Bali had pretty much been on the top of my list of places I wanted to go for years – I’ve always loved the idea of this island paradise, where you can relax all day on the beach in beautiful sunshine and where everything is “crazy cheap” (according to every person I’ve ever spoken to who has been to Bali).
We arrived here in true fashion, on a Jet-Star flight, late at night, and having had a few too many Bintangs (standard, no?). The flight from Darwin that arrived at 8:30pm, was the earliest I could find. I have learnt through my travels to date, that it is always better to arrive into a new place during daylight hours, however 8:30pm was the best I could do.
The Denpasar airport in Bali is larger than I had imagined, and after stepping off the flight, it was a long walk through empty concourses before emerging at Bali Immigration. A weird question from the officer as to why I had obtained my 60-day tourist visa so far in advance from using it, was met with a boy-scout response, ‘I like to be prepared’, and I sailed right passed.
After waiting for our bags for what seemed like forever, we walked through duty-free (which was mainly just a massive array of different cigarettes) and came out into the arrivals hall.
We had organised with our hotel for transfer pick up from the airport (all for the massive price tag of Rp. 70,000/$US5.14) and I was immediately thankful, because the arrival gate was absolutely manic. Hundreds of people, most of them wanting to offer you some sort of accommodation or transport to your destination. It was quite overwhelming, but goes to show you are able to just wing it and arrive with no plans or pre-arranged transport, should you wish, and simply set something up then and there.
We booked at the Bali Garden Beach Resort in Kuta for four nights just to soak up a little luxury upon first arriving in Bali. Now I know what you’re thinking, Kuta – full of Australians, busy, loud, blah, blah. Well, yes, but that’s the best way to hit the ground running when trying to figure out how a place that you will be staying for two months works – go somewhere busy.
And hit the ground we did, we arranged our SIM cards, sorted out the cash/money exchange situation (more on this in my post Indonesian SIM cards), and organised our boat to the Gili Islands all on the first morning. Bali Garden Beach Resort is right next to the big (somewhat odd) Discovery Shopping Mall at the south end of Kuta Beach. It has three different swimming pools, a spa, three restaurants, huge rooms with air-conditioning and a balcony, and (as with most accommodation that you book in Indonesia) has breakfast included in the room rate.
Kuta Beach was right on our doorstep, and was everything that I was expecting and more. No longer the quiet fishing village it once was back in the day, the beach now is full of people, both locals and tourists, at all times of the day. It’s technically low season right now, and I can’t imagine what it will be like in June/July when busy season hits. It really packs out at sunset (given that it is West-facing) with massive groups of people coming from everywhere to watch the sun dip into the sea.
Kuta Beach itself has been designed to make relaxing easy for tourists. You can find a sun lounger with shade umbrella right on the beach for Rp. 25,000 for the day ($US1.90). Hundreds of people will then proceed to wander passed you and offer anything from ice-cream, freshly made spring rolls, bracelets, necklaces, massages, bamboo blow-darts, sarongs, hand-carved wooden art, jewellery, hats…the list goes on. Basically, if they can carry it, they can sell it. It soon becomes difficult to balance my naturally polite personally with the fact that I’ve had to say, “No, thank-you’ 50 times in a half-hour time period. Most people however do understand and can read when you are genuinely not interested in purchasing any of their wares.
My favourite thing about Kuta beach are the make-shift beach bars that cover every inch of sand from South Kuta right up to Seminyak. Basically this means a local setting up some plastic chairs in the sand, and bringing along a cooler box (eski, chilly-bin, whatever you call it!) full to the brim with cold drinks.
After spending a few hours sitting at a particular beach bar one day, we begin chatting to the stall holders, a lovely Indonesian lady named Cindy, and her husband, Wayan. She tells us that although the beach bar system seems casual and light, it is serious business – Cindy (as the main stall holder) must hold a license to trade in that section of beach. And if she chooses to sell drinks, that is the only thing she is allowed to sell as you can only hold one license for the sale of one thing. The Bintang distributor truck (the Indonesian beer giant – which is actually part of Heineken!) stops by very early in the morning and replenishes her stock and removes the empty bottles. She charges Rp. 25,000 (as do all stalls along the beach) for a standard Bintang ($US1.90), and a small bottle of mineral water will cost you around Rp. 10,000 ($US0.73).
Surfing lessons, or surf board hire are easy to come by and barter for as well. There is the official Rip Curl School of Surf there, but if you use some good judgement and watch a few others out there trying, any of the surf instructors out are pretty good and will be much cheaper. Prices seem to start at Rp. 400,000 ($US30), and can be bartered down to around Rp. 200,000 which includes a 1 hour private lesson, and then 2 hours with the board.
If laying around in the sun at the beach isn’t your thing, there are always the markets and shops of Jalan Legian to awaken your senses. You can purchase anything you want at these places, from a Bintang t-shirt, authentic (you be the judge) Balinese art, jewellery, offensive bumper stickers, the list goes on. Half the fun of purchasing anything in this area however, is the act of bartering that goes along with it. There are two main rules which I function on when bartering: 1. Always smile; and 2. Never accept the first offer.
It is easy to get caught up in the fun of bartering, but you’ve got to keep in mind that these people are also making their living this way, so try and come up with a figure in your head that you’re happy to pay before bargaining – otherwise, you could end up paying way too much, or possibly miss out on something you genuinely want. Do be careful along Legian as well, as I found it quite intimidating when the stall owners really want you to buy something and can get a little grabby. Be forceful and make sure you have made your point loud and clear that you do not want to purchase if that is the case.
Days are easily wittered away on the beach, by the pool, or shopping up a storm on Legian, but it’s night time when everything really starts happening. Every sleepy little bar or Warung (Indonesian for restaurant) comes alive with people and music and happy hour specials. You can take your choice anywhere from fine dining, to cheap eats all within a few blocks from each other. On the finer dining side of things, we enjoyed dinner at Warung Damar along Jalan Kartika with cocktails and the Indonesian specialty of Sate (meat on a stick!) all for Rp. 150,000 ($US11). For cheap eats, it was straight to the Night Food Market on Jalan Patimura (four blocks back from the beach – not truly a market, more a collection of Warungs) where a plate of delicious Mie Goreng (fried noodle) and a large Bintang will run you Rp. 50,000 ($US3.67). The famed Sky Garden Restaurant and Club also does an all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet for Rp. 150,000 (gets messy but good if you’re really hungry and want to get pissed).
Kuta really is everything everyone says about it: loud, busy, touristy, etc, but that’s kind of the point. There is no way it is a realistic portrayal of Bali, but it is a bit of entertainment – and I guess that’s how a lot of people view it. In total, we spent 7 nights in Kuta (4 before our trip to the Gili Islands, and 3 after the Gilis before heading south to Jimbaran), and that was definitely on the lengthy side.
Although Kuta treated us well enough, it all comes down to one summation: I’m glad I’ve been – but I don’t think I’d ever go back! In my opinion, there are better beaches in Bali (Uluwatu for surfing, Menjangan Island for snorkelling, Nusa Dua for swimming), there are better markets (Ubud), and there are much less touristy places to stay that are just as beautiful (Medewi, Pemuteran). Now, that’s not to put anyone else off going, as I’ve mentioned, we did lots, saw lots and had some good times, but it’s one of those places you can simply forget about once you’ve been.
Been to Kuta? What did you think? Highlights? Lowlights? Comment below to share with me your experiences 🙂