I recently flew to Bali for a holiday with my partner and some of my family. It was a really good trip for me to unwind, relax, and take some time away from work. Even though I wasn’t working, I was still thinking, and there were a few things that stood out to me during my travels.
In a lot of ways, this post both mirrors and is influenced by Derek Sivers’ blog post “How Was India?”. Many of the things he comments on from his travels are things that I noticed in mine.
What I noticed in Bali
An easy one to start with — the traffic in Bali is very different to Australia. I’ve heard that most South-East Asian countries are similar, but my experience is limited to a few weeks in Vietnam a decade ago.
Getting out of the airport landed us right in the thick of it. I honestly loved it; seeing the reasonably orderly queue of cars grow and split into nine lanes for toll collection… then completely devolve and organically reassemble into one lane was bizarre but awesome. As we travelled further, more motorbikes were added to the mix until cars were outnumbered ten or more to one.
Road rules were merely a suggestion: one-way streets had bikes filtering against the flow of traffic; the only speed limit signs I saw were on the brand new motorway right next to the airport; of the traffic lights that existed, most flashed amber and were ignored. Overall, it felt very much like it was a self-organising system.
In general, it seems like the Balinese are an extremely enterprising group of people. Obviously a large portion of their income is derived from tourism-related activities, but the way this manifests itself is quite impressive: it seems like every tiny alleyway or place that could have a shop front, does have a shop front, and often there’s two or more.
There seems to be a few different categories of products they sell (surfboards with rude slogans and carved wooden penises were both popular) but there’s obviously a market for this or they wouldn’t be advertising them. Mimco-branded bags, phone cases and clutches also seem like a big seller, because they were in abundance everywhere I went.
I was surprised when, a couple of days into the trip, I noticed road-side stands with vodka bottles (typically Absolut) full of petrol. At first I was in some disbelief — the very first ones I saw didn’t have screw-tops, but instead had flowers; so surely this was just a decorative display or something. Nope. It was a petrol station.
The jungle reclaims everything pretty quickly. We passed a lot of developments that were overgrown with weeds or choked with vines; it doesn’t take much. This is why the big resorts and hotels are always doing maintenance, it’s critical given the antagonistic environment.
The city was dense, and I didn’t need to travel far to see dozens of homes and shops blending together. At the same time, there were areas with an abundance of space. I had a weird sensation of vertigo when I realised that just one of the pools in the resort I was in was more than twice as big as an entire block of land in the suburbs where I grew up.
Notes for future travel
Research and preparation
Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to turn up somewhere new, without any initial research or preconceived notions. For me, I’d say this is not a bad thing when I’m on an organised trip covering a lot of destinations. However, when I’m going to just the one country… I need to do my research.
For this trip, I knew the names of my hotels, but I didn’t think to look at them on a map and work out the rough distances and times it would take to travel between them and the airport. I also hadn’t done my due diligence in looking up popular tourist destinations, so I could be proactive about seeing points of interest.
I’m glad I’d used Google Maps to download sections of the map for offline use. Knowing that I could always find my way back to the hotel as long as I had a GPS signal was very reassuring whenever I set out in an unknown direction.
Last year I travelled to Singapore and Malaysia, and didn’t get any local currency until it was nearly too late (taxis in Malaysia are cash only!). I’m far too used to living in the nigh-cashless society that Australia is becoming, where it’s possible to just use contactless payments from your credit card or phone to pay for basically everything.
However, I’ve rapidly learned that Australia is actually quite ahead of the pack in terms of its adoption of contactless payments. When I was in Europe, many places accepted cards but not contactless, and in London the contactless limit was set at £30 (compared to $100 domestically).
As a result, I’ve learned it’s generally a good idea to get some local currency out whenever I travel. My limited experience also suggests you’ll get a better exchange rate doing it upon your arrival in the foreign country, rather than locally before you leave.
But above all, my notes for future travel are:
- Get out and see what there is to offer
- Don’t be afraid — most of the risks I worry about are from me blowing things out of proportion
- Have fun, and learn from the experience.