A Guide To Planning For Your First Trip To Bali

It’s been a glorious 9 days in Bali, I am missing that beautiful island already!

If you haven’t already seen our Bali Vlog, you can do so first. Now, before this trip, I had no inkling on what to do and where to go, and Bali is so vast! With some help from friends and some personal experience (the good and the not so good), I have managed to put together a post on planning for your amazing getaway. For those who have been to Bali many times before, you are welcome to add your own input in the comments, I will add in your suggestion if it’s great.

I will also be adding other posts about the places I’ve been to in Bali, they will be linked below:

In this post, I’ll be giving my usual travel tips and price estimations, so that you’d know what to prepare for and enjoy your vacation. Bali is beautiful, but it also has its ugly side – and that is what this blog post is for. It’s a loooong one, so please spend some time to read, as it contains some pretty useful stuff and also words of caution. We had an amazing time, but we also had a few bad experiences, that you can ultimately benefit from.

Here is a map of Bali, where you can roughly see where everything is, and it would probably help you plan better. Print it out if you must!

We stayed in Kuta, at Terrace Hotel. The hotel itself is really pleasant and clean, with amazing service and well-deserved 8.4 rating on Agoda. What I didn’t like, was Kuta in general. The pros about Kuta is that it is convenient, since the airport (assuming you are landing at Ngurah Rai Airport) is only 17 minutes away, and most tour pick-ups start in Kuta. Our hotel was a 10 minute walk from the beach, which was great for those days when we needed to chill.

But Kuta has been ruined by tourism, as Wandering Earl aptly wrote about. It is mostly dirty, and you get dodgy locals offering to sell you magic mushrooms or drugs, openly on the streets and side alleys! The place is also filled with drunk tourists at night, mostly Australians, and the really unclassy types. Shopping is relatively cheap but a lot of shops sell those tasteless “Mark is a homo” or “Fuck you bitch” stickers and t-shirts or wooden penises. Such a shame.

In terms of where to stay, I’d suggest finding a place in Seminyak, Nusa Dua or Ubud, where it’s quieter and you get to see more of the ‘real’ Bali that isn’t so tainted with tourism. If I could do it all over again, I’d pick Ubud.

Terrace Hotel at Kuta.

Bali is huge, and I am quite sad to not be able to see all of it. It’s true when they say Bali cannot be seen in just one trip, it would take many trips back to this beautiful island to really see all of it’s beauty. ‘The best place’ means different things for different people. Here is a rough guide to these main tourist places to choose based on your interest:

KUTA – Good for surfing since Kuta beach has perfect waves and a lot of surfing classes and surf shops, partying and drinking with friends (I especially like the Hard Rock Café along the beach road), shopping for wooden penises and budget hotels.

SEMINYAK/LEGIAN – It’s much quieter here, and more suitably for the folks with more dough in their pockets as all the 5-star hotels are located along the beaches here. The shopping district is also much classier with curated fashion stores and more hipster joints around. Popular clubs/bars like Potato Head and KU DE TA Bali are also within the vicinity.

UBUD –  This is Bali’s arts & culture centre. Most of the paintings and wood carvings you see in other places, usually come from here. This is the place to visit the batik shops and see their process, silver smiths, paddy fields, wood carvers, paintings, kopi luwak farms (civet coffee) and even egg painting. The monkey forest is also located here and the shopping is cheap, because you can haggle for much lower prices. Quite a lot of nice villas on AirBNB are located here too.

GIANYAR – This place is close to Ubud, and it is where you can find some of the markets. It is also where all the animal attractions are; Bali Zoo, Bali Marine & Safari Park and the Bali Bird Park. Some nature activities are also available here, like forest cycling or white water rafting. It is perfect for the adventurous.

SANUR – Water sports are abundant here as Sanur Beach has the perfect space and waters for everything. Because we just did a lot of these during our trip in Boracay, we decided to pass. However, we did take a boat from here towards Turtle Island where they have a turtle facility (where you can touch and hold turtles) and also some other animals.

JIMBARAN – I don’t know much about the surrounding area here, but all I know is that anyone will tell you to come here for seafood. It’s not too expensive and you have a whole load of seafood restaurants to choose from. The ones facing the beach are the best, because if you dine at sunset, you get an amazing view as you eat on the beach.

If you already know what you want to see or do, then I’d suggest to just hire yourself a driver. Most drivers can be hired via your hotel, or a tour agent – the prices are about IDR400,000 (MYR112) to IDR450,000 per car, a day (9am-6pm) with additional charges after the stipulated time. It’s quite cheap if you think about it! The more people in a car, the cheaper it will be.

