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Ship Log

Bali’s Bang for the Buck

Rupiah Notes

Rupiah, the Indonesian currency, look like play money, and stack up like it, too. Today, the posted exchange rate is about 9,175 rupiah to one U.S. dollar. Our last ATM withdrawals netted less, of course, and the cash machines typically allow a maximum of 1.5 million rupiah ($175) per withdrawal. Cash is king; surcharges are common for using credit cards. The largest bill denomination is 100,000 rupiah ($11), so if you are, say, making a down payment on land, you’ll be packing a lot of bills. The smallest 1,000 rupiah bills seem to be transitioning to coins. Coins were previously topped at 500 rupiah, worth barely over a nickel, and 100 rupiah coins are still common currency, for change at least. (I should mention I’m all for killing off the U.S. penny.)

Despite the huge denominations, we’ve spent very little money here in the Ubud area of Bali, so logic tells us we should be staying here longer than the 5 weeks we’ve allotted. We’re staying in a guesthouse, Bella Villa, paying 400,000 rupiah per night. Sounds like a lot of rupiah. But for $44 per night, we have a 2-story villa with terraces upstairs and down, 1.5 baths, a sparsely furnished kitchenette, a pool shared with one other villa, free Wi-Fi internet, breakfast included (fruit plus a choice of eggs or pancake), regular offerings to the villa’s temples, and the services of Pandé, who handles our laundry, fetches groceries, and will give us a lift on his motorbike anytime we want.

We are about ten minutes walk from the center of town so that we can enjoy our view of the rice terraces and the quiet of the countryside, along with the busy city center. Our neighbors include native Balinese, a Canadian couple who now make their home here and are building a new villa, our host Maria (the Bella Villa owner is from Spain, and Spanish is spoken here) and Nyoman, the Coconut Man, who will cut fresh coconut from the trees to serve pedestrians along the rice trail, a nice one-hour walk looping north of town. It’s hard to believe we are in the fourth most populous country in the world.

What's sarong with this picture?

Ubud is the artsy center of Bali, and the shopping and dining is plentiful. Catering to visitors, the town is flush with restaurants offering local cuisine as well as international and specialty dishes. Yesterday we stopped for dinner at a local ‘warung,’ and enjoyed an eggroll appetizer, two tasty main dishes, and two large half-liter beers for about $15 total. Note to boozers and winos: spirits and wine are expensive here. Bring your own in from duty-free (only one liter allowed per person before extra duty kicks in).

So far the shopping has been a feast for our eyes and easy on the wallet. We haven’t purchased anything yet, but are on the lookout for a cool dress ($10-40), a hand-carved, wooden Buddha ($80-200 depending on size), a bronze or stone Ganesha (same), and a small painting or two (with hand-carved wooden frames $10-20 each). Our sarongs for temple visiting (later for pillowcases?) were $4-5.

For those who live here, it’s almost impossible not to collect stone carvings of various gods, hand-carved wood furnishings, bamboo accessories, palm leaf sculptures, textiles and batik, vibrant-colored paintings, mesmerizing ink drawings, and lush tropical plants to border the garden.

Protection for your home or temple

Bali sites and entertainment are as welcoming as they are cheap. Our 40,000 rupiah visit to the ARMA art museum yesterday ($9 for two) included complimentary hot or cold tea or coffee. The local happy hour hot spot offers 2-for-1 cocktails for 5,500 rupiah ($6 for a couple margaritas, for example) and runs into a free live music session. Gorgeous traditional dance and theater performances cost under $8 per person. It cost us less than $35 to be driven to Denpasar and back yesterday, a round trip of two hours. Renting a motorbike is $4 per day, and gas costs under $2 per gallon. We purchased SIM cards here for unlimited Internet on our phones for $10 each, and we’ll likely need only another couple bucks to top off the voice time. Oh, and massages? Eight dollars for an hour and a half.

So far, our biggest expense has been at the U.S. embassy. We added pages to our passports for $82 each, in order to visit more of S.E. Asia. Oddly enough, they did not accept dollars there, only rupiah or credit cards. In fact, at the public square yesterday, vendors rushed in not only to sell me sarongs and cold drinks, but dollars! No deal. I’ll stick with rupiah, thanks.


2 Responses to “Bali’s Bang for the Buck”

  1. Ummmm. Cheap drinks. Let’s go.

    Posted by tombartel622 | December 28, 2011, 5:16 am
  2. suitable , I wish you great luck, nice post, keep writing

    Posted by denablueline | December 28, 2011, 5:30 am

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