20 Things I Learned in Bali, Indonesia After My First Visit

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My trip to Bali was wild, with many monkeys, stunning temples, giant bugs, and motorbikes everywhere. But Bali turned out to be way more than I expected. In Ubud, Kuta, and Nusa Dua, I found a mix of cool stuff that blew my mind – rich culture, excellent nature spots, and super-friendly people. Come with me as I spill the beans on the hidden gems of this incredible island, sharing all the cool things I learned in Bali during my recent adventure.

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My Bali Adventure

But we loved Fat Chows, stumbling on it by accident. It was down the side street of a side street, opposite a wall of street tags. It became our favorite restaurant while we were in Kuta—we ate there three times. It has a delicious assortment of Asian fusion tapas (spiced ramen-wrapped shrimp and meats wrapped in banana leaves, omg), entrees, and delicious cocktails. Honestly, if I could only eat one burger for the rest of my life, it would probably be the one I ate at Fat Chows. The bread was toasted perfectly, the toppings were savory and delicious, and the burger was perfectly grilled. I won’t forget it anytime soon forget the things I learned in Bali during my recent adventure.

1. Visa Misconceptions

Indonesia must have made some changes to its visa policy recently because there is a lot of false information on the inter-tubes. But as of April 2016, unless you are staying for MORE than 30 days you don’t need to stop at the visa counter. Follow the mad dash of people heading to the customs counters to receive the FREE visa on arrival stamp.

2. Indonesia is Really Hot

We knew it was hot, but honestly, I have never been THAT hot before. On one particular day, it was so hot that I couldn’t stop the sweat from running into my eyes and they actually stung. I had to pull off to the side and try to clear the sweat with the bottom of my shirt. I must have looked pretty bad because an Australian dude reached out to ask me if I was okay. I never had my eyes burn from sweat and I don’t ever want to experience that again. I carried a small washcloth (and a bottle of water) in my bag from that day forward. My ankles and hands swelled pretty bad from a combination of long flights, dehydration, and walking. Neither has returned to normal two days after I returned home.

3. They drive on the left

I didn’t realize this until we arrived. I actually tried to assist our driver navigate through the traffic and kept looking in the “wrong” direction. Good thing he really didn’t need my help.

4. We look American

Maybe because we didn’t get the memo to wear our American flag gear, but no matter whom you talk to from the waiter, taszi (taxi) driver to the person sitting next to you at the bar– they seem to know instantly we were American. We were assured that was a good thing. Steven asked a few of them why we stood out as Americans and the general idea was that we walked and dressed “American”. I noticed was that no one stared at us as they do STILL in South Korea, which was a nice surprise.

5. America is a Super Power

This is funny. Because the next thing out their mouth was… America is a superpower. Somebody should alert Fox News immediately.

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6. Ramen noodles taste great wrapped around prawns

Warung is Indonesian for buffets; we ate a few of them when we first arrived on our Bali adventure. You only need to eat at two before you notice a common theme–ramen noodles. I like ramen noodles, but I only flew 7 hours to eat them once I ate them at Fat Chows wrapped around prawns. They were outstanding–so good, we went for a second helping the next day.

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Ramen wrapped prawns… umm delicious

7. My Entree cost less than my cocktail

We ate some really good food in Bali and it was cheap too. You could get a delicious entree for 63,000 Rupiah while a cocktail might cost you 75,000. The lesson for today is to drink more cocktails?

8. Bintang Rules

It’s not bad if you like beer either. Bintang is a staple in Bali Indonesia. It’s the local brew and you’ll find it everywhere. Matter of fact we thought we missed out on our complimentary t-shirt since everyone seemed to wear it across his or her chest and around their bums too.

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duffelbagspouse travels Tanah Lot sunset

9. The Language & Geography

The island is small, but apparently there are so many dialects that the locals sometimes have to revert to what is called the Indonesian language– a dialect that is common to all of them. But no worries everyone speaks English, some of them very, very well.

Communication is easy in and around Ubud and Kuta, where most tourists stay while visiting Bali. But don’t keep you from staying or visiting the north, east or west– or even islands off the coast where developers haven’t spoiled the landscape with fancy resorts and theme parks and you can develop a closer relationship to the land and its people. You can rent a villa with a private beach, a cook and a book a masseuse that makes house calls.

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10. Time Shares

Everyone who stops to talk to you isn’t trying to sell you something–but most are. We spent a few minutes huddled under an ATM when it started to pour. A nice young lady started up a conversation and the next thing we knew we were sitting on the veranda of a resort in Nusa Dua talking to an even nicer woman from New Zealand trying to sell us a timeshare.

I’m leaving out a lot of details, but we went because A. it was raining, B. we wanted to see the resorts in Nusa Dua and C. it was raining in Bali. No, we didn’t buy a timeshare, but just beware that it happens. It all worked out in the end, we got some free drinks and some great restaurant recommendations from Sandy and that’s how we ended up at Fat Chows.

11. The typical local earns about $150 per month

That’s it. And the main business is tourism. So don’t get irritated when they seem a little aggressive. They are just trying to make a living. I bought a few things “for good luck” a phrase you’ll hear over and over again. It’s okay to bargain, but don’t go crazy. Goods and services are so inexpensive in Bali.

Once they make the sale, don’t be surprised that they rub the currency over their goods for added good fortune.

12. Taszis asks for donations

They beep when they pass you on the street. You’ll get asked a million times a day if you need transport. Sometimes I said no, sometimes I just kept walking– until I really needed one, I felt so bad the first night I rode in a taxi. I didn’t realize the taxi didn’t have a meter. I hadn’t planned on hailing a car, but my sandal broke on the way to rendezvous with my husband. He talked my ear off for 5 minutes (see #3 and #4) and then pulled up to the hotel and asked for a donation. I was late and irritated because I had just bought those sandals the night before. I grabbed a 10,000 note out of my wallet and jumped out of the cab. Later I realized I only gave the driver $0.70. I felt awful, and every other driver benefitted from that incident.

