32 Brutally Honest Tips Before Visiting Bali For First Timers 2023 Guide
Thinking of visiting Bali for the first time and unsure if it’s going to be a holiday for you? We were in the same boat too. Having lived in Australia for over 11 years now, I can’t say I’ve ever heard good things about visiting Bali in Indonesia.
But, with Bali being so close to Australia, we decided it would be a good time to visit the notorious Indonesian island and see it for ourselves over the Christmas holidays in the rainy season.
While we were there, we made loads of notes of things that stood out for us that we wish we knew before exploring Bali. So, we hope our Bali travel tips come in handy for you before visiting this South East Asian island.
We 100% recommend getting travel insurance when visiting Bali because it’s not uncommon that many travelers need to visit a doctor or the hospital. We always book Cover More Insurance which covers us for everything.
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Best things about visiting Bali
In this Bali travel guide, we’re going to start off by sharing the pros for visiting Bali. The natural beauty of the island, combined with the local cuisine and yoga studios dotted around the jungle, it’s no wonder many people have an amazing time when they visit Bali Indonesia.
1. No jet lag!
One of the best things that stood out for us when visiting Bali is how close it is to Australia. Obviously we all know that, but sitting on a flight for just six hours and there being only a 2 hour time difference is absolute gold dust for anyone living in Australia. This meant we could start our trip straight away as soon as we landed as Ngurah Rai International Airport without feeling a bit delirious when we landed.
2. Accommodation is hard to choose because it’s all amazing
We are big travellers and have visited many countries around the world. But we often don’t stay in really nice places because we want our money to stretch far on our trips. But, when it comes to Bali, the accommodation is honestly on another level.
We found it really hard to decide where to stay in Bali because all of the accommodation really is incredible. On our first night, we stayed at Maya Sayang in Seminyak and we couldn’t believe it that we had an entire villa to ourselves. We had a big private swimming pool, kitchen and lounge room with an ice cold bedroom which was beautiful.
With that in mind, make sure you check that your hotel room comes with air con because one of the final hotels we booked had more expensive rooms without aircon. We thought that was kind of weird, so just check to make sure.
The places we booked in Bali which were all amazing were the following:
I strongly recommend booking a taxi from the airport to your accommodation before you arrive in Bali. Your hotel will be happy to book but will most likely cost more than a taxi. We booked our via Booking.com for about $12 AUD from the airport to Seminyak.
The taxi drivers are really efficient in Bali and will get in touch with you via Whatsapp the day before you arrive and in the hours leading up to when you arrive. When you get to the airport, they will be waiting outside the arrivals with a sign with your name on it.
4. Understanding the how to hire a driver for the day
If there’s one thing everyone said to me when I mentioned we were going to Bali, everyone had a driver we could contact. Firstly I just didn’t understand what a driver really is. But, what they mean is a taxi driver. I’m not sure if public transport is something that many travelers do in Bali, but it seems everyone gets around using motorbikes or drivers.
The taxi driver who picked us up from the airport gave us a story about how he’s desperate for work, and of course we paid him more than double to take us back to the airport the following morning for our flight to Flores. In hindsight we should have bargained with him, but we had just landed and I totally wasn’t in the mood to haggle $10 or so.
5. Download Grab and Gojek
I had heard people talking about Grab and Gojek before, and they are basically Indonesia’s version of Uber but much more. You can get a motorbike taxi or order a car taxi from both. If you order a motorbike taxi, each person in your holiday will have to order a motorbike taxi too (you can’t order for multiple people). This means your motorbike taxis won’t turn up at the same time.
It’s also worth mentioning that you need to be careful when typing in the address of the place you want to go to. We tried to visit a temple but because there are many with almost the same name, we lost each other for about 1h30m while we ended up at different sites.
Also bear in mind that there are certain no go places in Bali for Grabs and Gojeks because of the local taxis. So if your Grab or Gojek ask you to walk a bit for them to pick you up, it’s because you’re standing next to the local taxis and they can’t pick you up from there. Gojek by the way is the cheaper one to order taxis from.
