So you’ve arrived in Bali for the first time, and you need to figure out the basics like how the money works, how to get around safely, and other useful stuff. So here it is, all in one place!
When you first arrive at the airport, you can convert your cash to Indonesian Rupiah at the money exchange counter. You can’t miss it – it’s brightly lit and even has an English sign telling you exactly what it is. They will likely give you your money in bills of 100,000 rupiah each, and that’s fine – each one of those bills is only worth around $10 US. I recommend that you convert enough to pay for your driver or taxi ride from the airport, plus a bit leftover to tide you over until you can hit a bank machine. We bought 3 million rupiah (approximately $300 US), although in hindsight, we could have bought half that and we’d have been just fine.
Currency Conversion Hacks
Money conversion rule of thumb: 100,000 rupiah is equal to approximately $10 US.
When you’re out and about shopping, you’ll notice that they sometimes substitute a period for a comma when listing the amount of rupiah required. So if you see a price listed as 37.000 it means 37,000 rupiah. To easily convert prices to US currency, pretend the comma is a decimal and move it to the left by one spot. So 37,000 rupiah is roughly $3.70 US. Restaurants often usually round off their prices to the nearest thousand – so a restaurant dish listed on the menu as “49” means it costs 49,000 rupiah, or about $4.90 US.
Banking and ATM’s
When staying in Sanur, my preferred way to access my money was via an ATM machine at a local bank, with a security guard on duty, even after closing. However, depending on where you’re staying, you’ll likely find several ATM machines scattered along any main street.
The ATM I used gave the option of using English, so that made using the machine as easy as back home.
To keep banking fees down, we took out a week’s supply of cash each time – this balanced our concerns of not having too much cash lying around, and minimizing our ATM fees.
How to Get From the Airport to Your Accommodations, Without Getting Ripped Off
Addresses are often not very well marked in Bali – unless you’re staying at a well-known hotel, there are good odds that whatever random taxi driver you find at the airport will not be able to find the hotel, villa, or guesthouse that you are staying at. Plus, since you’re new to the area, you’ll have no clue if a taxi driver takes advantage of you by taking you on a much more expensive “scenic route.”
Although it’ll cost you a little bit extra, the easiest thing for a first timer to do is book whatever driver your hotel, villa or guesthouse recommends and let THEM pick you up. Your drive to your accommodations will be stress-free since you won’t have to worry about whether or not your driver will get lost, and you’ll have lots of time to enjoy the really dirt cheap transport later on in your stay.
Transport Options: Taxi, Bemo, Private Driver, or Rental Vehicle
So now that you’re settled in and unpacked, you may want to head somewhere that’s a bit too far to walk. Finding a last-minute transport is ridiculously easy (as long as you’re not staying outside of town), and you’ll love the convenience of it. You’ll need to have cash with you, and most drivers will have change if you don’t have the exact amount required.
The law says that all taxis in Bali MUST use their meter. But many taxi drivers outright refuse to do so, preferring to negotiate a price instead. Agree to a negotiated price and it’s almost certain that you’re getting ripped off, so don’t do it. Another thing to be wary of is drivers who will agree to run the meter as required by law, but take you on a longer route to your destination, in order to jack up the fair. Lastly, there have been reports of some drivers using faulty meters that charge a higher than allowed rate per kilometer.
How to Foil the Scammers
The first rule is, if you don’t know how long it should take to get to your destination, only go in a Blue Bird Taxi. Blue Bird Taxis are recommended by pretty much every Westerner in Bali that I’ve ever asked – the first thing our villa owner told us is to only take Blue Birds, even random strangers on the street say to only take Blue Birds. This particular taxi company has a reputation for having honest drivers who run their meters and do not take advantage of tourists. You can easily hail them on the street, or, call in advance and book one at 0361-701111.
