Get more than you bargained for in Bali
The Indonesian holiday island has long been a budget travel hotspot, but these days the island offers getaways ranging from bare-bones to super-luxe and everything in-between.
- February 2018
If you don’t watch your rupiah, it’s easy to spend more than you intended. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your trip without splashing too much cash.
The worst way to exchange currency is to do it at home before you go—the rates you’ll get in Bali will be better. Avoid exchanging money at the airport or at hotels; shop around and use a currency conversion website or app such as XE to find out the mid-market rates. Kiosks displaying a green ‘PVA Berizien’ logo and registration number are endorsed and regulated by Bank Indonesia. PT Kuta is one of Bali’s most popular money changers.
If you see better rates at a small roadside kiosk, be aware that they may be too good to be true – some will lure you in with a good number and then impose a hefty commission fee. Make your own calculations before you approach the counter and be sure to count your IDR before walking away.
You’re likely to get better rates by using ATMs and credit or debit card transactions. There are plenty of ATMs in Bali’s busiest neighbourhoods, but you’ll need to search a bit harder in rural areas. Check your bank’s international transaction fees, taking into account both the withdrawal fee (likely to be a flat fee) and the currency conversion fee (usually a percentage of the total withdrawal).
When you pay by credit card you may be offered the choice of paying in your home currency or local currency. Always choose local – your credit card company will give you a better rate.
Public transport is very limited in Bali, so you’ll be getting around mostly by either in taxis or private vehicles. Our best tip is to opt for Bluebird, Bali’s most consistently reliable taxi company. You’ll pay a booking fee if you book through their app, so hail them from the street unless you’re in a more remote area. You’ll pay around IDR 80,000 to 100,000 (AUD $8 to $10) for a 10-kilometre trip.
You’ll often be offered a ride by private car and motorbike operators. Their first price will be high; offer half and keep haggling until you get an offer that is about 20 per cent less than the price of a taxi. If there’s a group of you to split costs, hiring a car and a driver for the duration of your stay, or just for day trips, can be an economical way to get around. Day rates are around IDR 600,000 to 700,000 (AUD $60 to $70).
If you’re a confident rider, consider hiring a scooter or a motorbike for IDR 50,000 to 100,000 per day (AUD $5 to $10) – just make sure your travel insurance covers it.
Where to eat
Bali’s food culture has reached exciting new heights in recent years, with Michelin-starred restaurants, world-renowned establishments and celebrity chefs galore. That’s good news for budget eaters too, as the bar has been raised across the board so that even small, affordable kitchens are turning out a higher standard of cuisine.
To keep your eats budget in check, feast on the delicious local cuisine. Warung—small, local cafés serving freshly prepared dishes, often out of a home kitchen—might only have two or three items on their menu. Like nasi campur, the ubiquitous traditional Indonesian mixed rice plate, often served buffet style so you can add your own satay and salads, starting at around IDR 40,000 (AUD $4).
Other warung delights are babi guling, spit-roasted suckling pig covered in a complex spice paste, and lawar, a crunchy mix of vegetables, coconut and minced meat; expect to pay around IDR 30,000 (AUD $3) for each. The Bali Bible has a great list of favourite warung to get you started.
For fresh seafood with spectacular water views, pull up a seat at one of the beachside cafes in Jimbaran and Kedonganan. Delicious ikan baker (barbecued fish) goes for as little as IDR 60,000 (AUD $6). The stunning sunset comes free—it’s one of Bali’s best dining experiences.
You’ll find plenty of hipster cafes serving Bali’s wellness trend with surprisingly cheap organic and vegan fare. Get your glow on with superfood salads, breakfast bowls, smoothies and juices; expect to pay around IDR 50,000 (AUD $5) for a veggie wrap. The island hasn’t escaped the food truck fad, with trucks serving juicy burgers and spicy tacos for around IDR 70,000 (AUD $7).
It’s also good idea to pick up some fresh fruit, vegetables and snacks to take back to your room—your dollars will go a long way at Denpasar’s Badung Market.
For the lowest prices, shop Bali’s markets. Kumbasari Market in Denpasar is the largest, and is filled with bargain fashion, furniture, home wares, skincare, silver jewellery, leather goods and art. A lot of stalls have the same items, which makes it easier to haggle. Offer a third of the first price quoted and negotiate from there. You should pay about IDR 50,000 (AUD $5) for a t-shirt or sarong, and no more than IDR 100,000 (AUD $10) for a cotton dress.
The same rules apply at the fabulous Oberoi Flea Market in Seminyak. Bargain hard, but remember that a lot of these products are handmade and good quality, so remind yourself of what you’d be paying for something similar back home. Look out for the crochet clothes and wall hangings selling for less than IDR 100,000 (AUD $10).
You’ll also unearth some fabulous pop-up markets, if you keep your ear to the ground and your eye on local publications and notices. Long-standing favourites in Canggu (just north of Seminyak) are the Samadi Sunday Market, great for vintage clothes starting at IDR 5000 (just 50 cents), and Old Man’s on the last Sunday of the month where you can buy gorgeous ceramics for only IDR 50,000 (AUD $5). The Sayan House restaurant in Ubud has a regular market on Sundays where you can find amazing artwork for a steal.
Drinking in Bali
Kuta, Bali’s long-time party hub, is home to plenty of bars offering unbeatable prices on beers and cocktails. Cheap and cheerful places like Alley Cats will serve up a tray of 12 vodka Red Bulls for IDR 200,000 (AUD $20). If you want to get away from the big crowds, head to Sand Bar at Echo Beach for reasonably priced drinks in a more chilled atmosphere.
There are many venues along Seminyak Beach offering well-priced refreshment. Try Raymonds for IDR 20,000 (AUD $2) local beers, or pull up a beanbag at the Blue 9 Beach Bar and order a cocktail for as little as IDR 50,000 (AUD $5). Enjoy the DJ or live band as the sun goes down. Some bars will have fireworks, light shows or cultural dancers.
Wherever you go, wine tends to be more expensive, especially if you want a premium drop, so stick with beer and spirits. Be aware that if prices for cocktails or mixed drinks seem to good to be true that might be because they’re made with locally distilled arak, which has been linked with methanol poisoning.