Culture Shock: Our First 24 Hours in Bali

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Before we even left Wisconsin, I was pretty excited about our arrival to SE Asia. Particularly Indonesia, where would start our tour of this part of the World. We’ve never been to Indonesia, but it wasn’t the first time we have been to SE Asia.

We know what to expect when it comes to the culture, chaos, shock, and awe that you will find by making a visit to these countries.

So it was a bit of a surprise for us to run into some classic issues within the first 24 hours of stepping off the plane from Darwin, Australia.

You know that part of the movie, Eat Pray Love, where the story changes from the peaceful calm of a cozy family dinner in Italy to the maddening chaos of the streets of India? Well, that is how arriving in Bali felt for us.

We had just spent the past 3 weeks in Australia living on a horse farm where we came to embrace a sense of normality.

Our quick couple days in Darwin seemed like a dream and despite the fact that we knew what to expect in Asia, we weren’t really prepared mentally for the transition.

This state left us feeling like a cold slap upside the head. Our first 24 hours in Bali would turn out to be a whirlwind of mishaps and crazy occurrences. Looking back on it now, we just laugh, but at the time it was horrible.

Thankfully some sleep and a drop in budget helped us to adjust quickly.

Culuture Shock Bali ATM

ATM Woes

There is really nothing worse than getting off the plane in a foreign country with no local currency.

We have relied heavily on our Charles Schwab debit card to grab quick cash from the ATM as we travel and so far we haven’t had any hiccups with this.

That was, until we arrived in Denpasar, Bali. We made our way to the ATM to withdraw cash, only to find that the ATM would not accept our card. Each time it would tell us we needed to contact our bank. Lovely, just lovely.

After several minutes of battling with the ATM machine and still not getting any cash, I rummaged through my wallet and scavenged the last of my US dollars, $50, and walked over to the exchange counter.

Thankfully I had some of those handy American bills leftover or we would have been stranded. The taxis only take cash.

Culture Shock Bali Kuta at night

 Full Guesthouse

After solving our debacle with the ATM we headed straight for our guesthouse. The driver seemed confused about the address we gave him but drove us towards Kuta anyways.

Despite the fact that he didn’t know exactly where we needed to go, we made it there within a reasonable time.

We paid the man, grabbed our backpacks and entered the guesthouse we had made an advanced booking at. Relieved to finally be somewhere, we smiled at the lady behind the counter and handed her our passports.

She smiled back, looked at our passports, checked her papers and promptly told us they were booked up. This lead to a discombobulated conversation about our booking that led to the lady leaving the guesthouse and asking us to follow her.

In the middle of the night amidst the hustle and bustle of crazy Kuta, we walked 4 blocks to a busy intersection and were given a room at a sister-property that had space.

It ended up being a nice room and a good location, so I can’t complain too much about this one. It just is the worse when you show up somewhere new with a reservation only to be told they have no space.

Culture Shock Bali Ripoff

Convenience Store Rip-off

The first outing we made the next morning was for a beverage at the closest convenience store. We found ourselves rejoicing over the prices, a coke for 4000IDR, that’s like $0.50USD! We didn’t hold back and selected our favorite drinks.

At the checkout counter, a very sweet younger girl checked out our order. She rang in each item, gave me a total and I handed her the money. She made the change, bagged the goods and gave me a receipt. We left the store.

As we walked down the street it occurred to me that the change hadn’t looked right. I know we just arrived and we aren’t used to the currency yet, but I can still add. I pulled out the receipt and then counted the chance she had given me.

She had shorted us 50,000IDR. I was pretty shocked about it, so I turned around and carried all the items, receipts and change back into the store. She smiled at me while I waited for the customer in front of me to checkout. She didn’t act shy or leave the counter to her co-worker.

When it was my turn, I simply pointed out the receipt and said to her that she had short-changed me.

She looked at the receipt, looked at the change, then promptly pulled the 50,000IDR note OUT OF HER POCKET and handed it to me. To top it off, she smiled and then wai’d at me.

Culture Shock Bali Cockroaches

Restaurant Cockroaches

After a blistering hot day and our already many mishaps, we wandered into a very busy restaurant on the main road in Kuta.

The place was packed with westerners and seemed like a decent establishment to get a decent meal after a crazy day. So we felt it would be a great place to quell our sudden case of culture shock.

After being seated at our table, we ordered beverages, decided on our meals and placed our order. Due to the number of people in the place, the wait was slow. Not really a concern and something that is pretty normal to Asia.

While we sat at our table reminiscing about the day and already starting to laugh about it, I caught something moving across the floor out of the corner of my eye. The first time I picked up my head I didn’t see anything.

We continued talking and it happened again. This time I turned my head just in time to see a huge cockroach run under our table. I whipped my feet up so fast I don’t even think David knew what was happening.

Now I can deal with bugs, roaches, whatever wandering through open-air places, but running under my table, while I am having dinner, YUCK. I didn’t make a scene but found myself especially squeamish after our failed attempts to squash it.

Culture Shock Bali Sunset Kuta Beach

Laughing It Off

At the time it was all happening it felt like a whirlwind of chaos, but I can easily say that by the time we woke up the next morning we were laughing about all that had happened over the past 24 hours.

Culture shock happens to the best of us and we apparently got too comfortable in Australia over the past 2 months.

It was like our unofficial greeting to Asia and our opportunity to start being laid back from the very beginning. That’s the thing about Asia, you just have to go with the flow.

Their culture is completely different. Where else in the world can you get blatantly ripped off, confront the person, only to be smiled at?

Hindsight, it was just what we needed to get us into a mode that would allow us to really enjoy our second time around in Asia. Good thing, because we are going to be here for a while.

Have you ever had something like this happen on your travels?

