What no one told me about Bali: Tips from an Aussie traveller
"We can't let you fly," the airline attendant told me.
I was standing at the Virgin counter at Sydney airport, ready to check-in for my flight to Bali. It would be my first stop on a three month-long tour I'd planned through South-East Asia. Understandably, I wasn't thrilled to be hearing those words.
"I don't understand," I said.
"The Indonesian government requires you to have a flight out of the country," she explained. "We can't let you board on a one-way ticket."
Relieved it was solvable, I stepped to the side, booked a flight to Vietnam - where I'd planned to go after Bali anyway - and returned to the desk. But it was too late. Check-in had closed. For a $150 change fee, I had to be re-booked to fly out seven hours later instead.
The mistake - one I easily could've avoided - was only the first of many I'd make throughout the month and a half I spent in Bali. The rest I've listed here.
VISIT DURING RAINY SEASON
The morning after arriving, I set off for the island of Nusa Penida, a short boat ride away from the mainland. From the looks of the photos online, I was in for turquoise-coloured water, cloudless skies, and jaw-dropping natural beauty.
"Angel's Billabong," my tour guide pointed out on my second day there. I was standing beneath an umbrella as sheets of heavy rain fell down around me. I followed the direction of his index finger to a brown stream flowing between two rock cliffs. That milk chocolate pond was one of Bali's most Instagrammable nature spots?
Turns out, yes - the usually dazzling, swimmable natural pool is just slightly less pretty during rainy season. Running from October to April, the height of it (read: relentless downpouring) is December and January - the exact time of my stay.
"The best time to visit is June and July," a taxi driver later told me as we inched our way through traffic during another rainstorm.
ATTEMPT TO GET BY ON FOOT
Back in Bali, I was staying in Seminyak and hadn't rented a scooter. Having never ridden one, I wasn't about to learn on the island's manic streets. Plus, I was in the heart of town and every cafe, restaurant and day club I wanted to get to seemed to be within an easy 15 to 20 minute walk. Key word here: seemed. After a few attempts, I learnt for myself what I was afterwards told: no one in Bali walks. The humidity is merciless; the scooters are unpredictable; and most importantly, sidewalks are few and far between.
With many taxi drivers refusing to turn on the meter so they could charge what they pleased and Uber drivers unreliable, I was over the moon when I finally discovered Go-JEK, one of two Indonesian ride-hailing apps (the other one being Grab). For the cost of an $8 local SIM card, I was able to score 10-minute car rides for less than the equivalent of $1 and similarly affordable rates for anywhere longer than that. If I selected the scooter option, which saw them arrive with a spare helmet and weave through traffic quickly and safely, it was even cheaper.
NOT BE WARY OF THEFT
Two weeks into my trip, I was on the dance floor at Seminyak hotspot La Favela when I felt a jostle by my side. My shoulder bag - naively left unzipped - had tipped over and I saw my passport lying on the floor. Grabbing it, I checked the rest of the bag's contents to see what else had fallen out. My wallet was inside, but my phone wasn't. But I couldn't see it anywhere on the venue floor either. With a sinking feeling, I realised the bump hadn't been an accident.
After chatting with other travellers and expats, I realised the incident wasn't all that uncommon in Bali, particularly during peak season. In fact, according to nationwide research conducted by Southern Cross Travel Insurance, of all the countries Aussies visit around the world, Indonesia's where they run into the most petty crimes. And oftentimes, that can cost them thousands of dollars.
"Last year, over one third of our Indonesia-related claims were due to lost, stolen or damaged personal items. One of our highest property claims in the country involved a bag snatching incident resulting in a claim for over $14,000 worth of goods," says the company's CEO Chris White.
GO WITHOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
On that note, my next blunder: not buying travel insurance. Had I been smart enough to buy a comprehensive plan, I might have been able to claim not only my stolen phone, but also that pesky flight change fee too.
But my unexpected happenings pale in comparison to two that occurred during the same time I was away. On December 18, American Jeff Swedenhjelm fell from a roof while chasing a monkey who'd stolen his cap. Tragically, he was left paralysed from the waist down. Then, on Christmas Day, Perth traveller Emlyn Thomas crashed his motorbike into a ditch and, after only being found a staggering 12 hours later, had to undergo major surgery.
While Emlyn did have insurance, he wasn't covered because he didn't have a motorbike licence. Jeff, however, had been living in Bali for a few years so didn't have any at all. Both were forced to pay for medical expenses out of pocket.
ASSUME EVERYTHING'S DIRT-CHEAP
Throughout my stay, I'd been slightly indulgent. And by that I mean, I'd stayed in a villa with a private pool, ordered a coffee and a juice for every breakfast, and gone for sunset cocktails a few times a week.
"It's Bali - everything's cheap," I thought without bothering to watch the $700 cash I'd exchanged or check my bank account. But before I knew it, I'd spent all the notes and caused a serious dent in my savings. Granted I was a month into my time there when I realised this - much longer than the average stay - it was still a lot more money than I was expecting to spend. Bali's in no way an expensive place, but, if you're there to live it up (who isn't?), costs like a $50 daybed charge at Potato Head Beach Club or a $14 cocktail from Ku De Ta add up much faster than you'd think.
Hiccups aside, all-in-all, my time in Bali was incredible, amazing and every other clichéd positive adjective you'd expect from spending an extended period on the Island of the Gods. Knowing what I know now, however, next time it'll be even better.
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