Sunday, 23 August 2015

Indonesia general impressions: Bali

Indonesia general impressions: Bali

Banyuwangi to Bali Sunday 09.08.2015

Trip to Ijen volcano separate post. Leave 00:27 to volcano and on return go directly to bus station (next to ferry port) for Bali. Fare 100 kIDR (including ferry), bus leaves 9:10, ferry departs 9:25, arrives 11:40 in Gilimanuk (Bali is one hour ahead of Java/Jakarta/Thailand). From there it’s 130 km to Denpasar.

One of the worst rides I ever had. Road is one lane in each direction, every slow car causes traffic build-up and overtaking. And there is a lot of dangerous overtaking, with generous use of horn. (A Farang friend mentioned that Thais rarely use, not even when it would be appropriate, I didn't notice before but now I realize he is right.) From seat in bus you have a good vantage point and there were several overtakings that just fitted in (I could hear the other passengers “oh” and “ah” while I was trying to sleep), and when there was just one car coming in opposite direction, our driving would honk (meaning” Get out of the way or you will regret it!”) and overtake, forcing the car to the side so three cars can be on two lanes.

Spotting very interesting architecture along the road could not compensate for this driving, and driver and one passenger smoking.

Then the bus stops at Mengwi bus station (14:55, 20 km north of Denpasar) and driver tells passengers to get off because the trip ends here. No ticket was issued when I boarded the bus, now it makes sense: I can’t complain without a ticket.

Taxi drivers descend on the passengers. Most of the passengers were Whites, this might be a similar scam like bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (with bust station a few km out of town, so you need further individual transport). I try to get a location on my phone, a taxi driver tells me GPS doesn’t work here, there is no signal (nice try!). Then I spot three Whites negotiating with a taxi driver, so I ask if I can join. Yes. They are Dutch and going to Kuta. The ride was by meter (160 kIDR divided by four), arrive in Kuta 16:02. I have no place to stay, so that suits me well. Their hostel is 175 kIDR per night, a bit too much and I might want to bring a guest.

Walk around, another hostel charges 150 kIDR (still I cannot bring guest, but I want to get rid of my luggage and shower). Two people have to consult the computer for 5 minutes to find out they are booked out, but there is another branch and they take me there for free on mocy.

Lengthy check-in, which allows me to read the regulations: no visitors to rooms, no sex on the premises. Padlock can be rented, same for towel (15 kIDR). Unbelievable what some hotels do to get some bucks! Rent towels to guests! But not me! There is always a curtain where I can dry my hands and after showering I can air dry or wallow in the bed to get dry. Unbelievable, what some customers do to save some bucks!

Finally, 16:40, in room. No WiFi in room, only at reception! I wanted to have an afternoon nap, but due to slow traffic it’s too late for that. Shower and change and go out.

Kuta beach (view southwards):

There is a quality magazine “the journey – monthly Indonesia tourism magazine” distributed for free in some places.

Bali money exchange scam. I read about this in guidebook without details: above average rates involve some kind of scam. But I once studied 2 semesters Mathematics for Chemists, and despite being tired I try my luck, convinced that they won’t outwit me. There is a rate of 15.299 posted (while regular exchange booths have around 14.7), I go there (a few meters into a small side street). There are two boards at the counter, one with 15.299 and one with 14.299, I point to the 15.299. I want to exchange 100 Euro, the cashier types 1,502,990 into the calculator, I correct him to 1,529,900. Then he counts three heaps of 20x50,000 IDR on the table and one more 50,000. I count to confirm. That makes 1,550,000 and he asks if I have 20,000 change. I argue that that’s not correct (either I was really confused by the 9’s or he typed something wrong in the calculator), can’t find my mistake and give him 20,000.

I think I walked away with 31x50,000 IDR, in exchange for 100 EUR and 20,000 IDR. But some minutes later, having dinner, I count: 19x50,000 IDR, short changed! While I was getting 20,000 IDR out of my wallet, he must have taken some notes.

Details about this scam can be found on the internet, if only I had read before! About half of all money exchange operate this way, easily recognizable by exchange rate posted.

Now the question is: if you know how the scam works, can you walk away with an above average exchange rate (then exchange back elsewhere and repeat?). According to internet, not. They come up with excuses to renege on the exchange. There was only the cashier and me, one would have to operate with a friend who joins just when the money is on the table so you are two against one.

The lowest point of my stay in Indonesia, after a horrible bus ride falling victim to a scam. Previous low point was queuing for ticket and find out my connection is sold out.

