Bali is a magical mistress who after a recent holiday has stolen my heart ♥ The huz and I travelled to Bali for eight days of adventure, I went with an open mind and open heart and returned filled to the brim with gratitude and a head full of wonderful memories.
Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing some blog posts on my Bali experience, there’s so much to tell but most of it can only be ‘experienced’, I’ll do my best. If you have any questions please feel free to ask away. Today I’m starting at the beginning and sharing about where we based ouselves, in Kuta.
My mind is now embedded with a picture book of snapshots from Bali and my soul has been washed over with joy, love, clarity, gratitude and is feeling more settled for the experience. Oh, and I’ve been bitten by the travel bug, you all said it would happen and now I can’t wait to plan my next adventure.
From the moment I stepped off the plane I was enchanted with Bali, the bustle, the traditional wood carving (everywhere), smiling faces, crazy traffic and humidity. It was a heady mix of ‘everything’, ALL at once that left me grinning with a wide open heart ready to take it ALL in. I knew I would leave a changed person.
After around five hours in the air travelling from Adelaide we arrived in Bali just after 10:30 pm and seamlessly made our way through immigration. I’ll admit I was nervous about immigration but my fears were unfounded. Out through the gardens and into a throng of Balinese drivers all there to collect travellers. We scanned for our name and after just a few minutes ‘bingo!’, our driver had our luggage, a woman places a fresh frangipani lei around our necks and we’re in the back of a minivan in a flash.
The humidity is full on (but I’d been forewarned so was anticipating it), our driver handed us bottles of water and we chatted all the way to the hotel, a dizzying ride of lights and traffic and horns that had my senses overloaded but wanting more.
At the hotel more flowers and a welcome drink as we followed the staff to our room. We had no idea what to tip so we handed him the equivalent of $5 Aussie dollars and his grin and sparkly eyes told us a silent story.
While Bali is a tourist destination and their currency leaves you feeling like a millionaire there is undeniable poverty in Bali, so my advice is tip the people ‘like they matter’. Know that your tip will help them and their extended families, your five or ten dollar tip makes a huge difference.
We chose to stay at ‘Kuta Beach Club Resort and Spa’ which is a mid range hotel that is quiet and family friendly. People had warned us that Kuta was rough and grubby but I didn’t care, I wanted to experience all sides to Bali.
The hotel is close to Kuta beach, Matahari Square, Waterbom Park, markets and Discovery Mall. Our hotel had 95 rooms and was around $100 per night and we couldn’t have been more thrilled with it. I chose it for the traditional look of the place, I didn’t want to stay in ‘shiny and slick’ (I can do that anywhere).
The grounds were lush, the traditional touches were just what I envisioned and the two pools were perfect. Our room was spacious with a balcony, air conditioning, television, fridge and plenty of storage. There was a little mixup with our room, it had 2 large ‘single’ beds, we were offered another room but didn’t like the location as much so stuck with our original room and enjoyed ‘sleepovers’, actually the separate beds were pretty awesome on hot nights…no hot body next to me ?
Each day our beds were freshly made and the room was given a clean with fresh towels left behind. We did some hand washing but the humidity meant it took ages for clothing to dry so do yourself a favour and call housekeeping to pick up your clothes and have them laundered. We had 37 pieces laundered, ironed and delivered back to us on the same day for $21. Worth every cent. Laundry is a little more pricey for same day service but we still found it cheap.
Speaking of money, we took $1000 Aussie dollars and $500 rupiah to Bali, every morning we would change money in the hotel foyer. Ask for the daily rate, then ask for a better rate and change your money.
Always ask for smaller notes too, plenty of $5,$2 and $1 come in handy especially for cabs and tipping. Sometimes our hotel said they had no smaller notes but if I persisted they always came out with wads of them. Always make sure you count your cash back when changing money over…always.
I used my credit card at the more well known restaurants and a couple of times I got cash out at the eftpos machine at our hotel. The only time I took my credit card out was at night and always in a special pouch that blocks card scanners. Oh, and give your bank the heads up that you’re travelling. Let them know when and where, better to be safe than sorry.
Expect to spend around one hundred dollars per day, you’ll still be living well. Often we spent more as we ate at some very nice restaurants, shopped and took day tours. Bali can definitely be done on a shoestring budget though.
Back to the hotel…the pools were surrounded by sun beds and one pool had a swim up bar (that we only used once) while the other had a waterfall which added to the tranquil surrounds. The staff were attentive and friendly, some knew our names and always used them which made us feel even more welcome. Surprisingly most staff had good English and we loved to chat and banter with them.
One thing I loved about Bali was the temples and spiritual offerings, they are everywhere. Offerings on the streets, in front of houses and businesses in restaurants and shopping centres…even on the beaches. They were all throughout our hotel and surrounding gardens and each day I watched as the young woman placed the offerings, lit the incense and muttered words of thanks. She did this at several locations throughout the gardens and one was right below our balcony. Most mornings I waited for her and as she lit the incense I gave my own silent thanks.
The other bonus of our hotel was a day spa, uhuh nice right. With six treatment rooms including an open air one I was in heaven. Relaxing in a flower bath or showering in the open air is exhilarating and so different to my spa experiences in Australia. Deep stone baths to plunge into, sarongs laden with heady oils, and staff who knew their way around a massage. Expect to pay around $6 on the streets for a massage, our day spa was around $10 for an hour of healing massage.
