: the happy hour is one, buy one get one for free”. Coffee suddenly disappeared in front of us and a bunch of espresso Martini popped out of nowhere. Was the beginning of a long night. We left the coffee shop after 4 hours, with a millionaire bill and energy enough to conquer Ubud! So be aware of the danger of happy hour!
Last on the list of drinks is the arak, this local spirit that can burn you down and make you blind (according to some) but that in some places is really nice (I tried it in Laughing Buddah in Ubud and was all right, and I can still see). Arak in Indonesia is made usually with rice and can go up to 60%. Arak is dangerous when the distillation process is not done properly, the amount of methanol in the spirit is too high or is mixed with some bullshit (excuse the french) to make it more inebriating. This bad arak fella can cause blindness, kidney failure, brain damage and death. So this happen, for real, and in 2009 23 people died. Nowadays arak is still used in Bali, even if the consumption has decreased especially among tourist, and the regulation to produce it is strict. So is up to you man, but if you decide to give it a try, my advice is to choose a well known, touristy bar.
– GETTING AROUND –
To go around in Bali you need a vehicle, because no one walks in Bali. No matter if you have to do 300mts, you take a cab, or a scooter. That’s pretty much the way of thinking in the island, and almost everyone have at least a scooter to go around with. Let’s see some situations you can encounter.
From the airport to your hotel: there are many private driver that can bring you basically every where. Avoid the taxi company inside the terminal, is a huge scam (they will charge you at least 2 r 3 times the normal fare). Outside everyone will try to get you inside is car, but if you can handle a bit of bargain, try it. I don’t know how much the fee should be but probably half of what they ask, or at least start from there and it will go up. The first price they give you is always too high, don’t pay it. Uber and Grab are big in Bali but I am not sure if they are allowed inside the airport.
Taxi, Uber, Grab: Bali have is own way with some stuff and taxi/Uber/Grab is one of this: for example in some areas (communities) the taxi are not allowed to pick up passengers (Canggu is one of those), in those areas you will have to arrange with a local driver. If you are in Kuta o Semyniak you can use Grab (the asian Uber, but cheaper) or the Blue Bird Taxi (the only working with the meter).
The traffic in Bali can be ridiculous, especially outside the airport and in Sunset road at peak time. Allow 30 minutes/5km and pray it will be enough. Bring with you a book or something, or just have a look at the madness around you, with scooters speeding on the foot path or in the grass, almost tuoching each other and never, ever stopping. Be patient, to enjoy Bali you’ll need to.
Scooter: rent a scooter will cost you between 50 and 70k rupias a day (cheaper is you rent for longer), make sure they give you a helmet (even if in some areas no one uses it) and check the petrol (usually the scooter is empty). Most of the time they won’t ask you for your passport or a deposit, especially if you rent from the place where you stay (but even the shops on the street, they never asked us nothing). You will need an international driving license but even with that the police will find a way to scam you some money if they stop you. Petrol is really cheap, is plenty on big or small petrol station (the small one only have one big cylinder of glass in front of a shop (Pertamina written on it, or Pertamax), the bigger the station the cheaper the price. You can also buy petrol in a bottle of vodka pretty much every where on the road, it will cost you double that in a regular petrol station (so 10k for 0,750l) but is good is you are really low and not close to a regular petrol station.
Driving around in Bali is a mix between madness and crazy madness, but can be fun is you take it easy and are not in a rush. To go to A to B (let’s say 5km) can take you up to 20 minutes if you are not a traffic master (and especially for you first ride you gotta be carefull and learn how Balinese people drive, because there is not a real organization on the street, is the rule of the strongest, like in the jungle).
Use the horn twice when you want to overtake someone, just to let them know you are there. Use it when someone is trying to cross the road in front of you to tell him to stand back, use it always, anyway and generously. That’s how it is in Bali.
Private car and buses: this is what you normally use for long distance trip inside Bali island (Kuta to Ubud, Ubud to Padang Bai, and so on). The price is all right, especially if you share a private car with someone (cause the minibus prices are per head), the drive can be a bit not comfy (especially if you are 6 in a car, with 6 backpack) but is an experience. You can organize the transport in many small shop on the road or with your accommodation.
Ferry: they are good when there is water in between A and B. You can get a ferry from Sanur (closer to Dempasar) or Padang Bai. In both harbors you can find public ferries or fast boat. Public boats are the ferry that locals use, they are rusty and heavy but really cheap (Padang Bai to Lombok is 40k, to Nusa Penida 31k). If you have more money than time you may prefer the fast boat, pricey and more modern, they’ll get you anywhere in a jiffy (but you’ll pay for it, up to 10 time the price of a public ferry).
Planes: another way to go from A to B (especially to Lombok and the islands after it). Some flight are cheaper than a fast boat (especially if you travel only with the carry on luggage) but if you consider the time you spend in the airport and the location of the airport (in Lombok especially) sometimes the boat is a better option. Some planes are small and looks like toys but Bali Lombok is a 30 minutes flight, is basically take of, one Beach Boys song, land.
– TEMPLES –
There are plenty of other temples all over Bali and most of them are amazing. Just a couple of words on the one I saw:
- Pura Tanah Lot: Tanah Lot is a rock shaped but the rough Indian ocean. On its top a temple was built and it look like someone just lied the little building there from the sky (ore the ocean).
- Pura Uluwatu: this temple sits on the edge of a cliff of rock. The view, the strength of the sea breeze and beautiful walk has settled in my mind, as much as the unstoppable waves that hit the rocks.
– THE SUNSET –
Sunset in Bali is an explosion of colors that you can enjoy on the beach with some music (a live band plaing Bob Marley if you are lucky), a Bintang and some friends. In most of the beaches you will have surfers in the ocean in front of you catching the last one of the day (I hope you’ll be one of them soon), the sun going down on the ocean, a comfy bean bag under you bump and the sea breeze helping you with the heat. Sunset in Bali is a unique experience, and is different in any of the islands. The top one for me was in Gili T, waves breaking on the reef, Shape of Bali’s Mt. Agung, cold Bintang and people playing fire pois (that was on my last visit, February 2017): breath taking experience.
– THE PEOPLE –
Always smiling and happy to help. Some have been a bit corrupted from the invasion of tourist and money, but usually people are nice, curious on you and your story, or happy to share theirs (sometimes with a broken english). I had the best conversation with a taxi driver who explained me about how the villages and communities work, eyes full of pride for its people and family. Is hard not to fall in love with them, even if sometimes you’ll feel like everyone is trying to scam you and get your money, but this is part of the game and with a smile you will learn how to get on with it (and play with them on it).
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