Blue Bird Taxis are new-looking vehicles, and light blue in colour. If you stand on any of the main streets and watch the taxis going by, you’ll notice that only the real Blue Birds are this distinctive colour, and the sign on the roof of their cabs is uniquely shaped compared to all of the others.
You may see other taxis with a similar logo, but only the Blue Birds are light blue.
When you get into a taxi, the amount on the meter will be 6000 rupiah – this will last a while before it starts to tick upwards.
If You Take a Second-Choice Taxi Anyways
Obviously not all drivers of those other taxi companies are dishonest. But to minimize your chances of running into trouble, I would only recommend that you take one of these other taxis if:
- you know the exact route that they should travel (so you’ll recognize it immediately if they divert to a longer route to get more money out of you)
- you have a rough idea of what the journey should cost (so you’ll know if the meter is set to the wrong rate and is charging you too much)
- the driver agrees to turn on the meter
Sample Taxi Fare
Sanur to Kuta: roughly 80,000-100,000 rupiah, depending on how far you’re going. We took a taxi from Carrefour in Kuta to our villa in Sanur and paid about 80,000 rupiah each way. It was around the same price to get from Sanur to Waterbom in Kuta.
Sanur, along Jalan Danau Tamblingan from the intersection with Jalan Kesari to the nightmarket: 10,000 rupiah.
Check out the route on Google Maps to get an idea of the distances in this example. You can use that as a base for estimating what you might pay to get where you want to go.
Bemos are these old, beat-up-looking vans that we used a lot for short trips. They run up and down the main streets, and are cheaper than a taxi, if there aren’t too many people in your group.
For that same route in Sanur to get to the night market, a Bemo would charge us 3,000-4,000 rupiah per person. So for 4 of us, it was cheaper to take an air-conditioned taxi. But if you are traveling solo, or as a couple, the Bemo can be cheaper.
Before you get into a bemo, tell the driver where you are going, and ask what he will charge you – if the price is too high, don’t be afraid to negotiate – as long as your desired price is reasonable, they will usually agree to it. And if not, there’s bound to be another Bemo coming down the road shortly, and you may have better luck with that one.
These guys are fantastic for day trips. For 500,000 rupiah (about $50 US) you’ll have a driver at your service for the entire day. Choose a few sites that you’d like to see, and, if you have a good driver, he’ll suggest more that you may have missed, that are easy to squeeze in.
How to Find a Private Driver
The low-stress way is to simply ask for a recommendation from the front desk of your hotel, or ask the owner of the villa or guesthouse where you are staying. They are motivated to recommend someone good, so odds are you’ll be happy with the choice. The only downside is that you might pay a few dollars extra for one of these drivers, but we’re only talking $5-10 extra, so it’s not going to break the bank.
However, if you’d like to try to score a deal, then you can hire one of the many drivers you’ll find along the main streets. In the main touristy areas, you won’t get very far down the road before some random guy standing beside a newer-looking, freshly polished car asks you if you need “transport.” Most quotes come in around 400,000-500,000 rupiah for a day, but once I was quoted only 150,000 rupiah (steal of a deal, or too good to be true, who knows! We didn’t take him up on the offer.)
Unexpected Expenses You Will Run Into
If a driver takes you around, you’ll be expected to pay for a few extras:
- parking (3,000-5,000 rupiah per attraction)
- admission tickets (temples cost 15,000 rupiah per adult, and 7,500 rupiah per child)
You should NOT be expected to pay for gas, unless agreed to ahead of time.
To visit a temple, your knees need to be covered, so if you’re wearing shorts, you’ll be offered a free sarong rental in exchange for a small donation. Alternatively, some of the busier temples such as Ganung Kawi will have countless vendors selling sarongs – a common price offered to us was 2 for 10,000 rupiah.
Rental Vehicles – Only for the Brave!
So here’s the thing – the driving is Bali is CRAZY! By Western standards anyways.
