Bali is constantly voted one of the best islands in the world and there is good reason for it. It is the dream destination for many, and the epitome of the tropical island idyll. Bali really does have it all, stunning beaches including some of the best surf breaks in the world, it has resorts and villas that will take your breathe away and now boasts some of the worlds best restaurants.
For those planning on travelling to Bali, we thought we would share a guide to the island from getting around, to the best restaurants and even on how to not getting ripped off!
Arriving, leaving and the airport
The airport in Bali (Ngurah Rai International Airport) is only a couple of years old and the new version of it has removed a lot of the headache of hours and hours of lining up, but this can all depend on whether you’re arriving with lots of other flights.
When you arrive there’s a few stops to make. Firstly getting your Visa on Arrival, then immigration, then customs.
On arrival you need to buy your Visa On Arrival - dependant on where you are flying in from, for Australians there is no payment needed!
Next is Immigration where they will check your passport and entry card. Note that they will tear off half of your arrival card which is your Departure card – don’t lose this as you’ll need it to leave Bali at the end of your trip.
Next is customs which is pretty straight forward (note you can only take 1 litre per person of alcohol into Bali. Don’t make the mistake of taking 2 bottles like I did and get taken into an interrogation room).
When collecting your bags there’ll be lots of ‘porters’ around wanting to carry your bag for you. Say no unless you really need a hand as they’ll ask for money later.
When you exit arrivals you’ll hit a wall of locals and taxi drivers wanting to offer you transport & accommodation. Usually your villa will offer a free pick up so if they do organise before you leave home and they’ll be waiting for you with a sign. If not, get a BlueBird taxi (see notes below on taxis) and it’ll be maybe IDR100,000 or IDR150,000 depending on traffic (which can be pretty bad at times). The other alternative is a driver which there are plenty of, but you’ll need to bargain and agree on a price and a taxi is just easier for the most part.
When you leave Bali at the end of your trip you’ll need to pay a departure tax of around IDR200,000 so make sure you have some local currency left over as you’re leaving. You’ll also need your departure card that was attached to your arrival card on entry.
Money, bargaining and getting ripped off.
On every trip to Bali I’ve been ripped off at least once and I don’t really mind considering the amount of money we’re talking about and where the ‘extra’ will no doubt go towards paying for their kids education or putting food on the table.
It’ll no doubt happen to you so expect it at some point. Usually it won’t be a lot so it’s not a worry but don’t feel like you’re the only one that it will happen to.
These days, a lot of what you buy will be fixed price so it removes the need to bargain and barter with the locals. The main things you’ll need to bargain for is transport (unless in Blue Bird taxis), anything you buy from market stalls and shops and day trip type activities as well as anything on the beach like a sun lounge for the day. The general rule is to aim for about half of what they initially ask you for, but it can vary so much its hard to give much guidance here. Don’t get too stressed about it, usually the amount of money being bargained over is so little in our terms it can seem silly but it can be a fun experience also. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you’re not happy with the price they want, there’ll be someone 10 steps down the street selling the same stuff so you can always have a go with someone else. For a sun lounger on the beach expect to pay maybe IDR 50,000 for a half day.
It can be handy to have some IDR on you when you arrive in Bali but not necessary. There are money changers at the airport on all over the island, as well as ATMs. Generally I will take the maximum amount (usually about IDR 2 million) out of an ATM and not bother with money changers as they can be quick with their hands in the counting out and before you realise they’ve kept half the money they changed for you. A taxi or driver will stop at an ATM for you when you arrive into Bali if you ask them to.
Lots of places also take credit card now, particularly in Seminyak and the other tourist centres.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to say a firm no or completely ignore people as you walk down the street and they try to sell you stuff. They won’t be offended if you ignore them. They tend to recognise tourists from expats based on this – if you ignore them they’ll think you’re more experienced.
Transport & taxis
I’ve never bothered with renting a motorbike as I’d find it too stressful dealing with the local traffic and lack of road rules as well as other tourists on bikes. I get motorbike taxis if I’m travelling on my own but for the most part, taxis tend to be the way to go in and round Seminyak, Kuta & Legian and are super cheap. Make sure you get a Blue Bird – these have a big logo of a bird on them and are usually lighter blue than the others. The other taxis will do everything to make their cabs look like a Blue Bird so be wary of that but if you’re in one and they refuse to use the meter or want to bargain, just get out and get another one, there are more than enough not to worry.
