Essential Bali Travel Tips
Bali seems to be one of those places that I feel at home, almost more at home than my real home in LA. So naturally, it would make sense that I’ve learned everything there is to know about Bali and how to ‘survive’ this beautiful place on Earth. Below are my top tips on how to get the most out of Bali, how to enjoy your time there, and what you should and should not do in order to act like a local instead of a tourist.
Hire a driver for day trips. If the person who picks you up from the airport (whether taxi or hotel car) doesn’t already mention that he is a personal assistant, driver, or Bali’s best concierge, then ask how much to hire him for day trips. Most drivers have multiple jobs and will happily pick you up from your hotel and take you all over, charging far less than your hotel will charge you. The typical going rate is 300,000- 400,000 Rupiah for a full day travel. This will include them picking you up, taking you to a few places of your choice, waiting there for you to finish, and bringing you back. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly $22 for a full day of car service. A small tip: if you are having them take you to a restaurant, Starbucks, or somewhere tasty, grab your driver something to munch on or drink. He will be sitting in the car for really long periods of time and they cannot afford the luxuries (think Starbucks) that we can. He will be a very happy camper.
Take motorbike taxis as much as you can. This might seem very scary, but it’s not, trust me. It’s not only way cheaper, it gets you places in a fraction of the time a car will and you will thank me for this later, as there is a LOT of traffic in Bali. As I mentioned above, pretty much every person in Bali (especially those with bikes) will offer you a ride, so be prepared to get slightly annoyed when you don’t want a ride and also to bargain a bit when you do. You will not need to pay as much as you would in a car, think roughly half. Wear the helmet if you are scared, hold onto the back part of the bike and just enjoy it. Balinese start riding on bikes with their parents from the moment they are born, actually begin driving around 10 and get a license at 17. The only accidents I have ever seen are tourists driving bikes, never the locals.
Bargain, but not too much. Like most foreign places, when they know you are a tourist the locals will try to raise prices a bit. Negotiating is pretty much expected and there’s no problem in walking away from someone if they won’t match your price, as you’ll find someone else who will drive you or sell you the exact same thing for probably cheaper. That being said, when it comes to bargaining over those last few thousand Rupiahs, I say skip it and just give the person the extra bit of cash. People in Bali do not make much money (think $200 for an entire month) and that extra 20,000 Rupiah that you are haggling is a pretty big chunk for them, where as it’s less than $2 for you. (Again, see tip #1- they are driving you around for a full day for around $20+ dollars!)
Try all the local food. I know you might be a bit scared of trying strange food that you may have heard contain all sorts of random things like dog meat, bugs, and whatever else crazy things people make up. Bali is very safe and the food is incredible! They are a mainly vegetarian population so the best dishes contain no meat at all and are heavily veggie based. Try: Gori Nasang, Nasi Campur, and Gado Gado (I’m actually obsessed with the latter and have become a bit of a Gado Gado snob), jamu jamu, Balinese coffee, Bintang beer. Skip: western food. Seriously, why are you in Bali if you want the same thing you would get back home (and probably not as good). Leave your preconceived notions back in your country and come to try the new flavors, cuisine, and delicious dishes. I promise you’ll be happy you did it. There are also many places, especially in Ubud, where you can get fresh fruit, green juices, wheatgrass shots, and raw desserts.
How to ask for modifications. Modifications are fine, but don’t be ‘that’ person who goes there with your gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo-based, raw-food diet, where you only eat things that were organically grown with the tears of the universe…they will have no idea what you are talking about. You can get Soy milk (ask for Soya), however there is no coconut or almond milk, except in health stores. For smoothies, ask no sugar or honey as most places add it. If you don’t want something deep fried, ask for it to be steamed. Balinese know pretty good English and will be happy to try and help you, just don’t be too weird about what you ask for.