Motorbikes drive wherever they can squeeze in, even if it’s between 2 lanes of fast-moving traffic. There’s a lot to keep an eye on, and as far as I can tell, right of way does not exist. You’ve got to make room for those wanting to get into your lane, move over to share your lane as needed, and take care not run over the cyclist at your side. Horns are used liberally, although in a helpful way:
- honk! Look out, I’m coming up behind you!
- honk! Look out, I’m coming around a blind corner!
- honk! Look out, please move over, there’s no room to pass!
- honk! Do you need a taxi? (as you’re walking down the street)
If, despite all that, you still want to go for it, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- you not only need to have your regular driver’s license on you, but also an international driver’s license (you must obtain this in your home country)
- wear a helmet if you’re on a motorcycle
- be aware that you are more likely to get pulled over by the police than a native Balinese person – especially if you are Caucasian, you’ll stand out, and police know that there are many tourists who flout the rules and don’t have the proper license to drive
- there are reports of police corruption, where they fine tourist drivers for non-existent laws and the like.
Food Safety and What to Avoid
Everyone’s heard of the infamous “Bali Belly,” and while it’s fairly common among tourists, it’s also easy to prevent.
Foods to Avoid
- Street food that is NOT cooked fresh right in front of you. If they’ve cooked it elsewhere, don’t eat it.
- Raw foods prepared by someone else. If the person preparing it has not properly washed their hands after using the washroom (and there are good odds they haven’t!), then you’ll catch whatever bugs they’re carrying (ex. typhoid fever, amoeba infections etc.)
- Raw food you prepare yourself but can’t peel or thoroughly wash. See number 2 – you have no idea who has touched it before you, and whether or not they were carrying some kind of bug that could make you sick. So if you can’t get rid of the peel or properly wash it, then don’t eat it. Sure, it may even be wrapped in plastic, but who knows who touched it before it was wrapped.
- Beverages that don’t come from a sealed container. While those restaurant cocktails and smoothies may be tempting, they are most definitely not served piping hot (yuck! not that you’d want a smoothie or cocktail like that anyways), which leaves them vulnerable to contamination with some bug that could make you sick.
- Baked goods that are not served freshly baked and piping hot.
Ok, so what the heck CAN you eat then?
- Well-cooked, steaming hot food – lots of choices in the restaurants here.
- Cocktails and smoothies that you prepare yourself, using safe ingredients.
- Toast (it’s hot, right?)
- Food you properly wash and prepare yourself.
The most simple advice is that if it’s steaming hot and thoroughly cooked, you won’t get sick. If it’s uncooked, then be sure to follow the rules above before eating it.
By following these rules, we got through 2 months in Bali without get sick. The only exception was Paul, who mistakenly ate some restaurant chicken kebobs that were raw in the middle – he got sick (luckily cured with the right treatment!)
Is Bali Safe?
In our experience, Bali is a very safe place. We took all of the usual precautions that we would at home, plus a few extras just because of the fact that as Westerners, we were hyper aware of the fact that we are soooo much more well-off than most local people here. Just like anywhere else, most people are honest, but there’s no reason to make yourself more tempting to thieves.
We left our wedding rings at home in a safety deposit box since it didn’t seem wise to flash around rings of gold with diamonds. When out and about in Bali, I never once saw a local person wearing a diamond ring, and most didn’t have any rings at all – this made me feel even more strongly that leaving ours at home was a good idea, since it meant drawing less attention to ourselves.
We carried our money discreetly in our pockets, rather than having an obvious bulge of a wallet in my husband’s back pocket, or purse dangling from my shoulder. Although I was never given any reason to fear I’d be robbed, it just seemed like an easy precaution to take, so why not?
Just like home, we’d walk alone during the day, and we had no fears walking home all together in the dark after dinner.
It’s recommended that you check out what your home country has to say about Bali before you leave though – most governments have a website devoted to travel advisories for destinations around the world – they’ll give you a good overview on everything from safety to visa requirements.