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How to do Bali on the cheap

Bali can be expensive. But the good news is it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips on how to enjoy the island without busting your wallet. If you’re a backpacker, you can still do Bali on a budget.

So that is one martini covered...

So that is one martini covered...

When you land
If you’re staying further afield and have booked in advance, ask after an airport transfer and then compare it to what you’ll pay at the official taxi stand (you can see the Bali airport taxi rates here). Often a transfer by a hotel will be significantly more expensive, so politely decline and grab a taxi on arrival.

Sort out your transport
Bali taxis are cheapish but for long distance trips, the cost adds up fast. Bemos are cheap but take forever to go anywhere, Perama buses are cheapish and fairly quick but don’t run all that frequently. Solution? Assuming you can ride one, hire a motorbike – and here are some tips on safety and avoiding fines. We pay 30,000 rupiah per day to hire a scooter in Sanur, and while you may pay a little more in Kuta, it’s still costing the same as a Perama bus, but you can go anywhere.

You’ve got wheels, now get the hell out of Dodge
I’ll never understand why people stay in Kuta. The beach is mediocre, the food ordinary, the accommodation shoddy, the scene just awful.

If you’re a surf person, head south to Balangan, Padang Padang or Uluwatu on the Bukit peninsula. In all three you can find a simple room for under 100,000 rupiah per night, and you’ll be on a fabulous beach.

Small day at Uluwatu

Small day at Uluwatu

If you’re into the hills, head to Sideman in the east or Munduk in the west. Again both these places have digs for under 100,000 a night and they have scenery to rival Ubud — without yoga mat-wielding EPLers and busloads of mainland Chinese tourists.

Manage your money
ATMs in Bali generally dispense 50,000 or 100,000 rupiah notes. The former has a maximum withdrawl per transaction of around 1,200,000, the latter 2,500,000 or, in some cases, 3,000,000. ATMs mostly have a sticker affixed to each one stating if it is a 50,000 or 100,000 machine. Your home bank may well charge you a charge for each cash withdrawal, so it makes sense to seek out ATMs with the higher threshold.

Permata Bank and BII are generally good options for ATMs with a high withdrawal limit.

Walk in rates are nego
When you walk in and ask how much a room is, the price they tell you isn’t how much the room is. Rather it is the amount they are hoping you will agree to pay for the room. Especially in low season, rates are extremely negotiable — we’ve heard of $70 rooms going for $20.

How much for the hammock?

How much for the hammock?

Generally a good approach to take is to walk in, ask the price, then ask to be shown a room. While you’re wandering through to see the room, chitchat and mention that you may stay a few days and so on. If the room meets your needs, offer a new price in the room and nego on the way back. If you can’t agree on a price by the time you’re back at reception, it’s probably not going to happen, but even in high season a stay of more than two nights should get you a discount. Don’t forget to check the bathroom.

The burden of breakfast
On the topic of room price negotiations, an easy way to get a discount is to say you don’t want breakfast included. Hotel breakfasts are invariably pretty dire and you’ll get something better and cheaper outside or on the street.

Fancy breakfast for fancy money.

Fancy breakfast for fancy money.

Sims are simple
As long as you have an unlocked phone, get a local sim card upon arrival. Simpati offers good coverage across Bali and has quite reasonable rates for overseas calling (and internet access should you need that). It will almost certainly be cheaper than using international roaming from your home provider. Sim cards can be purchased at kiosks all over Bali.

Booze on the beach, not over it
Bali has more than its fair share of fancy beachside bars. Kudeta and Potatohead to name but two. These places can be stunning spots to while away the afternoon but with $10-30 cocktails (often +, +, +) they’ll wheel you out in the wheelbarrow you brought all the rupiah in with.

The better solution is to grab a few cold ones at a nearby warung and just sit in the sand out front. You’ll still get the tunes and the sunset but you’ll leave with an unmelted credit card. If sitting in the sand is too, well, sandy, read up on our favourite Seminyak beach bars that won’t break the bank.

That will be 54,765,345 rupiah please.

That will be 54,765,345 rupiah please.

Bargain! Bargain! Bargain!
When you’re in the midst of that last-minute souvenir shopping splurge always remember to bargain. Not being a frequent T-shirt buyer, we recently got caught out when a T-shirt seller offered a T-shirt for 20,000 rupiah, which seemed cheap enough. Five minutes later another vendor offered three for 10,000 rupiah! So, especially when dealing with street vendors, bargain. It is worth noting though, that bargaining is intended to be fun and the result is that both you and the vendor part ways happy with the deal. Grinding the vendor down to nothing is not the point.

Remember it isn’t all about the money
Generally Bali will be slightly more expensive than a beach holiday in Thailand (or elsewhere in Indonesia for that matter). This is mainly because of the cost of a room and booze. Accommodation and alcohol aside, the costs are often comprable. You’ll have no fun if everytime you hand over 100,000 rupiah you’re grumbling that it is half the price in Thailand — you’re not in Thailand! Bali remains a great value-for-money destination, especially once it rolls back into low season.

About the author:
Samantha Brown is a reformed news reporter. She now edits most of the stuff you read on Travelfish.org, except for when you find a typo, and then that's something she wasn't allowed to look at.
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