If someone had asked me to exchange my flight ticket (Thu 8:20) with his ticket (tonight) without any further costs, I would have gladly accepted!

Go to bed early (22:05) to get sleep I missed previous nights (train ride, hike to volcano).

Bali Monday 10.08.2015

Get up at 10 for breakfast included (ends 11), check out at 12. Walk around to find another place, finally a place I am happy with: big room with two beds and bathroom for 100 kIDR per night! No aircon (don’t need, temperature was fine), only cold water in shower. No towel in room, ask at reception: they don’t provide towels! But there are two duvets that I can use instead of a towel.

Spend the rest of the afternoon resting in room and sleeping.

Book sightseeing tour for two days. There is a public bus which can probably get you to one or two places. But at 500 kIDR for a day tour (10-12 hours car and driver) it’s more convenient to hire car and driver, and you can set your own schedule. Driver was late 10 minutes on first day and had to ask for directions several times, English so-so, overall I wouldn’t recommend that particular driver to others. Most shared tours offered by travel agency have something I have absolutely no interest in (like animals or water sports).

Then taxi to Young Generation sauna to meet boy F from hornet (details separately).

Return by taxi. Driver does not switch on meter. “No meter at midnight” “But now it’s only 11:30!” “Same, no meter”. Let’s see where this goes. The usual small talk. In Bangkok they would quote you an inflated fare before you get in, but here I have to raise this subject several times. “It depends on distance.” “But how you know how far it is without meter?” He changes subject. Finally I get some numbers “sometimes 250,000, sometimes 200,000” (my estimate is 20,000). “When I came here by taxi, I paid 20,000. Anyway, which direction are we going?” (I made this up, I came another way. But he was first driving north, then I lost track after some turns, my hotel is south.)

“150,000!” “No, let me out here!” I grab my bag and unbuckle. He stops and I want to open the door, but it’s locked. “How much do you pay me?” “Nothing, I pay by meter.” “You give me 20,000!”. “20,000 to hotel, but this is not my hotel!” Finally he unlocks the door, mutters some incomprehensible insults and I get out.

Didn’t have this before, being locked in a taxi. Walk some minutes to get blood pressure back to normal. If you play this correctly, you could get a taxi to walking distance to your place without meter, and then tell him to use meter and get out. But you have to be prepared for physical violence.

Wait for another taxi. None passing in my direction, but one opposite. He stops and I beckon that I’m going to cross the street to get in. Took several minutes, all traffic in his direction had to overtake and I had to wait until I can cross the street. (General note: do not take taxi which is going in opposite direction. Had this in Bangkok as well: after five minutes circling around, you are back at the same point, in the other lane.) This time with meter, however when we are in walking distance to my place (estimated 5 minutes), there is one way road, and traffic jam nearby, so he takes a long detour (estimated 10 minutes), and finally drops me at Komal Inda I (which is in walking distance to Komal Inda II where I stay). Another low point of this trip.

Bali Tuesday 11.08.2015

Sightseeing with car and driver all day. You have to wear a Sarong to enter a temple (enforced). Even with long trousers, you still need a sash. Sarong or Sash available for free at all temples I visited. Menstruating women are not allowed to enter a temple (how is this checked?).

Coffee plantation (with cocoa and other plants as well, free tasting with no sales pressure, but I wanted a gift for my mother anyway, so I buy some tea and coffee):

I didn't try Luwak coffee (beans that have been eaten by civet cat), cup costs 50 kIDR, but next time I will!

View from Kintamani mountain:

Goa Gajah cave:

Holy spring Tirta Empul:

And this is where the water comes from (sand bubbling on the bottom of the pool):

For lunch, my driver asks if I like suckling frog. I don’t know what “suckling frog” is, but always open to try something new (I had frog before in Thailand and Malaysia). It turns out he means “suckling pork” (Bali is Hindu and there were several suckling pig restaurants), I didn’t find anything on their menu I liked, so we went elsewhere. Fancy place with nice decoration and view of rice terraces outside. Quite pricey and as I find out upon paying, 8% service charge and 10% tax added to prices in the menu, a practice I particularly dislike, to the extent of not eating at such places. Total 120 kIDR, I could eat for a week at places aimed at locals. Another low point of my trip.

Famous rice terraces at Tegallalang:

And other side of the road:

Bali Wednesday 12.08.2015

Sightseeing with car and driver all day.

First stop is Tanah Lot in the morning. Pay 30 kIDR “entry”, navigate through a maze of souvenir shops, many closed because most tourists come for sunset.


