Bali newbie seeks your best do and don't recommendations and hot tips
April 2, 2016 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Travelling to Bali soon for the first time (2 adults, 2 kids under 10). We're staying in Sanur. What are your top tips please? This could be for places to visit or things to see but could also be around important things to consider regarding health, safety, money exchange, general dos and don'ts etc. I'm sure there are lots of seasoned Bali visitors on the site who've got lots of experience to share, some having learned the hard way. Please pass on your wisdom!
posted by ozem to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oh, will I ever!

Change around €100 into rupiah before you travel, just to save hassle when you land, and thereafter change money in banks; bank tellers in Balinese banks speak at least passable English and you won't be ripped off. You will probably be given Rp 100,000 notes by default when changing large amounts of money; ask if you can get Rp 50k notes instead (it's much easier to get change for them off the beaten track, and taxi drivers in particular hate Rp 100k notes). There are perfectly reputable money-changers in Bali but there's not much point taking the risk, IMO.

The health services in Bali are absolutely fine — the dental surgeries, for example, are better than what you'll find in Ireland or the UK — but it's a good idea to bring enough tampons for your stay if one of your group is likely to need them (they're hard to find in Indonesia, although again you're probably fine in Bali). Over-the-counter and prescription medication are both trivially easy to acquire, but bring copies of your scrips just in case (and, ideally, empty pill packets that will help chemists find generic equivalents if necessary). Most Indonesian skin-care products incorporate nasty skin-whitening agents, so if somebody in your group uses face-cream or the like then you should bring it with you, and high-SPF sunscreen (i.e., above 20 SPF) is often scarce or over-priced, so bring that too.

Bali is malaria-free and AFAIK dengue isn't an issue either, but if you are considering going further afield, then starting a course of anti-malarials before you head out isn't at all a silly idea. Long-haul travel and unfamiliar gut flora can cause an early-holiday bout of diarrhea, so it might make sense to pack some Imodium or something similar (particularly if you're thinking about taking long journeys by public transport). And, just covering all the bases: hepatitis B is endemic across Indonesia (and is responsive to vaccination), but if you're not planning on engaging in intimate contact with carriers then your risk of exposure is essentially nil. (I never suffered from anything worse than a minor bout of GI distress during my posting to Java.)

My single top tip: before you travel, pick up some pens/key-rings/miscellaneous tchotchkes from your home-town and bring them around with you as you travel across the island. The kids that you (and your own kids) make friends with will get a real kick out of them. I know this probably sounds like one of those hoary tips you read in old Lonely Planet guides, but I used to take paraphernalia from my workplace on my trips across the archipelago and I don't recall it costing me friends.

My second tip: if any of you are in the slightest bit interested in scuba diving, then get yourselves certified before you head out. There are plenty of great diving schools in Bali — in fact, it's where I learned to dive — but you might as well hit the ground running, as it were. I won't go into further detail re: diving in this comment — otherwise this comment would be twice as long! — but I'm very happy to recommend excellent dive centres over MeMail.

Driving in Bali is legitimately dangerous, even by Indonesian standards, but otherwise it is an extremely safe place. You will not be robbed, and outside the Kuta-Legian-Seminyak sprawl, you are vanishingly unlikely to be pickpocketed. You will not be blown up (Bali is probably under heavier police surveillance than anywhere else in Southeast Asia). Balinese people are extremely child-friendly, so while your kids may have their hair tousled a little more than is healthy for them they will be welcome anywhere you are.

Avoid Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak except for an overnight at the start or end of your stay. While there are some very nice restaurants there (not to mention the bootleg DVD shops), it's where the vast majority of tourists go, and, the statues and morning temple offerings aside, you could just as easily be in Sydney or Melbourne. (Instead, you can track down a copy of Endless Summer and see what it looked like in the sixties!)

