Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bali – What's it Like?

As a typical American that's bad at geography, I didn't know anything about Bali before we decided to go there.

The bare minimum of what you should know is that it's one of the islands in Indonesia, it's tropical, predominantly Balinese Hindu (while the rest of Indonesia is predominantly Muslim), and the cost of living is extremely low compared to most other places I've been.

We stayed in Candidasa (northeast), mostly to do some diving, then a couple days in the mountains of Ubud (central) before flying back home. The southern region is where most tourists go, but it's known to be something of a drunken party town, and that's not really our scene.

Buildings and settled areas are spacious, and there is a certain fondness for statues. Big or small, they're all over the place and elaborate in design. Most depict a scene from a famous story, but monkeys, tigers, and komodo dragons were also pretty common. I would have taken more photos, but it's really hard to get decent shots from the back of a vehicle moving at highway speeds.

Statue in Denpasar

Statue in Denpasar

I have no idea where this was, sorry

Statue in Candidasa

Statue in Candidasa

There weren't very many sedans or sports cars, but there were a good deal of chunky, rugged vans and trucks, and more motorbikes than I've seen in one place before. Nearly every vehicle seemed to be freshly washed and in good condition.

The roads are paved, but narrow and generally not pedestrian friendly. It often seemed like the lanes were just guidelines, and there was a lot more construction than I would have expected. There were numerous piles of dirt in the road, dozens of dump trucks, and random road closures. That might be normal for the tourist off season, though.

I'm not sure how normal a dump truck full of people is, this is the only one I saw.
Have I mentioned lots of motorbikes?

I haven't been able to decide how the locals feel about tourists. A good deal of the economy depends on them, but it's hard to imagine complete acceptance if fast food employees can't afford to eat the food they serve.

We never felt unsafe, but the off season hits hard and we stood out like a sore thumb. On the other hand, if you're inclined to negotiate prices of anything you find in a shop (clothing and souvenirs, I don't think the convenience stores were willing to haggle), that can work to your advantage in a big way.

Some advice we picked up in hindsight:
• Assume that anything is worth about half of what it says on the price tag, don't fall for hard sales tactics (No cash? Credit cards are fine! We'll ship to your house! Sit down! Can we get you a drink?), and don't feel obligated to buy anything.

• If you're staying in a fancy hotel (by local standards, and some of the hotels are fancy by anyone's standards), keep that to yourself. Even if you don't feel like it, it makes you look very rich.

• If it's your first time in Bali, and every shopkeeper will ask, bear in mind that if you say, "yes," it may be heard as, "no, I don't know what anything here is worth, why do you ask?"

• In a tourist-heavy area, count out each bill as you pay for something, or you run the risk of being ripped off. We only encountered this once, and for too small an amount to make a scene over, but it was enough to be extremely irritating.

We like to walk around so we can really see things around us, and approximately every two minutes, someone would ask us if we wanted to hire a cab. Apparently nobody ever really walks anywhere. Outside the main town areas, that is the best way to get around. It was recommended to us that we not even try to rent a car. Partly because we don't know the local bribe criteria, and partly because hiring a driver for several hours or a whole day is extremely easy to do, and they're happy to do it for much less than you'd pay in your home country. Navigation and color commentary included! Bali isn't a very large island, and drivers generally know the roads like the back of their hands.

Part 2: Food and Sleep
Part 3: Fire, Monkeys, and Sightseeing

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