Flying to Bali: A Series of Potentially Unfortunate Events

Bali, the Indonesian island that evokes images of scenic rice paddies,  forested volcanic mountains and beautiful beaches all of which equate to what most people would consider as paradise. However, all wasn’t rosy for our journey to the idyllic island.

We had flights from Vientiane, Laos to Bali in November 2017 at which time Mt Angung was threatening to explode. This led to some initial panic – Will ash cloud stop flights?! Will Bali still be there?! Will we get melted if we manage to land?! News reports from the UK stated that the eruption was imminent and that people were being evacuated. Indonesian sources were saying everything was under-control and there was nothing to worry about.  What were we to believe?

Mt Agung getting a little active (Photo from Wikipedia – no way we would get that close!)

Well, if you are travelling and unsure of something there is only one place to turn; the travellers Bible which is the Lonely Planet. Now, their usual guidebooks would not suffice in this instance so we knew we had to turn to something more insightful.  Thankfully Lonely Planet have a book entitled “How to Survive Anything” so we tracked it down in a local Vientiane bookshop (obviously we didn’t pay, just read it in the shop!).

The Travellers Bible

Well for a book that says it covers survival techniques for every circumstance the contents are pretty limited and there was no insight on how to survive a volcano.  So we settled for what we thought to be the closest alternative: “How to Survive a Phall Curry”. This suggested drinking milk, eating cucumber and mint yogurt or ordering a Lassi.  Hmmm…not the best advice, especially as we’d never get a bottle of milk through airport security these days.

The closest thing to surviving a volcanic eruption?

Thankfully, keeping our fingers crossed seemed to do the trick and despite the continued warnings of imminent eruptions and blast zone evacuations the worst that seemed to occur was that a small puff of smoke so we managed to make our flight without issue.

But, whilst we thought it would be plain sailing (or should we say plane flying?!) once we had landed we were wrong.  Outside the airport we had to face another kind of explosive situation – Bali taxi drivers.  Armed with our smart phone we planned to make arranging transport to our hostel in Kuta painfree by using Uber.

We booked the Uber with the wifi in the airport and then ventured outside to the agreed meeting point.  This is where an army of taxi drivers set on us.  After 6 months of travelling through Asia we didn’t expect these taxi hagglers to be much of a concern for us.  We were wrong.  These guys are a well organised unit.  We dismissed their claims that Ubers were not allowed in the airport, or that they were our Uber when they clearly weren’t, and went hunting for our car.

Hmmm…after searching every number plate for the one Uber told us would be picking us up we came to the conclusion that maybe Ubers aren’t allowed in this zone.  We walked past the taxi driver gang who now had knowing smiles on their face and increased their level of aggressive persuasion, and their prices, as we started to search the car park and the outer road.  It was then when one of the taxi gang members told us that it would be no use as if any Uber came into the airport area they would beat them up.

This seemed to leave us with little choice so we set about trying to haggle with the taxi gang.  Wow, these guys are slick.  Yes, you can haggle with them a bit but they work together to keep the price high meaning that there isn’t as much flex in the price as you would normally hope and the prices remain ludicrously inflated.  OK, we say ludicrously, but actually it’s only a few extra dollars.

But those extra dollars can make a huge difference to a travellers budget so we weren’t having any of it.  A quick check on Google Maps informed us that there was a Circle K within 10 minutes walking distance so we set about heading there in the hope that they would have wi-fi (they normally do in Asia) and we would be able to get an Uber from this taxi gang safe-zone.

Thankfully the Circle K was open and wi-fi enabled so we set about getting our second Uber of the day ordered.  We put in our destination of Kuta (20 minutes away) and requested a pick-up.  A driver accepted pretty much instantly – woohoo.  But then we received the following messages:

Excellent customer service; thank you Uber

How bloody useless.  Uber had failed us at every opportunity.

We then settled for the old fashioned way of doing things and managed to flag a taxi down in the street.  As this taxi driver wasn’t backed up with an impressively sized gang we managed to haggle him down and ended up paying a decent price for the lift to Kuta.

Was it all worth it to save a couple of dollars?  Probably not.  But at least it made a story to tell and it was a fun start to our adventure in Indonesia.

A few months later, Mount Angung did erupt; causing flights to be cancelled and whilst local lives were disrupted we’ve not heard about any loss of life or significant damage thankfully.  Mount Angung has now settled down, but Uber continues to be an absolute shit in Bali.

Travellers Tips/Recommendations:

Surviving a Volcanic Eruption: Despite what Lonely Planet says, drinking milk won’t help. If you are travelling to or in a country where a natural disaster is likely to occur then do check the local governments advice and the advice of your government.  And don’t forget to RUN!

Using Uber in Bali: Uber was an epic fail for us in Bali.  We got charged for the two Ubers we tried to get even though the drivers didn’t turn up.  Thankfully the complaints/refund process is quick and easy with Uber so we got the money back by the next day.  We do know some people who managed to get Ubers at the airport but it wasn’t straight forward – if you want to do this ensure that you have a data connection on your phone so that you can message them and get their location.  Otherwise, haggle your tits off at the airport and see what you can do – best of luck!

Bali Taxi Gangs: As we mentioned, these gangs are slick.  They will work together to ensure that you pay a higher price.  You can haggle but, from our experience, they won’t move the price as much as in other countries.  I’m sure we’ll touch on these gangs again in the coming blogs on Bali/Lombok because we had plenty of fun with them!

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10 thoughts on “Flying to Bali: A Series of Potentially Unfortunate Events

  1. What a story! I’m the worst when it comes to dodging aggressive sales and haggling! Which is why we have always had a local guide when we travel in those countries! Thanks for always stopping by and liking my posts, btw!

    Liked by 1 person

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