A few months ago, my best friend had invited me to join her in her private villa because her husband had to cut their honeymoon short for work. Of course I said yes because I love traveling and a prepaid private villa in Bali? Sign me up!
Since the flight was so long, I didn't want to just fly to Bali to stay with her for two days. So I decided to fly out a little few days earlier by myself so I could have more time to explore Bali. It wasn't until I had booked the flight that I got really scared because the idea of going to a foreign country as a 5 ft Asian girl just sounded like I was asking to be kidnapped.
Although a lot of my friends had told me Bali was super safe, I still didn't feel 100% comfortable traveling alone. But my travel bug and excitement superseded any type of fear so in the end, I hopped on a plane crossing my fingers.
When you travel alone, regardless of how safe a country is, there's always going to be a suspicion in the back of your mind about whether or not this will be your last taxi ride.
But my travel bug and excitement superseded any type of fear so in the end, I hopped on a plane crossing my fingers.
I know that sounds dramatic, but it's just true. But after spending a week in Bali, I'm happy to report that my friends were right--Bali is super safe. So for you girls who are thinking of going to Bali by yourself or with friends, here's a 5ft Chinese American girl that's gone there and back and is giving you the green light.
I created this beginner's guide to share with you guys the basics of what to know before traveling to Bali!
1. Currency: Where to Exchange?
What to know: Indonesian uses the IDR, but the symbol for it is Rp. (I got really confused when I was googling "rp to dollars." So if you're trying to find out how much 100,000 rp is, you have to google "100,000 idr to dollar.") Everything in Bali is super cheap, and you can get most meals for around 250000, which comes out to $18, and this would be a super nice place.
What I recommend: Exchange money in Bali (not the airport) because the interest rate is a lot less, so exchange just enough at the airport to pay for the taxi to hotel until you get to Bali.
2. Taxi vs Uber
What to know: There are a ton of ways to get around in Bali. You can either do Uber or Bluebird Taxi (the two recommended) or there are local drivers situation in every region that you can coordinate with. There is Uber everywhere in Seminyak, but anywhere outside of that you'd need to hire a taxi or private local driver. There are no Ubers in Canggu and Ubud, they're actually super strict about this. I had an Uber driver take me from Seminyak to Canggu and while drop-offs are okay, he told me it's very scary for Uber drivers to go there and I won't be able to catch a ride back via Uber. There were even giant billboard signs with an X over the uber logo everywhere! So if you're going to go anywhere outside of Seminyak, make sure you hire a driver for the day so you don't have to deal with finding a ride back after.
What I recommend: When getting from airport to hotel, arrange beforehand with your hotel to have them send a private car to pick you up. It's much easier this way than to deal with a taxi driver (who might not speak English well) or coordinate with Uber.
3. Areas to go / avoid
Most of Bali is very old and run down and only certain streets are renovated with nice places, so be careful if you decide to venture out. Only the main streets have sidewalks, the alleys and small streets aren't made for pedestrians. (Jl. means "street.") No one really walks in Bali, everyone gets around in a motorbike so be careful of the cars if you decide to explore. Balinese people are very kind but there will be a ton of solicitors asking if you need a taxi or trying to sell you sunglasses or sarongs. I even had someone come up to me to ask if I wanted a tattoo!
To the extent of my knowledge these are the major tourist areas of Bali:
Seminyak has the most condensed area of nice shops and restaurants is. Jl. Petitenget is a nice street filled with big name hotspots like Cafe Organic and W hotel which I recommend dedicating an afternoon to. There's not much else to do on that street otherwise. Jl. Raya Basangkasa is the best street to be in because it's endless rows of super nice restaurant and shops. Go a little further down on that street and you'll hit Jl. Raya Seminyak, which is also a continuation of shops and food. If you continue on that street you'll find the lower end shops and souvenir shops. I recommend staying here and on one of these streets because you'd be so close to so many places.
Canggu- Jl. Pantai Batu Bolong is the best street filled with spas, shops and cute restaurants. Check out Goldust Beauty Lounge & Crate Cafe if you're there. But be aware that Uber drives are scared to go out there because they're very strict against Uber and Grabtaxi. If you decide to go you'd need to hire a driver to arrange for a pickup.
Kuta- Didn't go here. I read online "don't go to Kuta" and I think it's just filled with a lot rowdy bars and cheap souvenirs. And as a girl traveling alone, I just didn't want to expose myself to that.
Ubud is famous for being super lush and green, and here you'll find rice paddy fields and temples and villages. A local driver told me that their Babi Guling Ubud is the best (fried pork) in Bali. Same as Canggu, Uber & Grabtaxi is forbidden here so you'd need to hire a driver to take you there and back. There are beautiful temples out there and stacking rice patties which you can't find anywhere else in Bali. You can also go ATVing through the jungle, inner-tubing down the river, go on the hanging swings, visit the Monkey forest, etc etc.
Nusa Dua is a GORGEOUS private villa complex. When I came here to join my best friend in her honeymoon villa and I just died. The beaches here are so clear and beautiful. But if you choose to stay here, you'd be spending most of your time in the resort. In Nusa Dua the villa has their own shuttle to take you to and from the Bali Collection, which is a big mall (nothing exceptional except the Fish Spa and Japanese restaurants), but if you decide to go out of Nusa Dua arranging a ride is a bit more difficult. Not to mention there's a toll to even get into Nusa Dua so it's just a bit of a trek to go anywhere else.
4. What to wear
You can wear beach wear in the resorts, beach and in touristy areas. Because I was traveling by myself and going on the off beaten path, I wore long maxi dresses and a thin jacket to not draw too much attention to myself. Not to mention, Balinese women are very conservative.
If you're going to the temple, there are sarongs available for you to wear to cover your legs. I would actually recommend going with exposed legs so you get to wear a sarong. I went with a maxi dress so they gave me a sash. You'd only need to cover your shoulders if you were going into the temple, otherwise you're fine.
5. What to Eat/Don't Eat
Do NOT drink the water! I opened my mouth when I was showering and got diarrhea a few days after. It was mild but I was bedridden for a day. Be careful about the food and where you choose to eat. And do not drink the water!! Don't even use it to brush your teeth. Your hotel will provide bottled water next to the sink, use it!
What to know: You do NOT need to tip. Restaurants typically already have a service charge added onto the bill.
What I recommend: If you can, you should tip anyway because the exchange rate is so low and a dollar goes a long way for the locals.
What to know: Although Indonesia is predominantly of the Muslim faith, most of Bali is Hindu. This makes for a very rich religious life in Bali. There are other religions in Bali like Muslim and Christian and they all get along. We had passed by a place in Bali where a Mosque was right next to a Hindu temple & a Catholic church.
Because Bali is mostly Hindu, there are a lot of beautiful temples to visit. Everyone also puts out offering on the floor every morning and night so be careful not to step on it!
Everyone speaks English for the most part. Taxi drivers and local drivers might not, but everyone at the hotel/restaurant will speak English. I prefer to use Uber because usually the drivers are proficient in English.
Balinese people are very kind and respectful. A respectful way to greet a Balinese (especially in hotels) would be to put your hands together like in prayer and bow your head and smile. A smile goes a long way in Bali!
Do you guys have any Bali tips that I missed? Share with me in the comments!