Bali, paradise on earth, an island filled with tropical beaches, culture and waterfalls, what else do you need in a vacation. However, going to Bali can be quite overwhelming due to the immensity of information that is available on Bali and simply not knowing where to start with planning your vacation. When we first arrived in Bali there were so many things that we learned throughout our trip, things we wished we would have know in advance as they would have not only saved us time, but probably also money. So after a couple of trips to Bali we decided to share our tips with you, 21 things to know before you go to Bali, things we would have liked to know ourselves to help us prepare for our first trip. From how to get around, what to wear, what to do, to tipping in Bali, keep on reading to find out everything you need to know for your first trip to Bali!
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21 Things to Know Before Going to Bali
1. In Bali they drive on the left hand side
This might be a surprise to you, it might not be, but in Bali they drive on the left hand side. This means that if you come from a country where they drive on the right hand side that you should be extra careful, not only when driving yourself, but also when crossing the street. You will notice upon arriving in Bali that there is a lack of highways, and as such there are many many traffic jams. In general traffic in Bali can be quite chaotic and you will notice people crossing, dogs running across the street and people making sudden turns, definitely something that can take some getting used to, so it is best to pay attention at all times.
2. There is Lack of public transportation in Bali
One thing that surprised us the most upon our first visit to Bali was the lack of public transport. While you can take the train all across Java, or use buses for where the train didn’t reach, the public transport system in Bali seemed almost non existent. We had taken one public bus in Bali, straight upon our arrival from Java, but the trip was long and didn’t reach to our final destination, meaning we had to take another taxi. We honestly could not recommend using public transport in Bali, but lucky for us there are two other options that are widely available: taxis and motorbikes, which brings us to our next point.
3. Scooters or motorbikes are the way to go in Bali
No public transportation means arranging your own transport, and renting taxis or tour services can get quite expensive, depending on how much you want to go and see! Scooter and motorbikes, on the other hand, are relatively cheap and depending on the length of duration, location of rental and amount of cc’s you can expect to pay between 3$ and 10$ a day, making it a cheap and affordable mode of transportation. Motorbikes and scooters are how we have gotten ourselves around during our trips to Bali, this allowed us to visit as many sights as we like, and get to the most beautiful spots for sunrise without having to arrange a taxi. But with Bali’s traffic being quite chaotic we wouldn’t recommend this option unless you feel confident and comfortable riding a motorbike here, and if you do, be sure to wear a helmet as this is mandatory in Bali!
4. Eat at the Warungs
One of the many perks of traveling in Bali is the large amount of delicious food that is available. If you are looking for the best (budget) local food then we would highly recommend eating at a warung. Warung in Indonesia refers to a small family owned restaurant or cafe, and there are plenty of them in Bali. They often offer large amounts of local food either to be picked from a menu or from a buffet style. We personally love the buffet style the most, simply pick and choose as much as you like and pay per item or per spoonful, enough choice to fill your bellies up. And the best thing, they offer large amounts of veggies, tofu and tempe, making it the perfect place to score some cheap vegan food in Bali, great for those who are traveling Bali on a budget!
5. Check the menu for the added tax and service tax
One thing we were surprised about, as first time Bali visitors, was the added tax and service tax when getting a restaurant or cafe bill. We are budget travellers, and carefully pick our restaurants based on what we can afford, if suddenly an extra 15% is added to your bill this could take money away from planned activities or other meals! So learn from our mistakes, on the menu, either at the top or bottom, there is often a small note stating the amount of tax and service tax, which we have seen as high as a total of 20% and as low as 5% or even simply no added tax.
6. Things to do in Bali
Bali, by many, is described as paradise and we would 100% agree. From delicious food, to yoga classes, exploring waterfalls, visiting temples, taking surf classes, relaxing on the beach… what is there not to do in Bali?! Bali truly has something for everyone, from the beach vacation to the adventure vacation, solo travellers, family vacation, anyone can find something to do in Bali! Interested to see what there is to do in Bali? Check out some of our guides for some ideas of which beautiful Bali sights you should add to your itinerary:
- The Ultimate Bali Waterfall Guide
- The Ultimate Bali Bucket List: 80+ Things to do in Bali
- The Most Beautiful Temples in Bali
- A Complete Guide to the Most Beautiful Rice Fields in Ubud
7. Google Maps
Planning your trip or perhaps your Bali itinerary? You are most likely using Google Maps to plan your trips and check distances and time. One thing we can tell from experience, don’t trust Google Maps when it comes to travel times in Bali. Due to chaotic traffic and religious ceremonies we have been rerouted or extremely delayed. So better be safe then sorry, if you are planning on catching a sunset in Bali add some extra time for the possibility of traffic jams so you won’t miss it. Another tip: be sure to download either the Google offline Maps of Bali or to download Maps.me. While there is pretty good coverage in Bali there have been times where we lost internet connection completely, and without those offline maps it would have been a lot harder to navigate!
