Tag Archives: transport

Transport in Bali

Bali Transport. It was a constant item of discussion with travellers I met across the island when I was driving around doing research for the Travelfish Bali guide. Many independent travellers in Southeast Asia become accustomed to utilising public buses and tourist shuttles to visit the must-see destinations within a country and expect the same transport arrangements to be in place in Indonesia and more particularly Bali.

Unfortunately for travellers, the paradigm in Bali is different because of the way transport infrastructure evolved which was based around the needs of the local people — connecting large towns and cities through transport hubs and servicing smaller towns out of these hubs. Many of the tourist towns in Bali were historically small villages and therefore were offshoots to the main hubs. To this day, they are serviced quite poorly by public transport when compared with other Asian countries — the alternatives are as follows:

Tourist Shuttles

Tourist shuttles are a mainstay of the tourist infrastructure in many Asian countries and Bali is only slightly different. The main tourist destinations are serviced by a number of companies, but the most popular is Perama which charges about 50,000 rupiah (US$5) between the main towns. The problem with tourist shuttles throughout Bali is that they only service the main tourist towns and skip what I would consider some of the best areas of the island.

Car and Driver

For more flexibility, many people choose to do day trips from the main tourist towns with a car and driver. Drivers line the main roads of the major tourist towns touting for business and most will jump at the opportunity to take you on a tour around the island on a day trip. The usual cost is around 400,000 rupiah (US$40) for a full day trip involving a long drive, but most will quote enormous prices and fierce negotiation is required. The big tip here is to have your own itinerary otherwise you might be taken to all sorts of tourist traps and shops where the driver gets commissions.

Bali: Miscellaneous Transport
Bali: Miscellaneous Transport

Ojek

Ojek is the term given to motorcycle taxis in Indonesia. In the main tourist areas, it’s easy to find ojeks on the side of the road and most of the time they will find you. They’re usually looking to transport customers short distances around town, but are happy to take people on full day trips which usually cost about 100,000 rupiah (US$10), dependent on distance. The problem with ojeks is that you get wet when it rains and carrying big backpacks is a bit of a pain. But they are perfect when traffic is a problem or you want to go somewhere without a lot of luggage.

Bali: Motorbike Transport
Bali: Motorbike Transport

Self-ride Motorbike

Many people in Asia choose to rent a motorbike and it’s possible to do the same in Bali. A licence is not necessary, but riding without one is illegal and bribing the police when you are pulled over is par for the course — the fee is 50,000 rupiah (US$5) after ruthless negotiation and threats to take you to jail. Motorbikes can be rented for anywhere between 25,000 and 50,000 rupiah (US$2.50-$5) per day dependent on the length of the rental and the quality of the bike. It’s a great way to see the island, but it can be dangerous (as it can be throughout Asia) and some might want to stump up an extra few dollars to get a car instead.

Self-drive Car

My favourite way to travel Bali is with a hire car. It sounds like something that a grandma and granddad might do when visiting a place for a week away from home, but the cost of hiring a car in Bali is so low that it makes sense for budget travellers as well. You can get a Suzuki Jimny for 80,000 rupiah (US$8) per day or something better for the same price if you hire it for a month. It gives you the best freedom in Bali and shields you from the regular tropical downpours that tend to creep up on you while you’re out amongst the ricefields or up in the mountains. The freedom that a car provides is brilliant when visiting such places as Pemuteran (the best snorkelling in Bali) or Yeh Gangga — you can just hop in the car, rain hail or shine, and find food, visit off-the-beaten track places and experience parts of Bali that most don’t have the opportunity to experience.

So the moral of the story in Bali is that public transport is only for the patient. Use the shuttles for the major tourist towns and get a car or motorbike to get out and about. It enhances the experience to levels that most visitors don’t experience — absolutely fantastic!

Is it Really Worth Saving a Dollar?

When travelling through South East Asia and probably other parts of the world, you meet all sorts of different travellers.  You meet the package tourist, the flashpacker, the stinky backpacker, the know-it-all backpacker and also a bunch of “normal” backpackers.  But there is a subset of these people that I am really interested in.  It’s the stingy traveller.  The type that will do anything to save a dollar. At times, I’m this person and it annoys me no end because in most cases it’s nonsensical.

Myanmar: Local Transport
Myanmar: Local Transport

I’m particularly frail when it comes to transport – taxis, tuk tuks, becaks, etc.  I will tend to argue for extended periods of time, refuse countless offers of transport and even walk miles just to prove the point that I won’t be ripped off by a taxi driver.  Ripped off, as in, not paying an extra 50 cents or a dollar over what I believe a reasonable price to be.  And I base my pricing on the wages which I know the local populace are getting.  Now, in the heat of battle, it all seems fair – why should a local person get an extra dollar for a short ride when the daily wage is $3?  And from an economic perspective, it does make sense.  There are farmers slogging their guts out in the ricefield for $3 in the beating sun, yet a taxi driver lounging under a tree all day waiting for a tourist to sting can make double that for a short ride.  From a moral perspective, however, it’s probably not right to quibble over a dollar and from a convenience perspective, I’m certainly doing myself a disservice!

