No place in history has ever held such worldwide mythical status. A fertile, volcanic island nestled in the Java Sea where you can watch the sun set over a perfect beach while sipping fresh coconut juice as the surf crashes to the shore, Bali conjures up images of paradise in the minds of men.
Bali is indeed paradise, and there’s a reason I have been there five times in the past seven years – but it is not always what a man might expect when he arrives with his head full of media inspired notions.
So what is it really like? Why do so many flock here every year? What’s it like to live there? I’ll cover it all in this comprehensive Man Travel guide to Bali.
The lowdown on Bali.
Bali is a tropical island off the East coast of Java. It is one of the most fertile islands on the planet, and almost certainly formed when a massive volcano erupted spilling giga-tons of lava into the ocean, which over a ridiculous amount of time formed the tropical island we can now visit and enjoy.
When you land it will be in Denpasar airport, which leads onto Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, the more developed areas on Bali’s south coast. This is the area you will find bars, clubs, restaurants of every kind and unlimited tourist options like surf lessons, kite surfing, scuba diving, sunset boat tours and basically any hedonistic pleasure you can possibly imagine.
A few hours north into Bali’s central heartland lies Ubud. This is where people go to escape and engage in yoga, meditation, forest walks and peacefully sipping pots of green tea while watching the hippies go by.Ubud is a nice and tranquil spot, but ever since Julia Roberts Eat, Pray, Love movie came out it is changing fast. This movie put a tiny town designed for about 30,000 people maximum on the global tourist map, so naturally things will change before long.
A traditional Balinese “Cecak” ceremony in Ubud.
On the East coast lies some of the most unspoiled scenery I have ever seen in my life, and I have been in Asia for a LONG time and seen my fair share. This is where you will see untouched coral reef, terraced rice paddies climbing up the side of mountains and traditional Hindu weddings and funerals not put on for the tourists.
Bali has a little something for everyone. Perhaps that’s why so many people visit every year.
The cost of living in/visiting Bali.
It’s hard to put an exact number on this because of the wide variety of pretty much everything that’s available.
Accommodation can range from $20-$2000 per night depending on whether you want to stay in a bunker with a cold shower or a luxurious spa resort with marble floors hidden in the mountains and your own personal water fountain to wash your ass. It’s all available, so you’ll have to do a little research yourself to see what fits your budget.
Food again can vary from $2 chicken and rice plates in a tent at the side of the street to $30-$50 meals in top end restaurants on Double Six beach. It is fair to say that Bali is a little cheaper than Jakarta in general, especially when it comes to food and drinks.
If you actually want to spend a while here and live, apartments can be had for about $300-$500 per month, although these will be studio units but that’s OK because you won’t want to spend a single minute indoors anyway.This is a perfect option of you want to write a book, start a blog or launch a small business, but be aware that unless you have a long term visa you’ll need to make regular trips out of Indonesia which can be an absolute bitch given the fact that it is one of the most remote places on earth.
Taxis are around the same as Jakarta at 50 cents a km and you can also rent motorbikes from as little as $5 per day. Pretty much everyone does this, although the corrupt, filthy, money grubbing police force is onto this in a big way and will extort you at every major junction for $5-$10 bucks. This can get expensive and annoying.
Meeting women in Bali.
Bali is probably the best place on earth for meeting any kind of woman you can feasibly imagine.
If you have an Asian fetish, great, take your pick from the absolutely stunning Balinese ladies or the throngs of Japanese and Korean girls taking photos on Kuta Beach at sunset. If you’re into euro chicks this will be heaven as a vast army of Sweedes, French and Germans descend upon the place every single day. There are always Aussie surf chicks on the beach and pretty much every type/nationality/look you can imagine is present in Bali at any one time.
As for how to actually meet women, you can go to any of the clubs in Kuta (be careful of scamming hookers) or get online and arrange to meet any number of Balinese women who will be happy to entertain you and show you around in exchange for a good time (you need to be willing to pay for drinks and meals here, it’s expected in the culture).
Whether you are here to get your freak on and “plant flags” or are here looking for something more, you have a good chance of finding it on Bali. Everybody seems to be in the mood for love, but that is probably the combination of sun, rum and ecstasy that is absolutely everywhere.
Opportunity in Bali.
While it is possible to make money as a teacher in Bali, it will barely be enough to survive and you are far better off making money in Jakarta and coming back to Bali on your days off.The law of supply and demand is king as always, and schools know there is an endless line of Western backpackers who will fill your boots in an instant, so they can afford to pay you little more than beer money.
Most expats staying in Bali for the longer term are involved in some sort of business. Many are exporting Balinese crafts, art and furniture back to their home countries, while some who have managed to get permits to stay longer are surf instructors, run Scuba classes or are some form of entrepreneur.
There are also plenty of opportunities in real estate on Bali with new condos, villas and hotels going up on a daily basis. This is literally one of the biggest property booms in the world, and a friend of mine who works in this industry has informed me that Balinese land is now at the same price per square metre as downtown Manhattan.
Remember that whatever you chose to do here there will be fierce competition. After all, everybody wants to stay in paradise.
Visas and legal stuff.
Anyone who wants to visit Bali and check it out can get a quick and easy visa on arrival valid for thirty days at the airport. It costs $35usd and thirty days which may or may not be enough. I’d say probably not. There is constant chatter that the visa fees will be scrapped, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
If you want to stay and do manage to find an employer willing to sponsor you the one year visa is called a KITAS and will cost you zero, since the employer fronts all the costs. It takes a little while to organize and get (about 30-45 days) so expect to have enough money to see yourself through and possibly leave the country to stay somewhere nearby like Singapore until the process is done.
Otherwise you can just keep doing flights in and out of the country to Malaysia/Singapore, but this will get expensive fast as round trip flights are in the region of $300.
Other factors to consider.
While Bali is a small island, different parts of it are literally like different planets. The hectic, frantic pace of the Kuta club scene is a million miles away from the tranquility of the East coast, the hidden surf spots and the undeveloped black sand West.
This is a great thing for getting lost, exploring and enjoying the variety Bali has to offer, but you have to accept that in certain areas tourists are how the locals eat and survive, and you will be seen as a walking, talking ATM machine.Some people can get jaded by this as nearly every interaction with a local Balinese will turn into some form of offer or commercial transaction, at least until you stay a while and get to know people.
You should also be aware that a good 50% of people who visit Bali are complete ass-hats and so the Balinese in turn are jaded, tired and somewhat tourist weary. While this place is paradise, there is a dark underbelly of drug runners, sex tourists and even pedos on the loose, and local people have grown tired and started to bite back in some areas.
Some parts of Bali are a little tacky.
This is not to taint your image of an otherwise perfect place, because after all those things exist in any place where there are large numbers of human beings, but just do be aware of it and don’t go in expecting to find smiling locals with baskets on their heads welcoming you with open arms. You need to show respect to get respect in Bali, but if you do, it will be returned to you tenfold.
Bali is hard to put into words. It is a contradiction. It is a relaxed, travelers wet dream yet also somewhat of a paradise lost in certain areas. It has some of the friendliest people on the earth and also savage gangsters who will cut your head off your shoulders if you cross them. It is a place like no other and you need to see it with your own two eyes to understand what I am talking about.
Where else can you wake up with an active volcano bubbling behind you, rip a jet ski out around the cliffs on the ocean, come back and have a seafood buffet on the beach and get ready to dine at any of the thousands of restaurants offering every food available on earth?
Not everything about Bali is perfect – but a visit is worth it. Miss it at your peril!