TIME SPENT ON RECON
Arrive unflustered and depart relaxed with Escape’s guide to Bali basics
They say that time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. A small percentage of the population might have the means to travel with a private concierge, but for the rest of us, research into a destination is essential.
Bali may be one of our favourite holiday spots, but there are still parts of it that are a mystery to most of us.
Whether you’re travelling to the Indonesian island for the first time or you’re a Bali tragic, this practical guide aims to cover all the bases.
From what to do when you’re waiting for a late-night flight, to local transport and customs, here’s what you need to know before flying to Bali.
BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
Tourist visas to Indonesia are valid for 30 days and free for Australian passport holders.
You must have proof of either a return or onward flight booked out of Indonesia before you leave Australia, otherwise your airline won’t let you fly. Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport is busy and there’s often a long wait at immigration. If patience isn’t one of your virtues, or you’re travelling with young kids, use a fast-track service, such as Bali Fast Track’s (balifasttrack.com) VIP Meet-And-Assist, which streamlines the process, albeit for a hefty price (from $480 for a family of four). You’ll still need to wait for your bags on the other side, though.
They may not be as rigorous as Australia’s border laws, but Bali has its own set of customs regulations.
If you’re bringing in duty-free alcohol or wine, there is a one-litre limit. Likewise, some Australian prescription medications, including codeine and strong sleeping pills, are considered illegal narcotics in Indonesia. Make sure you carry prescription medication in its original packaging and with the prescription attached, and if possible, a letter from your doctor detailing what each is.
STAYING IN TOUCH
Having a phone can make things easier, especially if you need to communicate with drivers or friends.
Earlier this year, the Indonesian government introduced new laws which require all prepaid phone numbers to be registered, which means you can no longer just buy a SIM and use it.
However, when you exit the airport, there’s a Telkomsel booth on the left where you can buy and register a SIM card on the spot, as well as buy data and minutes.
Taxis to Seminyak and Canggu from the airport should cost no more than the equivalent of $20 or $25 and it’s OK to stay firm on this. Many hotels and villas also offer free transfers with your booking.
Private drivers are the best option if you plan on touring to different parts of the island. Most drivers charge about $50 for a full day.
Avoid transferring money to a driver before you arrive, it’s standard to pay at the end of your tour.
If you’re making short trips around the area, taxis should not cost more than an agreed rate of $5. Alternatively, ask the driver to turn on the meter.
Likewise, local ride-sharing apps Grab and Gojek are good options, but be warned that they’re not looked upon favourably in some areas.
Traffic can be a problem in Bali and often you’re better off ordering a Gojek motorbike.
Grab is compatible with Australian numbers, but Gojek requires a local phone number to work.
WHAT TO PACK
Apart from the obvious hat, sunscreen and swimmers, there are a few essentials every traveller should have in Bali.
Dengue fever is a concern in Southeast Asia and high quality Australian mosquito repellent is recommended at all times. It’s also worth packing medicine for traveller’s diarrhoea and food poisoning, plus stronger prescription painkillers or Naprogesic for period pain, which are not available in Bali.
Tampons are also expensive and can be hard to find.
Traveller’s diarrhoea, food poisoning and stomach viruses are common. Wash your hands as often as you can and carry hand sanitiser to use after handling money.
Avoid eating salads and raw food at unverifiable venues. Buy activated charcoal tablets from a Guardian or Kimia Farma to help prevent diarrhoea. Seminyak-based Dr Krishna (+62 818 0386 2021) does house calls to the North Kuta areas and can be booked via Whatsapp.
OFTEN THINGS TAKE LONGER IN BALI THAN THEY MIGHT IN AUSTRALIA, SO PATIENCE IS ESSENTIAL
Most cafes and restaurants add a service charge to the bill, but it’s courteous to leave a dollar or two for the waitstaff who served you. Larger tips are common at more up-market restaurants, but not expected.
It’s also good practice to round up taxi fares and Gojek and Grab trips to the nearest 10,000 rupiah ($1).
For each spa and nail therapist, $2 is a good tip to show appreciation. You might also want to tip your private driver after your tour. For tour guides, a fair tip is about $10 a day.
Most return flights from Bali to Australia depart late at night and most check-out times fall around noon, so you’ll need to kill time.
Hotels are generally happy to store your luggage until your departure and many also offer late check-out if you ask, or even somewhere to shower. Alternatively, get a late check-out day pass at Peppers Seminyak (peppersseminyak.com), which includes access to the resort pool, gym, shower rooms and luggage storage.
CUSTOMS AND ETIQUETTE
Spirituality is at the core of BalineseHindu culture and various daily and monthly rituals are integral to their way of life. Ceremonies are held for everything from the half and full moon to auspicious dates for burials, teeth-filing and weddings.
It can be common for entire roads to be blocked off for a ceremony and for staff to be absent from their jobs during this time. Canang saris or offerings are placed on the streets and in temples daily.
The Balinese people are very warm and open, there are no hard and fast rules about the culture, although women who are menstruating are prohibited from entering temples.
The people have a very playful and laid-back nature. Often things take longer than they might in Australia, so patience is essential.
Nyepi Day, also known as the Day of Silence, is Bali’s lunar new year
When in Bali, head to Nusa Penida to snorkel with manta rays; get up close to monkeys; stay in a Capella Keliki Valley tent in arty Ubud; relax with a late check-out day pass at Peppers Seminyak.