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Ballin' in Bali


2014-11-18

In October, I spent two weeks in Bali for a ‘relaxation getaway from life’ as I’ll call it and the vacation lined up with a goal I’ve had for the past 5-6 years of not being in Canada for my 30th birthday. It was the first vacation I had been on where I didn’t take my cell phone and/or computer. It also happened to be one of the most calm and relaxing periods of my life… Coincidence? I think not.

Just before I left, I found out that some friends of mine would be going to Bali soon thereafter, so I wrote up some suggestions, tips, comments, and just generally anything that had I known before, life would have been made marginally easier. I’ve cleaned up those emails and summarized them below.

Arriving

We booked our flights and hotel using Expedia, so it was pretty convenient, relatively well priced, but when it came to making the flights - huge no go.

Our flight plan was Toronto -> London -> Hong Kong -> Bali, unfortunately, the gap between the London arrival and departure flight was about 2 hours. And then, our flight out of Toronto was delayed by about 1.5 hours… So, we missed that, stayed in the slowest moving Air Canada service line ever - keeping in mind that at 1.5 hours late + other delays, there were around 50-60 people who had missed their flight and they had two service agents… One of whom went on break after helping about 5 passengers.

Anyways, our new flights were 8 hours later on a different airline and things started looking up. We got into Bali very sleep-deprived after about 40 hours of travel.

Tips:

  • Bring 35 USD in cash to pay for the ‘visa on arrival’, this used to be 25 USD, but was changed this past year

  • When you get the visa and declaration card, keep them as safe as humanly possible, as you’ll need them again on departure

  • Apparently if you lose the declaration card, it is a \$100/day fee on departure (unverified - this fee was told to me by my neighbour on the flight who goes to Bali several times per year). I’m sure you could also bribe someone to get it cheaper

  • Have a return ticket before you arrive, we were told that from Canada, we couldn’t enter Bali on a one-way ticket (although, I’m sure the regulations change per country)

Getting to your hotel

So, we got our visa, got our luggage, went through customs… Quick aside, we didn’t know the rules and I watch all those Border Security shows, so I’m paranoid about declaring things… We ended up declaring our few protein bars as ‘food’, went through the red gates at security and it was about 5x faster than going through the undeclared side. The process still seems to be the same, they x-ray your bags, but no one declares anything, so our line was empty and the other line was backfilled with everyone else in all incoming planes. Also, when we told the security guard we have food, and it was chocolate bars, he laughed and waved us through. Sweet!

When we passed through the arrival doors (after customs), it was taxi drivers as far as the eye can see. How many of them were ‘legitimate’ taxi drivers remained to be seen, but there were a ton. As soon as you pass through the arrival doors, you see metal rails in front of you, and a duty free to the left. Just before the duty free, there is a small counter with people sitting, wearing blue shirts. It’s the Blue Bird Taxi service (Bali’s only official taxi service from what I can tell).

At this point, you tell them your destination and they give you a fixed-fare receipt (the airport taxi doesn’t do metered it seems). One of the blue-shirt drivers will take you to the car shown on the ticket, take you to your destination, and then you pay him.

Now, that was the ideal scenario. In reality, when we arrived, we waited for our hotel shuttle to pick us up, but due to some miscommunication, they never arrived. We were asked by seemingly everyone at the airport if we needed a taxi, but to keep things simple, and as we’ve never been there before, we used the airport taxi service. Definitely the most expensive, but we figured it was the least stressful.

As we walked over to the desk, a blue-shirt guy (he honestly looked like Skeletor and a zombie had a baby) asked us where we were going. We told him, and he told us that it would be 200,000 IDR. We could tell he was trying to con us, and this ended up being our first negotiation experience here (first of many). He wasn’t really willing to budge on the price, so I went over to the desk, told him that I’ll pay 115,000 IDR, he agreed and told the driver to take us. The driver was definitely pissed, but skulked to his car with us in tow.

When we arrived at our hotel, I paid him his money, but he stopped me telling me that we had agreed to 150,000 not 115,000. I had very clearly agreed with him and his boss at 115k, and refused to pay him. We went back and forth saying 150 and 115 a bunch of times, then he tried to call his boss (what a surprise, his phone all of a sudden didn’t work). After a few minutes of this, I lost patience and decided that after 43 hours of being awake, \$4 honestly wasn’t worth it, I gave him another 20-30k and told him to be happy with it.