8. Restricted Internet Access in Bali
Something that every first timer in Bali should know, something that might surprise you, there are certain internet access restrictions in Bali. However, the access and restrictions seem to be inconsistent. During our two months in Indonesia we had complete free internet access in Jakarta and Canggu, all other destinations (Yogyakarta, Bromo, Ubud, Lovina, Amed) we were unable to access Netflix and were informed about access to the website being restricted. The only way to get around this, and to be sure you can access everything on the internet freely when connected to wifi is by using a VPN. Not only will the VPN provide you access to restricted websites, but actually also helps to protect you from cybercrime. We are currently using Express VPN to make sure we can always safely browse the web when on the road!
9. Download Grab & Go-Jek
There are two apps in Indonesia that we could not go without, Grab and Go-Jek. While Grab is used in Bali, we have had to argue for prices with the drivers upon arrival, and in some areas it seemed almost impossible to find a Grab driver. So while we would not recommend Grab or Go-Jek to hire a driver in Bali, we could definitely recommend these apps for ordering food! For a very small fee you can get almost any dish from the many restaurants in your area delivered to your door step. Great if you are not feeling too well, or just simply prefer to have a night in. Pizza, burgers, nasi goreng, Mexican, you name it and they will have it!
10. Accommodation in Bali
Traveling on a budget? Or perhaps looking for that stunning villa with private swimming pool? The best way to get the most value for your accommodation is by using AirBnB. Discounted hotel rooms, unique tree houses, and complete villas for you and all your friends, nothing is impossible on Bali. AirBnB offers a large range of accommodation, suiting your, and everyone else’s needs. From budget homestays to private beach bungalows, you name it, they offer it. We have used AirBnB in over 15 different countries, and it is one thing we absolutely love.
11. Mosquitoes in Bali
Bali, in general, does not have any malaria warnings (at least not in Aug ’18) when you are staying in the more touristic areas. However, there are still plenty mosquitoes, and there is a chance of getting dengue fever from these mosquitoes, so it is strongly advised to bring and wear repellent to minimize the risk. As we are no medical advisors or doctors, we strongly advise you to get in contact with your doctor regarding this matter. Your GP or a travel clinic will often be able to advise you on the specifics of bringing malaria tablets, how to prevent mosquito bites and the risk of dengue fever in the Bali region. If you are already traveling you can find more info on the Bali website regarding dengue and malaria.
12. How to avoid the crowds in Bali
If there is one thing you should know about Bali, then it is that there are tourists everywhere. Escaping the crowd can be quite hard but definitely not impossible. One simple way to escape the crowds is by waking up early. Get up before sunrise, hop on your scooter and chase the sun rising over the mountains, the beach or a waterfall. Not only did it mean we had some of Bali’s most beautiful sights all to ourselves, it also meant that we could avoid the warm midday sun of Bali, and by the time most people arrived, we were already done exploring. We visited some of the most touristic sights, such as Tegalalang Rice Terraces, and had the whole place to ourselves for all these occasions!
13. Don’t drink the tap water in Bali
While Bali in general is safe to travel, and frankly quite easy due to the large amount of tourism, there is one thing that is unsafe in Bali: the tap water. It is strongly advised to only drink bottled water in Bali, as the tap water can make you quite ill. Bottled water is widely available, however, with travellers drinking on average two to three liters of water a day in Bali’s hot climates this not only can get costly, but will also produce quite some trash. Opt to bring a water filter or check if your hostel provides free drinking water, this way you can simply fill up your reusable water bottle!
14. Bring toilet paper
If you have not traveled in Southeast Asia before, this might sound weird, but you always got to bring toilet paper. Traveling between cities, or even public washrooms in restaurants often don’t have any toilet paper. Instead they have a “bum gun”, a pressured water hose that you can use to clean yourself. But not everyone is a big fan of the bum gun, and for that reason we would advise you to either bring some tissues or toilet paper. Be warned though, the sewer system in Bali is not made to handle toilet paper and tissues and it is therefore not uncommon to find signs above the toilet asking you to put the tissues in the bin instead!
15. Best Time to Visit Bali
While Bali always sounds like a good idea, there are some months in the year that you might want to think twice before booking a plain ticket. The seasons of Bali can be divided into two seasons: the dry season and monsoon season. During the monsoon season there is a lot more rainfall expected, although you can still experience your days to be dry for the most part, but it might interrupt your schedule. The monsoon season lasts from November till March. The dry season, from April till October, can be again be divided into two parts, the high season (July and August) and the shoulder season. During the high season you should expect the island to be busier, flights to be more expensive and accommodation prices can go up by 30-50%. If you want to avoid this, then it is best to stick to the shoulder season (May, June, September, October), now you will be able to enjoy regular prices, avoid the summer crowds and get the best weather!
