Thursday, November 11, 2004

miss cayce's Bali guide: bemos, shopping and being a single female traveller in Bali

Public transportation
I travelled mostly by bemos (even on my first day!), which can be quite an exhausting affair, especially at the terminals. Once a tourist comes out of a bemo, you are surrounded by shouting bemo drivers demanding to know where you are going, with jabbing fingers. You have to be very tough with them and never accept a ride to wherever you’re going for 30,000Rp – that’s ridiculously expensive! You might as well take a taxi. I usually pay about 3,000 Rp per ride, the most was 5,000 Rp from Batubulan terminal to Ubud. It helps to ask locals (NEVER the bemo drivers!!) what the rate is (“Berapa harga karcis ke…”). Sometimes, however, even the locals will massage the fact, just because. But I have found honest Balinese (like the woman vendor in Batubulan) but admittedly, it seems like they are few and far in between. I have found that usually, Balinese women are more honest (except when it comes to Balidesigns sales assistants!!) than the men. I've been told however that whenever you come across a dishonest, rude, obnoxious Indonesian in Bali - they're often from Java and not really Balinese. Food for thought.

One of my worst experiences was in Penolokan where the bemo drivers were aggressively greedy – we ended up walking from the Perama drop-off point at a restaurant to the junction that led down to Lake Batur. The entire time was spent fending off bemo drivers who quoted ridiculous prices at us. It was such an exhausting day.

When I first arrived, and walked out of the airport to catch a bemo, I was actually chased(!!) by TWO taxi drivers who DEMANDED to know where I was going. I did catch my bemo, much to my satisfaction, leaving those taxi drivers in the dust.

Bemo drivers pretty much consist most of my worst experiences in Bali. But I don’t regret taking bemos because it is the cheapest mode of transportation in Bali, and a good way to interact with the locals. For example, chatting with them while waiting at a terminal (and let me tell you, the waits can be pretty damn long because they will only leave when they have filled up their damn bemo!!). I think that if you are white and carrying lots of baggage, you will end up paying more than a local – Richardo certainly did, until he travelled with me – hah (although they did jack up the price for the both of us, but comparatively, he paid much less than if he were to travel on his own – when I was on my own, I got away with the local rate). I think I was pretty lucky because I looked Indonesian and had relatively light baggage for a backpacker (which progressively got heavier once I got into the shopping!).

I did take the tourist shuttle bus, Perama three times – once from Ubud to Penolokan (55,000Rp), from Sanur to Kuta (15,000Rp) and from Kuta to the airport (9,000Rp). You have the choice of being picked up at your residence but you get to pay 5,000Rp extra. However, if you tell them that you have used them before, you get a 10% discount. In the end, I just used the Perama bus because it was just more convenient and admittedly, I got so fed up dealing with the bemo drivers!

I found my Rough Guide to Bali and Lombok very useful because it had a chart of bemo connections thoughout Bali. As well as suggested prices for taxis (which I never used!), bemos and buses.

People say that the best deals for shopping are in Sukawati, which is a bemo’s ride away from Ubud (I went there from Sanur, which meant three bemo transfers! Very exhausting!). There is a much wider variety of goods, from crafts to brightly-coloured sarongs in Sukawati, compared to the marketplace in Ubud. I would recommend going to Sukawati first, and getting what you want, before buying anywhere else. When I was there, there were hardly any tourists, mostly Indonesians shopping or expats buying merchandise for their stores (you see them haggling with the shop owners over a list of merchandise). I actually went very early which was a good idea because I had the luxury of looking through the stalls without being hassled to buy anything (they were too busy setting the stalls up).

An idea for prices: You can get nice sarongs for 10,000Rp or 15,000Rp. Or beaded sandals for 20,000Rp. I'm really happy with a wooden mask with really good workmanship (and good-quality wood) that I bought for only 25,000Rp! The Balinese silver is also worth a thought.

There are many cute boutiques in Ubud. Naturally, the nicer ones are more expensive. For souvenirs, don’t bother shopping in the stores along the streets because you can get cheaper deals in the Ubud marketplace. The people there are very aggressive however, which may work in your benefit because you end up with great deals. However, when you just want to look, it can get very exhausting to have them constantly whine at you to buy something. I liked the dog-themed boutiques in Ubud – so cute!