Sanur is lovely, but it's also still a bit sanitised — there's plenty to do there, but it's honestly not terribly Balinese. Hire a car (and driver; as I wrote above, driving in Bali is absolutely terrifying) and head south of the airport. Whether or not you're a surfer (I'm not), you should go and check out Uluwatu, on the western side of the Bukit: you can sit in one of the little restaurants built into the cliffside and watch people catching waves at what is uncontroversially one of the greatest surf spots in the world. You can then take a lazy loop around the peninsula, taking in a couple of temples, and be back in Sanur by sunset.

Would you happy to double up on accommodation and spend a night or two off Bali? If so, you should jump the ferry from Sanur to Nusa Lembongan. Lembongan is much quieter and more laid-back than the mainland, although I hear it's changing these days. Don't take the speedboat — go for the public boat (the speedboat doesn't let you sit beside the livestock). If Lembongan is too touristy for you, then keep going on to Nusa Penida, which I believe has a couple of losmen.

The cultural hub of Bali is Ubud, as you probably already know: you should certainly spend a couple of days there. For my money, it's a little too much culture-as-performance (while on the other hand, Denpasar, the capital, is rather sterile); if you'd like a glimpse of Bali without the tourists, then I recommend Singaraja, on the north coast. Singaraja isn't terribly prepossessing in itself, but it puts you in spitting distance of Lovina, a very laid-back beach resort, as well as West Bali National Park, which is the emptiest part of the island and thoroughly well worth visiting — it all depends on how much time how you have. You've missed Nyepi this year, but there are so many temples on the island, each with their holy day, that you'd be lucky to spend even a week without getting into a traffic jam during a ceremony.

There isn't much on Bali that isn't worth seeing or doing. Even Tanah Lot, for which you'll see loads of tours advertised, and which is much less impressive in the flesh than in photographs, merits a trip. My SO says that the mountainside hot springs at Danau Batur are one of her favourite places in the archipelago. If you are meat-eaters, then don't pass up a chance to eat babi guling (spit-roasted pig, a Balinese speciality) or grilled barracuda with shallots and chillis. If you want to chill out for a few days, you could always head to Padangbai on the east coast, and then hop a ferry to Lombok, and then Sumbawa, and then Flores...
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 8:02 PM on April 2, 2016 [12 favorites]

We went to Bali in 2013. At the airport we had to pay an entry fee (about $25) and an exit fee (about $15) in cash per person. I don't know if that is still the practice, but you should have cash in hand for that.

We stayed in Seminyak, but did a day trip to Ubud, which is lovely, and I recommend this. We had a great driver who we hired for the day trip, and I think we paid about $50 for the day. I can memail his details if you like. Ubud was really interesting and felt a little more off the beaten path, though I understand that it continues to get more and more popular with travellers, and has much more development now than it did a few years ago. We enjoyed the markets and had the babi guleng at Ibu Oka, which is a bit of a tourist trap, but it was exceptionally good. We visited a couple of art galleries around the area.

We also had the driver take us to the John Hardy factory. I had heard a bit about this before the trip, and it's not heavily advertised, but you can apply for a visit through their website if you are interested in that kind of thing. It's high-end artisanal Balinese jewellery, in an amazing factory that employs hundreds of locals. The whole compound is eco-everything—amazing feats of bamboo architecture— and it's just fascinating to see the jewellery being made. There is a showroom/shop where you can purchase discontinued pieces for significant discounts. We bought several pieces in silver, which I cherish and wear everyday. However, I think this trip would likely only be worthwhile if you thought you might actually be interested in the jewellery.

We had massages every day. They are inexpensive and a glorious way to start or finish your day. There's a range of places for every budget, from about $5 to $50. In Seminyak there was a gourmet food shop called Bali Deli, which turned out to be a great place to stock up on some drinks and snacks for our villa.

Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels is right, in that Seminyak is a huge tourist trap, particularly for restaurants, most of which are variations on different european cuisines and designed to cater to Australian and European tourists. However, there were a couple places that we really enjoyed. There is an amazingly good Mexican restaurant called Taco Beach Grill (babi guling tacos, anyone?). There is also a warung near the Oberoi hotel called Sate Bali. A really wonderful chance to sample authentic dishes, like a "rijsttafel" dinner, and drinks at the bar at the Oberoi beforehand weren't too shabby.

One thing we didn't get to do while there was taking a cooking class. There are many of them available, and I think that would have been fun.
posted by amusebuche at 12:05 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm currently in Sanur and agree in general with what has already been said. I'd just add that Uber from the airport doesn't work at the moment because of a dispute between the taxi drivers and Uber so I'd arrange transport from the airport through your hotel.
posted by foodgeek at 12:38 AM on April 3, 2016

Tampons are easily available in Bali now, FYI. I think other posters have given plenty of interesting ideas- as a person who used to enjoy a lot of off the beaten track travelling but now travels with a toddler (and a relatively nervous spouse:)) I would say that Seminyak and Kerobokan (same area really) can be heaps of fun. They are touristy but they also cater to wealthy/more westernised Balinese and expats and have some fantastic spas, restaurants and shopping. We ate fusion Balinese nearly every night from a newly opened bar/restaurant opposite our place in Kerobokan and for about $20 aud each night for a couple of courses. It was very Melbourne like in some respects, but in a way that I can no longer afford in Melbourne and with a much friendlier attitude to our young child.

Kuta is just all bad though, imo.

So I guess it depends on what kind of trip you want but Seminyak can be fantastic fun and has an awesome restaurant scene and very glam spas, too. Again, many are very Affordable compared to Australia. It's obviously not traditionally Balinese, but there are some Balinese owned and run places in the mix.

Also re:cash- get the maximum amount out at the airport as those atms are the kind that dispense larger sums (about $200 aud at a time was the max I could find in January this year).

Oh and bluebird taxis are the gold standard.
posted by jojobobo at 1:38 AM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Personally I just use ATMs to get money, but my bank seems to give good rates and only charges $2.50 for an international withdrawal (my other bank costs a LOT more). I don't know if there are still a lot of money changer scams, but there used to be.

The Indonesian government has just announced that Australians can have free entry, but I am not sure that it has been implemented yet. The visa desks accept USD, AUD etc anyway.

Blue Bird Group taxis are reliable and honest, you'll see them driving around in the south and there is also an app. They're good for short trips.

For longer trips, rent a car and driver, it doesn't cost much.

Waterbom Park is good fun for all ages.
posted by AnnaRat at 1:40 AM on April 3, 2016

Stay out of Kuta, for sure, but Seminyak is fine! Ubud is great too. Bali definitely has dengue - that's the reason I had to cancel my trip when I was pregnant a few years back as I know at least six people who came down with it, but it seems to go in cycles. You'll have to check as to whether there's an outbreak when you're planning on going.

Food and drink is cheap and of excellent quality. Steer clear of the locally made brew, arak, as it can be incredibly dodgy and has been known to kill people. Also avoid locals with cheap pills/weed/whateveryourdrugofchoiceis. It's an instant way of getting an up close and personal look at a Balinese jail. For the next twenty years. And stay off the motorbikes. That's a quick way to end up dead or in hospital and most travel insurance doesn't cover motorbike use whilst there, so it could be a pricey trip.

If you like beautiful art and jewelry and furniture, Bali has it all and shopping is great and cheap. You are expected to haggle, but don't beat them down too much, what seems like a lot in rupiah is really only a few dollars and means a lot more to them than to you. Also, if you have some nice designer suits or boots that you'd like to get copies made of, there are wonderful tailors there. You can even grab some magazine pics as samples for the style you like, choose fabrics, get measured and pick up a beautiful tailor made suit in a few days time. Go on recommendation for the best tailors. Have fun, Bali is wonderful!
posted by Jubey at 3:09 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I see that the Australian entry visa is still in flux, well at least there won't be a queue. The desks where you pay are just before the big queue for Immigration. After that, is customs where you turn in the customs form that hopefully the flight attendants passed out on the plane before you arrived. Then they x-ray your bags, carry-ons, handbags.