I personally wouldn’t hire a car to drive around Bali myself as we saw some tourists crash and also you have to watch out for the motorbikes. I also wouldn’t recommend hiring a motorbike unless you’re a super confident motorbike driver.
6. Buy a SIM card from Telkomsel not from XL
When we arrived at Denpasar airport, we ended up buying a mobile sim card from XL because they had no line. There’s a reasons why Telkomsel had a line because they are the most popular network to go with. XL didn’t work in Ubud or Sumba for us.
One thing to note is to get way more internet data than you think you’ll need. I tried to top up on the XL app but it wouldn’t accept any bank cards. So, on our final day, one of the staff from our hotel helped me do it and I gave her the cash.
It’s also worth noting that buying a SIM at the airport will cost you 350,000 IDR ($35) for 25GB. Our driver told us we paid $10 more than we should have for this.
7. It’s not as hot as other Indonesian islands
We were expecting Bali to be super hot, but it’s actually not as hot as even Cairns is at Christmas. Sumba and Flores were way hotter and of course Ubud was hotter than by the beach areas. We were told by locals that it gets hotter in the dry season when it’s sunny.
It also surprised us not to see that much pollution in Bali. The air is much cleaner than we were expecting.
8. More Europeans than Australians visiting Bali now
I was expecting to see mostly Australians in Bali, yet we just heard mostly Europeans and Brits there which definitely surprised us! Maybe it’s true the Aussies are all heading to Europe now instead?!
9. Prebook restaurants
We were surprised that you have to pre-book some restaurants in Bali, especially if it’s the weekend. If you’ve been to Thailand or Vietnam, Bali isn’t the same with the restaurants having plastic kids chairs out on the street. Expect to see fully Westernised restaurants in Bali which are home to healthy food, you might think you’re back in Australia!
When we were in Uluwatu, we had to wait about 1h30m to get a table at a restaurant so it really helps to plan where you want to eat out.
I feel like the food is better in Bali than in Australia, tasting fresher and better dishes. Expect to pay around $40 for breakfast for 2 and about $80 for dinner in Bali. Unsurprisingly, it’s not that easy to find proper local restaurants in the touristy areas.
10. Flower baths are absolutely amazing
One thing we just loved about Bali are the flower baths. It might sound random but they are the most relaxing thing ever. I watched the woman put the flower petals in the bath and she literally threw them in, there didn’t seem an art to the one we got in. She also nailed the perfect temperature for the bath as well.
But, it’s not only the flower baths, the actually bath tubs in Bali are just incredible and feel like you’re in a sunken rowing boat. Honestly, it’s the best thing in the world!
11. Book a visit to Karsa Spa
Talking about flower baths, you have to book a visit to Karsa Spa in Ubud. Our friends told us about this place and just wow – I think it was our favourite thing we did in Bali. This is also one of the best spas in Bali for a reason. We paid $40 each for the best one hour massage we’ve ever had, a body scrub and flower bath and it was absolutely amazing.
Be prepared to randomly pay $5 for your taxi driver to take you down to the spa. The village where the spa is, is currently charging cars to drive through. When you reach the spa, it’s in the most beautiful rice paddies. Honestly, this place is just incredible!
12. The jungle in Ubud really is incredible
I knew Ubud would be beautiful but the jungle is exceptional here. I felt like I was walking in an ancient rainforest all the time around this area and can see why expats live here. There’s a super peaceful energy about the jungle vibes here, just a shame about the crazy traffic in the town.
13. Head to Uluwatu for the beach not Canggu
If you’re looking for a beach holiday, stay away from Kuta, Seminyak and Canggu and head to Uluwatu as this is the area you’ll want to be in. We heard the beaches aren’t great in Bali, but wow… we visited Canggu beach and it had dirty brown sand, and wasn’t inviting in the slightest.
14. Bata Bolong for buying stone Buddha statues
When we travelled back down from Ubud to the airpot, we passed by Bata Bolong which is home to the famous buddha statues you can buy for your home. We would have loved to spent a bit of time looking at these shops as they are pretty amazing.
