My friend and I did copious amounts of research on Bali, Indonesia before we made the long journey over. I’ve compiled some tips from our experiences to help you navigate your way through a trip to this tropical paradise.
Religion and the modest dress of Bali:
The Balinese culture is steeped in religion and I think it’s important to follow social practices when you are a visitor to a country. The population of Bali is ninety percent Hindu and five percent Muslim, and you will likely visit the gorgeous temples in Bali (highly recommended!) when you visit. Many temples offer sarongs and dress to cover your shoulders and knees, but this style of dress seems to carry over to everyday wear as well.
The only people you will see walking around in tank tops and short-shorts are tourists, and I recommend that you try to cover your shoulders and knees when walking around if you are not on the beach or in a swimming area. I suggest linen pants, long skirts and light t-shirts in order to adhere to these conventions and keep cool.
Prepare to practice the art of haggling when visiting Bali. Beyond ordering off of a menu at a restaurant, I felt that all prices we paid in Bali were negotiable. You usually start out by offering how much you think an item is worth. It’s best to estimate the lowest amount you think the person will accept for the item (maybe even a bit lower), and the person will return with a higher value. There is then some back-and-forth before you arrive at a value that falls somewhere in the middle of the value you offered and their initial stated value. Keep in mind the conversion rate for the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR; the currency in Bali) and your currency if visiting from outside of Indonesia. For example, the conversion rate on our visit was 13,317 rupiah to one U.S. Dollar (USD). The price of things sometimes sounded exorbitant when stated in IDR because of the conversion value. I was also guilty of constantly using my phone calculator to make sure prices were reasonable.
It’s important to know how much something is truly worth before you begin haggling. Things in Bali are relatively cheap compared to how much one might pay for an item elsewhere (I’m looking at you, San Francisco). When negotiating tour prices, we scoured the tour pamphlets we picked up from the Denpasar Airport on the way, so we were able to have a baseline for our negotiations. With all of this being said, when negotiating the price of a tour or service, make sure both parties explicitly agree on the price before the activity begins so that nobody is surprised by the payment expected at the end.
Bali seasons and weather:
When we booked our trip to Bali, we went in thinking the weather was going to be warm, clear and dry in December. I knew that it was summer in Bali, as the Indonesian island is located in the Southern Hemisphere. You would think that a week between Christmas and New Years would be the perfect timeframe. We were mistaken. Although December is technically summer in Bali, it also happens to fall in Bali’s rainy season, which typically runs from October to March. We found the weather was typically warm (with some cold mornings and nights), but our days were pretty overcast and spotted with periodic rain. We went about it with an attitude that we were just going to make the best of the rain and still go out in it, and I think that served us well.
If you want to avoid the rain, dry season in Bali runs from April to September, with the highest amount of visitors to Bali in July and August. Many people suggest visiting in May, June and September, right before and after the high season. Room prices during those months will be lower and the island is less crowded with tourists.
Traffic in Bali can get pretty gnarly. One can see why renting a motorbike seems to be the most common mode of tourist transportation. With everything that we’d heard about the dangers of riding a motorbike in Bali, my friend and I opted for hiring a driver on most days where we planned on covering large distances, and just plain walking for days when we didn’t plan on going too far. Hiring a driver for the day set us back $30-$40 USD (which we split between the two of us) depending on the number of hours that we wanted for our activities. By hiring a driver, we were able to put together our own itinerary with cherry-picked activities and sites from our online research and tour brochures.
Food and drink:
Balinese cuisine is absolutely delicious and we were able to sample a smattering of the local dishes in our time in Bali. Among our favorites were sate lembat (Bali’s version of satay, or meat-on-a-stick), bebek (duck; we mostly had the crispy version), nasi goring (fried rice with meat and veggies), and mi goreng (fried noodles with meat and veggies). Indonesia is also known for having some of the most delicious coffee in the world, and we couldn’t pass up our chance to sample the famous coffee luwak (kopi luwak) in Bali.
Kopi luwak is not your average cup of Joe. It’s brewed from the partially digested coffee cherries dropped by the Asian palm civet (a mongoose-like animal). Yes, it’s coffee made from animal poop. It’s not actually as questionable as it might initially sound. The seeds from the droppings are cleansed and roasted before becoming your delicious (and expensive in America) cup of coffee.
Remember not to drink the tap water or eat veggies or fruits that you cannot peel yourself when visiting Bali. Drinking the water or eating the skin of fruits or veggies that have been washed with the tap water can (and probably will) make you sick. I recommend sticking to bottled beverages (with unbroken seals) and also trying to stick to bottled beer or other sealed alcoholic beverages. My friend and I both came down with a foodborne illness at the end of our trip and it put us out of commission for a solid week. I’ll spare you the details, but I will say that you will probably spend much of your time in the bathroom if you consume anything tainted.
Please let me know if you have questions about Bali that were not covered here! Leave me a comment below.