If you are getting yourself ready for your first trip to Bali by scrolling through your Instagram feed admiring clean beaches, swings overlooking rice paddies, and infinity pools with clear blue skies, you are about to experience some major culture shock. Yes, there’s that stuff, but there’s also other stuff.
This is a silly yet true compilation of what you can expect when you visit Bali for the first time. Let’s get right into it:
1. Bugs Will End Up In Your Food
You could be eating the best hole in the wall food you’ve had in your life, ants or flys ending up in your food is common. Just pick them out and keep on keepin’ on. This isn’t really the place to tell your server, “excuse me, there is a fly in my food.” Because realistically, they may already know.
2. The Scooter Traffic Is Crazy
If you are riding a scooter for one of the first times, you can expect absolute chaos – it is somehow perfectly organized chaos. You can also expect people to be riding down the road in the opposite direction you are going – and it will seem completely normal to them, and you will be expected to get out of their way. You can read 31 Tips For Riding A Motor Bike In Bali to get a better idea of what to expect, scooter wise. I had to learn each of these things the hard way, but I would not let the crazy traffic detour you from using a scooter while you are in Bali, just be safe, aware and always wear a helmet and you should be okay.
3. Earn Major Brownie Points By Learning The Local Language
Locals will be surprised if you know any Bahasa, and they will be impressed that you do. It’s actually fairly easy to learn a few of the basics as well, so if you are planning to visit Bali, I definitely would encourage you to learn a little Bahasa. Using youtube was my favorite way to learn but language learning apps like Busu or Duo Lingo also do the trick. Showing up in Bali knowing how to count to 1 million (easier than it sounds), say hello, goodbye and thank you will never do you any wrong.
4. Crowded Beaches
The beaches you see in photos on Instagram are… I don’t really know where they are. What real Bali beaches can look like are crowded with tourists, or crowded with locals selling things to tourists, or crowded with trash even. There are gems around to be found and they will feel so magical when you do find them, but, if you are going to the more famous places like Kuta or Seminyak or Canggu you will definitely see some crowds – of all sorts.
5. Street Food Should Be Your Go-To
I don’t care if you are a budgeting traveler or you are a CEO on a $20k holiday, you cannot skip the street food. You can expect some really good street food at almost every little stop you find. They call their local “hole in the wall” restaurants: “warungs”. Do not skip warungs because it doesn’t look to your standards where food should be served – these will be some of your best meals, maybe ever, taking you back a whole $1-3 USD.
6. There’s Just A Little Bit Of Corruption
The easiest way for Police to scam a tourist is to pull us over while riding a scooter. Not wearing a helmet is one of the easiest reason for a policeman to pull you over and give you a ticket. It’s good to always carry either some extra cash for these “bribes” or at least a debit card so you can pull cash. You can get pulled over for pretty much anything if they really want to rake up some cash. Don’t argue – pay your fine and move on. A few other things they can get you for is not holding an international license – get one of those. And I’d suggest you stop at all stop lights and stop signs, that’s an easy one to get you pulled over as well. Sounds obvious enough, but the light will be red, and it just takes one scooter to start going on the red light, then they all go on the red light, and op, there you are, white boy or girl from Australia following the crowd, and weeeOO weeOO pulled over. “But everyone else was going..” is not a legit excuse. We had to learn all of these by experiencing them. Good stuff.
7. Geckos Can Sound Like Birds
I don’t care if you’re staying in a hostel or a 5-star resort, expect to see geckos in your room. Also, if this is your first time seeing a gecko, I’m going to guess and say it’s your first time hearing a gecko – they can be really loud. And they make a little squeaking sound. The first time I heard one I thought a bird was in the villa. They are harmless and pretty good to have around as they eat small bugs and mosquitos, so if you are okay with having a roommate, let them be.
