As I’m heading back to Bali in just a few weeks (yaaay) I came to think of all the things I wish I had known before my first trip to the island over 8 years ago. Do I need shots before going to Bali? Do I need a visa to visit Indonesia? What can I wear in Bali?
So I decided to make a list of all the things I’ve learned over the years.
I call Bali my third home and I love it today even though it has changed so much in recent years. It is still such a beautiful paradise, but it also has some dark sides you need to be aware of. Some think they can come to Bali and forget about all rules and act like complete tools. But Bali actually has some strict rules and there are certain things you should know about before you visit the “Island of Gods”.
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Important things to know for first timer’s in Bali:
As of 2016 nationals of 169 countries can visit Indonesia visa-free for 30 days, while Visa on Arrival applies for others at USD 35. The Visa on Arrival can be extended once. You can also apply for a 2-month visa at the Indonesian embassy in your country before you leave. The process was fairly easy and I got mine after just two weeks. Check whether or not you need a visa for Indonesia here.
Peak season: August and December 20 to January 9.
High/Dry season: July, September 1 to September 15, Chinese New Year and Easter.
Low season: January 9 to June 30 and September 16 to December 2.
Rainy season: October/November – April
In my mind, the best time to visit Bali, Lombok and the Gilis are February through May, except for Easter. Then it’s still green from the rainy season and mostly nice weather in my experience. Remember that there is no travel allowed on Nyepi “Day of Silence” in March, the specific date varies every year based on the Saka lunar calendar.
From Ubud and down to the Bukit Peninsula, ATMs are widely accessible. But in more rural areas and on the Nusa Islands, ATMs are few and far between and often run out of cash. So plan ahead and make sure to always have some cash on hand. The ATMs dispense either IDR 50,000 or 100,000 bills. I usually withdraw 2,500,000 million from each to have some smaller bills for street vendors and warungs and larger bills for fancier restaurants and hotels etc.
I always get at least 5,000,000 at the airport when I arrive as I feel those are the safest ATMs. Though I’ve never actually had any issue with skimming or anything like that. My boyfriend, however, screwed up once when he was rushing to withdraw cash to pay a driver. He forgot that in Indonesia they give you the cash first, then ask if you want to do another transaction. Ulrik got the cash and left the card open so one lucky person managed to withdraw $1000 before we noticed it. So people, remember to get your card before you leave the ATM!
Getting around Bali is relatively easy. In the more touristy areas like Legian and Seminyak, taxis are everywhere and they’ll honk at you to show you that they’re free. If you don’t want to bargain, only use Bluebird taxis and tell the driver to put on the meter before you get in.
In Canggu, Ubud, south on the Bukit Peninsula and on the Nusa Islands, I always rent a scooter/motorbike. Driving around by myself exploring is one of my favorite things to do on the island. Remember to drive on the left and that there are no gas stations in the countryside, only roadside stalls selling petrol out of old vodka bottles.
The easiest way to get from the airport is to arrange for the hotel you’re staying at to pick you up. They will be waiting with a sign at arrivals and they’ll know exactly where to drive you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sitting in a taxi for aaages trying to find my accommodation. Most drivers are lovely and eager to help but they often don’t know street names or even the location of large hotels even if we’re just a couple of streets over.
For some reason, I’ve never thought to get a photo of the crazy traffic in Bali so an overloaded motorbike will have to do. How are they able to balance all that on two wheels? I once saw four kids on one motorbike, one holding a baby and one holding a small ladder. So scary to watch!
When you want to explore the more remote tourist attractions on the island you can easily ask your hotel to arrange for a driver for you or book a full-day customizable tour with a driver here. Or if you don’t want to do any planning join this iconic Bali tour.
There are a lot of mixed messages regarding whether or not Uber is legal in Bali. So, locals and tourists alike have turned to another app called “Go-Jek”. The guys and girls driving around in green jackets and helmets will not only take you where you need to go but also do your shopping, get your food from one of the over 2000 registered restaurants and deliver stuff for you. Basically, they’ll do anything you need. Such a great service you should definitely check out!
This probably goes without saying, but please don’t drink the tap water in Bali. You can, however, brush your teeth with it. But that doesn’t mean you need to buy bottled water all the time, the waste situation is horrible! Be sure to bring a reusable water bottle as many restaurants and cafés offer free refills. Ice in drinks at bars, hotels and restaurants are usually safe.
Hepatitis A vaccine is highly recommended for travel to Bali and Indonesia and there should not be more than 10 years since your last Tetanus shot. The general risk of malaria is very small in Bali, but if you plan to spend a lot of time mountain hiking or in rural areas then you might want to consider anti-malaria medication. But I’m not a medical professional so you can read more about it here and always check with your local vaccination/travel clinic before you go.
Bali is so much more than Kuta and Seminyak! So no matter what you do, don’t get stuck in just that area. You’ll find all the best beaches on the Bukit Peninsula (my favorite part of Bali) and the most beautiful natural and cultural areas in Ubud and further north. Be sure to check my Bali island area guide here before you book your accommodation!
Campuhan Ridge Walk in Ubud – Edited with my Balmy Blue Lightroom preset
9. Drugs & methanol poisoning
When you first arrive at Denpasar airport you’re met by huge posters stating that drug trafficking is punishable by death. And when you’re out and about, especially in Kuta and Legian, people will try to sell you different kinds of drugs, mostly magic mushrooms. Get used to just ignoring the whispering sound of “majic muuusshhhrooms”. I read somewhere that every third person offering magic mushroom on the street are undercover cops. So definitely take it seriously and don’t mess whit that stuff (not that I think any of my readers will anyway).
