A truck transporting goods and people in Bali, Indonesia

Observations from Backpacking in Bali, Indonesia

I didn’t notice until I had to pay $50 at the Bali airport to get a visa, but the women at our Phuket hotel totally robbed me. I had 2 $20s, a $10 and a $1 in my wallet that they replaced with 4 $1 bills. I even looked into my wallet before leaving, but saw 4 bills so I didn’t bother to check that they were the right ones until standing at the visa counter in Bali. The worst part is the women totally pretended to be our friends and were so super nice. That’s how they get you…lull you into a sense of security then strike!

Swine flu health card - Bali, Indonesia
Swine Flu Health Alert Card – We had to fill this out before we could enter Bali

When we arrived at the Bali airport, we had to fill out a yellow card stating that we had not been in any swine flu infected areas lately and that we had none of the symptoms within the past two weeks. Then, we had to walk through a body temperature scanner that would show if anyone had a fever and they would be instantly quarantined. Scary!

Someone thought I was from Germany just because of my green floppy hat

Most soda comes in 250ml Red Bull sized cans

For some reason some prices require change that either does not exist or that the store does not carry. In place of the small change, clerks will often give the customer a piece of candy instead.

Everyone has a business card from the taxi drivers to the guys trying to book you on a tour to random people you meet in a restaurant who just want to be your friend…until the other shoe drops and they are trying to get money from you somehow.

One of the things Lovina is most famous for are sunrise dolphin spotting boat tours. Despite the fact that our hotel owner knew that we had booked a scuba tour for that day, at 6am he woke us up with a knock on the door asking, “you want dolphin tour?” To which I very irritatedly yelled back, “no, I want to sleep!”

Late-night Circle K shopping in Kuta — Bali, Indonesia
Late-night Circle K shopping in Kuta — Bali, Indonesia

Much like 7-Eleven was all over Thailand, Circle K was all over Bali.

Further proving our thoughts on the over-tourism of Bali, we heard a radio program in a taxi that said that the island had nearly twice as many hotel rooms as possible clients and far too many for an island of that size.

When we picked up rocks at the top of Mt Batur they would crackle and begin to turn from black to grey as they interacted with the fresh air for the first time.

A local was telling us about how for very big occasions they sacrifice a cow by taking it out on a boat and dropping it into the water to kill it. For lesser occasions, they kill a chicken, fry it up and eat it.

While taking photos of rice terraces, a vendor came up to me and told me to buy his postcard because it was better than the photo I was taking. Great sales pitch, ass!

One night in Ubud we were forced to listen to the never-ending repeating music of a local festival. Literally, it was the same 10 second tune over and over again for hours.

I love when they ask if I want transport when I’m already in a car or vehicular!

When taxi drivers ask, “hello, transport?” they make a driving motion with their hands that often looks like they are milking a cow.

My favorite vendor/taxi driver/massage vendor expression is when they, out of the blue, come up to you and say “yes?” Like, I’m sorry, did I miss something? Did we have an entire conversation about me using your services and you are just checking in to see if now is a good time? I thought not.

Bali Indonesia Clothing Dryer
Clothing dryers powered by fire

We saw a clothes dryer that was heated by fires atop the unit.

We saw a guy sitting on the street with a chicken in his lap relaxing and smoking a cigarette.

Local pride, or whatever you want to call it, seems to reign supreme in Bali, as we were constantly cut in lines by locals and our orders at restaurants and food stalls were pushed back so that the orders of a local who arrived after us could be filled first. Imagine that in our customer service oriented society in the USA?!

The lights in our hotel by Mt Batur were so bad that I often had to check and see if I was still wearing sunglasses.

We treated some tap water with the pills to kill any parasites inside, which worked well but left the water tasting like a swimming pool. Yuck!

After we spent the last of our Bali money at the airport and went through the gates, we were treated to an airport departure tax. Luckily, Carrie had a few US dollars left so we didn’t have to pay absurd ATM fees, but how can you not warn passengers of that before blindsiding them with the expensive fee. That just ain’t right.

There were bootleg movies on every street corner. I read in a newspaper that the US just placed Indonesia on the Priority Watch List for piracy this year after causing $132 million in losses in 2008. At present, there are more than 550 million pirated movies and CDs on the streets of Indonesia.

The phrase “hello massage” is so common that we even heard it in the airport. Listen to someone saying it here…

Gado Gado in Bali, Indonesia
Gado Gado – a local dish of tofu, bean sprouts, rice and shrimp wafer chips

Much like the rest of Southeast Asia, there are no open container laws, so people walk down the street drinking beer all the time.

Scuba dive masters make $3.50 – $4.50 per dive as a salary and considering Southeast Asia is a non-tipping culture, they rarely make any more.

We saw a monkey laying on his back on the side of the road holding one finger up, as if begging for one banana. Crazy what a lifetime of tourism will do to an animal.

It was actually in Thailand, but we were given bananas during our snorkeling tour and the fish flocked around to eat them out of our hands. It felt really wierd when these toothless animals missed the food and nibbled on my hand.

While Indonesia was the country hit hardest by the 2004 tsunami with more than 200,000 deaths, Bali was completely spared. Local legend says that it is because the island has temples on all four corners and the Gods spared Bali.

Lovina is famous for its early morning dolphin spotting tours, but Carrie and I had no interest as we were there to scuba dive. However, someone forgot to tell our hotel and at 6am we heard a knock on the door and someone saying, “you want dolphin tour?” NO! We want to sleep!

The police in Ubud have black teeshirts that say Police in the local language and some weapons on their belt. other than that they look like any other local going to temple for the day wearing a sarong and festive head covering.

When shops don’t have the correct small change or the change due is in increments that do not exist in Balinese currency, they give little pieces of candy as change instead.

Despite the legal driving age being 16, we see kids far too young looking to be driving scooting around all the time. This was true in every country we’ve visited so far as well.

A sign for the real division bell outside Ubud in Bali
A sign for the real division bell outside Ubud in Bali

We learned that the actual Division Bell statue from the Pink Floyd album of the same name was located just a few km away in Ubud. Sadly, we learned this just before we left and could not go visit it. Lame!

Our last night in Bali was spent in Kuta, a super-touristy resort town. I just wanted a bowl of Bakso, which is chicken ball soup. After being told a price that was double what the price was everywhere else in Bali, failing to bargain the vendor down and talking to other locals who speak English about how crazy the Kuta markup is, I finally bought the soup at the higher price and took it to go. When I got back and started eating it, it may have been the spiciest thing I’ve ever eaten. Literally, my lips were on fire and my stomach burned. Despite saying “only a little spicy,” I’m convinced it was their silent revenge for my trying to get the price I knew was correct. I mean literally, the soup was bright red! That couldn’t be by accident.

During our last stop in Ubud, I saw a sign with directions to the actual statues used for the cover of the Pink Floyd album The Division Bell. Of course that wasn’t in our guide book and by the time I saw the poster it was too late to head over there. Bummer!

On our drive from Tanah Lot to the airport, we ran out of gas in our rental car. I had to walk a while down the highway, dig through some trash to find a used water bottle and go to a gas station to have them fill it up with petrol. Thank goodness laws are different than in the US, where I could never just show up with a water bottle and expect it to be filled.

And finally, after telling a pair of British girls that the hotel they were looking at and we were already staying was a great place and the price was as good as they would find in Ubud, the manager who overheard my talking his place up came over, shook my hand and said thanks. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.