8. Locals Will Go Above And Beyond For You
Especially in an accommodation setting, you will notice the host going above and beyond for you. Their kindness and hospitality is definitely something you remember when you leave. If you have any questions on their culture or things to do, I found that most accommodation hosts were more than happy to help with literally anything. Rides, suggestions, what to do, where to eat, where to go next.
9. Amazing Massages For Even Better Prices
A typical Balinese massage will be anywhere from $6 to $20USD. And it will be strong as f*ck. They also will typically massage your stomach – If you are from the USA, this may be new for you. Sometimes when they massage your stomach, they just pull the sheet over across you keeping you semi-covered (for women), and others, well, they just pull it down leaving you topless. Sometimes, if you’re lucky? You may even get a boob massage – these were typically at the $6-8 USD range….I’m just putting it out there that they do exist. It may happen to you and if you aren’t expecting it – it really catches you off guard.
10. Fanny Packs – Everyone Wears ‘Em!
Men, Women, kids and they are amazing. If you’ve worn a purse all your life and then get to switch to a fanny pack – I think you will agree that the hand free situation is really good. But on a serious note, swapping your purse for a fanny pack was one of the best decisions I’ve made while traveling. It feels much safer and less likely to be swooped when in a bigger area and if you never take it off, you will literally never leave your bag on a bus or the back of a restaurant chair.
11. Local Markets Are The Best For Cheap Fruits And Veg
Every area of Bali has some sort of local market – I’m not talking about where you buy sarongs and all the tourist stuff – I’m talking food. If you are buying eggs from a local market, they stack them in a small plastic bag as opposed to a carton. Just another normal day in Bali. Oh and make sure you are getting chicken eggs, as they keep chicken and duck eggs in the same cartons sometimes.
Once you start going to local markets you will start to get the feel for what the price of certain items should be. Corruption, unfortunately, peeks out around the corner when locals are selling items as they want to rip off the tourist. And rightly so, we can 100% afford the 6 eggs for $2 instead of $1. The prices can almost always be haggled at least 50% lower from the original price.
12. Western Food Is Also Amazing
There is a surprising amount of Western Food places scattered through the trendy towns of Bali. In order to stay living in Bali, you need to open some sort of business, and I believe that’s what the deal is with a lot of these places that are there. Most of them are really good, too. So when you have had enough Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng, you can pick up an acai bowl or nachos or pizza or a burger from someplace nearby.
13. Jamu – The Juice Of The Gods
Early on in our trip, Jamu was discovered – It’s a pressed juice recipe the locals drink made up of Tumeric, Curcumin, Lime, Honey, and Ginger (talk about the secret to a good start to your day) – it can be found anywhere from a labelless plastic water bottle to people selling cups of it on the street. There are even more legit companies that were created to market it to the tourists.
I saw two companies in Bali that were creating their own Jamu Label that was nice and all, and they were delicious but the fun came in getting this locally made juice that had no label at all, from a little side street – for less than $1 USD.
14. Always Wear A Helmet On A Scooter (Obvious?!)
This is one thing the cops can pull you over for in Bali and demand you pay a fine right then and there. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to wear a helmet in that craziness but I would definitely advise on it.
If you are renting a bike, it usually comes with a helmet – a used, potentially no longer good, helmet. If you are staying for any length of time, I would recommend you buy your own helmet. They are not expensive, and I think you would be happy knowing your helmet is clean and has had no falls yet, and hopefully ever.
15. Sometimes Earthquake and Tsunami Warnings Happen. Know Where To Go If They Do
Earthquakes happen more often than you would think in Bali. Usually, you don’t feel them, but if you do feel one, it wouldn’t hurt to follow up online to see what the chances of a tsunami would be and where to go if you happen to be there while one rolls through. It’s also good to know what the horns sound like if there is a Tsunami warning and you have been totally off grid not looking online.
There are certain hotels that are tsunami certified when they are built but they are not all built this way, and odds are, your Airbnb or hostel is not – so know your closest escape, where to go, and what to do in case you hear the tsunami warning alarm.
