Bargaining in Bali

I learned how to bargain in Bali, and it’s serving me well here in Vietnam.  It’s a little disconcerting, because you can’t behave as you normally would in a store at home. There’s no casual browsing. The second you step forward to look at anything (or honestly, even just walking within 15 feet of the stall), they’re on you. “Come in, come in- nice things for you!” (or, in Vietnam, repeated cries of : “you buy something!”)

You’re either in it or you’re not. And like that date you might have had in college who you accidentally strung along, you have to avoid getting involved, or just commit.

You might think you’re being polite by chatting with the shop owner who approaches you and engages you in conversation, showing you their best stuff… but you will be in for a nasty surprise when your “thank you, but no” is finally accepted as an ending answer and you are immediately dismissed with a hateful look.  So, the lesson here is, look quickly and move on quickly if you’re not interested. Don’t even think about starting to bargain if you have no intention of buying –especially if you linger long enough to hear that starting price. But, do remember that you can bring that price down- sometimes by a lot.  In fact, if you’re feeling ballsy, your first counter offer can be less than half the price they quote you. I start a little higher than that because halving their amount feels insulting to me, but it helps to know in advance where you’ve decided to stop and set your limit. If all else fails, saying thank you and walking away can often produce amazing results.

I do always try to smile and be polite no matter what happens in the bargaining process, but I had an interesting experience in Kuta, where I couldn’t help my reaction.  I was out walking, heading back to my revolting and overpriced guesthouse in the light drizzle that had finally eased in after a 2-hour downpour. I walked past a stall with umbrellas on display and did no more than glance in their general direction (mostly with regret that I hadn’t gotten a deal on one earlier as I didn’t really need one any longer) without even pausing in my stride, when the hawker in charge pounced and seemingly thoughtfully tried to draw me in with a concerned: “oh, you need umbrella, miss”.

“No, thank you”, I replied.

”No, come in, come in- come see these umbrellas I have for you.”

“No, I’m almost home, thank you.”

<Kindly, and with pity in his voice for the poor, bedraggled foreigner> “No, no, you must have one.”

Curiosity gets the better of me and I stop and ask how much. The response? “For you,  <pause… then, dramatic flourish…> 150,000.”

Which is not only more than I paid for the last umbrella I bought at home, it’s also more than my hotel cost that night. In fact, it’s so ridiculously overpriced that I actually involuntarily laughed out loud and then felt no guilt about walking away, tossing a “thank you, no” over my shoulder. Well, his immediate response was a frantic re-grouping and a shout of: “ Wait, 50! Only 50 thousand! What you want to pay?”

And thus we see the magic of walking away.  🙂

Kuta highlights and lowlights

I have more to post from Bali (and Australia), but maybe I’ll do an extra highlights reel at the end of this journey so I don’t get too far behind my current travels. I’ve met so many nice people of all nationalities already. I haven’t met many Americans, though- mostly British, German, Australian, Dutch, and French, so far. It’s nice to sit and chat with somebody with a shared language, and shared travel itineraries where you can exchange advice and experiences. Speaking of experiences, let me catch you up on Kuta.

I have really mixed feelings about Kuta. If you just want a beachy holiday, and you don’t mind spending a little extra, I’m sure it would be fine. But if you’re not quite into sharing a dorm with 5 other people, but you don’t want to spring for one of the plush rooms in a resort for 5 times as much, there seemed to be a dearth of decent stuff in the middle (unlike Ubud). 

Here’s the bathroom of the revolting place I stayed in for one night, the bathroom which didn’t have a sink or a mirror… just a constantly running leaky filthy shower. 







So, coming straight from somewhere in Australia, you’d probably think everything was (comparatively) a cheap dream. But coming from Ubud, I found the town dirtier, the hawkers pushier, and the rooms at similar prices to be of lower quality. That said, I did have a nice stroll along the beach, and the town streets were interesting, if a little more pre-packaged and manufactured than the more home-spun feeling you get in Ubud.

But I finally got to see the Doctor Fish!! I wanted to try this out in Tokyo with Kristi 2 years ago, but it was prohibitively expensive. I’ve been hearing they have this in malls all over Britain, but I haven’t really seen it in Chicago yet, so I tried it out here! It was hilarious.