If you decide to book a tour, it will be more expensive at IDR400,000-IDR1,200,000 per person. The good thing is that you get a tour guide and most of your entrance fees are already paid for, and you have a set itinerary. We booked two of our tours with Sabatani Ways and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as our guide and driver took really good care of us. One of the tours we booked via Groupon and it was a whole day tour (4am-9pm) at only MYR102 per person. So do look for these sort of deals online before heading to Bali, as they can be much cheaper than booking your tours there.

Always hire drivers from legit tour businesses. And no matter what the taxi men offer, DO NOT hire them. We had the unfortunate experience with this taxi man who offered his driving services to us for IDR400,000 (MYR112) till 6pm. We headed to Nusa Dua first to eat at an establishment he recommended (and earned commission from, no doubt), and then we asked to be taken to a 3D museum in Seminyak. The taxi man suddenly started saying that oh Seminyak is too far and he also refused to bring us to KU DE TA and the other venues we requested for because he says ‘it’s too far’.

Long story short, he backed out on his word to be at our service, but proceeded to drop us off at the 3D museum, and telling us that this is the last stop he would make for us. Incensed, we paid him the agreed fare and decided to just get a more decent taxi later on. After he left, we entered the museum and realized that we were not in Seminyak, we were still in Kuta! It was also a different 3D museum from what we originally want. So please, I’d advise everyone to not charter taxis as they might leave you stranded if you are not careful.

It is not highly practiced there, so you do not have to tip waiters/waitresses in your restaurant as you are also charged 10%, sometimes 25% for service. However, I think it is worth tipping your tour guide and driver, especially if they took good care of you and explained a lot during the tour. For every tour, we tipped them IDR100,000 (MYR30) each as they both took care of us very well throughout the day and our guide took loads of photos for us too!

In certain temples, like Goa Gajah in Ubud, there will be a guide who will assist visitors in climbing some rocks across a stream to see the ancient stone runes which have become their sacred Buddhist temple. That guide would unabashedly ask visitors for tips, but because it’s a sacred place, we do so as a way of donating. For tipping these sort of things, just peruse your small denominations like IDR20,000 (MYR6). Always have small change on you.

It can get pretty bad, especially during rush hour. You will need to plan your itinerary by location to make things easier, especially if you are not going with a pre-planned tour itinerary. For example, Ubud is 2 hours away from Kuta, and that is with regular traffic! If you head to Ubud, then spend the day there and do all your sight-seeing there. It’s a waste of time to jump from Ubud to another far off location. Make sure all your plans are within workable distance when you plan your itinerary. You can peruse Google Maps to estimate the distance and travel time. Even tours get hung-up sometimes due to traffic.

Another point to make is: do your research before you go. Make sure your activities do not coincide with big festivals or public holidays there – otherwise you will be looking at spending a lot of time on the road. And once a year, on Nyepi Day (Day of SIlence), everything will be closed and no cars will be permitted on the roads. The days before and after Nyepi Day are also affected, more info here.

Here’s another word of caution based on experience. I will suggest you change all of your money before you fly to Bali. However, sometimes you run out of money and you need to change more money. DO NOT make the same mistake we did, by changing money at the regular shops. These shops that sell clothes/souvenirs sometimes place a “licensed money changer” board outside the shop, with extremely good rates. We made a mistake of getting tempted by these good rates.

These people have very quick hands. Even as you count the money over and over again, they still manage to grab a few bills off the table – which we both didn’t manage to notice, despite keeping a very close eye. It was only later that we realized that we are IDR500,000 short. And I can tell you, it is useless to go back there and argue, you’d never know what sort of connections these people have. If you need to change money, head to Central Kuta Money Exchange, they are legit and have a few branches around. One easy way to spot a ‘fake’ licensed money changer – they tend to have very high counters, to enable them to swipe money off the table easily. Central Kuta has regular low tables and they count everything before letting you recount again. So please, stick to the legit ones – the rates may be higher, but at least you do not get swindled right in the face.

Locals in Bali have picked up many languages due to tourism. We have met guides who can speak English, Chinese, Japanese, French, Korean and even Russian. Of course, English is one of the main languages most of them are able to speak. The one major advantage we have, is being able to speak Bahasa with the locals.

When you speak Bahasa, the locals immediately become much friendlier towards you and – in many cases – we got a much lower price when haggling. We actually paid a fraction of the price as compared to what the other tourists around us were paying. Also, locals are more keen on giving you tips on places to go and secret-shortcuts to bypass a long queue. So if you speak Bahasa, you can rest assured that some extra perks come with it.

And that’s it! I believe I have covered some of the more vital need-to-know points here and if you have any further questions, do leave them in comments and I will try my best to answer you.

Stay tuned as more of the other Bali posts come along!

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