Myanmar: Budget Accommodation
Myanmar: Budget Accommodation

As far as saving a dollar goes, the same issues apply to accommodation.  Sure, you can screw down prices to almost nothing, but if you spend an extra couple of dollars when travelling in SE Asia, you can really boost the quality of your digs.  Moving from $4 to $6 can mean attached bathroom, better outlook, less noise and a generally more pleasant stay.

What about food?  Many places in Asia are dirt cheap.  $1 for a substantial meal.  But occasionally, it’s nice to have an even nicer meal that might cost double.  Yes, $2!  I’ve met lots of people that will refuse to pay the extra dollar because it’s essentially a doubling of the expenses for the night.  But come on…  it’s an extra dollar.  And for an extra dollar, it might mean an even more awesome meal than the dollar meal.  More food, better produce and perhaps some meat that might otherwise be missing.

Myanmar: Samosa
Myanmar: Samosa

Some will argue on the flipside that the cheaper you travel, the longer you can travel.  Spending $20 vs $22 per day means you get to travel for 10% longer. For some, this might be wise, but for me…  I’m usually getting travel weary in the last 10% of my journey anyway and getting home a little earlier is no big deal – and I get a more pleasant experience while I’m at it.  What’s your view on saving a dollar?

Myanmar (Burma): Overview

After recently travelling through Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) with a friend of mine, I felt compelled to write about my experience.  It was one of the most intriguing places I have ever visited and over the coming weeks I’ll be providing more detail about the political situation there, some of the sites and perhaps some photos of this nexus between India and South East Asia.  Truly fascinating.

Lost in Time

When first arriving in Myanmar, the first thing you notice is that there are a lot of old vehicles driving the streets.  Particularly buses.  It’s the first indication you get that this place is stuck in some sort of weird sanction-imposed, poverty-induced time warp!  As you travel further and further into the countryside, you begin to see many more ox and cart arrangements straight from 3000 years ago and comparatively very few horses.  Motorised cultivation seems to be light years away which is astounding because this method of agriculture is widespread even in what many people would class as a poorer nation, Laos.  The number of times you find yourself saying “old school” in Myanmar is amazing.

Myanmar: Old Bus
Myanmar: Old Bus

Transport

Much of the tourist transport in Myanmar is the same method as the locals use.  That is, coaches and mini-buses.  Because the roads in the most part are very poor, it takes a long time to travel from place to place and it means that visiting the main tourist destinations in the country will require at least three overnight coach journeys which can be horrendous.  Worse still, arrival times of coaches after these journeys is quite often between 3am and 5am, so you can arrive at a guesthouse absolutely shattered from a bus journey, but still have to wait for a room to become available. (It’s all part of the oppression)

Cost of Living

Myanmar: Cheap Food
Myanmar: Cheap Food

The local currency in Myanmar is the non-convertible Kyat (pronounced chee-at).  It means that it is almost impossible to buy or sell Kyat outside of Myanmar.  Furthermore, there are no ATMs within Myanmar to access your money from.  So you are forced to carry as much US Dollars as you will need for your entire stay with you at all times and then try and exchange it on the black market.  The black market is in full swing in Myanmar, so guesthouses will routinely exchange money for you at reasonable rates.

Once you have your Kyat, living expenses within the country are generally very low.  Most meals were averaging $1.50-$2 plus drinks.  This average was based on us eating what we wanted and not trying to resort to the cheapest item on the menu.  If you did that, you could get away with less than $1 for every meal.  Also, breakfast is seemingly always included in room prices meaning another saving on meals.  And accommodation costs are ridiculously low for the quality provided!  Most rooms were about $6 per person for the better quality varieties.  Some rooms were as little as $3-$4 per night.

All in all, when including the cost of transport, food, accommodation, some tourist access fees and miscellaneous expenses, I spent about US$20 per day.  CHEAP!

Internet Access

Internet is inexpensive and available fairly widely in Myanmar, but it is apparently heavily monitored by the authorities and many sites are simply blocked.  So there can be some issues accessing email accounts such as hotmail – I wouldn’t go there expecting to be able to email freely.

Myanmar: Tilling the Fields
Myanmar: Tilling the Fields

Climate

Myanmar is a hot place.  I visited in March/April and the temperatures were regularly above 40C (104F) with less humidity in the North than the South.  These temperatures really take their toll on your body when walking around town.  But more importantly, at night some rooms can be unbearably hot!  So air conditioning in some places is a wise investment, even if the electricity supply is erratic.

Myanmar is a tough country.  It wears you down.  Many travellers I met in Myanmar compared it to India, but felt that India was much more in your face whereas Myanmar wore you down more.  Perhaps its the oppressed national psyche which imparts itself on visitors leading to more depressed feelings – a negativity which you can’t put your finger on.  Whatever the case, Myanmar is a country definitely worth visiting as an interesting look at how a country in a unique geographical location copes with the lunacy of a despotic regime.