We were just back yesterday from two week holidays in Bali and I would like to give my first impressions like other contributors of this site. All information we received from others was very useful for preparing our trip. It was our (my wife Chantal and me, early 50's, from France, so please indulge my written English) first trip to Bali. We found all Balinese people very nice, often smiling, specially if you try to tell them some words in Bahasa Indonesian. Everything (food, transportation, hotels, clothes, souvenirs) is inexpensive, landscapes and temples are superb and temperature (30-32C) is great, specially for us this year as we left a cold and dull Spring in Europe. We spent these two weeks mostly in the South (Jimbaran and Kuta area) and in Ubud, with several daily trips to major sites.
Hotels: Intercontinental on Jimbaran beach is fantastic. A big open hall designed in a Java-Balinese architecture, many large ponds with swans, we even saw a large reptile (water monitor ?, a "varan" in French) swimming in a pond, several swimming-pools, large and very clean rooms. A nice beach. We got a very good price for this five star hotel from our travel agency (Hotel-Plan in Switzerland and France). We had reserved the first five nights of our holidays at the Intercontinental and decided to spent the last four nights there as we liked it so much. Although being in the South of Bali, Jimbaran is a nice location as a hub for visiting the island.
Tjampuhan (Campuan) hotel in Ubud. It is a nice hotel, with a gorgeous tropical garden in the ravine of the Campuan river. The location is beautiful (two small swimming pools of which one is receiving water from a spring) but the rooms are not as well maintained as in the Intercontinental. We spent three nights there. They have a shuttle minibus to transport you to the centre of Ubud (about 2 km), and take you back on a telephone call. Ubud is certainly worth to spend more time, evenings are very relaxing.
Hawkers: we did not find hawkers to be a problem, even in Kuta where we spent a lot of time walking in the streets. These people try to make a living and tourism is an important part of the island economy. We do not buy watches, perfumes or tailor made suits in the streets, so we just said "No, thank you" (Tidak mau, terima kasih) and did not chat with them (if you start discussing - you are hooked like a fish). We did not find, never, any aggressiveness from the hawkers or the temple guides we did not buy from.
Transportation: as already said in this forum the clear blue taxis (also noted "Bali Taxi" or "Blue Bird Group Taxi") are very reliable and cheap. Transport is cheap in Bali compared to European prices. They used their meter, the cost from Jimbaran to Kuta is 10-12.000 Rp, which is for two persons less than one metro ticket in Europe. We made a trip with a blue taxi from Kuta to the Ulu Watu Temple in the South and return to Kuta for less than 40.000 Rp, including the time of the driver waiting for us 45 min when we visited the temple. We also used red or white taxis and had no problem. We agreed upon the price in advance or they turned their meter on.
Drivers: our first experience was with a red taxi driver. We agreed with him a fare of 200.000 Rp for a full day trip (8 hours from 9 am to 5 pm) after some bargaining. He was a safe and professional driver, but being a taxi driver not a guide we had to tell him the places we wanted to visit (we prepared our trip using Lonely Planet and other guides, and good advice from this forum). His usage name is Sidan or Zidane (like the French football player). If you are in the South area (Kuta, Jimbaran, Nusa Dua, Sanur) you may contact him: phone (0361)289090 (office, ask for Mr Zidane) or (0361)297780 (home in the evening). In Ubud a younger driver proposed also 200.000 Rp for the day (it was negociable but we found it a fair price). We did not find him as safe driver as Zidane (although we add no problems) but he knew better the places to go. His name is I Made Landung (a given name which means "tall" as he his taller than the average Balinese) and he has a mobile phone (082 361 4250) or you may write to him in advance (Jembawan St No. 6, Ubud, Bali). We could communicate with both drivers in English and they were very correct guys with no further discussion once we had agreed upon a price. This is the case will all Balinese we dealt with, they keep their words.
Politics: the election will be on the 7th of June, or it maybe delayed due to lack of preparation. Everywhere you will see the red flags of the PDI Perjuangan. About 90% of the Balinese population is Pro-Mega (Megawati Sukarno Putri, the leader of the PDI). Very few villages exhibit the yellow flags of the GolKar, the Suharto party, and in only one place on the Ngurah Rai Drive Way near the airport we saw the flags of the Partai Republik. If Megawati does not win the election, and it is difficult to know now as they are 42 political parties running, it will be a big disappointment for the Balinese. We saw several groups preparing the meetings, but here again, no aggressiveness. Just say hello, and discuss politics with the people, they love it.
Money changers: we found the best rates at the money changers of the Matahari department store in Kuta (not in MH Denpasar where the rates were much lower). For a US$ 100 note you got 870.000 or 860.000 Rp (depending of the day) with no commission. They are located, one at the right of the main entrance, and the other in the store at the other entrance on Kuta Place close to the ATM machines. The money changer in front of Warung Made on Jalan Pantai in Kuta advertised 8950 Rp for US$ 1.00 but said I will get only 809.000 Rp for a US$ 100 note after commission, not worth.