For day trips or longer journeys, it can be best to arrange a ‘Bemo’ or driver for the day. Sometimes your villa will have one with semi-fixed pricing or you’ll see them all over the streets asking if you want transport. You’ll need to bargain and agree on a price before the trip and prices can vary depending on how much they need some work, how busy the island is and so on. It’s hard to say how much but for a full day maybe IDR 500,000 or a little more might be reasonable, depending on where you are going etc.
Eating & drinking
First up don’t drink tap water at all, but make sure you are drinking lots and lots of bottled water. When I’ve got sick before it is usually because I’m not drinking enough water, especially considering alcohol intake and it is more dehydration that anything else.
Options for eating are endless in Seminyak and the surrounding areas so you’ll be spoiled for choice. A few favourites can be found at the various guide pages provided below.
For your drinking pleasure, you’ll also have no shortage of choice and it can be worth checking out the ‘famous’ and ‘popular’ ones for a drink or two just for the experience. Note that places like Ku De Ta, Potato Head and other trendy places you’ll pay Melbourne prices so I find one or two drinks for the experience enough and then drinking on the beach or in more ‘local’ places is the way to go. My last trip I didn’t even bother going to Potato Head, but if you’ve not been it is definitely worth it.
Also check out Woo Bar at the W and if it looks like it will be a nice sunset, there is a rooftop bar on top of the Anantara Hotel that is worth it for the view alone.
One of my favourites for years now has been Zappaz on ‘Eat Street’. It isn’t fancy or anything like that but they have a cover band every night and are often really amazing musicians having a blast up on stage taking requests, getting tourists to play and sing with them etc. The owner is an old English dude that sits at the end of the bar every night and when the band has a break (or the power goes out) jumps on the grand piano and plays and sings. Always a good atmosphere and mix of crowd. Often just bogans having a bloody good sing and dance but that’s fun if you ask me.
Lastly, talk to others you meet around the place. I’ve always found the best ‘new places’ from chatting with people at other bars, at the beach, in the pool etc. Whether you’re looking for a cafe, a fine dining restaurant or a place to drink and party, I really love their lists and you can see they really know their stuff (better than I do!). I think you can even organise drivers and other things through them if you want.
I don’t do a lot of shopping in Bali, but it is pretty good if that is what you’re after. Seminyak is the shopping central, mostly boutiques and better for girls than guys.
Down in Kuta there is the Beach Walk which is a couple of years old and has all the international brands in it, near this is Centro another department store/mall. I’m sure there’s heaps of better options but as I say, I don’t do a lot of shopping so not my expertise.
Lots of people buy art over there and get it sent back. If you have a favourite photo or image of a painting you want done take it with you and they’ll copy it for you to any size you want, with enough time.
Likewise getting clothes/shoes made appeals to a lot of people and there are endless places you can do this. Just wander around or ask a local.
For watches, art, tailored clothing etc you’ll be bargaining for a good price but this is all part of the experience.
Day trips and other things to see
This is south of Kuta & Seminyak and is well worth a visit for a seafood feast on the beach at sunset. You might want to stop at Rock Bar at Ayana Resort on the way for sunset cocktails (get there early) and continue to Jimbaran for dinner. Your driver will take you to one of the many restaurants along the beach, you choose your seafood and they cool it fresh for you on the beach with wandering bands taking requests, fireworks and so on. The seafood isn’t cheap here but worth doing once.
Ubud is north of Seminyak in the mountains. It is quite beautiful and may be worth a night up there, or just a day trip. There are bicycle tours around the local villages and volcano, rafting down the Agung River, yoga & meditation and eastern healing type stuff here, as well as heaps of nice places to eat and drink. Try and find a hotel/restaurant with a nice view over the river & rice fields for lunch. Quite a nice change from the beach view and stunning views. There’s also a monkey forest/temple up here if you want to do that, as well as elephants & safari park.
From memory you can stop in the gold and silver making centres of Celuk and Mas on the way to Ubud to see how they make jewellery etc.
This is where all the proper surfers go for the best waves. The views down here are amazing and if you want a good day trip go and spend the day at Finn’s Beach Club.
These are on the eastern side of the island and are the full on resort places. To me they are always a little generic/sanitised compared to the rest of Bali. They do lots of water sports over here though so if you’re up for a jet ski/parasail this might be the best place.