15. Cover up at temples
Might seem obvious, but cover up when you visit Bali temples. You’ll need to have your knees and shoulders covered, but most of the entrance fees will include a sarong to borrow while you’re there.
16. Beach clubs are fun
We wanted to check out one of the beach clubs because Bali is home to the biggest beach club in South East Asia. While we visited the one next door called Finns Beach Club, it’s not as intimidating as you might think. What surprised me was seeing everyone party here, including families with their grandparents!
17. Choose where to spend New Years Eve wisely
If you’re visiting Bali over New Years like we were, I would choose where to spend New Years Eve wisely. Originally we were going to go to Finns Beach Club in Canggu or Sundays Beach Club in Uluwatu but we decided that logistically it made more sense to spend it in Ubud.
When people asked us where we were spending New Years, I could tell everyone had that look of ‘oh Ubud’ like a ‘poor you’. And to be honest, they were probably right. When we went out, the bars were dead. We found one bar that had a good live band that we had fun in the end. But if we had really known, we probably would have spent it by the beaches if we were up for partying.
We found a YouTube page called Online Bali Driver & Tours so we could get a bit of an understanding about the areas in Bali. It’s just a guy driving around on a motorbike, but I like how authentic his videos are – none are edited.
18. It’s an easy toned down version of India
Bali is a brilliant little island to introduce you into the South East Asia because there are so many westernised places here. While many people feel Bali is spiritual, especially in the area of Ubud, it’s a great place to start with, with more of the luxuries you’ll get back home, like food and accommodation.
The not so good things about Bali
In this guide to Bali, we’re also sharing the not so good things to know because there are quite a few that stood out for us even though it is a beautiful island.
19. Bali belly is indeed a big thing
You may have heard about Bali belly and unfortunately it really is a thing. Within 16 hours of being back in Bali after our trip to Flores Island, I got severely ill with really bad stomach cramps and had to spend a few days in bed. I thought it was from ice at the beach club, but it turns out the bars have to import the ice in so it could have been from a restaurant.
And while the ice has to be imported, make sure you brush your teeth with bottled water and never drink tap water. I personally wouldn’t drink hot drinks as Steve had a coffee in Sumba island and he ended up in bed for a couple of days too.
Although the food in Bali Indonesia tastes so fresh, we actually spent pretty much the entire trip eating nasi goreng (fried rice) because we thought it would be better to eat Indonesian food than western food considering how ill we got.
Tip – since we recently returned from Bali, we met a couple who lived there for two years and avoided getting Bali belly the entire time. I couldn’t believe it considering I got it within 16 hours of being there. They took dukoral before they landed in Bali and again a few weeks later and swear that was the reason they never got sick!
20. It’s like being in an Instagram shoot all day long
The main problem we found with visiting the touristy areas of Bali is that it felt like we were gatecrashing everyone’s Instagram shoots. It felt like this from the moment we got up until the moment we went to bed and it definitely took away the excitement travel usually gives us. Be prepared because it is really full on, much more than we personally saw in Italy and Greece months beforehand.
21. But the Balinese culture is evident
And even though the tourists in Bali are probably the worst part about visiting Bali, the culture is evident. I loved seeing beautiful temples hidden down laneways in Ubud. I also loved seeing the offerings everywhere on the streets throughout Bali and the culture definitely isn’t something that is hidden away from you.
When you see offerings on the floor, please do not step on them so just be careful where you’re walking.
22. Everywhere takes longer than Google Maps will tell you
When you’re planning your trip to Bali no matter if it’s in the rainy season or dry season, don’t take Google Maps as gospel. While the distance between Canggu and Ubud for example doesn’t look that far, the traffic will add on extra time when visiting this Indonesian island. That 1h15m drive actually took us 3 hours simply because we were sat in traffic for so long.
But, there is a way to get around it. Book a driver for first thing in the morning and you’ll cut the time down significantly because it seems the traffic doesn’t build up until after 10am.