(It turns out that it’s difficult to take a photo of your feet underwater without making yourself look like a Hobbit.)

There were so many fish delicately nibbling all at once that it felt a bit like I’d imagine that a small electric current might. The experience was made even better by having all the salon girls calling me “darling” repeatedly. I felt like I should be in feather-lined pink robe, with a skinny cigarette holder clutched in my hand.



I also had a decent time at the post office, though the road there should, by rights, never legally be called a road.





Classic. Close, but not quite.

All in all, Bali was good. But I think that, as with anywhere else in the world, the more you’re willing to pay, the cleaner and sweeter (but more sanitized) you can make your experience.

Ubud goodies and Packing list

The markets and shops in Ubud are colorful and seductive. I’ve already mentally picked out some beautiful wood carvings, silk scarves, brightly-colored batik sarongs, bead and shell necklaces, hand-crafted silver, woven purses, cotton wraps, wooden penis carvings (what?), silk dresses, stone figures, plumeria hair pins, and all for less than the cost of one meal in Australia. If only I had room. I brought too small a backpack and I can barely fit in all the precautionary crap I bought for the trip as it is: antihistamines, acetaminophen, aspirin, antibiotics, anti-malarials, immodium, toilet paper, purell, deet, sunblock, vitamins, rain ponchos, extra saline, anti-fungals, bandaids, Neosporin, feminine care products, anti-insect sleepsack, quick-dry travel towel, extra contacts, flashlight, door stopper (safety), anti-itch cream (for the 20 mosquito bites I’ve already acquired), inflatable travel pillow, you name it- all in a tiny case. It’s hard to be a minimalist when you’re warned to bring all this stuff since not all SE Asian destinations have stores that sell what you might need. I hardly even brought any clothes at all. At least I’ll have some room at the end of my trip once I’ve used up all the saline, etc. But I almost had to sit on the suitcase to get it to zip shut before my flight here. Hmmm… I wonder what the international shipping rates are from Bali…

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Plumeria (frangipani) and sidewalks

Walking along the sidewalks in the evening, you might encounter some freshly fallen plumeria blossoms at your feet. Perfectly milk-white with butter-yellow centers, they don’t even look like real flowers. You probably didn’t realize that the tree stretching overhead was in flower until one perfect frangipani bloom dropped in front of you. But, it’s a good thing you looked down to see that flower, because you’re going to need to watch your step on these horribly uneven and broken sidewalks. The number of times I’ve taken what seemed like a normal step and ended up a jaw-jouncing 6 inches lower than I intended is far more than I care to admit.

Luckily, I’m providing some amusement for others around me. And that’s why I do it, really.

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Indonesian food

I’ve tried to make sure that I eat distinctly local dishes when I travel (why come all this way for pizza?), both to travel authentically and to experience the food where it was created (maybe in its perfect form?).

So in Indonesia, I’ve sought out Nasi Goreng, Gado-gado, black rice coconut pudding, Chap Cay, and Kwe Tiaw (that last one mainly because I’ve been craving the flat rice noodles from Pad See Ew, and this dish sounded like it had them!) All were delicious.



This dark mess is actually a delicious peanut sauce.


When in restaurants, I have to keep remembering to ask that they not use ice in my drink, and not use tap water, either.

Also, I can’t eat the nice little cut-up bits of pineapple and carrot and tomato and other fruit and veg, or even the lettuce on the side, just in case it was washed in the local water. Hence, all these juices I keep drinking to make sure I get some fresh fruit in my diet! What a nice excuse to have delicious fresh exotic juice combos. Next on my list to try: “avocado juice”!


Mmmm… strawberry juice…

Gusti Homestay and Warung

I knew this place would be a good fit as soon as I walked up and was greeted by these little guys:

In Ubud, I think that many extended families live in large compounds together, (often with a majestic stone and brick entryway) and sometimes rent out some rooms in one or more of their buildings within. So, at this homestay, you walk past several family buildings before you get to this little garden courtyard path to the rental rooms.

Breakfast! The person that makes breakfast and cleans the rooms appears to be a really young boy.

You wake in the morning to find that he has delivered a thermos of hot water, a tea bag, cup and saucer, and sugar waiting on the table outside your door on the balcony.


My balcony…

Today I ordered fresh fruit and banana pancakes for breakfast. I’ll have eggs tomorrow- probably prepared by the 10 year old.



