If you’ve never been to Bali before, but are planning your first-ever trip, there are definitely a few things you need to know before you go. It is a truly unique place to visit, one filled with incredible sites, built on a rich history, supported by beautiful people. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Bali many, many times and I just keep coming back because it’s a place that’s so easy to enjoy and very easy to fall in love with.
To help you prepare for your first trip to Bali, here are my top tips on the things you absolutely must know before you go.
But first, watch this…
1. The airport is hectic and taxi drivers will yell out to you
Once you step outside the serenity of the airport, you’ll be overwhelmed with a large crowd of taxi drivers and other locals yelling out, “Transport! Transport!” and “Taxi, Sir. Hey, boss, taxi! Taxi!” Some of them will even follow you, quite a long way too, constantly chatting at you to let them take you somewhere. They aren’t being rude, they’re just trying to make a living, so my advice is to not be rude to them either, just a firm and polite, “No, thanks,” repeated several hundred times.
2. You should plan your airport escape before arriving
I recommend pre-planning how you’ll get from the airport to your hotel. A lot of hotels offer a shuttle service from the airport, which makes your life easy as you’ll just need to look out for your name written on a sign being held up by a transport guy. If they don’t offer a shuttle, I recommend catching a proper taxi from the airport. Just after you go through the bag screening at customs, but before you go through the very last duty-free shop, you’ll see a small desk to your right. The taxi fares here are set prices and you pay them before you get in the cab, so you know you won’t get ripped off. Just make sure you have the address of the hotel and a screenshot of a map to help the driver find it.
3. That initial shock will go away
There’s a good chance you’ll experience a little bit of culture shock when you first arrive. Don’t worry, it’s normal. With all the transport guys yelling out to you after a long flight, then getting in a cab and having all the scooters rushing past you, then hitting the street with all your luggage, it can be overwhelming and feel hectic. That will pass, just give it time. If it does hit you, just give yourself a few hours or a day to settle in and find your feet. You’ll be Bali mad in no time!
4. Things are never perfect
Don’t go to Bali expecting a Western-style 5-Star, because things are a little different. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, it’s just a different country. You may find your hotel room has a few blemishes or things aren’t made perfectly, maybe the doors on your cupboard don’t shut properly or the sink fittings are glitchy. Maybe you notice cables hanging down on the street or see a bug in your hotel room. That’s just Bali! Adapt your expectations to fit the environment and the country you’re visiting and you’ll be just fine.
5. The Balinese are amazing hosts
Like a lot of South-East Asian countries, the Balinese see a lot of visitors come their way and they know how to treat them right. They are incredibly gracious, welcoming and accommodating hosts. I’ve never had bad customer service in Bali, not ever! The staff at hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, spas and more have always been polite, attentive and kind. If you ever find yourself lost or disoriented, don’t be afraid to stop and ask a local for directions or help.
6. You’ll meet a lot of people named Made
When you visit Bali and get to talk to the locals, you’ll find yourself meeting a lot of people with the same name. You’ll make the acquaintance of a number of Mades (Mah-Day), Ketut’s (Keh-Toot) and Wayans (Why-Ann). This is because it’s part of the Balinese culture to name children according to birth order. Pretty cool, right?!
7. It isn’t all parties and nightclubs
Bali may have a reputation as being a party island, but it isn’t the locals that shaped that, it’s the visitors. As a local, I met today said, “Australians love to drink.” So, like any good business people, the Balinese identified the desires of their visitors and came up with ways to meet them. But the island isn’t just parties! There are plenty of places you can go to escape the party scene and reconnect with the peaceful side of Bali.
8. The Balinese are respectful, peaceful people
Just like any country and any culture, there are bound to be a few idiots among the herd. But my experiences have taught me that the Balinese are incredibly respectful people. I’ve never had a Balinese person be rude to me or do anything to upset me. The only negative experiences I’ve had in Bali have been caused by my own bad food choices and other foreigners.
9. Not all the locals are from Bali
When I meet people on the island they always ask me where I’m from, but I never thought to ask them where they are from as I just assumed they were Balinese locals. Turns out a lot of the people you will meet will be from all over Indonesia, who have come to Bali to work in the tourist industry and support their families, so don’t hesitate to ask them where they’re from too. It’ll give you a chance to learn about their hometown and broaden your knowledge of Indonesia.
