Hugh Laurie is always right
If you’ve seen House, you know that everybody lies. That is the primary piece of information you need to bring with you to Indonesia. You need to write it on the back of your hand and in any interaction stare at it unblinkingly. Don’t let this make you suspicious or annoyed or any emotion, just be aware. When you are in a taxi and the taxi driver says the hotel you want to go to is fully booked and he knows another one, politely decline and make sure you go to the hotel you want to go to. When you are in Gili Air and buy an all-inclusive transfer to Senggigi (which you shouldn’t do, because Senggigi is a shithole) and somewhere after the boat and before the bus a little man takes your ticket, smiles, and says ‘yes’ then leads you to a cidomo and says ‘no time to walk! Must take horse! Walk is 2 kilometers and you only have 5 minutes!’ then in smaller font says ‘this price not included,’ the reality is you have an hour and a half and the bus stop is 300 meters way.
When you are booking anything through one of the million ‘travel agents’ and you are asked to pay full price, don’t. It might be difficult to get the ‘travel agent’ to agree to let you only pay a deposit, but if you make it clear that is the only way they will get your business eventually they will concede. Most of the time it is unnecessary, but in the rare event that the bus doesn’t show up at 7am the next morning and the little pop up office you booked it at is gone, your losses are at least mitigated. And in the much, much more common event that whatever service you have booked has been exaggerated, you can walk away or at least have the rest of the money to bargain with.
“I give you cheap price, ten thousand!”
Haggling can be a massive hassle, however it is unavoidable. Our haggling rules (which are based on nothing other than our own experience and could be totally wrong) are as follows:
- Never get annoyed, and never act like you actually want what you’re haggling over.
- Learn some Indonesian, Balinese or Sasak (Lombok). The price of everything will drop drastically. It also makes the whole thing more fun because people are understandably completely delighted to hear you attempting their own language
- Nothing is haggle-proof. If you ask for a discount on your room because you’re staying more than 3 nights, generally you’ll get it.
- You can use any bullshit reason to get a discount. “Australia price”, “romantic price”, “honeymoon price”, “morning price” or simply “discount?” are all perfectly acceptable things to say while haggling.
In Kuta, Lombok, you will also be pursued by hordes of children trying to sell you bracelets. They will say things like “open your heart, open your wallet!” and “happy hour! Two for one!” and they can speak pretty much any language you ask of them. They’re hilarious. But don’t be weak just cos they’re kids; if you want a bracelet then haggle for it or you’ll be marked as a sucker.
Lonely Planet guidebooks would be fantastic, if they weren’t so shit.
In the words of Made, our guide in Ubud, ‘maybe you read in the Lonely Planet about how great a place is, and then maybe you go there, and maybe it’s not so good.’ By the time they’re published they are out of date, the hostels they list have quadrupled in price because of the publicity or disappeared, and the writers seem to not want to hurt the feelings of the towns they are describing. Sometimes it is ok to say a place is a bit shit, it is not ok to say that town is the ‘luxury resort of Lombok,’ when in reality it’s just a shitty town with some fancy hotels on a shitty bit of beach. Lonely Planets are like a post-modern join-the-dots picture (a concept I’ve just invented): if you join the dots they give you, you end up with just a bunch of lines, but if you take some of their dots and some from the internet and some you just invent, maybe you can draw a puppy.
That last sentence made no sense and held zero valuable information; a bit like Lonely Planets.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn to ride a motorbike, Lombok and Bali are the places to do it (not in the cities though). You wont be on anything more powerful than a 125cc scooter or ‘automatic motorbike’ and neither is anyone else, so if you’re going to have a crash it’ll likely only be at 40km/hr. Better yet, absolutely no one expects that you have any idea what you should be doing, because, as far as Brad and I can figure there are really no rules that dictate what anyone should be doing. However, learn what the local school times are and avoid them. The roads fill with students on their motorbikes on the way home from school, and I am pretty firmly of the opinion that a 10 year old does not have the reaction speed and cognitive ability to make complex, fast decisions at 60km/hr – an opinion that was formed largely when three 10 year olds on a bike came off a side road and ran directly into us. After checking everyone was ok, we had absolutely no idea what to do, and even though according to any kind of road rules the accident was their fault we paid them $5 blood money (one had a graze that was clearly at least 3 days old) and went on our way.
Speaking of ‘Vroom Vrooooom’
Driving in the cities is kind of like simultaneously playing real-life tetris and chicken. You have to fake confidence to get through intersections, or you’ll be stuck in purgatory between Jalan Legian and Jalan Kuta Raya for eternity. Only the bravest survive when navigating Kuta, and those who hesitate cause accidents. That being said, never play chicken with the taxis, you will not win. We were only in taxis about 3 times during our entire stay in Bali and Lombok, and 2 out of those 3 times our driver flattened a dog.