Everything you need to know for your first visit to Bali

Before landing in Bali we had no idea what we were in store for! We didn’t have very much experience with less developed countries so it was quite the culture shock for us when we arrived. We learnt a lot and also research a lot while we were there. To save any of you out there who feel as overwhelmed as we did, then here is everything you need to know about Bali!

Currency

The currency in Bali is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). We arrived in Bali from Australia, which made the currency conversion very easy to work out as $10 roughly equals IDR100,000, but it is a bit harder from pounds or US dollars. It is generally good practice to become a Balinese millionaire in the airport so you can pay for a taxi and food without having to worry about tackling the street money changers when you arrive at your hotel (more on that below)

The currency consists of coins and notes, but the amounts often equate to such small amounts that you’re happy to leave it as tips.

Coins:

IDR100                                               £0.01                                      AUD $0.01

IDR200                                               £0.01                                      AUD $0.02

IDR500                                               £0.03                                      AUD $0.05

IDR1000                                            £0.06                                      AUD $0.10

Notes:

IDR1000                                            £0.06                                      AUD $0.10

IDR2000                                            £0.12                                      AUD $0.20

IDR5000                                            £0.31                                      AUD $0.50

IDR10000                                          £0.62                                      AUD $1.00

IDR20000                                          £1.23                                      AUD $2.00

IDR50000                                          £3.08                                      AUD $5.00

IDR100000                                        £6.15                                      AUD $10.00

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Taxis

Taxis in Bali can be a bit overwhelming for a new visitor. We have spoken to loads of people on our travels who have stories of Balinese taxis and their problems. We chose to play it quite safe and use companies we knew wouldn’t try to rip us off or scam us, and may have paid slightly more than a seasoned taxi haggler, but honestly the lack of stress doing it our way was totally worth it to us!

Airport taxis

Our mistake at the airport was to think we knew what we were doing when we didn’t! We set off out of the airport and straight into a hoard of independent drivers who pounce on you, trying to get you into their vehicle. If you are a taxi pro, you can probably negotiate a cheaper deal with one of these guys, just make sure the fare is agreed prior to getting inside.

Being taxi amateurs, we headed back inside the airport and found a booth for the airport taxi company – Ngurah Rai Airport Taxi. They have a list of prices for each location in Bali so you know how much in advance, and they don’t barter on these prices. You tell them where you’re going and pay, and they give you a piece of paper with a number on it. The number correlates to a vehicle number so you then head back out of the airport to find your ride. There are heaps of drivers for the taxi company lurking around the booth and outside, so if you get really stuck then show one of them your ticket and they will help you out.

Your final option, depending on the time of day, is to try and score a BlueBird. BlueBird is our most trusted taxi company in Bali, but local law forbids them from collecting passengers at the arrivals gate. The method to getting a BlueBird at the airport involves going upstairs to the departures area, and catching a ride with a driver who has just dropped someone else off. Be quick though, as they aren’t supposed to be picking you up and will not want to be waiting around.

General taxis

As said above, Bluebird is our go-to company for getting around the popular areas of Bali. A Bluebird taxi can be easily identified with its pale blue colour, the words ‘Blue Bird Group’ in white text at the top of the windscreen, white covers over the front headrests, a picture of a blue bird above the word TAXSI on the roof light and a vehicle code that is displayed on the side and back of the car, such as VV218. The driver’s ID will also be stuck to the dashboard inside.

blue bird-1

You can hail a Bluebird like a normal taxi, or prebook one if you don’t want to wait either by calling them, or using their app. The app is super useful and can give you an estimation of the cost of the journey, and let you know how far away your ride is.

There are LOADS of imitation taxis in Bali who feed off Bluebird’s reputation but have their own negative reputation of ripping you off! The imitations we have seen include:

  • Dark blue paint rather than pale blue
  • Blue Bird Taxi on the windscreen rather than Blue Bird Group. We also saw one taxi than said Blue Biro Group which, because of the font used, looked particularly convincing
  • The bird on the roof light replaced by other pictures
  • A vehicle code displayed across the windscreen instead of Blue Bird Group
  • Drivers showing you a fake ‘Bluebird’ ID to try and convince you they’re legit.

Unfortunately, as you start to head to more remote parts of Bali, you will find there aren’t any Bluebirds to collect you. If you go from a major area they will be able to drop you off, but it’s not worth their while to wait around the smaller towns for an occasional customer. Even in Uluwatu, we couldn’t get a Bluebird from our hotel to Sanur.

In this instance, you will have to use private drivers (even the imitation taxis don’t tend to be in less popular areas). The cars will be a bit more luxurious but you will definitely have to pay more. We checked the Bluebird app for an estimate, then negotiated a fare with the driver based on that, which seemed to work out ok for us!

Private drivers are also super useful for arranging a day out sightseeing. Most hotels have their own driver who they will direct you to, but after our experience in Bali we feel it is better to help out the ‘little man’ for day trips. Competition is fierce for drivers and many of them are trying to make ends meet by taxiing, rather than (in our favourite driver’s case) climbing a coconut tree for IDR2000 per coconut, or other labour intensive work. A driver can generally be hired for the whole day for between IDR500,000 and IDR700,000 depending on your itinerary, including petrol and tolls. They will wait at the car with your belongings while you go and explore, and can offer local knowledge and hidden gems that you wouldn’t have otherwise found.

Our driver, Darma, is based in Amed on the East and can be contacted on Facebook at facebook.com/AmedTourDriver.

Bali Belly

Be careful not to ingest any form of tap water. That includes filling up water bottles etc, everyone in Bali has bottled water and the locals use huge 19L bottles, which can be taken back to most shops in exchange for a refill. This is a great option if you stay in one location for a long time. The first full bottle costs around IDR50000, then you either take the empty bottle back and receive a IDR30000 refund, or get your next refill for just IDR20000.

