Paula and I lived in Ubud from November 2014 to March of 2015 so while this certainly isn’t a comprehensive guide, it’s what we learned from 5 months living here and what I wished I knew prior to learning it the hard way.
What we know about Visas
- When you arrive there is a $35 on arrival visa you can purchase, it’s good for 30 days and they take U.S. Dollars.
- If you plan on staying longer than 30 days, you will need to extend the visa, which can be done with several agencies or people, price ranges from 605,000 Rupiah to 750,000. We used a woman named Eliz, lots of people work with her and she charges 605,000.
- Note about Eliz. She’s like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. I’ve never seen her turn anyone away but I always get the feeling that I have the competence of a 10-year old kid when I go and see her. She makes up for her lack of bedside manners with her knowledge.
- Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or you can stop by and see her, she’s open from 4-6pm weekdays, and her office is right by Alchemy. Best way to find it is to ask someone at Alchemy where her office is, it’s a bit hard to find. If you tell her you know me she won’t care.
- If you know you’ll be staying for more than 2 months, you may want to consider getting a social visa. To get a social visa you need to visit an Indonesian embassy outside of Indonesia and those are good for 6 months. The advantages to this are you won’t have to get a visa on arrival and you don’t have to leave the country, although you will have to renew it after 60 days (same process as extending 30-day visa) and every 30 days after that. We got one in Singapore, it cost us $120 and we used Mr. Gan.
- Note about Mr. Gan, trying to find his office will feel like you’re infiltrating the Singapore mafia. He’s fast and efficient, you can fly to Singapore in the morning and be back to Bali before dinner. Eliz has his contact info.
- If you don’t get a social visa, you’ll have to leave the country on what people refer to as a “visa run”, this means you get the cheapest flight out and return so your visa clock resets. Typically people do this every two months but I’ve heard you can extend visas 90 days. Not sure if that’s true, we never tried. The cheapest flight out is on Air Asia to Singapore, it’s about $170 each round trip.
Taxi Drivers & Renting Scooters
- A taxi from the airport to Ubud should take anywhere from 60-90 minutes and cost about 300,000 Rupiah. If you’re leaving to go to the airport, leave early, the streets are small and one small congestion could hold you up for a few hours. It’s rare but could happen, especially during the middle of the day.
- Scooters are amazing, it was my first time on any kind of motorized bicycle and I loved it. If you rent per month you shouldn’t be paying more than 500,000 Rupiah. Depending on where you go you may have to negotiate to get this price, but they will give it to you.
A Quick, Not-Professional, Not Comprehensive Guide to Scooter Safety
- The most common injury I saw (and experienced) was people’s bikes falling on them while they are trying to make a U-turn at no speed. I did this, and ended up getting a bone fracture in my toe, I know another guy who needed surgery. Basically what happens is you’re turning the bike around in a rush, you accelerate before the bike is fully turned around and since the front wheel isn’t straight it tips the bike over and on to your leg.
- A few ways to avoid this…
- Go slow when turning the bike around and if you need to wait a few extra minutes, do it. You’re probably not in a rush anyways if you live in Bali.
- If the bike is about to fall, ditch it. Drop it like a bad habit and jump away so it doesn’t fall on you.
- When breaking, use the rear break first, then the front brake (rear is left, front is right). If you need to break faster, use both brakes.
The most pleasantly surprising thing about Ubud was the food. It’s incredible. It’s also amazing for anyone who is a health nut or vegan/vegetarian, they definitely cater to the new age crowd.
Here is a list of some of my favorite places…
- The Elephant. On my third visit I declared it my favorite restaurant over the course of my 32 years of life on earth. Needless to say, I like this place. It’s vegetarian but their meals are really hearty and they have lots of variety. They also have an awesome view.
- Yellow Flower Café. This place is a not-so-hidden gem. They serve mostly traditional Balinese food, made with lots of love. Try the “Energy Smoothie”, it’s the best ice cream in Bali and it’s not ice cream.
- Holy Basil. This place almost made my jaw drop. It’s a tiny restaurant right by Delta Dewata (big supermarket) and it’s one family serving you several courses of goodness. They are super conscious about the food they use and they take a lot of pride in the food.
- Warung Mendez. This is not a common “top restaurant” pick, but it was one of my favorites. It’s in Penestanan, down the street from Alchemy. Any of their friend rice dishes are great and the goat leg they serve is as good as any 4-star restaurant.
