During the summer, I spent two months in Bali, Indonesia, on a fully-funded trip learning to teach English to local primary school children. There was a large group of us staying in a small village called Kemenuh, just outside of Ubud.
This list is by no means a comprehensive one. But during my time abroad, I learnt a few things that surprised me, which may be useful to know before embarking on a similar trip yourself.
Monkeys can be aggressive. During my visit to the Monkey Forest in Ubud, we were advised not to look the monkeys in the eye, as it could be interpreted as a sign of hostility. I remember quite vividly seeing one woman with a monkey sat on her lap and being briefly impressed, before the monkey turned around and punched her in the eye!
Many of the monkeys don’t stay within the confines of the Monkey Forest, and you often see them clambering all over the wires and poles of the street and also darting in and out of shops. Be warned: they will pinch things from you if you are not careful as well, so make sure you’re not carrying any loose items that can be snatched – food, toys and hats alike!
Cats and dogs roam where they please.
More than a few times, at the last minute, we had to swerve out the way of a dog who decided the middle of the road was a great place for his mid-day nap. On another occasion, a dog sat next to us on the beach then followed us nearly the whole way home!
I’d never seen so many stray cats and dogs as I did during my time in Bali. However, a lot of them tended to look quite poorly – definitely look into being vaccinated against rabies before your trip, and try your best to keep your distance from any stray animals.
There are places the sick animals can be taken, though. We actually ended up taking in a small kitten into our accommodation for the night, which one of the girls I was staying with had found alone and quite distressed near the school where she was teaching. After taking it to a vet and letting it spend a night in our bathroom, we found a local animal shelter run by an Australian expat, where it could receive the proper care.
The motorbike is the way to travel
I did not notice many pavements in the less touristic areas of the island – in the village where I was staying, if you wanted to walk anywhere you would often have to travel along the side of the road. Even then, I remember being stopped by a very concerned woman who worked in the homestay where I was living, who asked if I wanted a lift somewhere on the back of her bike. It didn’t seem as though walking was a very common mode of travelling!
I found out later from one of the teaching assistants working in my school that it was apparently very common for every member of a family to have their own motorbike. But there were a lot of cars around as well, especially for tourist use – you can use local apps such as ‘Uber’ equivalents ‘Grab’ and ‘Go-Jek’. You can also often hire a motorbike taxi ride via these apps too, which is usually the cheaper option.
However, please be aware that in certain areas, local taxi drivers have a particular dislike to tourists using ‘Grab’, and can get quite unpleasant if they find you using it. So, please be careful and, if you are comfortable doing so, support local taxi drivers as well if the opportunity arises.
Do not drink the tap water! Bali Belly is no joke.
I was quite smug in thinking that I had managed to go the duration of my trip without getting ill; however, in my penultimate week abroad, I got my comeuppance.
The tap water in Bali is a no-go. Do not wash food in tap water and make sure that the places you’re eating at uphold the same standards. Also be wary when eating out that ice cubes have not been made from tap water, and be careful about rinsing your toothbrush as well as ingesting any water from the shower.
On a related note – do not flush toilet paper down the toilet. It blocks their system. Most public toilets will not have toilet paper or running water – so be prepared to use a bucket full of water to manually flush the toilet and bring hand sanitiser with you everywhere.
Be careful with people coming up to you.
As a young British woman, I found that there would often be a large number of locals approaching you and asking for pictures. Only agree to this if you are comfortable. For example, when I was visiting Tanah Lot, I even had a man asking me to read something out in Indonesian to the camera in exchange for some free bracelets. This was to promote his shop on social media; however, if you are ever tempted to do this, just make sure you know what it is you are saying!
Most of the people we encountered were friendly and respectful; however, there were others who we often noticed staring and taking pictures of us from a distance. So, always be careful and be wary of your surroundings. If you feel uncomfortable, the best advice I can offer is just to trust your instincts.
Overall, Bali is a relatively safe place to visit, provided you keep your wits about you and you’re equipped with some common sense.
Oh, and one last thing: the rain.
Featured Image by Harry Kessell on Unsplash