All around Bali is outstanding, which is probably what you hear from every person who ventures there. I'm glad to have been able to spend five wonderful weeks working, enjoying, and exploring this wonderful island in Indonesia. However, I went without being fully prepared, and I thought that a few Bali tips would be good to know if you plan on venturing to that side of the globe.
UPON ARRIVAL - VISA AND CURRENCY
The first thing you need to do is research what type of Visa you want. Being a citizen of the U.S., right now, you can enter the country and get an automatic free 30 day visa. But if you plan to stay longer than 30 days, make sure that you are purchasing the extended visa BEFORE you leave the airport. Otherwise you have to leave the country before 30 days, which you can do and then turn around and fly right back, and get another tourist visa. Most people just take a quick trip to Singapore for less than $100 USD and then just jaunt back.
Now if you pay for the extension on your tourist Visa at the airport, then you are paying about $35 USD. This is where I messed up. Maybe it was the fact that I had been traveling for nearly 48 hours, or that my officer checking me in didn't ask a single question... Either way, you need to pay for the extended tourist visa and you have to ask for it!!! Otherwise, as soon as you walk away you have to leave the country at 30 days. Now if you pay for the extension, then you will have to return to Denpasar, where you will leave your passport, on 3 separate occasions to extend your tourist visa. Mind you... you have to go in a 2 hour time frame, on specific days, and they might be closed for ceremony. Always check on that if you go this route. Yes, it is definitely a hassle... especially if you overstay your welcome just a few days.
So you're wondering... what happens if you overstay your 30 Day Tourist Visa? Well... this is what I did, and you will have to pay roughly 30,000 rupiah, the currency there, per day immediately on trying to exit the country. They have ATMs and money changer to do this, but make sure you have cash, because you can only use an ATM so many times.
If you are smart and prepared, you would just set up your Tourist Visa before you leave your homeland and you can stay a longer period of time with no hassle upon arrival.
Currently, the exchange rate is a little less than $10 USD is equal to 100,000 rupiah. Most everything is paid in cash so be prepared to get money. The USD is excepted in some places, but you will get Rupiah in return.
GETTING AROUND - TRANSPORTATION
Once you've actually made it into the country, you realize how many people are there... and it's A LOT! Motorbikes and drivers crowd the roads, going between lanes and carrying everything you can imagine. Seeing a family of four on a motorbike is impressive, let alone some of the goods, rice, birds and other random things that you might see as you cruise along the countryside. Getting a motorbike or a driver is no problem at all... motorbikes will run you about $5 per day, and getting around in a car can be negotiated, but $10 for a 30 minute ride for as many the car holds is pretty typical. Either way, these are pretty much the way to get around. If you are getting a scooter, don't be an idiot... WEAR A HELMET! I saw a wreck almost every day... some not so bad, some not so good. Be safe! Also, you should have an international drivers license if you plan to drive. Get this before you leave your home country. Otherwise, you'll have to pay fine... which could change depending on the officer you talk too. Don't be fooled... a little finagling can be helpful.
Oh & there's a cheap motorbike service that some of the girls I know used... GoJek.com. Cheap motorbikes you ride on the back of pretty much anywhere. You know them from the green jackets they wear.
WHERE TO STAY
Now with technology it's so easy to find a hostel or an airbnb. I recommend getting a SIM card if you are staying for an extended period of time. This way you can have anything at your fingertips, it's not that hard to find in the cities, just look for the signs. Plus a SIM is not that expensive for a lot of data. It will make things much more convenient. You can easily search and book some really incredible places to stay. If you are just cruising though, and not that picky, then just find a place when you arrive wherever you are. This easier in low season... in high season, depending on the activities you are planning, you might want to find a place to stay a couple of days in advance.
WHAT TO PACK - WHERE TO GO
Well where do you want to visit in the country? Are you going all around or will you just visit a certain area? First of all, It's HOT! One driver I had said, 'there are only two temperatures in Bali; warm and hot!'. So don't over do it on any warm clothing. Protection from sun and mosquitos is all you really need sleeves for, and if you do the sunrise tour at Mount Batur, is a little chilly in the morning, but you will work up a sweat hiking up the sandy terrain of this active volcano. Otherwise, keep it simple, bring your bathing suit and know you will be sweating pretty much the whole time. Laundry service is cheap all around. Don't forget your bud spray and sun screen! Especially if you want some fancy organic brand. You can find some great products out there, you'll just have to search a little harder.
Speaking of Mount Batur, you will need a guide to take you to the top. There are definitely guys hanging out, waiting to lead you up. They are extremely helpful, and you'll be glad you hired them. Also... if you don't hire them, you're not hiking up. It's not a novice hike, be prepared to work for it.