Tips:

  • There is a nice website that shows the price you should pay for each destination

  • In my case, I should have paid 110k, so my 115k wasn’t too far off the mark. But as I mentioned, the driver tried to get me to pay 200k when we first talked.

  • WRITE THE PRICE DOWN and show it to them and agree to that price. Also, get them to write it on the receipt they give (they don’t write the fare on there, hoping to get a couple extra bucks)

  • Write the price from the website link as your price, that way you don’t even need to negotiate, just show them your fair price, and if they say no, just say you’ll go to one of the other taxi drivers around there. Walking away is so easy, and they ALWAYS bring their price down

Where to stay

While there are a few more regions in Bali, South Bali and Central Bali seems to be where most tourists end up.

We ended up staying at the Grand Nikko Bali in Nusa Dua. Nusa Dua is referred to as a bit of a tourist enclave, but as we found out, it’s in a region of Bali that is not well suited for farming, so its a pretty obvious choice for resorts. If you’re in Nusa Dua, most of the places you’ll eat or do any activities will be on the resort. There’s not too much to do off the resorts, except to go to what is effectively an outdoor mall called the Bali Collection. Otherwise, you’ll be travelling to other cities for shenanigans. In summary, Nusa Dua is super quiet, which was perfect for my relaxation trip.

In Central Bali, there is Ubud, which is the cultural centre of Bali, not known for partying or drinking. However, we still made a couple of trips to visit the arts and crafts villages, as well as for a cooking lesson!

We didn’t spend any time in Kuta, but I heard that’s where the party scene is. I also heard it’s relatively ghetto compared to the other cities (cheap, but congested).

From anecdotes, I heard Seminyak is really nice and kinda expensive, and we briefly spent some time in Jimbaran which is really nice, but it was too busy for my liking.

What to do

There is so much to do in Bali, so I’ll stick to the few activities we did, as I wanted to spend most of my time on the beach.

The first day trip we we did a trip to Ubud and some craft villages (batik makers, wood makers, silver and goldsmiths). We also went to the Monkey Forest, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was awesome! This was booked through the hotel’s activity desk.

Another day, we did a day trip to see a lot of famous temples yesterday across Bali (Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, etc…). In this case, we didn’t book through the activity desk, but planned it out directly with a tour guide and driver.

One of the best things we did was a cooking class in a traditional Balinese home. We specifically chose classes with a small number of people, and in this case, it was just the two of us! Probably the best meal we’ve eaten here, and a ton of fun. The website for the one we went to was jambanganbalicookingclass.com

The other thing we did here was go to the White Sands Beach House in Jimbaran Bay. It’s owned by a Canadian named Don, who married a Balinese woman, and has been living there for about 18 years. We made it to the restaurant to watch sunset. When we arrived, Don started up a conversation with us and also joined us for dinner, and we just chatted for a bunch of hours. Really cool guy with a cool history. Walked from Afghanistan to England with a stuff like that. You have dinner on the beach, and can get a pretty good sunset. Good and cheap food and booze. Highly recommended for a dinner.

Tips:

  • If you take a tour with a company, and like the tour guide and driver, keep them and use them for other tours, but don’t go through the guide company. We saved 40% on our second tour by doing this

  • If you think there will be a day of driving around, hire a guy for the day, as it’ll be wayyy cheaper than taxis or anything

  • Rule of thumb, it’s about 40 USD/day for the car, 5 USD/day for the driver. The hotel tried to get us at 135 USD/day for a car + driver, and random taxi drivers start their bidding at 60-70 USD/day

  • If you’re taking a taxi to a location, make sure the driver uses the meter, because you’ll get screwed negotiating a fixed price

  • They will always tell you the meter is broken, if so, get out and wait for another one (or maybe his meter will magically work again)

  • Bali has no real public transit, you’ll be using taxis or shuttles everywhere

Misc

  • Negotiate everything (start at 50 to 60% off)

  • EVERY interaction in Bali is negotiable, and you can assume that whatever you’re offered is at least 2x too expensive (or even 10x)

  • Stay away from drugs. 15-20 year jail sentence, even for foreigners. Super harsh on drug crimes. From what I was told, best idea is to quietly bribe your way out of this

  • Read up about methanol poisoning in Bali. Drinks are really expensive, so people have been known to cut alcohol with methanol. Especially with Arak