Sunday, November 3, 2013

9 Ways Bali is Different from Chiang Mai


We've been on this island for just about seven days exactly, so clearly we're experts on the subject. We thought we'd share with you some of our first impressions of Bali, especially when compared with Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is the only other southeast Asian city we've experienced. Of course, there are obvious differences, such as the fact that they're different countries, have different cultures/religions, and Chiang Mai is landlocked while Bali is an island (i.e., sun, sand, surf), but we have noticed quite a few other practical differences between these two places. (Disclaimer: despite the post title, these are not generalizations of Bali as a whole... we've only seen Kuta and a little bit of Seminyak so far.)

#1. More English speakers

I'll be honest, Thailand was a little rough at first in this department. The teachers and staff at our school spoke decent English, but we often had to ask them to write things down for us if we needed to be understood beyond what little Thai we speak. In Bali, nearly everyone we encounter speaks at least a little bit of English, and many speak it quite well. I remember reading somewhere that many schools in Indonesia teach the children English in addition to the native language of their island and Bahasa, the national language of Indonesia. Seems to be true.

#2. Fewer animals wandering the streets


Noticeably fewer. Apparently there's a part of the island where the monkeys steal your stuff if you're not careful, but compared to northern Thailand, there really are fewer dogs and cats out and about. Not that we're worried about it anyway.

#3. Scarier local food


Scarier as in we wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. In Chiang Mai, a lot of the street food was sold from wheeled carts, and made fresh to order in front of you - pad thai, grilled corn, coconut pancakes, and my personal favorite, banana roti. Here the local 'padang' food is usually cooked once a day and then displayed in a (room temperature) window display. Super hygienic. One of our new Australian friends (who is pretty experienced with all things Balinese) told us about Padang food and how we have to try it, so we had been thinking of working up the courage. Until said friend told me he got food poisoning from some local food last night. Sounds yummy, but I think we'll stick to restaurants that at least practice refrigeration.

#4. Much more traffic

Maybe not compared to Bangkok (which we haven't seen yet) but holy smokes, traffic here is something else. Between taxis, cars, motorbikes, construction everywhere, narrow streets, and one-ways, its not unusual to see gridlocked intersections and traffic jams. We had read that having a taxi driver use the meter is usually cheaper, but if there's traffic along your route, which there usually is, setting a fare beforehand may be easier on the wallet. We've tried both options for the same route a few times just to experiment. When we've used the meter it certainly hasn't been cheaper than what we could get the driver to agree on beforehand anyway - it either ends up being the same-same or more expensive. We feel like we're pretty good hagglers, so we prefer to set the fare first and eliminate the risk of it racking up on the meter due to excessive traffic.

#5. Less WiFi

At least of the reliable variety, which is why we haven't updated much from here. Often times, we've found places advertising 'free Wi-Fi' to either have no WiFi whatsoever, or WiFi that "broke yesterday, sorry!" Our absolute favorite is when the WiFi 'closes' at certain times... as in, it's only on between the scheduled hours of 9am -12pm, and then 3pm - 8pm, because this is practical, obviously. We also discovered that some hotels/hostels/guesthouses advertise free WiFi, but its only available in the lobby or common areas, not in the actual rooms. This is rather inconvenient, but when you're paying $9 US per night for a private room with air conditioning, hot water, full en-suite bathroom, linens, daily housekeeping, and free breakfast, its hard to complain without feeling like a first-world asshat.

#6. Livelier nightlife

We've gone out on Legian Road once or twice, and suffice it to say, the place is poppin'. You can find bars and clubs to suit all tastes, but the scene is definitely dominated by a younger crowd of rowdy holiday-goers and people on gap years. Insert comment about drunk Australians here.

In Bali, the drinks aren't cheap, unless you're into vodka + red bull, or shoddy home brews that might make you go blind. In Chiang Mai, you could get a literal bucket of Sangsom and coke for the same price as a decent cocktail here.

Chiang Mai definitely had some great bars, awesome live music, and a few late night clubs, but they tended to be fewer and farther between. They also had staggered operating hours - one club is open from 8pm - 12am, another 10pm - 2am, and the next is open from 12am - 4am - so when one place closes, everyone rolls across town to the next place and parties on. In Kuta, there are countless venues all within walking distance of each other.

#7. Harassment


I almost said 'More harassment,' but that would be inaccurate and probably a bit insulting to the people of Chiang Mai. We rarely, if ever, were we bothered on the street in Chiang Mai, other than the occasional honk of a songthaew or tuk-tuk. In Kuta, every five meters there's someone trying to sell you magic mushrooms down a dark alleyway, asking you to come into their shop or restaurant, or trying to get you to hop on the back of their motorbike for transport. I get it, Kuta is a tourist hub, so this kind of thing is to be expected. I just wish more of these shopkeepers and drivers would respect the words "No, thank you'. When we say no (whether in English, Bahasa, body language, or through straight up ignoring them), most reply with 'yes!' and repeat their pitch until we're out of earshot. The more persistent ones will literally follow us down the street, asking us where we're going, not taking no for an answer. Even at Kuta beach, merchants will walk up to your chair or towel, offering bracelets, artwork, massages, etc. and we usually have to repeat 'No, thank you' at least 7 or 8 times before they'll listen to you and leave you be (until the next one comes along, that is). End of rant.

#8. Pricier transportation

Chiang Mai definitely wins this one. With tuk-tuks costing an average of $1 US (split between all passengers) and songthaews costing about $0.30 per person, it was cheap and easy to get around. Here, private taxi is really the only option unless you're rocking your own motorbike, and the cheapest ride we've ever gotten was about $3.75 US to go from Seminyak to Kuta, and I think that was beginners luck. We're not brave enough to ride motor bikes of our own... its pretty dangerous, especially with all of the traffic. Chiang Mai spoiled us a little, so we shell out rupiah by the tens of thousands, and tell ourselves that it's still a screaming deal compared to cabs in Boston or NYC.

#9. Resorts are actually... resort-like


In Thailand (especially in Pai!), 'resort' often seems to translate to 'rustic bamboo hut, complete with your very own personal mosquito net.' I don't think it's intended to be misleading. The standards of what's considered 'high end' are just different from what we're accustomed to in the west. In Bali though, there are absolutely stunning resorts, hotels, and beach clubs that you have to see to believe. Potato Head in Seminyak and Komune in Keramas (pictured above) are just two that we've experienced first-hand, and both knocked our socks off with the quality of the facilities, food and drink offerings, customer service, and of course the incredible views.

We've still got loads to discover about Bali. These are just a few of the day-to-day differences that have stuck out to us so far. We actually just moved from Kuta to Sanur, which is on the east coast of the island and much quieter, and we're heading up to Ubud in a few days. So, I'm sure these first impressions won't last forever. One thing I can say for certain is that this place is unreal, amazing, beautiful, and incredible!

1 comment:

  1. They don't practice refrigeration at some places and people beg you to buy stuff from them because they're poor and you're rich and privileged enough to take a break from life and travel around Asia and take pictures and write about it. I'm surprised that a lot of these posts sound like they critique hygiene, technology, etc from a privileged white American viewpoint.