When we were visiting Uluwatu in Southern Bali, it took us only 40 minutes to get there from the airport because we arrived early, but we had to give ourselves at least 1hr-1h30m to get back because of the traffic. Many tourists end up heading over to Gili Islands to go snorkelling or scuba diving, and Nusa Dua, Sanur Beach and Nusa Penida are super popular destinations.
You’ll also notice a trend with Bali taxi drivers. They will ask you the same questions, all trying to poach you to give them extra work. After a while it will become exhausting.
23. It’s not quite as cheap as you think it will be
As we’ve spent a fair bit of time in Southeast Asia, we were expecting the food to be super cheap in Bali. To be honest, it’s not. While it’s obviously cheaper than Australia, the cost of eating out isn’t that cheap. We spent $40 on breakfast at a Westernised restaurant, and about $80-$100 on dinner. While you can eat local food away from the touristy areas, we didn’t expect touristy areas to be that expensive.
If you’re looking to drink alcohol, cocktails are around $12 and wine can be as expensive as $17 for a small glass of Australian wine.
24. And floating breakfasts are hard to eat
When visiting Bali, you have to buy into the floating breakfasts because it is the ultimate Bali experience! The funny thing is they are really hard to eat at! Because the breakfast is floating on water, it’s near to impossible to eat with cutlery because the breakfast is floating. Order fruit and toast and you should be alright!
25. Always carry toilet paper around with you
It’s a no brainer, especially given how bad Bali belly is, but always carry toilet paper with you when you’re on a road trip to Bali. You may need to stop off in the middle of nowhere to run to the toilet so bring some toilet paper with you.
When we visited the nearby Sumba Island, we struggled to find toilet paper because they just don’t use it.
26. It’s not very walkable
It really surprised me how Bali Indonesia is actually not that walkable. While I was expecting areas to be a bit like Koh San Road in Bangkok with a strip of bars, restaurants etc, most of the places in Bali are spread out. This means you have to order taxis or hire a motorbike to get around.
It you’re especially visiting Uluwatu, you will need to hire a cab or bike to go everywhere because it’s all spread out. In Canggu, there’s no footpaths so you have to share the path with so many travelers on motorbikes which isn’t a very enjoyable walk. We gave up in the end and hailed down a cab.
27. How much do things really cost?
It’s also kinda hard to know how much everything costs because they also add on 21% onto food and drinks at bars and restaurants. Read the fine print on the menu as it should say whether the tax is included in the price or not.
28. Tegallalang Rice Terrace feels like a theme park
We were looking forward to seeing the famous rice terraces, and while we only visited Tegallalang Rice Terrace, it really did feel like a theme park, no matter how beautiful it is. With the ‘Love Bali’ sign, the endless amount of big swings at every restaurant lining the rice terrace, it just felt like a theme park for us and we didn’t stay too long.
Some friends of ours told us about Tis Cafe where you can use their infinity pool over looking the rice terrace when ordering food or drinks here. The pool is beautiful but get here early to secure a sun lounger.
29. Be aware of the monkey forest
I had heard about the infamous monkey forest, but be careful if you go because some of our followers told us about how they got bitten and had to go to hospital to get a rabies jab. As I said, make sure you get travel insurance from Cover More here before you go.
Weirdly I was expecting to see monkeys everywhere in Ubud, yet they seem to stay in one place from what we saw.
30. Rainy season actually means rain
We decided to visit Bali in the wet season which is also one of the high season too because it was at Christmas, but it rained a lot. I was expecting a shower in the afternoon but it’s like a monsoon when it rains and everywhere floods.
Looking back on this, I would have booked in the dry season instead.
31. Expect people smoking or vaping at outdoor restaurants
If you’re reading this Bali travel guide from Australia, you’ll probably find it weird to see a lot of people smoking in restaurants. Don’t worry too much, people only smoke in outdoor restaurants, but it surprised us as we never see smokers much anymore where we live.
32. What about the sex before marriage law?
If you’re concerned about the sex before marriage law, don’t worry too much. It doesn’t impact tourists as it’s a law for local people, no matter how crazy it really is.
We hope this guide to Bali has helped prepare you for your trip to this Indonesian island! If you have any questions, please let us know in the comments below!