Ubud is a great little niche of Bali, where many westerners venture for a more spiritual and holistic way of life. All the yoga and amazing vegetarian food you can imagine is there, and the streets are swamped with great little shops that you can go absolutely bonkers in buying clothes and souvenirs. Another reason to pack light, you will have a lot of things you want to take home with you. Heck you could just buy a whole new wardrobe there! Remember, everything can be bargained for, so don't accept the first price.
I stayed at a permaculture farm outside of Ubud and loved the more relaxed atmosphere, but liked that I could easily escape into town for entertainment. And there are lots of little secret places outside of town that you can find, so do your research and see what all you can get. You never know what little gem you might find. If you are a serious working traveller, some of the farms are a great spot to stay, get fed, and learn a little more about the culture.
Get as many massages as you can in Bali! They are inexpensive and a great way to pamper yourself on your trip. Sixty minute massages only cost around $15 and you can get $5 thirty minute massage just about anywhere you go. When you get into some of the high end spas though, you'll start seeing prices that are more what you expect in the western world. Prepare yourself... for an authentic Balinese massage, not these beach massages, but the real deal. It can be more painful than pleasurable, and you'll have to breath through it. I got several of these while I was there, but I like a strong deep tissue massage. However, after three massages I was looking pretty battered for the multitude of bruises on my legs. The Balinese assured me that the bruises were a sign of healing. :)
I love to surf, and even though my trip was more yoga focused (I was there working for Sadhana Yoga School), I carved out a bit of time at the end of my trip to explore some of the Bali surf spots. Canggu was the first beach that I got to catch some waves and really enjoyed it. Great surfing happening throughout most of the day. This is a spot for novice and beyond, easy to rent boards, and cruise. Plus, the surfer town has just about everything you could want. After that I got deeper into the Bukit Peninsula to check out Nusa Dua, Balangan and Uluwatu. Unfotunately, I didn't get to do more because I fell ill, but I was happy to get to hit these places. For the more intermediate to advanced surfer (depending on the season), Uluwatu is an incredible spot and very well known. Winding down a cliffside maze of shops and restaurants, that comes to a staircase, taking you into a sanding cave, where you paddle out to the beautiful blue ocean. This isn't a beach if you want to layout, but if you want to have a good meal and watch all the surf it's a must see. And if you can surf, it's rad gazing back at the establishments perched along the shear cliffs, and to be surround by them yourself... stellar.
Temples... they're everywhere and you want to do your research if you can only do a few. The Balinese are some of the most spiritual and ritualistic people I have ever encountered. It's quite inspiring to see so many beautiful, kind people so committed to their spiritual beliefs, and without waiver. I was able to dine with a Balinese family at their home, witnessing and discussing the demands of the faith and their ceremonies. It was quite an eye opening experience. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to be invited into a local families home and experience the culture, through conversation and food.
One of the most tranquil places I found were the rice fields that are scattered among the countryside of Bali. If you can really call it countryside. One moment you are surrounded by people, traffic, chaos really... and then you turn a corner to find a lush green rice field tucked away in the hills. Perfect to meditate, or perhaps take a spa trip, or to just take in natures true beauty. One little cafe I stopped at over looked the rice fields. There I sipped on a perfect fresh coconut, gazing over the lush green terraces, having to pinch myself to know it was real. If you are in Bali, take a moment to sit back and breath in the beauty of Bali in its rice fields.
WHAT TO EAT
Get it fresh! The food in Bali is to die. On a budget? Go to the markets and load up on any kind of exotic fruit you can imagine and just indulge. There are lots of places that you can get food for super cheap, and it's all good. In Ubud it's a vegan delight, with the city offering any type of veggie health nuts' favorite dish. Meat eaters, don't worry... pork is a staple in Bali and there is an abundance of chicken and fish to go along with rice, veggies, noodles, and all! It's easy to find any kind of food you would like. I encourage you to try anything that you are offered and really delve into the local cuisine.
Be wise and get travelers insurance. I already mentioned about the many accidents that can happen in traffic, so let's get some coverage for your health, because there are diseases just floating about. One girl I spoke with had just gotten over typhoid, contracted from the food at her resort. All of the people in the program she was there taking got it... so shit happens. I travel a lot and tend to get sick, so I try to be prepared before I go. Yet, sometimes you just don't know. This trip I was healthy for four weeks, and then contracted dengue fever. Apparently, you get it from mosquitos. Either way, it sucked. I had to sleep for 3 or 4 days. The symptoms are like the flu, and you just got to wait it out. Lots of liquids and sleep! It was miserable... and my feet broke out with all these crazy red spots... which I found out recently is a common symptom. I survived, so no harm no foul. However, there were others that I knew that got sick, and even had to go to the hospital. It was a good thing they had insurance, because a visit without it will drain your bank account.
To conclude, this is really a roundabout detailing of a few things I wish I would have known before I got to Bali... which I will be prepared next time I have the opportunity to go there. And yes, I will definitely go again. Either way, you can't know everything, and that's what makes it all an adventure & learning experience. Have fun and just go with the flow!