(These bats, and the civet cats as well, are cute, especially when they are eating. But when animals are used to make money, mistreatment is not far away, hence I neither posed for picture nor donated money.)

Restaurants with sunset view deserted. Beach busy with tourists, but not crowded. The “entry fee” is to look at Tanah Lot, not to enter! There are gates with “don’t enter” (to keep the tourists who walk through knee deep water to get at least close out). There are some minor scams on the shore "holy snake" and "holy well", asking for donations.

Continue to hot spring at Belulang. 10 kIDR entry. There are some other tourists, but after they leave, I’m left alone with some local kids in the water and some adults selling souvenirs. This place is clearly off the beaten track (my driver hasn’t been there, had to ask for directions), and I enjoyed it. Water is about 35 degree Celsius, contains a lot of iron and limestone (judging by deposits) and doesn’t taste good.

Temple in the lake Ulun Danu:

Drive to GWK (Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park Two hours drive due to slow traffic, arrive 6 pm, not much time before sunset (at least the park is open until 10 pm). Entry 100 kIDR, I shortly ponder if it’s worth, just before sunset, but then buy a ticket. And it was worth it, spectacular, worth a return once it’s finished in 2017. (The pedestal for the statue can be seen from airport).

Bali to Bangkok Thursday 13.08.2015

Get up 5:30, check out 5:45. Walk to main road, ignore standing taxis. But when a mocy stops and asks if I need transportation. She quotes 100 kIDR to airport, but immediately accepts 50 kIDR I offer. Flight without problems (hand luggage restrictions not enforced on both flights), glad to be back in Thailand!

Overall this trip was so-so. A lot of milling around (finding place to stay, booking train tickets), settling for second choice, time wasted in traffic jams, some scams. If it had been my first trip to South-East Asia, I would probably not have been back. (But see my third trip to Thailand This is a perfect advertising for a tour guide, see discussion on gaythailand, which would have saved me a lot of worries on this trip.

However, with entry without visa and several local contacts and more places to see (WW2-themed Soldatenkaffe in Bandung, Borobudur and Prambanan in Yogyakarta), I will probably be back some time.

Copyright 2015 ChristianPFC


  1. So it seems even Kuta now has hoStels-and you fell for their scam. Just like so often in TH: they cost more for a dormbed as nice single rooms in budget places. It is common in Indo/KUta for nearly all places to offer some food for breakfast, though it may just be bananas=pisang.
    You seemingly omitted the best part of boy-hunting in Kuta: a walk after dark along the beach=pantai. JUst a little north of the HardRock monstrosity.

    1. These dorms are new and nicely decorated and have aircon and hot water. Room of similar standard would cost double, I estimate. But I value my privacy and being able to spread my stuff all over the room more than aircon and hot water.

      I had one walk along the beach at night, nothing interesting (but maybe wrong place, wrong time).

  2. Thank you for the report , brought memories of my own trip in 2013.

    I'm sorry to hear you had quite a few low moments falling to various scams in Bali, rest assure you are not first one to fall into money changing BS , internet and guide books are full of warnings and stories.

    Kuta is tourist trap, you would do better with Ubud. Not going to Borobudur and Prambanan - big mistake but there's always next time.

    You did not miss much with Luwak coffee, it's just a good coffee but nothing that special other than true stories about how it's produced

  3. Excellent report. Thank you for taking the time to share this trip with us. One tiny correction: It is wary---not vary.

    1. Thanks, changed vary to wary in the Jakarta post.

  4. I am surprised he did not use Bluebird Taxis, even though I strongly advised him to do so when we discussed his Bali trip a few days before he left. But on the other hand, by using a scam Taxi he got some "unusual" offers he would not have got when using a reputable Bluebird. Maybe next time I am in Bali I will need to act like a clueless tourist and use a scam Cab, and then even ask what else the cabbie has "on offer" ;-)

  5. I am surprised he did not use Bluebird Taxis, even though I strongly advised him to do so when we discussed his Bali trip a few days before he left. But on the other hand, by using a scam Taxi he got some "unusual" offers he would not have got when using a reputable Bluebird. Maybe next time I am in Bali I will need to act like a clueless tourist and use a scam Cab, and then even ask what else the cabbie has "on offer" ;-)

    1. In Jakarta I waited for Bluebird, and it went well (no tourists, no scams). But in Bali, I abandoned this. The worst that can happen is that driver doesn't use meter, in that case I get out.

  6. Great report on Pattaya. Thank you, Christian.


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