Updated: Jan 26
I knew a little bit about Bali, and Indonesia in general, before I came here. In one of my favorite books, Tales of a Female Nomad, the author travels and lives in Indonesia for several years, which is one of the reasons it's been high up on my bucket list for such a long time. But I also knew Bali wouldn't exactly be like the rest of Indonesia, especially in the southern (tourist) area where I've been for the past few weeks. I've adjusted quite well, getting used to driving on the other side of the road, and learning some Bahasa Indonesia, but there's a few things I've discovered during my first month here that I didn't quite expect.
1. The Bali Taxi Mafia
There's a couple of infamous scams going on here, including the money-changer switch-a-roo, but one of the most well-known is the “taxi mafia.” There's no Uber here, but there are similar ride-hailing apps - Grab and GoJek. However, in some areas (Canggu, specifically) there is a so-called taxi mafia. Basically the local taxi drivers keep the app drivers from working in those areas, then jack up their prices. I'm not sure exactly what means they are using for intimidation, but it works, and you have to go outside of these “mafia” zones if you want to get picked up by the much cheaper app drivers, because they won't touch it.
2. Religion in Bali
It was my understanding that most of Indonesia is Muslim, and for that, I would be correct. BUT, the small percentage of Hindu followers (about 2% of the country) pretty much all live in Bali, making the island itself predominantly Hindu. There are signs of this literally everywhere you look, from small shrines and large temples on every street, to daily offerings (“canang sari”) filled with flowers and incense, and detailed architecture depicting different Hindu deities.
3. Local Salary in Bali
While researching the tipping culture, I came across examples of typical daily salaries for a local. Many only make the equivalent of 150 USD for the month, with some making up to $500 in high-paying jobs. With taxi rides and meals coming in under a dollar, it makes sense, but seeing the numbers this way shocked me. So, although it is not customary to tip, it is also not seen as offensive, and might be a welcome gift.
4. Visas for Bali
The visa situation here can be quite complicated, and boy do people take it seriously. And I've noticed it's the expats that get the most worked up about it! Basically, you can't do any type of work in Bali unless you have the proper visa. Well yeah, that's pretty much the same in most countries. Except that Bali is a huge digital nomad hub, and a lot of foreigners here are working online, many illegally (even if it's for a foreign company). This also goes for volunteering. You can't volunteer in any capacity on a tourist visa. Some people even go as far to say you can't do a photo shoot as a photographer, even if no money is exchanged. I do understand the reasoning behind it; the idea is to not take jobs away from locals. Even as a volunteer, you could be taking a paid position away from someone else. But there are a lot of variables to take into consideration, and personally, I don't think they should all lead to deportation!
5. Distances in Bali seem further
What you might think is just a short distance, (say, 5 miles) could actually take you close to an hour driving in Bali. And I'm not exaggerating. “Whaaaaaaaaa?” you say. I blame it on narrow roads, congestion, and cows. Actually, the last one I've only dealt with once, but you get the idea! Although most main roads seem to be in decent condition, they are very narrow, and only double lanes at best. The traffic is nothing compared to what you would see somewhere like Ho Chi Minh, but shove a bunch of cars on a tiny road and you've still got a traffic jam. At least we've got GoogleMaps to give us a realistic idea of how long it'll take to get somewhere at any given time, and that's about all we can hope for!
6. (Bogus) Bali Instagram Spots
This is probably the most humorous thing I've learned since being here. YES Bali is beautiful. YES it is Instagram heaven. And yes, of course, Instagram can be super fake. But wow, Bali has some serious deceit going on! First of all, some of the most famous Insta spots are complete shams. People flock to “The Gates of Heaven,” at Lempuyang temple for amazing photos featuring what appears to be a lake... only to find out it's just a person holding a mirror under the camera to create the famous reflection. Other spots are more like photography sets, decked out with the ever-popular swings, and those famed Bali “nests.” You pay an entrance fee, wait in line, and can even rent a beautiful flowing dress to blow in the breeze while you soar over the rice paddies!
I can't help it though - I'm still gonna do it!
(I haven't been to any of the phony places yet, so here's some real live actual beautiful temples that I thought were Instaworthy! Hope you don't mind the authenticity!)
There's inevitably a lot more to discover about Bali, but these were my most interesting observations thus far. I'm looking forward to settling into a more “permanent” place, meeting new friends, and hopefully rescue a puppy or two in the meantime.
BONUS: Liquids in a baggie... Why, Bali...Just, why...
What is the most unexpected thing you
learned when traveling to a new place?
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*2022 Update* I ended up spending a year and a half in this amazing country! I explored Bali, the Nusa Islands, Gili Islands, East Java, and Komodo National Park. After the longest time, Bali is finally welcoming tourists again through a special visa (B211). Read more about how to get to Bali in 2022 and check out my guide on planning your move to Bali.
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