A romantic getaway, a relaxing holiday, great food, sunny beaches – maybe a bit too sunny – and traditional trinkets galore – five characteristics that aptly describe the tropical island of Bali. From Manhattan Fish Market to roadside stalls – otherwise known as warung – Bali itself is a complex mixing pot of local and international flavours, giving tourists a glimpse of something new yet close to home at the same time. It is no wonder, then, that Bali remains a popular destination for couples, families and tourists from all walks of life today.
Bali, however, is not merely a place of sunshine, hammocks and shopping sprees. After making a trip to Bali recently in December, I was surprised – and not pleasantly – at some of the not-so-glamorous faces of Bali. It was incredibly easy to walk away from Bali – unknowingly – thousands or tens of thousands of rupiahs poorer, or missing an item here or there. That is not a recipe for a relaxing trip – it spells stress ten times over.
Here are some takeaways from my trip – and some suggestions from various sources – to help you feel in control – if and – when you find yourself in Bali.
The local edge
I once walked into a shop in Georgetown and had a costume offered to me at RM65 because I was a local, while a foreigner was offered a similar costume at a price RM20 higher! The local edge doesn’t only apply to Penang; it is more important than ever in Bali. My mum advised my sister and I to keep quiet whenever she was purchasing tickets or bargaining, and it was for a good reason – she, being an Indonesian, could get entry tickets at half-price and slash prices for souvenirs more easily. Tickets to tourist hotspots can cost as much as double the price for foreigners compared to locals!
Unfortunately, speaking Malay does not equate passing off as a local. Getting a local driver – if you’ve hired one – to help purchasing entry tickets can help, if you do not have any local acquaintances. However, this is highly dependent on the driver’s willingness as well. If you have no means to obtain tickets at local price, make sure the pricing for foreigners is fixed so that you don’t get cheated at the ticket counter.
The monkeys in Bali come in different forms – some are used to human presence while others may be quite aggressive. The monkeys at Ubud Monkey Forest are relatively peaceful, though there have been incidences of visitors being bitten by monkeys. To keep yourself safe – and your belongings intact – my advice is to keep all your items in a shut bag, your body free of loose accessories – including spectacles – and your hands free of any food. There are stalls selling food to feed the monkeys – and tempting as it may be to feed a monkey first-hand – once you’ve decided to feed a monkey they will not leave you alone. Not having enough food to feed all the monkeys that have followed suit may even result in being bitten by them.
Keeping your belongings secure is another thing to note if you’re visiting any places with monkeys. Monkeys have been known to steal hats, spectacles and any number of loose objects. In fact, some locals have started providing paid services to recover these stolen objects – it goes without mentioning that some of these fees may be quite exorbitant. And the worst part is, there is no guarantee about recovering your stolen items. Better safe than sorry – keep it minimal, keep it safe.
Getting around in Bali
Despite Bali being a tourist hotspot, parts of Bali include long stretches of road where traffic is constant and there is not a single zebra crossing in sight. Crossing the road isn’t the only problem in Bali; so is getting a taxi. Every taxi may look the same, but only some of them go by the metre. Hail light-blue taxis with the icon of a blue bird on top of the car – these are metred taxis owned by the Blue Bird Group. They start at a base rate of 6000 rupiah (less than RM2). The only place where you may not be able to find metred taxis is at the airport – metred taxis are not allowed to pick up passengers at the airport, so visitors are often forced to go from driver to driver, asking for the cheapest price possible.
Blue Bird taxis
Taxis are not always the best way to get around in Bali, if you’re looking to explore a lot of places. This is because 2-3 hour car rides are not uncommon, especially when it comes to popular destinations in Bali. That can add up to a lot of money in a few days. Hiring a local driver may work out better financially. A base rate is paid for using the car, and a separate fee is paid to the driver, with tips usually given at the end of the service, pending on the driver’s helpfulness and friendliness. Also, the driving in Bali is usually quite fast with a lot of overtaking, so if you’re not up for witnessing close brushes with cars and speeding on narrow roads, do try and rest your eyes in the car.
Some places to visit
During my trip I visited Ulun Danu and Tanah Lot. The former is a temple ground in the mountains near Bedugul, with scenic views of Lake Bratan. A restaurant named Saras is located on the mountain road leading to Ulun Danu. Their soto ayam is delectable, as is their gado-gado. Tanah Lot, which is a 2-hour car ride from Ulun Danu – is a rock formation that will leave avid photographers mesmerized by its beauty. Beach-lovers can check out Kuta beach, which is a long stretch featuring hotels, restaurants and local shops.
Part of Bebek Tepi Sawah
I highly recommend Bebek Tepi Sawah – literally meaning “duck by the paddy field” – a restaurant famous for its fried duck. The main restaurant has huts dotting a mini expanse of paddy fields and lotus flowers, complete with scarecrows to boot. There’s also a branch at Kuta Road, next to the Bintang Kuta Hotel. Naughty Nuri’s is a must-try for pork rib lovers. It’s not the most traditional of Bali’s dishes, but the ribs are so soft that you’ll find yourself devouring a whole rack in no time.
If you’re looking for places to shop for souvenirs, a no-bargain-needed option is Krisna. The store boasts local products, batik, specialty shirts, souvenirs and all sorts of trinkets at a fixed price (so you won’t get ripped off). However, the quality of the products may be compromised due to mass production, so do check your goods properly before paying. Sukawati is a choice for those seeking bargains, and again the local edge comes in handy when it comes to slashing prices.
Other things to note
All visitors to Bali are required to pay 200,000 rupiah of passenger service tax before they depart from Bali, so make sure you have the money stashed away before you find yourself broke at the airport. Also, it’s important to make sure you reach an agreement with any seller, owner or driver on the price of a product or service before making payment, as you may not receive any change back afterwards if a clear conclusion wasn’t reached. That being said, please take note of the number of zeroes on your rupiah notes. A lot of tourists who aren’t familiar with the currency of Indonesia (which go all the way up to millions) are prone to overpaying for items 10 times over. You certainly don’t want to bring back such a financial nightmare from what was supposed to be an enjoyable trip. So keep count of the zeroes!
Passenger Service Tax
So take note, be cautious, bargain hard and enjoy your time in Bali!
Feature photo – www.baliguide.com
Blue Bird taxis – www.jbtalks.cc
Bebek Tepi Sawah – www.the-mni.com
Sukawati – www.bali-indonesia.com
Passenger Service Tax – www.travelandtofu.wordpress.com