- 9 Warung. This is a really cool place to eat. It’s a vegetarian buffet where you serve yourself then put your money in a jar at the end. The food is great and they really do a good job with freshness. It’s a bit south of the city but worth the drive.
- Padang next to Bali Buda. I don’t know the name of this place or if it even has a name, but I ate there every day for about a month. A Padang is like Balinese fast food, you’ll recognize them because they have plates stacked in the windows. You go in and point to what you want and they either put in on a plate or give it to you to go. I mostly ate vegetarian there, a lot of the meat looked suspect. There are a bunch of Padangs and this one was my favorite.
What I recommend for everyone planning on staying a month or more is to go online and book something on airbnb for a few days so you can get settled. While you’re here, you can look for places to stay. The best way to find places is to have some local Balinese contacts, these are usually men or women in their 30s-40s who speak English well and know the villas that are available. They seemed to know their village best, so sometimes it’s nice to know people in different parts of town, depending on where you want to live. Making friends with Balinese like this makes your life much easier.
There are lots of areas in Ubud that are nice, and being a ten minute scooter ride away from the city wasn’t a big deal for us, but to some people they want to be closer. There’s almost nothing online so walk around, talk to people and the more effort you put in the better a chance you’ll have of finding a sweet deal.
The most important thing to know about electronics is you can buy everything you need in Bali. I’m sure that wasn’t the case in the past, but today Ubud is more stocked with electronics than it was 10 years ago. It’s not Singapore, but it’s not bad either. If I knew this before moving here I wouldn’t have bought so much stuff before. It’s actually cheaper to buy what you need in Bali, and you’ll have the advantage of actually knowing what you’ll need.
Bali uses 220V, which means stuff like blenders, appliances, and some battery powered devices won’t work. Not only will some things not work, but if you plug them in, they might catch on fire. I brought some computer speakers and they got ruined. The good news is that the electronics we use 95% of the time are totally ok. I can only speak for Mac laptops since that’s what I own, but they are rated to accept 110V-240V so you can plug those directly into the wall. Same with smart phones and tablets. You can actually check the back of your devices and most will say what voltage they can handle.
As for appliances that need 110V, you’ll want to buy a stabilizer, which you can get in the capital, Denpasar (about an hour away). This is a box, about the size of toaster and it’s heavy, so you wouldn’t want to buy it in the US, plus it’s cheaper to get in Bali.
Don’t Bring A Lot of Clothes
I realized a few weeks after I arrived that I had brought way too many clothes. My long pants and sweaters just sat in the closet, and the thing that’s important about understanding Bali is knowing that it’s damp, and mold grows quickly. The worst thing that happens if you don’t bring enough clothes is you have to buy some here, which is great because you’ll try new things and it’s cheap. I bought five tank top shirts for $3 each and replaced all the tee shirts I brought.
Everyone will have a different opinion on this, but mine is if you plan on riding a scooter, you should definitely get travelers health insurance. Although when you’re riding it feels totally safe, the truth is it’s risky to ride scooters, and there’s a chance you’ll break a few bones. I got insurance through AAA for my wife and I and we paid $75 for both of us for 6 months of comprehensive coverage. Don’t ask me how this is so cheap, but it was. I wouldn’t have even trusted it if it wasn’t AAA and you don’t even need to be a member to get it (we bought it with an agent at their office).
If you have any sort of back pain or are someone who sits in front of a computer a lot, take advantage of a man named Tyr Throne who lives and teaches in Ubud. He’s the founder of Somalogy, and is a world-renowned expert on posture and back pain. He runs weekly classes and working with him was the best thing I ever did for my back pain. I wrote an article about it.
Join a few of the Facebook groups, they are great resources to be in touch with other ex-pats and you’ll get a sense of what the dialogue is like between the westerners here. Search for “Ubud Community”, it’s the best one.
Note about ATMs, almost all ATMs in the US are the ones where you slide the card instead of put it in, making it impossible to forget your card. This isn’t the case in Bali, and after building up a habit of not needing to remember my ATM card in the US, coming to Bali was tough, I walked away on my card several times, one I left for four hours, came back and it was gone. I cancelled it and no charges were made, but it’s worth noting that it’s easy to forget your card in the ATMs (this is good advice for traveling outside the US in general).
Other than that, enjoy yourself! Bali is an amazing island, and the people are so kind and welcoming. If you have any other questions or would like me to add anything to this, feel free to contact me.