If you hang out in Kuta and other backpacker areas like Gili T, please be aware of the super cheap drinks. A 15k drink is too good to be true even in Bali, it’s usually made with arak which is a local moonshine. And unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for arak to contain dangerous amounts of methanol. Many have lost their lives to methanol poisoning in Bali and as little as a teaspoon of methanol can cause blindness. So be careful!
Related post: The 11 most common scams in Bali + How to avoid them!
In case of emergencies, dial 112 which is the new main emergency number. Make sure to use the right country and area code depending on what SIM card you’re are using. You can read more about emergency numbers here. BIMC is one of the most recognized hospitals in Bali and caters mostly to foreigners so you can be sure all doctors and nurses speak English. They have a 24-hour medical center, a doctor service available on call that can come to your hotel or villa and an on-site pharmacy. There are two locations, one in Kuta and the newest one is in Nusa Dua.
Besides boutiques, restaurants and convenience stores, the first price you’re quoted is usually at least double what the seller will let the item go for, so don’t be afraid to haggle. Some stall owners will even encourage you to do so by telling you the price they think you should come back with. Haha, it can actually be quite fun!
In Bali, tipping is not expected but very much appreciated. The smallest amount will result in big smiles, so I always tip if the service is good. The only exception is restaurants geared towards tourists where a service charge is often added to your bill.
Pura Lempuyang in East Bali – Edited with my Ocean Gold Lightroom preset
13. Clothing & culture
In Bali, you can wear whatever you’d normally wear on a beach holiday, like shorts and sundresses etc., especially in the south and along the beaches. But I always cover up with a maxi dress or a long kimono if I go to Denpasar or more remote areas. In recent years I’ve seen more and more people walk through villages and into shops wearing only bathing suits. While most locals won’t say anything, please show a bit more respect and at least put on a cover-up or sarong. Remember to also bring some appropriate hiking gear if you want to trek Mt. Batur.
I also always bring or buy a sarong, trust me you’ll need one. When visiting temples you have to wear a sarong and often also a sash as I do in the photo above. But don’t worry, if you forget to bring one you can usually rent appropriate attire at the temple for a small sum.
Despite the influx of tourism, Balinese culture and traditions still remain very strong. You can barely take a couple of steps along the street before you encounter a “canang sari”, which are colorful daily offerings made by the Balinese Hindus. Making the basket, filling it with gifts, and performing the ritual is a lengthy process so be respectful and don’t interrupt someone during the offering.
14. Beach Hawkers
Even on the smallest beaches across Bali, there will be at least a couple of people trying to sell you sarongs, bracelets, fresh fruit and drinks, as well as those offering massages. “Massaaaaass? Maybe laaataa?” haha you will soon get what I mean by that. I usually go for the freshly cut baby pineapples and the mango and the dragon fruit… and the coconuts. Hey, I need to eat right? So in my mind, it’s better to support the hawkers than all the fancy beach clubs.
At the end of the day, a very small amount to you could mean the world of difference to some of these people, but you shouldn’t feel pressured into buying anything. And please, try to always be polite. Just smile, say no and shake your head if you’re not interested.
Related post: East Bali guide: Top 11 awesome things to do
The beautiful island of Bali is home to thousands of stray dogs, cats and many cheeky monkeys. There are a number of shelters on the island, but unfortunately, it’s still a huge problem. If you want to help check out the amazing Mission Paws’ible.
Once many years ago my sister and I were staying in Canggu and walked back to our hotel after dinner. This was not the Canggu you see today, there were only a couple of warungs down by Echo beach a long gravel road with no street lights or anything. Suddenly we were surrounded by four stray dogs and remember it was pitch black so I have to admit it made me nervous. One walked in front of us, one on each side and one behind us. For a few seconds were sure they were going to attack but to our surprise, they just walked with us at our pace. When we reached our hotel they sat down and watched us until we went inside. In hindsight, it almost felt like they wanted to protect us. I love dogs!
None of the animals I have encountered over the years have been particularly aggressive, so don’t be afraid, just exercise common sense. However, if you are unfortunate enough to be bitten go and see a doctor immediately as there have been outbreaks of rabies on the island in the past.
I love being able to communicate in the language of the place I’m visiting, even if it’s just a few words. Whilst the vast majority of people in the main tourist areas in Bali will speak enough English to communicate with you, knowing a few phrases in Balinese or Indonesian will go a long way. The locals really appreciate the effort. Start with some easy phrases like selamat pagi – good morning, apa kabar? – how are you?, tolong – please, suksma – thanks (Balinese) and terima kasih – thank you (Bahasa). And remember, Balinese is not the same as Bahasa Indonesia, the official language of Indonesia.
And last but not least, Bali is a foodie’s dream. You might be wondering why I think it’s important that you know that before you go to Bali. But if you’re a foodie like me you might want to do extensive research on the restaurants and cafés you want to try. I always go through TripAdvisor for hours prior to a trip. Reading reviews, looking at photos and make lists. I know, I’m weird. I just can’t help it, food excites me more than anything. You can read more about my two all-time favorite Bali restaurants here.
But although Bali has so many trendy restaurants don’t forget to eat at the warungs and try some of the local delicacies. Indonesian and Balinese food is delish! My favorite dishes are Mie Goreng (fried noodles) and Beef Rendang. Yuuuum!