As Seminyak has expanded and the beach has got dirtier, Canguu and Echo Beach have become more popular for a day at the beach – really nice up here and some good food & drinking spots too. Next time I go with a group I want to stay here rather than Seminyak.
I haven’t done this in years but was always something I remembered as amazing. A temple set out in the water that the sun sets behind for amazing views and photos. It would have been the 90s when I went so who knows what it is like now but I remember an incredible ceremonial procession at sunset that was quite amazing.
This is an island about an hour (or 2?) by boat from Sanur. It is small and pretty quiet I believe (haven’t actually been) but is supposed to be beautiful. Could be a good day trip if you’re up for an early start and getting out on the water.
There are plenty of other places to go and visit, and the further north you go the quieter and more basic they get. Could be worth a day trip but could be a lot of driving just to see more beaches etc. Bedugal in the mountains (where they grow strawberries), Lovina on the north of the island for dolphin spotting, Kintamani and Candidasa, there’s endless options depending on how keen you are for day trips.
Getting around Seminyak
In my mind, there are 3 parts to Seminyak, which have basically built up and moved north as the area has grown in popularity.
At the south in the red box is ‘Double Six’ area, where there used to be a lot of big super clubs etc. Now the ‘scene’ has calmed down a bit and there are good bars, restaurants etc around. I love the part of the beachin the late afternoon between Double Six up to Ku De Ta. Lots of bars and eateries with beanbags out on the sand, live bands etc. There’s a silly one way system down to Double Six so taxis can be a bit hard to come by, but if you walk up to Jalan Raya Seminyak (Seminyak St) there’ll be heaps more options.
In the middle, the blue box, the main road used to be called Jalan Dyana Pura, but they changed it to Jalan Camplung Tanduk now. Along here you’ll find lots of hotels, massage, bars etc and there’s a short strip of gay bars in here. They can be full on, especially on the weekends, with people trying to drag you into their bar, but you get used to it. At the top of the blue box is ‘Eat Street’ which is now called Jalan Kayu Aya and used to be called Jalan Laksmana (why they decided to change street names I have no idea). This is worth spending time on for shopping, good breakfasts and great dinners. This is traditionally the hot spot for good food and at the end is Seminyak Square.
At the north end of the map, in the green box, is the newer part of Seminyak and I think is technically Keroboken, but they don’t call it that cause that is what the jail is called. In here there are the new generation of fine dining/high class restaurants, bars and boutiques. Worth a look for sure, especially for a dinner at Motel Mexicola and drinks at Potato Head or the W Hotel.
To walk around all 3 parts of Seminyak will take awhile and for the most part I’ll use cabs to get between the places I’m going. The beach, however, is a good and quick way to get from Double Six up to Eat Street quite quickly.
Along the spine of all 3, you’ll see Sunset Road which is the main ‘highway’ that runs from Kuta, through Legian and behind Seminyak. It is a main road to connect a lot up the coast, but there’s not a lot to see here really.
The locals and culture
I find Bali a really unique place. I’ve been around the world and for me it stands out as something quite unique from other places I’ve been. These days is can be a lot harder to meet ‘Balinese’ as opposed to ‘Indonesians’ and they are a little different. Bali is quite unique in that it is predominantly Hindu whereas the rest of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim. Real or not I tend to find the ture locals, from Bali, much more engaging, genuine, relaxed and keen for a chat (while they try to sell you something). Others from Java and the rest of Indonesia seem a bit ‘harder’ to me in their approach, attitude and general personality.
You’ll see the Hindu culture in action a lot, particularly in the ‘offerings’ they put out the front of shops, restaurants, houses etc. Don’t be too worried if you stand on these like I initially was, you won’t offend. It can be really nice to go and experience some of the temples & ceremonies if you can and are keen – just ask some of the locals.
One of my favourite things to do is go and have dinner with a family. This is usually a family we met on our first trip to Bali in the early 90s, just to get out of the tourist districts and into a locals home gives you a really great appreciation for the big picture and why tourism is so critical to the islands and the locals. You’ll also struggle to find better local food than you will by going to someone’s house. I’ve also done it with some other friends and paid to get a full suckling pig and have a big feast with the extended family of a local. Not many that visit Bali do this kind of thing but it can be a really refreshing experience to do so.
Written by Mitchell Lawson