I thought shopping in Kuta was expensive after Sukawati and Ubud – and that even includes the cheap stores!! However it is worth going around because there are some things that you just can’t get in the former – like bikinis!!! And great cloth bags. I can’t recall how many times I went browsing wistfully at Surfer Girl which stocks international surfwear brands for girls. It’s not cheap but there are better choices than what I get back home (didn’t buy anything from there however). I also really liked Balidesigns, despite their dishonest staff. Oh, if you’re going to Kuta, be extra careful of the sales assistants in the Balidesign store, next to the chemist, opposite the pura (Hindu temple) on Jln. Legian. Nice boutiques like these should give you receipts, and if they don’t give you one, demand for it, in case they’re thinking of ripping you (and the store) off.

An update on what happened to me: the people at Balidesigns appear to be disinterested in getting to the root of the problem. The last e-mail I received from them was to ask me to see them the next time I come to Bali – I told them that if they have any questions about the whole affair, just e-mail me. I’m not interested in getting anything from them. I told them about the incident because I thought that they would like to know that they have dishonest staff. But so far, they have been very nonchalant about it. Well, too bad – it’s practically their loss for being so lax with their staff. It’s such a pity though because they do have very nice clothes.

Being a single, female traveller in Bali
You will definitely get a lot of attention from men. Mostly, it’s just harmless attention, e.g. wolf-whistles or remarks/compliments (often in Bahasa Indonesian, which I understand!!). Admittedly, sometimes, it did get to me but I find that when you confront them, they immediately back down. Anyway, I find compliments from Balinese women more gratifying than some dude on the beach (coming back was a bit of a bummer, where are all the compliments??). In Kuta, you’d probably get a couple of Kuta cowboys trying to make you their ‘weekend girl’. It’s all very easy to have one latch on you. Just try to get surfing lessons. Or sit on the beach by yourself. Kuta cowboys are apparently very popular with female tourists.. Myself, there’s no ‘exotic appeal’ for me having a Balinese boyfriend. What’s the point? They kinda look like the local boys back home, and I’m not going to fork out money to buy them dinners, or in some cases, buy them homes or cars! Cheh.

Aside from Kuta, which seems to be in a universe of its own, it’s probably wise to be decently dressed in Bali, out of respect of the local culture. I did observed topless female bathers in Lovina and Kuta, and while the locals seemed to be rather nonchalant about it, I just don’t think it’s a good idea at all. Nobody needs to see your boobies.

Women visiting Hindu temples are advised to wear a sarong and a sash around the waist. Likewise for men. When I was watching a public cremation which was held outside a temple, I was besieged by vendors selling sarongs and sashes, who insisted that you had to have the proper attire just to watch the cremation. While I had my own sarong and sash (that I eventually put on), I noticed a lot of people were just wearing shorts or pants, etc.. even the vendors themselves! Methinks it’s just a ploy to get tourists to buy their wares, at exorbitant prices, rather than out of respect for the dead or the culture/religion. You’d better off bringing your own to temples, to save yourself the hassle from on-site vendors.

I felt very safe travelling around Bali on my own, even walking in the streets at nights. Before I arrived, I was a bit paranoid about muggers, pickpockets and all, but once I arrived in Bali and got a feel of the place, I felt safe. It’s still a good idea to keep a close eye on your cash at all times, and always count your money in front of the cashier so that they don’t try to rip you off later!

After a while, I found myself affecting the look of a Balinese girl: hair tied at nape of neck, long pants or skirt and a blouse. Of course, often my backpack, sunglasses and cap would negate the effect but I was mighty pleased whenever a local thought I was one of them (or rather, from Jakarta).


At 5:45 PM, Blogger Erik vK said...

Thanks for the comment, nice to get one from a stranger once in awhile. Andrew and I both went to SFU, I graduated last october with a B.Sc.

I am headed to Sabah soon, any info that you can pass along would be well appreciated. From Penang you can indeed catch a ferry to Medan, it will cost you about 95RM, 160RM return. Lately it's been a holiday season and the ferries have been fully booked, so we had to pay 150RM for ours... I'll post some photos of Toba and area...


At 11:44 PM, Blogger Cayce said...

Hey, Erik - thanks for dropping a note! Also left another comment on your blog - places to see in Sabah although it occurred to me that my recommendations had a wildlife bias.. ah well.

I too graduated with a BSc. from SFU.... years ago. sigh, fun times.


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