Fresh fruit salad and some kind of sweet sauce on the crepe:




Oh, and here’s a photo of my bathroom there. Awesome.



Travel math- currency (or, I’m a millionaire!)

When confronted with the need for cash, luckily, you can just head to the ATM in most countries these days. But deciding on an appropriate amount to withdraw can be a challenge. I was reminded of a similarly uncomfortable math dilemma in Costa Rica with Brian a few years ago when also tackling wildly different currency values. But here’s how it played out for me at the the airport the other day:

“Do I really want to withdraw 300,000 Rupiah?!?!?!”

<Finger tentatively poised above confirmation button>

“Ok- it seems like so much, but let’s do it!”

<ATM transaction completed, fake-looking colorful local currency delivered>

“Oh, wait… that was only $32? Crap. That won’t last me the whole week!”

But since dinner last night was only $3.50… with the exceptions of the 2 hour taxi ride here (195,000 IDR) and all those souvenirs calling out to me, it will likely last me a few days after all. 🙂

Offerings in Ubud

I’m posting from my new favorite cafe in Ubud: Laba-Laba. They have delicious fresh-squeezed juices (for less than $2) and free wif-fi.  🙂

When walking down the street, you will find beautiful little packages left out on the sidewalk (or even on the seats of parked motorbikes) as offerings to the Gods each morning. There are colorful flowers and shredded pandan leaves nestled with crackers or rice or some tidbit in a square or flower-shaped tray of woven coconut leaves, usually with a stick of incense burning down alongside it.

Consequently, the air throughout this village smells smoky and fragrant with flowers and incense. I stopped and spoke with some people creating a whole stacked tray of the offerings and they explained to me the types of plants they use in them, and that they try to put them out 2-3 times a day.  But sometimes, “people get too busy”.  Many people make the offerings themselves, but those that are too busy create work and an opportunity for others, including the little group I spoke to, who were minding their shops while sitting on the stoop out front with little plastic bags of flowers and the large trays in their laps, creating these little masterpieces of thoughtful intention.



Bali arrival

I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful and different Bali feels to me as I devour the scenery during my drive in to Ubud (the Eat, Pray, Love village) from the airport. The city falls away behind us as we climb into greener lands. I stare out the window at the stone sculptures and carvings alongside the road, which are deliciously foreign and artistic. If I didn’t have a suitcase weight limit, I’d be bringing home some of these green-covered ageless statuaries for the garden.  Even the architecture feels ancient and full of meaning.  You’ll have to wait for photos, though, since it was dark by the time we arrived in Ubud. Many people head straight for Kuta, the closer tourist area that’s near the beach, but as my driver said: “you’ll feel at home there”, which is all the more reason not too spend all my time there! I guess it’s quite the party town, but it sounds like it’s comparatively expensive and dominated by Westerners.

During the 2 hour drive to Ubud (if Kuta is the party capital, then Ubud is the artistic and temple capital of Bali), we passed rice paddies and banana trees and corn! Corn, of all things, for the girl from the midwest. 🙂 My driver was friendly and helpful, explaining things about his country to me. Though he works horribly long days, he said he prefers driving a taxi to his previous job as a waiter where he only got to work for 8 hours at a time.  Actually, that conversation was a slow one, because when I tried to ask him which he liked better- waiter or driver, he thought I was asking about the weather (I’d never thought about it before, but you can see how “weather” and waiter” could sound very similar.)  Hilarity ensued. Though we talked about how expensive Australia is, he said the place he’d most like to visit is Sydney, so that he can see the Opera House. So, I promptly showed him photos of it on my camera.  Somehow, he managed to look at those photos while avoiding the kamikaze motorbikes that wove in and out of traffic, sometimes 4 abreast. The rules of the road seem a little loose here.

But we made it safely into town and I purchased my first bottled water, since I’ll have to start avoiding tap water from now on. It was so nice to see the Balinese prices. Only 2,000 rupiah or less for a bottle of water. My nasi goreng dinner cost 22,000. And I picked up a can of Seaweed Pringles (!) for only 16,000. The conversion rate on the street is basically $1 = 9,200 rupiah.  What a change from Australia, where you can’t find a small snack bag of potato chips for less than $2.50- $5.00.  I shall live like a king !  😉