Our accommodation included a daily breakfast which was nothing to write home about but also nothing to grumble about. Rice, bacon, eggs, toast, omelettes, fruit, cereal and pastries among the food items to choose from. We chose to take advantage of the ‘free’ daily breakfast because it was convenient and the outside dining area was beautiful. A lovely way to start each day. Another lovely way to start each day was with a swim, floating on waterproof beanbags or hanging from a pool noodle and drifting aimlessly in the pool was bliss.
If you’re organised head out early but the shops don’t open until 9 or 10am, then when the afternoon sun is stinging and the humidity is heavy make your way back to your hotel for a swim, ready to head out again for dinner. Remember to wear sunscreen, light clothing, have water and take only a small bag with you. I always carried hand sanitizer, my insurance details, money and spare knickers…after a few days I learned to carry tissues and Imodium too. Most mornings we headed down to breakfast around 8:30am and were on the streets by 10am.
Speaking of streets, the streets of Bali are craaaazy! The sidewalks are uneven and often slippery so be careful. At times scooters and trucks made their way onto the sidewalk, there’s no rules so just be patient and let them pass and be on your way.
Always protect your feet and wear shoes when walking on the streets and sidewalks, often there is water or sewerage and cracked tiles. The smell of sewerage can get you in the back of the throat at times but I got used to it after a few days.
The traffic is frantic and anything goes, there’s basically no rules and you can’t actually lose your license in Bali. We chose not to ride scooters and took advantage of personal drivers and taxis. A personal driver should cost around $50 for a day (8 hours) and we also tipped $10, sometimes we also invited our driver lunch. Our driver Wayan Dita was fabulous, check out his Facebook HERE.
Taxis are cheap but beware, choose ‘Bluebird taxi’ only and always ask for a meter. Some taxis are fake bluebird so look for the symbol and correct wording on the cab. From Kuta to Seminyak expect to pay around $6 or $7 (20 minutes to half an hour) which is far cheaper than the $16 we paid to get from the airport to our home in Adelaide, only three minutes drive. Again, we always tipped our cab drivers, they rely on the tip and to be honest waiting on change which was usually just cents or a couple of dollars was a pain in the arse.
We found taxis extremely easy to find, they will beep at you as you walk the streets. The car horns are like a conversation, drivers beeping, and taxis signalling they are open for a fare. At first the noise and craziness is full on but after two days I grew to understand it and love it. The drivers are all so patient, there is no road rage or anxiety on the roads and I felt very safe at all times.
You’ll also see horses and carts for tourists, a novelty but not for me. I understand that everyone is entitled to make a dollar however they want but I just felt for the horses and didn’t want to add to their misery. Dogs and cats roam the streets, the dogs look like dingoes but are friendly and the cats slink around the streets looking for food and affection.
The streets of Kuta never sleep, long after most of the shops and markets close (around 10pm) you will find locals congregating in small groups for meals and conversation, taxi drivers catching some shuteye and animals waiting for scraps. Toothless beggars crouch in the street and feed on rice, smiling as I walked on by. The only time we had a beggar approach us was in the mountains, little girls peddling postcards.
There are plenty of late night trading convenience stores and the Matahari is close by, take advantage of the supermarket to stock up on water. A one litre bottle of water is around .50c. To make sure we didn’t drink the water we carried bottles with us everywhere, covered the tap in our hotel room with a shower cap and rinsed toothbrushes with bottled water. However the gob full of water I swallowed coming down a waterslide at Waterbom Park was unavoidable. It might explain my uneasy guts at the moment?
All over Bali there are markets, rows and rows of narrow ‘shops’ on the sidewalk all selling similar products and looking to make a few bucks from visiting tourists. The markets are noisy and disarming, the stall holders call out as you approach, “hello,lady”, “you look?”, “hey boss”, “you need more dress?” Get used to it, at times it can feel like an assault but it’s part of the Bali experience.
I quickly learned to say ‘Tidak’ (no) and smile. If you do venture into a store they are oppressively hot! I couldn’t stay long in a store, within minutes I was dripping in sweat (always have water with you). Often the store owners would bring out to me what I was after, which was helpful.
Some other helpful phrases to know are…
GOOD MORNING – Selamat Pagi
GOOD AFTERNOON – Selamat Sore
GOOD EVENING – Selamat Malam
No – Tidak
NO THANKYOU – Tidak Terima Kasih
THANKYOU – Terima Kasih
I’ll have more on shopping in another Bali Basics blog post.
The streets are also filled with massage and beauty salons and every few metres I was met with “you want massage?”or ‘massage?”I just shook my head, smiled and kept moving. I did have a pedicure in Kuta and foot massage in Seminyak, both different experiences from my regular Australian salon visits.
Oh, and there was this five dollar fish foot massage, which was all kinds of weird. I was the tourist shrieking and giggling while quietly shitting myself (not literally) because all I could think about was piranhas!
Another thing you’ll be offered on the streets of Kuta is drugs. Every single day we were offered Viagra, prescription medication and cocaine, usually by the same dudes. Just say no, wave them away and keep moving. Remember to keep wallets in your front pocket and bags across your body facing to the front. I often walked around with my camera around my neck, they might have thought I was rich because it was often commented on but I never felt unsafe.
We were also bombarded with time share people trying to give out cards, thankfully our first driver forewarned us and we were onto it. There’s no need to be rude or get angry, it’s how these people make their living, so just say no and keep moving. Often the hawkers would run across the street to try and stop us but we were firm and after a few days they remembered us and gave up.
Kuta is like Surfers Paradise on steroids but with more traditional charm. It’s a ‘tourist’ spot, if you know and understand that then it’s much easier to accept and forgive it’s ways. I loved it, and I loved other parts of Bali too. More on those next time.
Remember, if you have questions please add them to the comments and I’ll try to answer them in upcoming posts.