Getting ready for your Bali experience
• Don’t leave home without travel insurance. Getting sick away from home can be uncomfortable and stressful; a dream holiday can rapidly become an expensive nightmare. Sanitation standards in Indonesia (essentially a Third World country) are lower than those in Australia and Bali belly is the scourge of many a foreign stomach on the Island of the Gods. The golden rule is “do not drink the tap water”. Bottled water is cheap and readily available so don’t forget to use it when brushing your teeth. Carry a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitiser and use it before all meals and after handling Indonesian banknotes. If you have children who drink through straws, bring your own rather than using those in restaurants or shops.
• Carry a small medical kit including Phenergan to reduce vomiting and Travelan to control diarrhoea. Both are symptoms associated with Bali belly.
• Dengue fever can be contracted through mosquito bites, so cover up exposed skin and use a personal repellent. If your bed has a mosquito net, use it, and if you are travelling with a baby, pack some light curtain netting to hang over the cot. Some say taking a daily vitamin E supplement will ward off mosquitoes.
• Avoid contact with dogs because of the risk of contracting rabies. For the same reason, treat monkeys with caution. Doctors’ fees are cheap but in an emergency grab your travel insurance details and go to the Bali International Medical Centre near Kuta, which provides health care for expats and tourists.
• Keep a photocopy of your passport and travel insurance details in your case. These will be invaluable if the originals are lost or stolen.
• The weather is warm all year and there are cheap, same-day laundries. So, when it comes to clothes, pack light, as you’ll need space in your case for what you will almost inevitably buy (just remember to declare those wood carvings from the villages in Gianyar to the quarantine officers). Excess baggage can be expensive, particularly on carriers which have a small luggage allowance.
• Travellers must buy a $US25 visa on arrival but this can also be paid in Indonesian rupiah. The prices of the visa in these currencies are displayed at the desk.
• It is better to change money on the streets, where the rate is generally higher than at the airport. ATMs are widely available but transaction fees can be high and the rate low. I tend to take cash, which I keep in my room safe. Find a money changer with a “no commission” sign, pay attention to the exchange rate on the way in and make sure you get that rate. Count the rupiah and don’t leave the counter until you’re satisfied you have the correct amount.
• Indonesia has a departure tax of R150,000 ($16) per person which must be paid in rupiah, so tuck that amount away in your wallet the first time you change money and it will save hassles at the airport on the way home.
• Getting around in Bali is cheap but not always particularly fast. Many families hire people movers and these are available for between $15 and $30 a day. But the traffic can be hectic and the road rules seemingly arbitrary so it’s worth hiring a driver. It will also save you getting lost. If you do hire a car to drive yourself, photograph it from all angles before driving it so there is a record of any damage previously done. The fuel tank will probably be nearly empty so ask directions to the nearest petrol station. Ignore the roadside vendors who sell watered-down petrol in vodka bottles. I’d be surprised if there’s anywhere in the world where it’s easier to catch a taxi and you’ll hear the honk of horns as drivers look for business. Flagfall is R5000 (55¢) and there’s then a rate of R2500 (27¢) per/km. Make sure the meter is running. Bali’s footpaths are notoriously bad with broken slabs and exposed drains common. They can be real hazards, particularly in poorly lit areas at night and when it’s wet. Carrying a small torch will make walking safer.
• For some travellers, the hawkers who tout everything from pirated DVDs to wind chimes and plastic toys are a nuisance. To others, they’re part of the fun. If you aren’t interested, either don’t make eye contact or say “tidak”, the Indonesian word for “no”. If you ask the price of any of these wares, you’ve expressed interest and the hawker will persist until there’s a sale or you’ve escaped in a taxi. Whatever the case, keep your sense of humour, and barter — it’s expected.
• Set aside at least two or three days to get away from the tourist areas and see the temples such as Tanah Lot and Besakih, safari parks, and the cooler highland villages where life is less affected by tourism. The Balinese are a graceful and welcoming people who share their culture with visitors. Daily life is peppered with tradition and ceremony. It’s a privilege to be part of such colour and if you’re lucky enough to witness a ceremony or visit a temple, treat the occasion with the respect it deserves.
• The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has long-standing travel advice that recommends “Australians reconsider their need to travel to Indonesia”.
Tips for a happy holiday
• Don’t leave home without travel insurance and keep copies of these details and of your passport.
• Only drink bottled water.
• Use mosquito repellent, nets, especially after sunset.
• Do not touch animals such as monkeys or dogs.
• Pack light, you’ll be glad of the space coming home.
• Bring cash, keep it in a safe and change money at a no-commission exchange as you need it.
• Keep R150,000 per person for departure tax.
• Hire a car and driver to get around.
• If using a taxi, make sure the meter is running.
• Get out of the tourist areas and explore the island.
© The West Australian
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