Shopping: we made purchases, mostly casual clothes, in Matahari Kuta. We got the impression that prices were better there than in Matahari Denpasar. This is a good starting point to know the price of things before bargaining in the streets. We also bought in small shops in the streets in Kuta and Ubud. Particularly in Ubud and many villages they have beautiful wood carvings and stone sculptures that we would like to bring back home, but we were not organised for this. Next time we go to Bali we will know in advance what can be found and we will plan for a container to be sent in Europe.
Bargaining: it is true, the Balinese like to bargain, but you have to know the approximative price of goods. Always keep a good sense of humour, ask them their best price, then propose a portion of it and start negociating. There is no rule, it depends mostly of the mood of the seller and the mood of the purchaser during the transaction, with a bottom price that you will quickly find. Remember that bargaining should be fun and things are cheap anyway. If you do not want to bargain go to fixed prices stores, but they are not cheaper than little shops. If you are a bargaining addict you may even get a 5 or 10% discount (diskon) in some stores with fixed price labels.
Restaurants: the Intercontinental Jimbaran has a great breakfast and usually we skipped lunch and had dinner out. In Jimbaran we went to La Indonesia restaurant (about 200 m on the right on the street Jalan Uluwatu when you go out of the Intercontinental) and to Made Cafe on the beach (about 300 m from the hotel on the left walking on the beach, the second beach restaurant) for good and fresh barbecued seafood. We also liked Poppies (on gang Poppies) in Kuta. Poppies is as good or better than La Indonesia and rather cheaper. Although it was recommended in a French guide, we would not have dinner in Warung Made on Jalan Pantai Kuta after having visited the kitchen and the adjacent toilet. In Ubud, Cafe Wayan on Monkey Forest Street is a good place for diner and Ary's on Jalan Raya a nice place to drink an Arak Attack at night after watching the dances and listening gamelan music at the Ubud Palace.
Visits: we visited on our own, with our drivers, most of the tourist sites in the central, eastern and southern part of the island. We did not go to the West and North coasts and keep it for another visit. The advantage of being independent is that you may plan your visits according to the weather, visit at your own pace and be on some sites earlier, before the big buses unload their tourist crowd. The places we liked most were the Tanah Lot Temple and the Ulu Danu Danau Temple by the Lake Bratan. The Ulu Watu Temple is also a great place, but take a stick against the monkeys. My glasses were saved by a guy with a stick who hit the little mischief that pick them up from my face and run with them. The Besakih and Kehen Temples are also nice places to visit as well as the rice paddies between Iseh and Tirtagangga and near Jatuluih or the Elephant Cave near Ubud. Each village has something to see (at least three temples) and we could spent months visiting Bali but had only two weeks of vacations. The Bird Park and the Reptile Park are also great to visit.
People-traditions: as said before Balinese are nice people and very communicative. We discussed easily with our drivers and the staff from hotels and restaurants. They are very religious people and attached to the traditions. The Balinese cast (kasta) system seems to be well accepted and is more (according to Made our driver) a religious thing than a social discrimination. The only problem is that you can marry only with a person of the same cast as you or you will go to the lower class of your spouse, at least for women. It is not a big problem since most of the persons are from the lower class, the sudras. Apparently there is even no possibility of promotion after death since as there is a kind of reincarnation in one of your grand (or grand-grand) children, in whom the traits of character of the ancestor are found, it is still in the same cast. Again I have not read it from book but it is what I understood from genuine discussion with our driver and maybe I misunderstood. We did not attend cock-fighting (because my wife was reluctant) nor a cremation (because we did not have the opportunity).
Travel: it is a long trip going there from France. As we live in Haute-Savoie France, near Geneva, we flew Geneva-Zurich with Swissair then Singapore Airline (SIA) from Zurich to Singapore and Singapore - Denpasar. Our return trip was even longer as the pilot of the SIA Boeing 747-400 decided after 3 hours of flight to return to Singapore because one of the four engines of the aircraft was losing oil and was shut down. The second aircraft was all right. The staff on SIA is very nice but food is terrible and seats minuscule in the economy class. By the way, thanks to the Bali Forum writer who recommended some weeks ago to reserve in advance seats on an exit corridor row, we had more room for our legs.
As a whole, we found our trip to Bali as one of our best vacation memory and we are eager to see the 500+ pictures I took. It is a wonderful country, with very nice people. We enjoyed every minute being there. This report is already long and probably boring for most readers who already know the island. I have just covered a little part of our impressions, please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any question. If you are preparing you travel as we did some weeks ago, you are lucky because your vacations are coming. You will enjoy it. We will certainly go to Bali again in the future.