It’s only been a few days since I landed in Bali, but already, I’ve learnt a little about the places I’ve had a brief encounter with.
Bali, Indonesia is made up of many islands, and is situated off Northern Australia, as such it is a key holiday destination for many Australians (almost like what Spain is to British people).
The first thing that hits you, as you step off the plane, is the overwhelming humidity. The airport is large and cool, but the lines for immigration are long. You pay US $25 and are issued with a ticket. Then you queue for about an hour. Several “porters” approach you and say “express … VIP .. 35 dollar .. good price.”
Basically, this $35 is spilt between the porter and the immigration officer, and you are lead past the queue and essentially push in, get your stamp and go.
The hour passed quickly, and after customs, you enter the large arrivals hall, with several people shouting “taxi .. taxi .. Kuta, Seminyak .. good price.”
I wandered up to the airport taxi stand and asked the price to be taken to Sanur. 125,000 Rupiah, he said (that’s about $12.50), and what the hostel told me beforehand that it would cost. I was given a small slip of paper, and lead outside to the taxi.
I tried to make conversation with the taxi driver initially, but he wasn’t having a bar of it. At first I wondered if his English wasn’t so good, but then I realise that he was just frustrated, trying to get through the traffic.
The second thing you notice about Bali, is the amount of scooters on the road. Everyone seems to have one, and they’re all pretty reckless. Not everyone wears a helmet, most wear jandals (flip flops) and I even saw someone in wedges. They weave in and out of traffic, without a care in the World. Often the passenger on the back isn’t holding on (I saw several people playing with a mobile phone), as the driver is going 80km per hour down the highway.
Most people use Scooters transport things too, local produce, the occasional animal (Roosters seem popular here!). I recently saw a girl holding a full size fan in one arm, and a mother holding a baby, with no helmet on – crazy!
There are several accidents here per year, and I can see why. You can hire a Scooter, fairly easily with no training given, or many other questions asked. It would be a big risk. The police here also seem to like to pull up tourists if they do something wrong, like go over the centre line in the road. If they pull you up, they’ll want payment, so I am staying well away from them. There is a very cool company here called indosole, which makes footwear from recycled Scooter Tyre, which end up in the many landfill sites.
In the end, the taxi cost 140,000 rupiah, as he went via the toll road which cost an extra 10,000 and then he didn’t have a 5,000 note when I gave. Him 200,000. Scammed on my first night!
The third thing I noticed, that surprised me initially was that it gets dark at 6pm. I then realised that I was still in the Southern hemisphere and that it was winter. I did want to venture out to pick up, some supplies for breakfast, but it was quite dark, and I had no clue where I needed to go. In the end, I settled for a shower and an early bed. I woke up several times in between 4am and 6am – a combination of jetlag and the heat.
My first day of exploring, was centred in Sanur. I hadn’t done a lot of research on the place, but soon realised that 5 nights in the place probably wasn’t my wisest of moves. Sanur, on the South East coast if Bali, is small and a wee bit sleepy. Apart from a handful of high end, beach side hotels, market traders and some shops, there doesn’t appear to be a lot to do. Sanur is a port town, and many people skip through to Lombok, The Gilli Islands or Nusa Lembongan.
It hadn’t even reached midday, and I already had had two showers and a second change of clothes.
I spent my afternoon on the beach, where you can walk the 4km stretch, if you can put up with the constant hawkers, every 500m – “hello, where you from, come look in my shop” “you need transport? Taxi, cheap price for you.” “Want to go to Ubud? I take you, in my car .. cheap price, 40 dollar” and so it goes on.
The best way, I found to deal with it was to smile, say no thank- you and keep walking. The Balinese aren’t aggressive, just persistent, so sometimes they follow you down the road a wee but until they give up.
I had a taste of Balinese cooking in the evening, as I dined at a beachside restaurant. Ayam curry with rice, for the equivalent of NZD $5. You can buy cheaper, and equally more expensive foods here. I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy eating my way through Asia, good job that I’m probably losing a couple hundred grams a day through sweating and walking a lot.
The fourth thing I’ve come to realise about Bali, is that it is actually quite big, and there is quite a lot to do outside of the beaches, and after 4 days around beaches, I’ve realised that I’m not much of a beach person. Its ok for a day, 4 is overkill. I got talking to a number of other backpackers, who recommended places that I hadn’t really considered. I didn’t really come to Bali with a fixed plan, but had intended on only going as far North as Ubud, but now I reckon I’ll go further and hopefully see the real Bali.
The fifth thing I’ve picked up on, is that there are a number of Australians living or holidaying here. For those Australian expats, the majority appear to be living in and around Seminyak, where I ventured to on day 3. Seminyak is the bigger, better and classier cousin of Kuta and Sanur. Very charismatic and cool. I was going to factor in a few days staying here at the end of my trip in Bali, but having seen the place, I’d much rather jump over to the Gilli Islands. A number of expats seem to own trendy boutique shops, or a bar by the beach. Many Australia flags, fly proudly in the wind, by the beachside bars, and you’ll hear the distinctive Aussie drone .. “mate, would you like a beer?”.
Seminyak, Legian and Kuta are the three key tourist areas. They have cheap places to stay and have nice enough beaches, very Surfing orientated, with a good handful of surf schools. I walked for a good few hours along the beach, and one area seemed to merge into another. I soon found myself on Kuta beach, which I can only describe as something resembling Benidorm, in Spain. A number of tourists lie baking in the sun on the beach, locals walk around offering rip off Ray Bans, henna tattoos, hats and ice cream, whilst just outside of the beach grounds, a number of familiar eating grounds are sprawled everywhere, including KFC, McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Express.
I briefly walked around town, but got fed up with people trying to sell me things, so walked back, to Seminyak. Stopping to have lunch at a beachside restaurant.
Fed and watered, and clutching my Lonely Planet guide to Bali and Lombok, that I swiped from the hostel, I went about finding a temple, that was supposed to be set North of the beach. After 45 minutes of walking, I found it: Pura Petitenget. However, there appeared to be some kind of religious festival happening. I possibly would have been allowed to walk around the ground, but I realised that my shoulders were uncovered (a big no-no in Muslim culture, when entering temples).
So I had a wander into Seminyak, to look around the shops. I found the most amazing Gelato shop called Lello Lello Gelato, so of course I had to try it. The bar was cool and comfortable, and the staff were very pleasant. The air conditioned café area was a much welcome relief to the 29 degree heat outside.
After a cool down, I continued to look around, before returning back to Sanur.
Another thing you’ll notice about Bali is the distinct aroma of incense. Small parcels made from banana leaves are placed with colourful flowers, to the entrance of places, with an incense stick burning. Before they are placed on the ground, the person doing so will sprinkle water around the area, a few times. Very ritualistic, but I am unsure why – perhaps to warn off evil?
The final thing I’ve picked up on, on my first few days here, are that the Balinese people are incredibly friendly and helpful. When they serve you food, they clasp their hands together, bow and say “enjoy your meal” and you know that they genuinely mean that. They appear really eager to serve and please you.
I’ve not accomplished a lot in my first few days here, but I am very much enjoying the downtime.