A Bali Virgin … or How I learned to Love Bali and Stop Hating the Thought.

Originally posted on 14/03/2014 by Greg Ross
I’d been everywhere man … except Bali, a phrase I’ve ‘worn’ with honour for the last 30 years. Horror stories of drunken out-of-control Aussies and Bali Belly served to harden my resolve, Europe was (and still is) my favourite destination.
One of my daughters went a year or so back and vowed never to return, however in recent times, three trusted friends have implored me to take a look at Bali, an island they’ve grown to love and my fiancée’s birthday was coming up, so in a spur of the moment decision, I booked a six day / five night holiday, although not as a package, I followed friends experienced advice and booked a resort, driver and airfares independently of each other, all on the internet.
The luxury Semara Resort was very well priced – a fabulous large executive unit with a bath (most important for the birthday girl!) was A$772.00 for six days / five nights and the driver was incredibly cheap – $25.00 per day, car, driver, fuel and parking all inclusive, 24 hours a day! Amazing value.
This was also the first time I’ve ever flown with a budget airline – I’m a long-term Qantas sort of guy, but internationally, they’ve abandoned Perth, so with some misgiving, I booked with Air Asia, deciding to pay for seat choice, meals and something called ‘Red Carpet’ (ex Denpaser) – the promise was for $26.00pp you’d avoid the queues. All up, the flight cost was $822.00 return for two of us. It struck me as cheap and as long as the plane was clean and reasonably new, I’d be happy.
I wasn’t sure whether Seats 1c and 1d were up the front, but in fact they were, pre-booking meals was a masterstroke – we were served first, there was no beer or wine on the trip to Bali, but the plane was near new, spotless and the crew were genuinely polite, far more than I can say for a recent (January) British Airways flight).There was no entertainment, but that’s why you have book readers, besides, it’s a short-haul 3hr 40 minute flight. You’ll need US$25.00 per person to pay for your Visa when you arrive at Denpasar (only payable in US dollars) and you’ll need R150,000 (A$15.00) per person exit fee when you leave.
I won’t dwell on the sights to see in Bali, enough has been written to serve readers for the next millennium, rather first time impressions and advice from an initially reluctant visitor. Traffic is utterly chaotic, dominated by motor scooters, often with three or four people on board and no discernible road rules as such. Cars, small trucks, buses and motor scooters go anywhere, I think they drive on the left, but not necessarily, it just depends on where they want to go! For somebody like me, who’s spent a lifetime at the wheel, it’s beyond belief. But, and this is insane, it works! Everybody is utterly mindful of the other driver, tooting (a quick beep) to warn, or let the other vehicle through. I am convinced it’s a mind-set born of religion (Hindu with a hint of Buddhism) and congestion. Compared to Perth, where people speed up to prevent anybody merging, this place is Paradise, but I wouldn’t want to drive there. A personal driver takes you where and when you want all day everyday. Six days cost us $150.00 including airport transfers, our man Gusti made our holiday.
The cost of wining and dining varies considerably, beer is cheap, but not as cheap as Germany, (a country I visit regularly) food is about the same cost as Germany, both countries are about 40% cheaper than dining in Perth. Wine is the bugbear (I don’t drink beer). It’s incredibly expensive, although realistically, a bottle of wine at a Balinese restaurant costs the same as a bottle of wine in a Perth restaurant, but A$12.00 a very small glass is over the odds (for me). I ended up drinking fruit Smoothies (at about A$4.00). However, we did find (again, friends advice) a great restaurant, Biku, where a decently filled glass of Margaret River red was just $6.00 and the food was excellent at about A$6.50 a main course. Bottled water is a must, even at the resort, where although the water is safe to brush your teeth with, perhaps not drink. There are mini marts everywhere and you can buy large bottles of water for A$1.00 vs A$2.00 at the resort – you’ll use the bottled water for making tea and coffee as well. I took a duty free bottle of whisky with me, which served me very well at the end of each day (you’re allowed one 1 litre bottle per person into Bali). If you’re a smoker, you are in paradise, from memory (I don’t smoke) , a packet of cigarettes was about A$2.50.
We packed a lot in, going to temples and mountains, the artists haven of Ubud and lots of restaurants. Be aware, as you pass through certain areas outside the central city, the police will stop any car with a European inside and charge a ‘Visiting Fee’, there’s no charge for the Balinese driver, the cost is usually about A$3.00 per person, all done with smiles and friendly conversation. Our experience is that you’ll spend about A$100.00 per day for two people, including food, but not including accommodation or transport. You won’t run into many Australians outside Denpasar, mainly Asian and European people, possibly it’s quite true that Aussies prefer Kuta. We did go there for a quick visit on our last night, it was jam-packed with Aussies in Bintang singlets and recent tatoos. I suspect many of those enjoying themselves in Kuta were on the very well priced A$650.00 for 4 day flight and accommodation type packages.
It is certainly a Third World country and you can understand the visitor fees, when you discover the population has, in the space of ten years, increased from 3.6 million to 4.2 million, the government struggles to provide services – sounds like home really doesn’t it! The roads are pot-holed, people park on the footpaths and quite often, you come past a beautiful creek / forest area, strewn with rubbish from plastic bags, no doubt ripped open by the scraggly dogs or monkeys, but overall, the villages are a lot cleaner than some outback Australian communities. As for safety, I never once felt threatened, indeed, we felt a lot safer in Bali than we have in some European cities, such as Prague, or, come to think of it, the Perth to Midland train on a Saturday night!
Perhaps the hardest thing to deal with, are the constant hawkers – whenever you get out of the car at a tourist spot, they converge on you. The Javanese are the most uncomfortable to deal with – they insist on touching you, whereas the Balinese seem to respect personal space a little better, but “Tidak” (No Thanks), spoken politely, sees most off, although you might have to repeat yourself three or four times! If you are of a mind to purchase, from a stall or a street vendor, always knock the price down by two thirds to start negotiations, or start at a third less than what you’re prepared to pay. Don’t think you’re being offensive, they love the game and remember, if it’s untreated wood, or made from eggshells etc, you’ll lose it at Customs in Perth.
Holiday over, Gusti dropped us at the airport and it was time to find out what Air Asia meant by ‘Red Carpet.’ What they meant was you jumped the queues in front of everybody else, you were personally escorted through customs and everywhere else by an Air Asia representative straight to their VIP lounge, ‘The Premier Lounge’, where just like Emirates (perhaps not quite so luxurious), you were wined and dined at no cost until called to board your plane. When we arrived in Perth, our luggage was some of the first off, marked ‘Priority.’ I usually travel overseas in Premium Economy and your luggage isn’t marked Priority. Air Asia have won us and so has Bali. It’s stunningly beautiful, genuinely friendly and very relaxing, very very reminiscent of Broome back in the late 1970s. We’ll be back.
Greg Ross
PS: The writer paid all costs involved.

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