16. Check the Visa Requirements
One of the ultimate tips for Bali for first timers: citizens from roughly 160 countries can enter Bali visa free for up to 30 days, however, that does leave 30+ countries that can’t. Besides that, if you are planning to stay longer then 30 days it means that either you have to get a visa before arrival in Bali, or go through the process of getting a VOA (visa on arrival), that can be once extended. If you enter the country visa free, you are not eligible for extending your stay. It is important to check which conditions apply to you. As we know this can get a bit confusing check out our visa extension guide, where we not only talk about visa extensions, but we also provide basic info on the different visas for Bali that will help you decide which visa will work best for you!
17. Tipping in Bali
Tipping in Bali is not mandatory and the amount you tip, if you tip at all, is totally up to you. Tips are not expected, but are definitely appreciated and will often put a smile on someone’s face. No matter what restaurant or cafe we are visiting, if they have delivered good service then we always aim to tip between 5% to 10% of the bill. Another option is to either round up your bill, or to simply put a small tip in the tipping jar that you will find in almost any cafe or restaurant in Bali these days. When it comes to taxi rides we always make the decision to round up the bill, for example a taxi ride that was IDR 90,000 we will just simply give IDR 100,000 (which equals to a tip of around $0.75). In the end these are all personal decisions and are all based on our personal circumstances, like we said tips are not expected, they are just greatly appreciated.
18. The Religion in Bali is Balinese Hindu
While Bali knows multiple religions, including Christianity, Muslim and Buddhism the largest part of the people living on Bali are Balinese Hindu. With such a large part of the people of Bali representing one culture you will undoubtedly see and experience it in Bali. Ceremonies, local small offerings and numerous stunning Balinese Hindu temple are just a couple of small examples that you will come across when you are visiting Bali! If you are planning on learning more about the Balinese culture and religion then we would highly recommend visiting some of Bali’s most beautiful temples, here are some of our personal favourites:
- Pura Tirta Empul – A holy water temple located close to Ubud where people from all over Bali visit this temple to do a purification ritual to cleanse the body, mind and soul.
- Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu – Another water temple that was built on top of a natural spring. The temple is home to a beautiful koi pond and bathing pools, remarkably one of the lesser visited temples we have been to.
- Taman Saraswati – This temple is located in Ubud’s city centre and has a beautiful pond filled with lotus flowers. At night a traditional Balinese dance is performed here, something we still haven’t been able to cross of our own bucket list.
- Pura Ulun Danu Bratan – Located on the shores of lake Bratan this must be one of the most beautiful temples we had seen in Bali. A great place to not only admire the beautiful Balinese architecture, but also to see a one of a kind sunrise.
19. What to Wear in Bali
Depending on what you are doing in Bali it is important to dress appropriately and to respect the local culture. A big example of respecting local customs is when visiting the many temples of Bali. Some of the temples are closed for tourists, and as such you are requested not to enter. Also, as part of a clothing requirement to enter a temple almost always is wearing a sarong you are either advised to bring one, or to ask where you can borrow or rent one for a small donation at the temple. This means that both men and women, even if you are wearing long pants, have to wear a sarong. While often not requested, it is respectful to cover your shoulders when visiting religious sites and to remove your shoes if indicated or asked.
20. Check if you need vaccinations
If you have not traveled in areas such as Asia, Africa or Central/South America there is a high chance that you will need some vaccinations. Traveling around Asia means you are at higher risk for diseases such as hepatitis A and/or B, something that can be easily prevented by getting some vaccinations. As we are no doctors, we strongly advise you to check with a GP or local travel doctor as they will be able to guide you and advise you on the specific vaccinations you will need. As some vaccinations need to be given multiple times over a period of six months, we strongly advise you to visit your doctor long before actually leaving on your first time trip to Bali.
21. Go “off the beaten path”!
Last, but definitely not least, where to stay in Bali? Bali is mainly known for Ubud, Kuta area, and Uluwatu. However, Bali has so much more to offer. Go slightly off the beaten path, avoid the Bali Crowds, and explore places such as Sidemen, Lovina and Amed. While it is hard to escape the crowds completely in Bali, you will find a lot less tourist in these areas compared to destinations such as Ubud and Seminyak. It was actually these places that made us fall in love with Bali, as it showed the diversity of all that Bali has to offer. We explored waterfalls near Lovina, went snorkeling straight from the beaches of Amed, and saw the most beautiful sun rise over the Pura Lempuyang Temple.
And there you have it, 21 things you should know before going to Bali. Have you been to Bali before? Do you have any other tips? Be sure to share it with us in the comment section down below!