BALI TRAVEL TIPS: 10 Tips and Cautions for Visiting Bali
Anyone who’s familiar with me or LashWorldTour knows that I absolutely love Bali, Indonesia. I’ve been making extended visits of the island since 2000, when I first discovered this amazing, culturally-rich tropical paradise. Of all the places I’ve traveled in the world, Bali is the one place I’d like to retire to one day.
Still every place has its annoyances, issues and things to be aware of. Here’s my list of helpful tips, minor cautions and things to avoid while visiting ‘Island of the Gods’. Knowing these could help you enjoy your visit to Bali to the fullest.
Cheapest Flights to Bali
If you’re looking for cheap flights to Bali, it’s helpful to know that:
The cheapest flights to/from Bali originate in SE Asia. That makes sense since it’s the closest region to Bali. The absolute cheapest flights originate in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Singapore. Flights to Bali from Bangkok and other major SE Asian cities are significantly pricier.
If you’re traveling around SE Asia, it might be worth your time/money to travel to KL or Singapore first and then fly to Bali. Check out current flight prices online before deciding.
From Europe and North America flying into KL, Singapore, and especially Bangkok, is considerably cheaper than ‘directly’ flying to Bali. (Currently about $200-$400 more expensive to Bali) If you have a long enough vacation, it could be worth your while/money to combine a trip to Bali with a visit to Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand beforehand.
One strategy would be to get a less expensive flight to Bkk, Sing or KL. Spend a week or two there, then continue on to Bali with a cheap flight from SE Asia. You might save yourself a couple hundred dollars and get to see two countries! In any event, be sure to compare flights on airlines’ official websites as well as on comprehensive flight search websites.
Visas and visa extensions
There are several different visas available for visiting Indonesia. Each has its own cost and extension possibilities. Here’s a quick summary of the three visas most useful for travelers:
Visa on Arrival
Nationals of 52 countries can arrive in Bali without a visa. In that case, at Bali’s airport you purchase a Visa on Arrival when passing through immigration. It costs $25 US and is valid for 30 days. You can extend it once only, for one month, for 250,000 rp (~ $27 US) at the Indonesian Immigration office in Denasar, the airport, or Singaraja.
This is a 2-month (60 days) visa which you must get at an Indonesian Embassy before you go to Bali. Apply at any Indonesian Embassy with their application form, photos, photocopies of your passport. It costs roughly $50 US. The exact amount will be affected by the currency of the country in which the Embassy is located.
Tourist Visas can be renewed after arrival in Bali 1-4 times, one month each, for a total of 6 months’ stay before you must leave the country. Each month you must visit an Indonesian Immigration office within the country, pay 250,000 rp, and do a bunch of paperwork. Alternately, you can hire a visa consultancy agency, who will do all the work for you. The drawback with hiring an agent is that it costs about 650,000 rp.
Check the Indonesian Embassy website for exact current information.
Just like the Tourist Visa, this is a 2-month (60 days) visa which you must get at an Indonesian Embassy before you go to Bali. Apply at any Indonesian Embassy with their application form, photos, photocopies of your passport. It costs roughly $50 US. The exact amount will be in the currency of the country in which the Embassy is located.
To obtain a social visa, you must have an Indonesian national sponsor you. That means your sponsor must send a letter and forms to you or the Embassy in order for your visa to be processed. Since the Tourist Visa can now be extended up to 4 times, just like the Social Visa, it’s much easier to get the Tourist Visa.
Public transportation is not easy in Bali like it is in every other SE Asian country. The Balinese have distinctly segregated transportation for locals and transport for tourists. Tourist transport, which you’ll find everywhere, is outrageously expensive. Essentially, you have to hire a mini-van and driver. Prices for a 3-hour drive are currently about 300,000 rp ( > $30 US) That’s way more than transportation costs in neighboring countries.
The other option is using local buses. Unfortunately, very few buses go directly from A to B. You usually have to take 2 – 4 buses to reach your destination, which could easily take all day, even for a destination that’s a 3-hour trip by car. In addition, no buses run to/from major tourist areas. So if you’re in a tourist area, your first big hurdle is getting to a bus station. Good luck. In Bali transportation boils down to your time or your money.
Another option is to secure your own transportation: bicycle, motorbike or car. It’s very easy to rent or buy all three in Bali. I always get around either by bicycle or motorbike.
Bali’s famous / notorious Kuta beach sprawls out along the coast from the airport for at least 10 km and now encompasses Tuban, Legian, Seminyak and Cangu. Kuta is tourist Bali, where you’ll find a massive maze of alleyways full of souvenir shacks, designer stores, bars, restaurants, nightclubs and surf shops. If you’re a teenager looking for exciting surfing and party action, Kuta could be an exciting place to hang out.
Otherwise, do yourself a HUGE favor: skip the Kuta sprawl entirely. I can’t tell you how many travelers I’ve met who went to Kuta, despite guidebook descriptions and other people’s warnings, and were completely horrified. Why do that to yourself? Especially when there are so many wonderful places around Bali island. Forget Kuta and see the rest of Bali.