It is also worth being careful when using the bathroom. Don’t open your mouth in the shower, yep that’s right, even for singing! If you’re being super careful, don’t even wet your toothbrush with tap water and use bottled water for that too. For us, we didn’t wet the brush before using it, but washed it off afterwards and never had any problems.

Finally, be careful eating street food. Generally the sellers have a lot of experience doing it so are unlikely to serve you undercooked food, but bare in mind they aren’t governed by any food standards agency either!

Road ‘rules’

Use the word ‘rules’ very loosely in Bali, especially around the busier areas like Kuta. When first arriving it can seem like absolute chaos and that there are no rules at all, but if you watch for a while, you will start to notice a certain code of conduct followed by everyone. They are as follows:

  • Size rules – the bigger you are, you more right of way you have
  • Most junctions are treated basically like roundabouts. You will often find people pulling out of a side street onto a main road in front of traffic, and the traffic on the main road actually giving way to it.
  • Overtake using any gap there is. This is especially true when on a scooter where overtaking can be done within the same lane, in the next lane, or even on the footpath! If there’s a gap and you feel confident enough, go for it!
  • Almost any maneuver is acceptable and drivers are patient enough to wait for you, as long as you are careful and patient. During our time in Bali we saw someone on a scooter driving the wrong way down a dual carriage way on the hard shoulder, a scooter parked sideways in the middle of a dual carriage way, making their way across to the other side, cars entering the madness of a line-less 6 lane roundabout and much more! Go slowly, make sure people have/can see you, and just wait for the gap to go.
  • A horn is actually used for its intended purpose, that is to say ‘I am here’, rather than ‘I think you’re an idiot’ like in western countries. This is especially worth remembering if you’re riding a moped, as overtaking vehicles will give you a courteous toot on the way past so you know they’re there. Don’t be startled to the point of falling off, and make sure you use your own horn to the same effect.

Tipping

Tipping is quite common in Bali especially to taxis and places to eat. The more popular restaurants catering to tourists often add around 10% tax, and 5% service automatically to your bill. Warungs and small eateries often don’t charge either, so a tip of 5-10% is appreciated, but not expected.

Changing money

You have two options for getting money in Bali and your decision will be based upon your own situation. You can either take cash from your country to change at local money changers, or take plastic cash and use the ATMs. Both options have their pros and cons so the choice really is about what you’re most comfortable with. Regardless of what you decide to do, it is advisable to take enough cash from home (in your home currency) to change at the airport changers to get you started after you land. Don’t get the money changed at home before you fly as the rate will be atrocious, but try and make sure the notes you are taking are in good condition with no writing on or tears.

Money changers

can be found absolutely everywhere in Bali, which makes it very hard to know which ones to trust. The general guidelines for finding a reputable changer is to find somewhere that is solely a money changer, rather than a desk in the back of a restaurant, or clothes shop, or bar, or chemist, or supermarket. If they have air-con and seats to wait in then that’s even better! Try and find a changer that says they are authorised (even though this is no guarantee of actually being authorised or reputable) and that they don’t take commission. Also don’t use a money changer that is off the main road as you are almost certain to be scammed. The scam is very easy for them as they have had years of practice, but you will struggle to notice as they are basically magicians! They will count your money out in front of you but sneak some away so your stack will be IDR100,000s down on what was counted just seconds before. To avoid this, always count your money again before you leave and then keep hold of it once you’ve done so. If they touch the money after you, count it again before leaving! If you manage to find a reputable money changer then there are benefits to using a credit card, the main one being a better exchange rate.

Credit cards

are the other way to get money out in Bali, but this method also comes with its potential downfalls. Bali has a big problem with card skimming and/or theft at ATMs. We used ATMs for all but one of our conversions and never had a problem, but that’s not to say problems don’t exist so it’s best to know what to look out for. Before you insert your card, give the card slot a wiggle and make sure there’s nothing loose that might have been added later on. Same with the keypad, just make sure it looks legit. We read online to wiggle your card as you insert it, so that if there is a skimming device that you can’t see, it is disrupted and can’t read your card. I can’t say whether that’s true or not but it can’t hurt to try – we always did! Always cover your pin when you’re entering it and don’t let ANYONE distract you while you’re withdrawing the money, even if they sound like they’re trying to help you. A common scam is for someone to watch you enter your pin, then distract you so you walk away without your card. The ATMs generally have a maximum withdrawal amount, and machines dispense either IDR50,000 or IDR100,000 notes. Machines dispensing IDR50,000 generally have a smaller maximum withdrawal, e.g. IDR1,000,000-1,250,000 compared to a machine dispensing IDR100,000 notes which can let you withdraw up to IDR3,000,000. Bear in mind you can do multiple withdrawals one after the other but it’s not as convenient.

One last thing worth mentioning is that we had problems using BNI or BRI branded ATMs, where the machine said ‘there was a problem, please contact your bank’ but when using a Mandiri ATM it worked fine.

So plenty to think about for either method but in summary the pros and cons for both methods are:

Money changers

better exchange rate, lots of money changers everywhere, but risk of getting scammed, hard to find a trustworthy changer, you have to know how much money you will need so you can take the cash, have to make sure the notes are in good condition

ATMs

generally safer option, more convenient than carrying heaps of cash around to change, easier to manage the amount of money you’re withdrawing but the exchange rate is worse, there is a maximum limit per transaction and ATMs can be harder to find.

Bali is an absolutely wonderful country and we can’t wait to return. While it can be a little overwhelming to begin with, after a day or two you get into the full swing of things and embrace, even fall in love with the chaos. We hope you find this advice useful and if you have any specific questions or things you think we’ve missed, let us know in the comments!

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