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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA



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23 thoughts on “Culture Shock: Our First 24 Hours in Bali”

  1. Hi there, Lina & David!

    This post was awesome, sounds pretty much like we too had it in Bali (as well as in many other places, like Kathmandu or Saigon at first), the “normal stuff”. Bali particular seems to be a hot-spot of pretty bold ripping off attempts. You really gotta have a keen eye. 😉 Have a great time in Bali! Would love to come back there, someday, too.

    Reply
  2. Best thing I did before arriving to Bali was exchange a bunch of money in Auckland NZ, commission free, at the mall. Made for a fast getaway out of the airport and easy payment for scuba diving in Lembongan!

    Reply
  3. Yes, I had all sorts of problems with my bank cards when I arrived in Indonesia.
    Eventually, I found out which banks accepted my cards, and identified a weird pattern whereby all ATM transactions would be denied in the mornings, but go through at the first attempt in the evenings.

    Go figure.

    Reply
  4. I encountered the same issue with my Schwab card at the start of my RTW trip in Tokyo – talk about a terrible start! I can totally relate to your story on that note – cash is king!

    Reply
    • Of course after I called them they told me there was no problems with the card and that the transactions I had attempted didn’t even show up! It was, in fact, the ATM that was having issues. I love the Schwab card, it has been the single most helpful thing financially for us. That paired with our United Visa card (no foreign transaction fees!!).

      Reply
  5. Great blog! We’ve been in Bali a couple of days and can identify with your cockroach situation, a mouse ran past us, just as we’d ordered dinner!! Like you say, you just have to go with it, it’s part of the adventure!

    Reply
    • Oh Bali, that was quite the experience for us. While we were not surprised in the least (not our first time in SE Asia) you can’t help but take notice of all that goes on around you, while nobody really cares! Whole different world. Yup, just go with it and have fun. 🙂

      Reply
  6. We arrive in Bali next month, first time in over 17 years so I wonder what awaits us? Glad you got all sorted and can laugh about it now.

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    • You do need a sense of humor to visit Bali these days!! Especially Kuta. Have fun though,Indonesia is such a great country!

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  7. Oh my… what an eventful first 24 hours! The story about that lady from the convenience store is just shocking. I’ve had ATMs freeze up on me a couple of times in Europe. Carrying some USD as emergency cash is always a good idea. Even though I live in Asia and am used to people trying to rip-off tourists, it still angers me no end. I was in BKK recently and a taxi driver wanted to charge me 300 baht for a 75 baht ride. I exclaimed “why?” and he calmly responded “why not?”!!

    Reply
    • Yea, it was quite the day, for sure. We were pretty surprised by it all coming from Australia, since last time we visited Asia we never encountered any of the scams you hear about online. I suppose it was only a matter of time for us since we will be here for months now. Your BKK story is so funny and so true, they are quite good at making a buck and when you catch them, they just smile. 🙂

      Reply
  8. That’s a crazy first 24 hours. Please tell me it gets better as “Eat, Pray, Love” has put Bali up to the top of my bucket list. I can’t wait to read more.

    Reply
    • Hi Krista! Kuta is a very, very, very crazy place and nothing like the vibe from Eat, Pray, Love. However, Ubud is quite nice, although it is now quite busy as well. Bali as a whole seems just overrun with commercial tourism at the moment, but if you look hard, you can find some great things about it still. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Thank you so much for keeping us traveling with you. I enjoy so much! I would love to travel more. I went to Finland three times and also to Russia. That was a culture shock too. Lived to tell others about my experiences. Always like telling others about those trips.
    Take care of yourselves! Enjoy your journey!

    Reply
    • Hi Gail! Yes, travel ignites adventure in all of us! The World is a much more friendly place then we are led to believe by the news channels! Glad you are following along. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Lina, your writing just keeps getting better and better. I was almost rolling on the floor with laughter as I read of your first 24 hours in Bali. What fun?! All prepared now as you gp fprward….looking forward to hearing about your visit with Meghan. Happy travels, gma.

    Reply
    • HAHA! Glad you found it entertaining! It was just one of those days when nothing could go right. That is one thing I love about travel, is that just when you get comfortable, you have a day like that and it keeps you on your toes. We’re having great travels with Meghan!

      Reply
  11. We’re planning to use Charles Schwab on our trip as well. Did you find out why the machine wouldn’t take your card? Was it a simple fix?

    Reply
    • Hi there Alana! Thanks for stopping by! the Charles Schwab card has worked out really well. The next morning I called Charles Schwab (through Skype) and found out that they never even received the ATM request, so it was something wrong with ATM machine at the airport. I am not 100% sure, but I am suspicious that the ATM machine we tried wasn’t in our network for withdrawls. it was late and we were pretty tired. I just know it wouldn’t work and it was stressful! Otherwise, having the CS card has been so great and easy for us while traveling.

      Reply
  12. Hey, I can imagine that all these things happening within 24h was a shock for you 🙂 we also visited Bali just 2 months ago after spending 2 months in Perth, WA, but as it was our very first Asian experience we were mostly just amazed…your trip sounds similar to ours. How long are you going to be travelling around Asia? After almost 5 months living and travelling in Oz we are leaving for NZ next week and afterwards 4-5 months in SE Asia. I can’t wait to be back in Asia:-)

    Reply
    • Yea, after already traveling in Thailand/Cambodia/Malaysia, we were certain we could handle Asia. But that was just too much in a small amoutn of time! We laugh about it now, and it’s always great to tell the stories, we’ve found attempted ripoff is REALLY common in Indonesia. We didn’t see this in Thailand or Cambodia, so still pretty surprised they do it. We’ll be traveling around SE Asia and parts of China until November. Then we’re headed to Nepal and India.

      Reply

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