Yes, dengue has been on the upswing and has been a big problem the past few years. It's in Ubud now, this year my friends, the family where I stay, the people next door all got it. You need to wear insect repellent during the day because it's daytime mosquitoes that cause it. Insect repellent, like sunscreen, is available for sale but no doubt you will prefer your own brands from home.

Getting from the airport to your accommodation, have you asked if they will send a driver? He will wait outside the arrivals with your name on a sign. Even small guesthouses will do this if you give them your flight arrival information.

Sanur is fine for a tourist beach area but it is cut off by the heavily-trafficked Bypass which you will need to take to go anywhere else. Renting a car and driver is very reasonable, your hotel will know someone, and the Bluebird taxis are good. Always ask about the rate in advance if your driver isn't using a meter.

I don't think there's any point to going across the isthmus to Kuta/Legian/Seminyak/Kerobokan which is just more of the same. Most of your sightseeing will be north: Ubud, the mountains (basically Bedugal or Kintamani), or east towards Padang Bai. Denpasar, the capital, is pretty grubby but in the center there is a large central market with an adjacent handicraft market that will be cheaper than the shops if you bargain strenuously. If you are looking for batik fabric by the meter, the street alongside the market, Jalan Sulawesi, has two shops that specialise in it as well as many other fabric shops selling Javanese batiks sarongs (different from the brightly colored fringed rayon tourist sarongs that you see everywhere). Sarongs are a neccessity of life.

Re changing money. The money changers down in the beach area are notorious for using bent calculators or adding commissions. This company is legit however, if you are near these locations. Going into a bank could mean a long wait in line so allow for that. ATMs, a couple years ago there was a scam where someone had attached skimmers onto a some machines, so be aware or use the machines that are next to their bank.

Please be careful of your handbag, wear it cross body, especially walking after dark. Sadly, this has become an issue in the touristy areas with thieves on motorbikes.

There are heaps of tours, river rafting, sightseeing, temple-visiting (dress appropriately), bicycling, bird watching, walking in the rice paddies, climbing a mountain at dawn, which you can also figure out for yourself (except for the last one). You can attend a cremation, watch a Balinese dance performance or ride an elephant (super touristy, not native to Bali!). Most of these will involve at least an hour's drive in wretched traffic from Sanur.

It's hot and very humid. Drink lots of water. Some places provide two bottles of water per day. As a family, consider buying a 5 gallon/19 liter Aqua bottle and decanting it. It's so much cheaper and wastes less plastic. I brush my teeth with tap water but you may prefer to use bottled.

This is the place to indulge in pedicures, facials, and massages. A "creme bath" is basically an hour-long head massage with conditioner in your hair, then a neck, shoulder and arm massage while sitting in a chair.

Restaurants, well there are too many good ones to list. The local ones, where you chose what you want from dishes in the windows are fine, but ask if something is spicy beforehand if you don't like it. Tourist restaurants will add 10% tax, upscale ones will add service, maybe another 5%. If not, you don't have to tip but leaving some of your change will be appreciated.

Learn a few phrases in Bahasa which is easy to speak at a basic level. People are happy to help, they love (well behaved) kids, the service is unbelievably good. Tip the staff when you leave if service is not included in your bill. Take your time.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:29 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Bali is one of the best places I've ever been, and I recommend spending time in Ubud if at all possible. There are performances, markets, all sorts of fantastic restaurants. If it's still open, Ibu Oka (featured on No Reservations) was easily the best pork I've had in my life, and oh, oh lord... Seriously, it's that good.

In Kuta, the food is pretty much the same from place to place except for Poppies, which is amazing, and has a beautiful outdoorsish dining area in the middle of a densely populated beach front area, and is easily worth going to Kuta for.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:55 AM on April 3, 2016

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