Don’t stress about Bali Belly. If you are a tourist who has slight paranoia you will probably be told by someone or another whose friend’s mother’s sister got it. My thoughts on this are that you should drink the water provided, by lots of bottled water, but don’t worry. Having your salad washed in the tap water or using it to dip your toothbrush in will not give you Bali Belly. Catching it is the same as getting a cold or flu, you will have no idea if you will get it or not and the weaker your immune system is, the more likely you are to get it. If you do happen to catch it, it’s just a bit of tummy issues mixed with some quality bathroom time. (On a side note, my first time in Bali I made a point to drink the tap water every single place I went to see if it was true. Low and behold, never got sick.)
Always have cash on you. Bali has not caught up with the rest of the world regarding credit cards, which is actually quite refreshing. This means that pretty much anywhere and everywhere you go, a card will not be taken. Major restaurants, bars and hotels will of course take them, but other than that, it’s a bit hard. I recommend getting out 1,000,000 Rupiah at a time (how cool is it that you get to say ‘I’m a millionaire!’). The bank notes come in 50,000 or 100,000, but try to go to an atm that says 50,000 on the front of it, as most people will not have change for 100,000 notes. Also, don’t try to exchange money. This can be a pain because they want your currency to be in perfect condition and printed after a certain year in order to get the best rate. Just use your debit card and go to an atm when you arrive.
Learn terima kasih and say it often. There’s no need to learn full phrases, as 200 languages are spoken here. But do yourself a favor and learn Terimah Kasih (ter-e-mah-ka-see), which just means thank you. Saying this is the universal sign of being friendly, grateful, and showing that you are trying. Most Balinese people speak very good English, but hearing thank you in their own language will make them much nicer to you (just as you would probably be nicer if someone was in your country trying to speak your language).
Be as friendly as you can. The Balinese are legit some of the friendliest people you will ever meet and the island is incredibly safe. Being open, asking them questions, and smiling will get your almost anything you want while you’re there. They are a very curious people and pretty much every Balinese you meet will ask: where are you from, how long you are there for, and if this if your first time in Bali. Don’t get annoyed, instead go with it and be friendly. You might think a specific person is not so nice, but as soon as you start talking to them you will see they will open up and your experience will be quite beautiful. You’ll begin to understand why Bali is so magical.
Explore beyond your comfort level. For some people this might be traveling alone, for others it will be getting out of fancy hotels, and others it might be getting on a motorbike. Whatever it is, Bali is a beautiful place to try something that scares you. There is a powerful energy, especially in Ubud, and you will find that the things that scared you are not actually that scary after all. Talk to strangers, make friends with the Balinese, and create an experience that you never thought possible. I personally still talk to my driver from last April on whatsapp and the beautiful ladies at Yoga Barn remembered me after seven months. Trust me in that when you open yourself up to change, you will find what you are looking for here.
Get a hair treatment. For my lovely ladies, you will thank me later. The treatment starts off with the spa therapist massaging a thick crème into your hair for about 15 minutes. Scalp massages are pretty much the best thing ever and you might melt in your seat. The mask is left in your hair for roughly 20-30 minutes, then washed and your hair is blow dried. The results are lasting and your hair will be shiny, soft and oh-so-pretty. Did I mention it will cost only a few dollars?
Get a holistic treatment or see a healer. Ubud is the place for this and there are many-a-healers here. Whether it’s expats, or locals, this is something that you will enjoy greatly. I’ve tried and tested three different healers and received the following treatments: Narrative Therapy and Acupuncture, Shiatsu, Biofield Energy Healing, Beta Release, and Quantuum Healing. I highly recommend every single thing I’ve done, whether it was a treatment or going all Eat Pray Love and seeing a healer. However, I’m about to let you in on a little secret: don’t try to become Julia Roberts. After the movie came out, tourists from all over flocked to Ubud and now it’s this ‘thing’ that they have to see a healer. Not only will your life not change dramatically, you are slightly taking advantage of a very serious thing in Bali. This is not for tourists so please tread lightly when you talk about seeing a healer.
Hope you all enjoyed these tips and have a great time in Bali if you go!
With Love, N