September 13, 2013

The only thing you need to know about Bali

Bali is where you go if you like the beach. If you are a surfer, you'll love it! It is an easy place to start your travels if you're new to Asia because the level of English spoken by the locals is extremely high.

Bali has what I would call an 'agent' culture. Everyone is an entrepreneur. When you stay at a hostel, the owner will do their best to take care of your tours, motorbike rental, schedule you for traditional performances and arrange your travel plan for your next destination. Some travelers love this full service treatments, others want to be left to their own devices. Either way, agent culture is a fact of life in Bali. When someone sells you something, they get a commission from the business they refer you to.  This is not something to get upset over. The price is not necessarily higher than what you would've paid had you found the tour, motorbike, or bus ticket on your own. Its ok to negotiate but recognize that the referrer is providing a service to you and that they should be paid for helping you.

Some travelers see these situations as a zero sum game: the extra dollar that he makes is a dollar that I've lost.  Though this is partially true, if you fight for every cent, not only do you decrease the probability of getting recommendations for amazing activities, but you may also hurt your relationship with the local, your best means for access to information and to understanding the local culture and language.

Travel is a team sport, its not us vs them. The locals are there to help and they deserve to be compensated for it. Everyone knows that prices are negotiable, but not every traveler is used to prices being rounded. This can cause many travelers to freak out and think they are being cheated, but often prices can even be rounded down. Locals often feel the same way you do about 10 cents. It's really not worth dealing with.

Travelers in Bali would do well to understand that prices are flexible. This is one of the biggest frustrations of travelers, but if you can take the concept of flexible money in stride, your blood pressure will be lower and your travel mates will thank you for it.

Indonesian restaurants are called warungs (pronunciation wa - 'water' ru - 'room' ng - 'rings'). The locals will love you if you frequent their warung again and again. They'll remember your favorite dishes and be excited to see you.  They are great for practicing the local language with and for getting an understanding of the family dynamics as the kids are often around.

Sometimes you'll find dogs and cats hanging around waiting for you to drop some food.  Though the owner may not want them there, understand that the animals may have probably been going to the restaurant for longer then you've been in the country. You're entering their world, the animals should be respected. They are not there to bite, scratch or intimidate you for your food, they are simply opportunists.

Often, the cats and dogs are village animals. They don't all have a bed to cuddle with their human in or a corner of a house to call their own. They are not always fed by one 'owner' and eat what they find in the trash on the street or from the days offerings of rice or crackers at the numerous Hindu shrines. If you 'accidentally' drop some food on the ground, just see it as your way of supporting the community ecosystem.  A well-fed village animal is a happy and healthy village animal.  This is preferable to the alternative.

Warung food culture is amazing due to the flexibility you have of choosing one item at a time. You may pay 40 cents for green veggies or a tofu cake, 50 cents for an egg or some eggplant, and $1.50 for chicken or pork. For vegetarians or those with special diets, you will love warungs.

The environment is laid back so you can sit there for hours and often you'll have to search for the restaurant workers when you want to pay. One meal can blend into another so if you wander in at 3pm and stick around with your book or laptop for awhile, you can just get more food and have no need to search for another restaurant for your next meal. When you're ready to pay, just say "berapa harganya?" (How much is it?) and they'll tell you: lima blas - 15000, dua puluh ribu - 20000, or tiga mpat - 34000.

Australians have been coming to Bali for a long time, so the tourism industry is well developed. This doesn't only mean that Western standards of accommodation can be found, but also high quality foreign food. Eating local food will always be cheaper,but the pasta and Mexican food can often be stellar.

The pizza is underwhelming, but hey you can always visit Italy! If you've spent time in Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, you may be surprised at the cost of Bali. Cheap accommodation in Bali is $10-$20/night and it is easy to spend $3.50 or more at a meal if you want meat.

In Bali, you really can't get around without a motorbike, so add $4/day for a motorbike to your budget and don't forget about motorbike crashes. Travelers are not generally used to the flexible rules of the road and crashes are common. I say, if you haven't had travel injuries, then you're not going hard enough.

When you return your motorbike after a crash, your rental agent will see the scratched motorbike body and broken headlights. They know that travelers fall from their bikes, this is not their first time at the rodeo. Once they see that you've damaged their motorbike, a negotiation will take place with either the owner of the bike, the rental agent, or any local nearby who speaks the best English. You will be outnumbered but luckily Indonesians are generally non-confrontational and like to settle disputes with foreigners 'like family'.

They'll tell you that you can work it out so everyone leaves happy. They'll ask for $80, you'll say $10, they'll drop to $40 and the negotiation will continue. Don't be a jerk, negotiate in a friendly way and pay for the damage you did to their bike. I know, I know, it wasn't your fault, it was the guy driving on the wrong side of the road and the potholes were the cause.

It may not have been your fault because you are a careful and responsible driver, but just pay for the damage and move on. Some injuries are serious and should by dealt with. If you are severely injured, consider flying to Singapore or Thailand. Don't have major surgery in Bali. You only get one body, don't risk you health for a cheap fix or an extra week in paradise.

In the touristy areas in Bali, if you're waling down the street with a huge backpack or suitcase, you'll be asked by a guy on a motorbike if you need a hostel. He's not trying to take you to a dark alley to rob you, he just wants to fill a room in his hostel. Get on his motorbike, look at the room, and negotiate the price down if you like it. If not, ask if he knows another hostel that is cheaper/nicer/has a hot shower/wifi/etc.

All of the hostel owners know each other and they've seen their competitors' places. They won't give you exact prices as it doesn't make sense to negotiate for someone else's business, but if you tell them that you want a place with a pool or to stay on a quiet street, they'll know the place.

If it's nearby, they may want to come with you to get credit for the referral, let them. Bali doesn't have a tipping culture like some other countries in SE Asia. Don't be afraid of the locals, they're not sharks, they really do want to help. The Balinese are a wonderful people. Be good to them, and you'll have the time of your life!

Indonesian Language Primer:
c - ch sound
soto ayam - chicken soup
sayur - veggies
kelapa - coconut
dua spesial - (I'd like to order) two specials
berapa harganya - how much does it cost?
susu - drinks
ati ayam - innards
kecap - sauce
saos cabe - hot sauce
ikan - big fish
lele - long fish
kare - curry
lalapan - veggies
bagus makan - good food
sambal - chili
tidak sambal - no chili
makan seni - I'll eat here
telur - egg
kerupuk - (shrimp) crackers
nasi dan sapi - rice with beef
lagi nasi - more rice
selamat.... (hello)
pagi - morning
siang - late morning
suare - afternoon
malam - night
hati hati - be careful
sirikit - a little

1 satu
2 dua
3 tiga
4 mpat
5 lima
6 enam
7 tuju
8 d'lapan
9 s'mbilan
10 s'pulu
100 s'ratus
200 dua ratus
300 tiga ratus
1000 s'ribu
2000 dua ribu
10000 s'pulu ribu
20000 dua pulu ribu
30000 tiga pulu ribu

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