Everything is slow: And when I slow, I mean like you’re already on island time and then it’s slow. Airports, restaurant lines, any type of service, ATMs, driving through traffic, etc. So come prepared to have an extra amount of patients. As Americans (especially Bostonians), we are always in such a rush and live such a fast paced life. We expect everything to happen at the exact moment we ask for it. While it can be
torturous frustrating at times when it takes, for example, your baggage 1 hour to arrive at baggage claim, most of the time stuff is really slow here because it is all done with care. And this is something we can hopefully learn from. So instead of becoming irritated that your latte takes 20 minutes to make, head to the counter and watch the talented barista make a beautifully detailed Balinese flower with the foam of your milk.
Scooters are everywhere: So, a few things to note here. First, most locals (and ex-Pats) get around via scooter because they’re cheap, quick and small. Due to the massive – and I mean massive – amount of scooters on the road, you have to be extra careful when walking or driving as it’s a whole new type of driver to look out for. The only thing I can equate it to is the amount of bikes in Amsterdam. There are that many. Lastly, if you are wanting to drive a scooter yourself, proceed with caution. I am typically the adventurous type (I mean, hello – I went diving with sharks!) but we just read too many scary stories about driving these things. We did, however, ride on the back (uber style) with a local and it was totally fine.
Hire a driver: Typically, we either rent a car (like in Ireland) or getting around via public transportation when on vacation as hiring a driver is way too pricey. Similar to South Africa, it is absolutely reasonable to hire a driver for the day in Bali. At the time we went, the going rate was about 500,000IDR (roughly $35) per day for 8 hours worth of driving. This is a great way to see various places in one general area (like North of Ubud or bar hopping near Seminyak) as many areas are pretty spread out. I would recommend having a game plan prior to your drive – we printed out 10 or so places that we wanted to see within a 2 hour radius from Ubud and our driver suggested a route. They are all pretty familiar with the main spots and know the ins and outs of driving in the country, where there are seemingly no street lines or stop lights. Be sure to tip – we gave an extra $10/day.
Bring cash with you: Oh boy, what a rookie mistake I made here! As someone who travels nonstop, I cannot believe that I forgot to bring at least $200 in US dollars with me. Silly, silly mistake. While the ATMs are a better exchange rate, they are unreliable at best and sparse in certain areas. When we cleared customs, there were about 75 people in line for 4 ATMs. Within 10 minutes, 2 crashed. Those working only allowed $150 per transaction to be withdrawn. Then Terry’s bank card was frozen. Thankfully I was able to get $150 our and had $80 USD to exchange but that was a very stressful moment. Most of the larger cities take credit card but we found that a lot of the smaller towns & islands only took cash (and you can exchange cash directly with a person at the airport very easily). Learn from my mistake – bring cash!
Over 80% of Balinese are Hindu: What does this mean? The Balinese are incredibly spiritual, ritualistic, compassionate people. They have such a lovely, kind demeanor and there is so much to learn from them. For example, most Balinese live at home until they are married, helping to provide for their family. One aspect of their culture that we really loved were the daily offerings. They are basically small, handheld baskets made of palm leaves that are filled with items such as flowers, crackers, cigarettes and incense. They are lit every morning and placed at the doorstep of most homes and businesses. The streets smell like fresh incense and it’s a beautiful ritual. The way it was explained to us is that these are handmade daily with thought and love and given as “forgiveness” for any sins or hurt they may have caused. All Balinese/Hindu say that they must always respect the three most important things in life – the Gods, other people and nature. Simple yet lovely!
Bring your own snacks: This may seem silly but it is a good thing to note if you will be in Bali for a while, especially if you are picky. The only snacks we saw were chips (Pringles), cookies and fruit. I fall into the somewhat picky category, so I made sure to pack a few of my favorites: Rx Bars, Larabars, LiquidIV (drank it daily) and mixed nuts. We had a lot of down time and transit time so for the sake of being healthy, savings money and fighting off hanger, I over-packed the snacks. And we ate them all!
Every city is very different. I think it is important to know what type of vacation you are looking for prior to booking Bali. Do you want adventure? Beach relaxation? Spa treatments? Surfer chill? Cultural? Bali really has a lot of variety and many, many different types of experiences to offer. You can read about our cultural experience in Ubud, our tourist view of Seminyak, our relaxing time in Nusa Lembongan and our perfect few days in Caggu. There are quite a few cities that we didn’t even make it to, including Jimbaran (known for their beach cookouts), Kuta (known to be even more touristy than Seminyak) and Nusa Dua (known for high end resorts). Just make sure you do your homework so you are getting exactly what you are looking for.
The dollar is strong: Your dollar goes a very long way in Bali, which is nice for many reasons. First, you can stay in nice accommodations and have luxuries like a private driver or a massage for a low rate. Second, you can tip big. We consistently gave 20-30%+ to everyone (bell hops, drivers, bartenders, etc) because while an additional $2-$5 may not break the bank for us, it can mean so much to them. It feels really good to give back. So take advantage of the strong dollar and go enjoy your vacation, treat yourself and be generous to others.
Download WhatsApp: I know a lot of y’all probably already have WhatsApp but I am one of those who didn’t. Within about 24 hours of being in Bali, I had it downloaded and ready to go! Most of the drivers, cabs, excursion leaders and tour guides use what’s app. It is an easy way to communicate since WiFi isn’t very reliable there and most people don’t have massive data plans. Make sure that you know how to use this because I promise you will.
Live in the Moment: Bali, like South Africa, is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of vacation. Given the amount of natural disasters that occur in this “Ring of Fire” location, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, there is really no guarantee that this beautiful island will be around forever. The natural beauty of Bali is next level, but like any scenic, surreal place…tourists come, development happens and things change. I encourage you to go enjoy Bali while you can and while it still has a unique, special feel to it.