If you follow my Facebook page, you might have read my (angry) status update from the airport of Bali some weeks ago. In case anyone reading this ever goes to Bali or Gili Trawangan or in case someone comes to this blog looking for travel advice, here are some potential risks of a holiday in the island:
They are everywhere, so you should always carry your belongings close to your body. Motorbike drivers might grab your bag, wallet or phone while driving next to you and then quickly disappear in the traffic. They tried to do that to a girl staying at my hostel in Kuta, but they only managed to accidentally grab her boob. Which is not nice anyway.
Another girl of the hostel was robbed by children. They came to her when she was sitting in a restaurant, started playing around, making noise and touching her clothes. When they where gone, she realised that she didn’t have any more money in her pockets.
In Kuta, there are “authorized” money changers every 5 meters.
Before leaving for Lovina and then Gili Trawangan, I needed to change my last 270 Australian dollars (AUD), because Kuta has better exchange rates. The official conversion was around 3,000,000 Indonesian rupies (IDR) at the time.
First place I go to: the man behind the counter brings out 3,000,000 IDR in 50,000 notes. He counts the notes while I’m looking carefully: 3,000,000 IDR. I count the notes myself: 3,000,000 IDR. He proceeds to put all my rupies together and hands them to me. I count the money: now it’s 2,500,000. I tell him “Sorry, there’s money missing”. “No no no, it’s ok”, he says. “But it has to be 3,000,000”, I say. “No no no… hmmm… Commission!”. Commission tu madre, I think I said, and I left with my 270 AUD.
Second place: it all went as in the first shop, but this time I was pretty sure I had counted 3,000,000 IDR myself before leaving. I was already in the restaurant next door when I had a look again at the money and suddenly it was just 2,000,000 IDR. I went straight ahead to the money changer: “Look, 1,000,000 IDR missing, what happend?” He said nothing, he just took my 270 AUD from behind the counter and gave them to me while he got his rupies back. “If you don’t like it, go to another place”, he finally said. “Hey, no, just give me the 3,000,000 rupies”, I told him. “Go to another place”, was his only answer. For your information, 1,000,000 IDR is around 60 EUR. That’s not shortchanging, that’s stealing.
"What! You've ripped me off again!" - I found this hanging on the wall of a bar in Kuta
In the third and fourth places, I just tried to change 100 AUD and they kept trying to do the same tricks to me. They also used the same excuse when I told them they were ripping me off: “Go to another place”.
The fifth money changer at least had a better excuse. After talking with me for a while, “Where you from, how long you in Kuta”, the point came where I had to tell him “There is money missing”. “No speak English”, he replied. ” But…”. “No English”.
As he had suddenly forgotten his knowledge of the English language, I think he didn’t mind that I left the shop with my Australian dollars saying “**** ***”. (Use your imagination, the words were not actually “Good bye”)
All this happened to me in less than one hour. When I came back to my hostel, they recommended me a good money exchange office where, finally, I got my Indonesian rupies without being tricked.
So if you ever go to Kuta: always ask at your accommodation for reliable places to change money. Check the official daily rates beforehand. Always count personally and at least twice the money you’re given. Never try to change (as I did) too much money at a time.
The only good thing about the shortchangers/thieves, is that they always gave me my Australian dollars back, admitting their fault.
(Why I didn’t just use an ATM: I’ll write about it in a few weeks)
Really, be careful. The macaques of Ubud are worse than pickpockets. This little one probably cares a lot about hygiene, as he stole a surgical mask from a Japanese tourist:
Never leave your pockets or your bag open when you are near wild macaques!
Always check if they charge some special tax, or you might be 10% surprised when getting the bill. Always make sure that the prices on the bill match the prices of the menu. More than once I had to correct the waiter: “Look, it’s 50,000 IDR written on the menu and you are trying to charge me 55,000”.
On my last day in Kuta, I went to the pharmacy because I had spent the previous days coughing without stop. They wanted to sell me (for around 8 EUR) a blister of ten pills, without a box and without an information leaflet. They weren’t even able to search anywhere for the composition of the pills.
“You are not in Europe, what did you expect?”, some might think. Sorry, but the pharmacy had many shelves with an astonishing variety of western marks of shower gels, shampoos, condoms and many other products. If a pharmacy is able to sell a pro-vitamin-hair-revitalizer-with-silk-effect-for-damaged-hair, it should be able to tell me the contraindications of any of its medicines. End of the story.
If you are a girl and are having some drinks at a bar: never leave your drink unattended. I heard of some girls of my hostel who were in a bar of Kuta having just a few drinks with some guys they had just met… and the next thing they remembered was waking up the next morning in the hostel with no money in their pockets. I don’t know many other details about this event, but just in case, be careful with what you’re drinking and don’t trust overfriendly strangers.
If you research a little bit online, you might also find articles of people being poisoned with methanol in Gili Trawangan, sometimes with tragic consequences.
One day before leaving for Gili Trawangan, where I had booked the hostel Le Grand Gili Backpacker – La Boheme, I received this email:
Unfortunately, Gili – La Boheme is closing its doors. All bookings are cancelled then. We apologize to everyone for this inconvenience.
The staff of Gili – La Boheme”
In Bali and the Gilis, the months of June and July are pretty busy, so it’s not easy to find a place to sleep with such a short notice. Even more if you’re traveling alone and are specifically looking for a bed in a dorm. Luckily enough, I managed to change my plans, spent some days in Lovina and went to Gili T afterwards. I would never recommend the place I stayed at instead of Gili – La Boheme because I felt like crying every time I had to use the dirtiest bathrooms I’ve ever seen
but, hey: backpacker life.
So bear in mind that plans in Bali might change from one day to another. And never ever stay at a place called Le Grand Gili La Boheme, just in case they decide to reopen the doors.
Short remark: I had booked the hostel with booking.com, and I let them know about the problem. I was surprised by how fast they answered my email, offering me another accommodation instead. The only problem was, this new accommodation was extremely expensive. They assured me that they would give me the difference (400€) (!!!!) (I could spend 100 nights in Laos with that money!) after my stay, but I decided to book another place by myself, as I didn’t want to take the risk of losing money or waiting too long for the amount to be transferred. It’s nice to see that online companies have a good customer service.
Passenger service charge
It’s my last day in Bali, I’m ready to catch my flight to Singapore but… wait! What’s this?
Bali airport wants 200,000 rupies (12 EUR) from me before I leave. Because I’m a tourist and I deserve to be punished for spending my holiday in the island, I guess.
Just as a comment, in countries like Cambodia and Laos, a departure tax is included in the price of your flight. That way, you know for sure how much you’ll be paying and you might even reconsider going to that country if you are on a low budget. Indonesia, learn from your neighbours!
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed Bali. But if you ever go there, be careful and do some research in advance!
By the way, I’m also on Instagram now: http://www.instagram.com/travelandtofu