Top Tips for Traveling to BaliHow to score and not get skanked

Max Hepworth-Povey


2 months ago in Indonesia

UPDATED – 21ST JUNE 2023

Bali is a surfer’s paradise, but there are a few things that are useful to know to save you time, money and stress before arriving, especially if it’s your first time. With COVID protocols, visas and rumours spreading through social media, even the most leather skinned Indo Vet will currently be struggling to sift through the information, so we’ve collated this article with relevant travel advice as well as a few tips and tricks ensuring Indonesian holiday smoothness.

Visa
Before departing to Bali, you need to prepare yourself with the information about the Visa and requirements to enter Indonesia. As of the 6th April 2022 there are 43 countries subjected to simple Visa on Arrival program. Check to see if your country is on the list here. If your country is not on the list you can still enter Indo, you will just have to apply and jump through the hoops of the e-visa, which can be applied for here.

Upon arrival expect queues at immigration, however a small tip to take note of is to be prepared for this and book a seat at the front of the plane and travel with hand luggage only (more on this later) you will breeze through in no time.

Arrival protocol
Get to immigration and show your Visa. It’s always best to just have this printed out, just in case your phone runs out of battery or whatever. I once forgot about the visa (yes I know) and thought I would just get a visa on arrival. I had no cash on me either and when I went to get cash out my bank card got blocked. I had no way of getting through to my bank to unblock the card and basically nearly got sent straight back, until some absolute German Hero (funnily enough called Max) poked his head in the immigration room where I was being detained and essentially sorted everything out for me but being very polite to the officer and paid for my visa, so I got his business card and thanked him financially a few days later. Thank you Universe (and German Max).

Collect your bags(if you have any) grab your first Bintang from the drinks dispenser in arrivals, sieve through the crowd of taxi / transfers drivers and you’re in Bali baby.

Buy it out there

The reason I mentioned traveling with hand luggage only is not just to save you time getting through immigration, but because everything you need for a trip to Bali is cheaper to buy once you’re there. You will need surfing clothes, casual light clothes, toiletries and a surfboard. Clothing is easily 1/4 of the price of back home and I bought a brand new Luke Studer weapon for the 4.5million IDR, which is the equivalent of £250.

They know you’re here
All this being said, as soon as you arrive into Denpasar airport you will be ‘greeted’ by what feels like hundreds of drivers all offering you taxi services as mentioned above. You will naturally be tired and the constant question “Taxi Sir” will tire you more, but politely decline with a smile, they are just doing their job. The same goes for all the street vendors, your bright white complexion will stand you out from the tourists they have already hustled, so be prepared to decline constant sales pitches. Otherwise if you stop and ask how much, you’re probably going to end up with a bracelet on your wrist, which you will then buy. Know where you are going and what you need to buy and you’ll be fine.

Expect crowds
Bali is a busy island full of tourists and an increasing number of ex-pats looking to surf perfect waves, but if you’re in good hands (or on one of our trips) you’ll will be pleased to surf many secluded corners and will find some surfing solitude.

Go the extra mile
Like literally. A small, fun surf town where we base ourselves on the trips has a great buzz about it, incredible waves and every type of eatery you can imagine, right on the doorstep. But sometimes it’s nice to escape the ‘buzz’ so we travel a mile or two up the road for our surf lessons where we have had the waves to ourselves on plenty of occasions.

Have the right board
Unless you’re an expert surfer who can tell the difference in ½ litre of volume, you really don’t need to pack a skinny pintail that you can hardly paddle in the hope of refining your tube-riding. Pack (or buy out there) a board you are comfortable surfing. If you are coming from a wetsuit wearing location (which most of us are) you can afford to shave off a litre or two of volume and go for a more progressive shape, but don’t sell yourself short. You will have more fun on a 6’6 mid length than you will on a 5’11 pin tail (talking from experience).

Bali belly
A few years ago, salads, fruit, ice cubes and meat was a big no, but hygiene standards have improved drastically over these years and the local warung is probably a safer bet than your local chip shop. So eat your way around Bali, try it all. A word of warning however, always ask what it is you’re trying before you buy as a friend of mine and I tucked into some pork and what we assumed were octopus kebabs post surf one morning, only to find out after polishing at least four skewers each that they were snails. Oh and stay away from Arrak (local potent booze), that stuff will definitely make you feel sick the next day.

Live within your means
Local warungs are extremely cheap with a Nasi Goreng (veggie fried rice with chicken and a fried egg) setting you back around 30,000IDR (£1.50), a large Bintang (local beer) costing the same and you can get a fan cooled room for 100,000IDR (£5) per night, but you can just as easily blow your savings if you go to high-end establishments and get carried away with the Bintangs, which is easily done as you will feel like a millionaire. Literally, £60 is the equivalent to about 1 million Rupiah, so your wallet will be bulging, just try not to make it rain too hard.

Haggling
I usually pay over the odds for stuff, but I tend to believe that` something is worth as much as you’re willing to pay for it. However, you can and should haggle for most of your goods and services if you’re paying cash, you just need to know what the ‘right price’ is. Determining that right price is the hard part though. Example; I bought two pairs of polarised sunglasses from a street vendor for 400,000IDR, £20. Not bad I thought considering the guy wanted 300,000IDR per pair. My friend bought a pair off the same guy the following day for 100,000IDR. I would suggest paying 50% of what they are asking. If you walk away and the seller doesn’t come after you, you’ve gone too low, but it’s hard to meet their lowest price so push your luck respectfully.

Respect
Whilst haggling respectfully is one thing, respecting local traditions and customs is a totally different ball park. Actually it’s a totally different game. Religion rules Bali. Rituals, festivals and ancient culture is everywhere you look. From the Temples on every street corner, to the offerings littering every pavement. They even have a religious day (called Nyepi) where everything, including the airport shuts down. So be respectful, dress appropriately when visiting temples and don’t get stressed out if you’re late for your surf because there are 100 beautiful dressed Balinese people attending a ceremony.

Made
All Balinese share the same four names depending on their order of birth; Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut – whether they’re male or female. If a family has a fifth child they simple start again. How beautiful is that?

Smoking
All locals (mainly men) smoke cigarettes, nowhere is non smoking and don’t be surprised or saddened if you see a couple of young boys riding a moped smoking a Marlborough red. It’s sad but it’s a part of life that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.

Play by the rules
The Indonesian legal system is crazy and instense. You all probably know the Schapelle Corby story and have heard about the Bali Nine, so obviously don’t get caught up in drugs out here. But you’ll feel the long hand of the law for the small things such as riding a moped. If you ride a moped regularly you will probably get stopped and definitely will get ‘fined’ even if you haven’t done anything wrong. Just pay the fine with a smile and move along, don’t even try to argue as you could dig yourself a deep and dangerous hole. A simple way to avoid hassle is to just use a driver. I can not stress this enough. They will know the roads and rules better than you and you will be helping out with the local economy.

No sweat
Joke. Bali is so hot, like 32 degrees, so please don’t bring ‘warm’ clothes, you will not need them and they will just weigh your bag down and get used to drinking water regularly as you will probably perspire until you hit your fan cooled sack every night. But in general Bali is a safe surfing destination. With millions of tourists visiting each year (pre-covid), most of which are boozed up Aussies, there’s bound to be some horror stories, but if you’re respectful, know your limits with the waves (and the party) always wear a helmet when riding a bike or scooter (or get a driver) and generally just don’t get too carried away you will be in for the surf and cultural experience of a lifetime.