There are a few things that you have to know and be prepared for when coming to Bali. This page talks about what you should do before you leave for the trip. The first step is to get all of your vaccinations. For Bali, this includes tetnus/ diptheria/ whooping cough booster, MMR, all hepatitis (especially A), and typhoid. Double check your Hepatitis A and Typhoid as these are the nasties that people typically haven’t been vaccinated for. Typhoid you can get as a shot, which covers you for 3 years and generally has more side effects, or in a pill form (which is a live vaccine) that covers you for 5 years and supposedly has less side effects.
Despite recent reports, malaria is essentially non-existent on Bali, which is a very good thing, but there is malaria on all the surrounding Indonesia islands (Java to the west, Lombok to the east) so it is always a very slim possibility of a lone mosquito hitching a ride on the ferries that cross from those islands daily. If you are planning on travelling around to any other islands in Indonesia during your trip, make sure you get malaria pills. There are of course mosquitos on Bali, and they are most prevalent early mornings and especially at evening dusk. There is a certain type of mosquito to be aware of [Aedes aegypti] that isn’t as common as the typical mosquito buzzing about, but it is found on Bali and can carry Dengue Fever. There is no vaccine for this, and is similar to a very serious flu. The Aedes aegypti mosquitos are black and white striped (see picture), and are out during the day as opposed to at dawn or dusk. Not all of these striped mosquitos have the Dengue virus within them, so if you do get bit by one don’t panic. But, if you begin feeling any flu like symptoms of fever, nausea, extreme fatigue, etc, go to a doctor immediately (there is a clinic right in Ubud) to get checked out. If you do contract the disease, generally symptoms are alleviated with a I.V. drip administered at the local clinics and subside in a day or two after. Long term effects are a slightly weakened immune system for some months thereafter.
The solution? Avoid mosquito bites altogether! Which is fairly easy to do with some basic preparation. It is a good idea to always put on bug spray/lotions, those containing deet are the most effective (usually a 30% deet concentration is sufficient). “Off” sprays and lotions are available at local supermarkets for very cheap, although concentrations over 15%-20% are hard to find. Depending on the season and amount of rain during the week, try to apply this after waking up before heading outside, and always reapplying before dark when mosquitos are the worst. Try to wear light clothes that cover you instead of small shorts and tank tops that expose a lot of skin. Longer clothes allow you to apply repellent to your clothes instead of directly onto your skin. But do spray repellent on your clothes, because mosquitos can bite through them. You can also readily buy burning mosquito coils everywhere that emit a light smoke to deter bugs. I would advise burning these in or just outside your room in the morning and at dusk. They are extremely cheap and well worth the effort.
As I mentioned before, the tap water in Bali is not clean. This means, under NO circumstances, should you ever drink the water. This includes brushing your teeth with tap water. Always use bottled water to brush your teeth. I had a friend who thought this was a bit of a joke, but seriously regretted brushing her teeth with the tap water after contracting the notorious “bali belly” and spent five days on the toilet. It is safe however to rinse your toothbrush with tap water after brushing. This is because as soon as the brush dries there is no danger of contracting illness. You can buy 1.5 liter bottles of water at the supermarket for about 30 cents, or get a five gallon bottle the dispenses through a ceramic tap put in your room for about $2. Its extremely cheap to get filtered water, so don’t take the risk.
Brushing your teeth with the tap water puts you at risk for the famous “Bali Belly.” This happens when you eat some food that has not been cleaned with filtered water, or that is not fresh or good. This basically means you get bad diarrhea and upset stomach for a few days. Before you leave, you should get some sort of antibiotic from your doctor that would treat this if it gets really bad (they call it travelers belly), which means blood in the stool, etc. A common antibiotic is called “cipro,” which is good to have on hand anyways just in case of any infection.
I have also mentioned the many stray and uncared for dogs that are running around all areas of Bali. It may be hard to turn a blind eye to some of these dogs, but rabies is unfortunately a fairly big problem. Do not touch any pets or stray animals under any circumstances if you are not familiar with them (monkey’s in the monkey forest are ok though . Any animal could have rabies, and not only is there a rabies problem in Bali, there is also a shortage of rabies vaccines for their dogs. Unless you know that the animal has had its rabies shots (it’s a pet of someone you know, etc.), do not touch it. One way you can tell that an animal may have had its shots is that it will have a red ribbon tied around its neck or a red collar. Even then, its not 100% positive that the animal had its rabies shots. If you do get bit by a strange animal that draws blood, go to the doctor straight away and start your rabies vaccinations. It is a series of four shots over a month, so you may have to start the shots in Bali and finish them in the states, which is a pain in the ass.
It is also a good idea to carry a basic first aid kit. If you fall and scrape yourself or especially if you cut yourself on live coral at the beach, it is extremely easy to get infected if you don’t take care of the wound. This is easiest if you have proper first aid items. We have a first aid kit on had at all times during the retreat, but there will be plenty of opportunity for you to get scratches and scrapes on your own. Good basics to bring include hydrogen peroxide or iodine, antibiotic ointment, band-aids, and maybe a basic pain killer like Tylenol and you should be fine. Just make sure that the cut is completely cleaned out before you put a bandage on it.
In terms of overall safety of bali, many articles will tell you that people get robbed left and right, your tires will get slashed and your money will be stolen. We have generally found this to be far from the truth. Of course, you don’t want to walk down dark alleys with your gucci purse and diamond bling. As with all travels you do, you always want to exert caution when in a foreign country. However, we have found the Balinese people to be extremely honest and non-violent, so I don’t worry that you’ll have to walk around guarded like you are in the slums of humanity. There are room safety deposit boxes in every accommodation above the “modestly decent” level, and is a near non-concern at higher end such as Ananda Cottages and the likes. However, we always advise to bring a travel safe and keep all your valuables/passports/cash/etc, locked in your room, somewhere discreet. If you are going to bring a computer, get a computer lock cable for your room. Only carry small amounts of money on you at a time, and keep your money in a place that is zipped closed. As you move away from Kuta (the main tourist city in Bali) areas will be safer and safer. Simply keep your eyes open and everything should be fine.