10. Learning a few key words goes a long way
You’ll notice most of the locals you meet in Bali will speak English and some will even speak a few different languages, which is really impressive. Like I said, they’re amazing business people and incredible hosts. Taking the time to learn a few key phrases before you go will put a big smile on their face and show respect for their home country too.
11. They’re big on security
You’ve probably seen all kinds of things on the media about terror threats in Bali. At the end of the day, the people who work in Bali depend on visitors to support themselves and, more importantly, the people they love. As such, you’ll find just about everywhere has a security or police presence. If you are worried about your safety, avoid the main tourist areas like nightclubs and bars.
12. The roads are perfectly organised chaos
You’ll find the streets of Bali to be a living organism all of its own. There are cars whizzing by, horns beeping, scooters zipping in and out with 50 people and a chicken stacked on them. It is complete and utter madness and yet, it works in complete harmony. There are very few accidents caused by locals. They have grown up driving these roads, so they know exactly what they are doing. All that horn beeping is just courtesy, to let other drivers know they’re there.
13. It’s easy to get around
Getting around Bali is easy. You can walk short distances pretty easily or jump on the back of someone’s scooter for a small fee. You can hail a cab, but be sure to negotiate and haggle over the price BEFORE you get in OR insist they run the meter (some will try not to, then over-charge you when you arrive). You can also arrange transport with a driver and, again, you’ll need to pre-negotiate a rate before the trip.
14. It’s the perfect place to wing it
Don’t worry too much about having everything organised. I’ve arrived in Bali loads of times with only the first two nights’ accommodation booked. It’s so easy to walk around and find a place you want to stay, then just walk in and ask for a room. It is the perfect place to wing it!
15. The beer and food are cheap
You’ll find yourself spoilt for choice in Bali with the cost of food and beer being really affordable. Of course, if you go to fancy places like Potato Head or Ku De Ta, you’ll be paying a LOT for cocktails and snacks. But, stick to local spots and you’ll find Bintangs costing you around $1.50AU to $2AU and a fantastic meal for two around $15AU to $20AU or less.
16. In fact, everything is cheap!
You can get your hands on pirated DVDs for around AUD$1 a movie and they usually do deals like ‘Buy 10, Get 2 Free!’. You can also buy clothes, knock-off handbags, stuff for your house and more. The key is to pack light so you can cart stuff home in your luggage.
17. Bartering is customary and strongly encouraged
You probably won’t find things in shops marked with a price. If this is the case, then you’re expected to haggle and haggle HARD. This is no time to be a foreign weakling! Go in there confident, know what you want to pay for the piece and work your butt off for it. Just remember, pay a fair price for it. There’s no glory in ripping off the locals, this is their source of income!
18. You should watch at least one sunset on the beach
Be sure to spend at least one sunset on the beach, watching the sunset while drinking an ice-cold Bintang. The sunsets in Bali are beautiful and it’s one of those ‘From where you’d rather be’ moments you’ll never forget.
19. Don’t waste your time with bogus beauty treatments
There are loads of beauty spas around Bali. A word of advice, spend your time cruising around until you find one you really like the look of and get a good feeling about. I’ve been to a few that, looking back on it, weren’t the finest establishments and I’m pretty sure instead of a good-quality facial, I just had Sorbelene cream slathered on my face. That’s my fault though because I was trying to pay plastic prices for solid gold if that makes sense.
20. It isn’t just beaches
While you may think of Bali as just being beer, bikinis and beaches, it actually has another side to it. You’ll find volcanos to climb, rice fields to explore, jungles and waterfalls to discover and a million other amazing outdoor activities to help you reconnect with nature. Just dig a little deeper!
21. Don’t drink the tap water
This one is self-explanatory. Don’t do it! Go to the local mini-mart or Circle K and stock up on big bottles of water to help you stay hydrated (cos it’s really hot and humid in Bali and you need to drink lots of water). You’ll also need to use bottled water to take medicines etc.
22. Sometimes parts of the island will close
There are a number of different holy festivals and other wonderful and interesting things that happen in Bali. Sometimes these mean that parts of the island come to a grinding halt as locals are required to not work on certain days. They aren’t that frequent and major tourist spots aren’t heavily affected, but you should keep it in the back of your mind and be prepared to adapt your plans if necessary. Just ask around when you arrive.
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