16. Active Volcanos Live On Bali
There are several active volcanos in Indonesia. Mt. Agung being one just on Bali’s East Coast. It’s one of if not the highest point in Bali and tours are frequently being taken up there on sunrise hikes. If I were you, I would check online when the last time it was active. It seems to be active every few months and although I would like to think the tours would not go on if they were suspicious of active activity on the mountain, I really am not certain they wouldn’t go. Bali likes to stay quiet with their activity regarding volcanos etc. because they don’t want to hurt their tourism numbers as they entirely rely on the millions of people who visit each year. They don’t need to scare potential tourists away with active volcano warnings.
That being said, on the East coast where the volcano is, is an extremely beautiful place and not a huge tourist trap; the mountain itself could be a trap but the areas around it such as Amed and Kubu are lovely local towns to visit and I very much suggest that you do if you are looking to escape the crowds and have a love for deep sea diving.
17. Realign Yourself On A Yoga Retreat
If you’ve been debating a yoga retreat, meditation retreat, silent retreat, Bali is the place to do it and Ubud to be more specific. I debated doing the yoga retreat I found as it was very expensive. Like, the most expensive week I have probably ever had let alone in a place like Bali that is super cheap. But if your heart is at all trying to tell you, yes and your mind asking you what are you thinking are you crazy? I would recommend going for the retreat. It was one of the more rewarding experiences I have had and really helped me to get back on track from some stuff that I was going through.
18. Air Pollution
Unfortunately, as beautiful as you expect Bali to be, it’s air quality is quite bad – Okay not Malaysia bad, but it’s quite bad. Especially if you are riding a scooter, the puffs of black smoke that come from the large diesel trucks is just outrageous. Not to mention they burn piles of plasic all teh time. This can’t be healthy for anyone breathing it in. Sorry Bali, I love you but I hate your air.
I know I said in the beginning that beaches will be crowded with locals, tourists, and trash…. which is true, but, you will be able to find an occasional beach with no one on it you just have to find them, and dang will it feel amazing when you do. I’d love to suggest a few, but it’s more fun to find them on your own.
20. Stray Dogs Everywhere
I feel like I’m not even exaggerating when I say there are thousands of stray dogs in Bali. It’s sad to see so many homeless dogs. Most of them look absolutely horrid as well. They have terrible eating patterns or are starving. Have little or no hair, some are definitely rabid, and to be fair, they have been having to fend for themselves their entire lives while being in Bali so they aren’t the nicest animals. I would advise to never pet a stray dog in Bali. It’s way too easy to get bitten by a stray dog and end up in the hospital.
21. Is this obvious? The place is cheap
I loved Bali because the place is super cheap. You can get some street food for $1-3 per meal and it’s delicious. Although with cheap food also comes the polluted streets, beaches, and corruption. It’s definitely a give and take. You can certainly expect some cheap eats and cheap stays while you are there.
22. Bad English
Expect it, embrace it, and move on. Their menus will have spelling mistakes and even big printed signs may have some spelling errors – no one’s perfect, have a laugh and move on.
I am sure there are a dozen more things I could explain to prepare you better for your first trip to Bali, Indonesia but this list is a good place to start and doesn’t leave much out. It’s a generic bit of help I thought might be enjoyable to read and help you get an idea of what to expect.
If I didn’t have expectations of clear water beaches with no trash and plastic bans (oh so far from plastic bans as they mention on the media) let alone the air pollution and mass crowds in certain areas, I think I would have been less judgemental. Since Instagram and the media make it out to seem so wonderful and safe, I had a bit of a hard time every coming back from “damn there are piles of trash and plastic on the beach” and “did that cop really just offer us 4 months in jail or 2 million Rupiah bribe for not having our license on us?” But if you are expecting it, I think you can have a better time with it all. At least I hope so as this was the purpose of this post.
Enjoy Bali! I know I did 🙂