13. Even Paradise has Traffic

The low season isn’t precisely tranquility on the island, and as you’d expect, the roads aren’t as pristine as the beaches. Bali has quite a bit of road carving, along with the wood and stone carving they are renowned for. Plan accordingly; whether you drive yourself or hire a driver, it takes time to maneuver from one part of the island to another. Ask the locals when to visit specific places so you only get there after the crowds. Discover these insights from my Bali adventure!

14. Exchanging Money

I shouldn’t have to tell you, but DO NOT exchange your money at the numerous money exchange places located all over Bali. The rates are not competitive with the ATMs or even the banks and you will get ripped off.

15. Carry Cash

Everyone will gladly accept US currency– remember its the SUPER currency. However, when we thought about using USD at a restaurant, the owner used mystical methods and not the current exchange rate when calculating the bill that would have us paying an exchange rate that was more like 10-1 instead of the current 13-1… so we passed and just stopped at an ATM machine for more cash later.

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$20 ceramic souvenirs from Bali

16. Handmade Crafts are Really Inexpensive

I’m not a travel shopper, I usually abhor shopping and travel. I go for the food, the tastes, the smells, and the sites. I do like pretty things; I just don’t like to dust them. So when I travel, I buy a purse from a local designer, a couple of magnets, and maybe something small that I can put in “my space” that will remind me of the trip.

I got shopping fever during my Bali adventure. I spent quite a bit of time in the Sukawati Art Market and the Princess Art Shop in downtown Kuta. I bought 2 wooden buddha’s, 2 wooden signs, wooden Bintang coasters and a man cave poster for my husband’s future man cave, 2 large canvass paintings, a ceramic clock, 2 ceramic statues, a mug, some magnets, some local wine (more on that later) and several pieces of clothing– and I didn’t come close to breaking the bank. MOF I would have bought more if I had space in my luggage. And nothing– I mean nothing– was made in China.

17. Massages and Manicures

Sadly, neither one of us had a great experience in this department. In Thailand, all the masseuses have skills. In Bali, unless you go to a spa or have one come to your home, you won’t get a great massage or manicure either. Steven went to three different massage parlors and was not happy with any of the massages he received. I broke several nails and decided to get a manicure. It was awful. The shop still used old fashioned cuticle removers and metal nail files, feeling more like torture. And unless you like the job your 5-year old niece does on your nails or you do your nails after drinking a bottle of wine… speaking of wine. Learn from my Bali experiences!

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duffelbagspouse travels Hatten Wine Bottle

18. Hatten Winery

This may surprise you the most. I didn’t even think that Bali had wine production, so I didn’t spend a single minute researching wine before heading off. But Bali does have a winery in Kuta and we were able to taste it at one of the local restaurants on our way to Uluwatu. It was pretty good, so we bought a bottle in the duty-free shop before we left the island.

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duffelbagspouse travels Ubud Beji Grounds

19. It’s the Jungle Mate

I loved the resort we stayed at in Ubud. The Beji Ubud was gorgeous. However, we weren’t surprised after reading the reviews that there would be some things to contend with. One of the things I learned in Bali is that there are bugs everywhere. Bugs live in the trees, grass, and the air in the jungle– no surprise. However, the doors to the room left something to be desired since there was enough room for small cold-blooded creatures slither under and bunk with us. (SEE picture above) I didn’t see or hear anything, but my husband swears something got in and only flew around his head when he closed his eyes one night.

I suggested mosquito netting around the beds in my review.
And finally.

20. Don’t Overpack

No matter how much I travel, I always forget something or bring something that never leaves my suitcase. On this trip, a couple of short sundresses, a comfortable pair of padded flip flops/sandals, a pair of walking shoes (for the jungle/rice terrace treks), a couple of yoga pants, swimsuits, and 20 pairs of underwear and 5 bras would have been enough. I love my maxi dresses, but it was too damn hot, so only wore one. I ended up buying a few short dresses that I wore over my yoga pants almost every day instead. If I had left those other three dresses at home, I might have had more room to shop.

Here’s a tip from the things I learned in Bali: pack wisely, considering the local climate, and be ready to adapt your wardrobe to the weather.

End of story… Go to Bali.

There are a lot of places we should visit while stationed in Asia. Bali is just one of the places I’d recommend.

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Comments

  1. Ana

    Bali is one of the countries I would like to visit someday. I think it is popular for its beaches. Did you try them too? I have read about Indonesia in the book of Elizabeth Gilbert, “Eat, Read, and Pray.” I think the people there have this connotation that American people are powerful and very rich.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Yes, the beaches are lovely, but not especially beautiful, and not the number one reason people visit. Most people go for the interior… mountains, rice fields, waterfalls, etc. That’s where the magic of Bali is found.

  2. Christina

    Such a fun put-together of random unique things! Nice to read something different for a change 🙂 and the crafts look amazing!

  3. Vanessa and Steve

    We just got back from Bali and had a great time! We are Americans also and got similar treatment. The locals were so nice. We stayed in Kuta this time around but will definitely look into staying in Ubud next time around. Bali was so awesome we will definitely be back!

  4. Kish

    Soooo when you said some type of creature made it to your bedroom… My heart stopped! I began to have flashbacks! Good thing it wasn’t serious… Love the post and will keep it all that great info in mind when I make the trip ?

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Kish we have no idea. He just said he heard something buzzing around his head whenever he closed his eyes.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      You know two people can go together and have totally different experiences on a trip. It’s hard not to have a good time in Bali, so I suspect you will have an awesome time too!!!

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