One thing about Bali that most first time visitors are shocked and dismayed about are Bali’s assertive and persistent touts. Locals constantly approach westerners trying to sell sarongs, massages, transportation, tours, jewelery… It can become extremely annoying. The best way to avoid them completely is to steer clear of heavily tourist-ed places like south Bali. You won’t come across touts in Bali’s more rural areas. (hint hint)
Otherwise, while you’re in tourist areas the best thing to do to minimize your encounters and aggravation is to totally ignore them, as if they don’t exist. If you respond in any way, they’ll keep right at you. As long as you continue interacting with them, they’ll never stop.
I know it can feel extremely rude to westerners to completely ignore someone who’s talking to us. We’re taught to politely respond to anyone and everyone who talks to us. Go right ahead then, try it. You’ll be pestered to death. From a local’s perspective, as long as someone is interacting with them, that someone is potentially interested. On the other hand, being ignored is a clear message that the person is not interested.
In Indonesia, the penalty for drug possession / trafficking is life imprisonment or death. That’s a pretty heavy risk to take for some recreational pleasure! Yet as I write, dozens of westerners are rotting away in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison near Kuta in south Bali. You can bet the prison conditions are not rosy. Do yourself a favor and enjoy recreational habits in a less stern country.
Arak – methanol poisoning
Arak is a traditional Balinese distilled spirits made from toddy palm trees. Both legal and bootleg distilleries exist around the island. It’s a popular drink among locals for religious ceremonies, festivals, family gatherings and socializing. Arak is also used for cocktails in many tourist restaurants, hotels and resorts. It has a great, slightly fermented flavor and a strong punch. Overall, arak is a safe and delicious spirit with a strong kick.
Unfortunately, in recent years occasional cases of methanol poisoning have been cropping up randomly in Bali. Such poisoning causes blindness or death. Both locals and tourists have been poisoned. if you drink arak during your visit make sure you imbibe at hotels and bars that use only legally processed arak from regulated factories or else drink at popular, well-frequented local bars. How to check? Ask the barman. The risk is quite low and cases are rare. But it’s a serious complication when it happens.
To learn more about arak read my post: Arak and Tuak, Bali’s Locally Brewed ‘Moonshine’
Or check out my feature article in Bail & Beyond Magazine: Cocktails
Since 2010, Bali has been battling rabies, mostly from dogs. A few dozen people have died from dog bites during the past three years, mostly in rural areas. The Balinese authorities and veterinarians have been trying hard to eradicate the disease. Hundreds of stray dogs have been exterminated. Vaccines have been passed around to vets and hospitals all over the island. Vaccines have been administered to both dogs and people.
Tourists are not likely to be affected, but just be aware of the potential threat and steer clear of any unhealthy looking dogs or other animals, particularly monkeys and cats. One clue: animals in Indonesia are generally very afraid of people and don’t allow humans to touch them. So if you come across an animal approaching you, you might want to get away.
Secondly, rabid animals become aggressive, may bite or attack, and may foam at the mouth. In the unlikely event that you get scratched or bit, seek medical attention immediately. Prompt vaccination is essential.
Traffic Police Corruption in south Bali
(sorry, no photos for obvious reasons)
Renting a motorbike or car in Bali is easy, cheap and convenient. But be very careful of police when driving anywhere in south Bali. That includes the airport – Kuta – Legion – Seminyak – Sanur – Denpasar region. Police love pulling over westerners on bikes! Make sure you have the bike registration, your helmet on your head, and an international driver’s license. Also don’t inadvertently break any rules, like stopping on the zebra lane at a red light. They’ll nail you for a ‘fine’ in a second.
On the other hand, an acceptable ‘fine’ (read ‘bribe’) most times is 50,000 rp (< $6 US). That’s not so very bad, compared to the fines you’d get, say, in the USA.
The rest of Bali is an entirely different story. Police are not on the look-out for driving tourists and they’ll leave you completely alone. One exception is the region around north Bali’s most famous dive sites, specifically the roads between Amlapura city and Tulamben.
The sea at many of Bali’s beaches can be quite dangerous. There are often extremely strong undertows and rip currents. At Bali’s most popular tourist beaches, such as the long strip from Kuta to Seminyak, large signs clearly indicate which areas are currently safe and which are dangerous. Pay attention! Don’t enter the dangerous sea zones. Every year a few people drown in Bali. I once witnessed two local boys drown while a throng of people stood by watching, helplessly.
At other less-known beaches around Bali, don’t just assume you can jump in and swim. Always ask locals first if it’s safe or not. Ask about currents. Smaller, calm coves like those found at Amed, northeast Bali, are generally fairly safe as long as you stay within the bay. But wide sweeping beaches found around the island might be very dangerous. If you don’t see any locals in the water, there might be a good reason to stay out.
Do you have experience with any of these issues in Bali?
If so, share your story!
Do you have any other helpful tips for visiting Bali?
( note: please refer here for more information about this post)