travel

'I just went to Bali. Here's everything you need to know about getting there right now.'

I wasn’t expecting to be one of the first punters to board a plane after nearly two and a half years of being locked up, but I suppose it made sense. 

Prior to the pandemic I had a long-term career in luxury travel, so travelling to see the hotels I worked with around the world as often as up to twice a month was normal for me. 

My travelling confidence, however, had diminished enormously, as it had for many others - my original intentions were to wait a few months after borders opened, let the more carefree guinea pig check out the international COVID threats and the new travel landscape...

Watch: The horoscopes at the airport. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

However, when Jetstar flights came online, before I knew it I had booked myself (and my Instagram husband) on the first Jetstar Direct flight out of Sydney, back to our beloved Bali.

We were due to go in three days - that should be fine, yeah?

Nahhhh. I soon found out that no, this wasn’t the same travel playground I was navigating, and in fact all my 25 years of agent experience wasn’t helping me. I was a newborn again, in a very different world.

And if I was finding it hard, how the hell was the average book-your-own-Bintang-drinking-traveller gonna get it right?

When I finally made it to check-in at the airport, with the other 300-odd paper shuffling, trepidatious travellers, you could cut the air with a knife. The anxiety was tangible and contagious between forced laughs and hushed conversations. 

At the counter, a single check in was taking about quadruple the time it normally should. 

I landed back home though today, sun kissed, daily massaged, feeling peaceful and relieved after that bleary-eyed 10.35pm Denpasar departure last night. I was safe, sound, COVID-free, and what a week I had!

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So readers, here’s both my research for you, and my actual on-the-ground findings. 

Ensure you have the right documentation.

Firstly: BUYER BEWARE if you book your own travel. You risk refusal of entry into Bali (and deportation) if you do not have the correct documentation. 

You need the CORRECT GOVERNMENT ISSUED UP-TO-THE-MINUTE INFORMATION. This is the best website to decipher this, given to me by all the general managers of the luxury hotels in Bali I deal with.

By the time I gathered the mandatory paperwork (yes, I mean A4, printed, hard-copy paperwork) I required a stapler and an actual plastic sleeve manila folder to travel.

You can’t even fold the paper because the QR code squares can’t be damaged - your Immigration officials in Bali need to scan them!

The paper work you require to travel (at the time of me writing this article) includes:

1. Within 48 hour pre-departure negative COVID test from a recognised IATA Lab, with your full name, passport number, flight details, lab name, lab address etc. on the testing paperwork. (Text or electronic copy were not acceptable at my time of travel).

2. A copy of your first night’s pre-booked accommodation at a CHSE certified hotel. You must also have a copy of your receipt of full pre payment for this accommodation printed. 

3. You need a printed copy of your international vaccination certificate, proving minimum two doses of which vaccine you had, where you had it, and the dates. 

You can go to MYGOV.com to get this or convert your domestic certificate into an internationally recognised one, this one has a scannable QR code. A paper copy from your local vaccination clinic will not suffice, it must be the Australian Government Certified copy PDF (high enough quality so the QR code can be read).

4. A printed copy of your travel insurance policy with your full name on it, and receipt of full payment. Your insurance must cover a minimum of $25,000 for COVID hospitalisation mandatory. 

5. A printed copy of your return ticket showing flight names, numbers, times etc, your full name as on passport, under the appropriate maximum stay (35 days normally) and a printed copy of the receipt of the payment for the ticket.

Yup. It’s a LOT to get organised.

Happy passengers! Image: Supplied. 

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But wait. Unfortunately, there’s even more.

The first challenge is getting your pre departure COVID test.

For Bali that test must be a PCR, not a RAT, and must be done 48 hours prior to departure. 

You cannot go down the road to your local booth and get tested for free. No, no, no - you have to pay either $150 per person at an IATA approved testing clinic (google histopath.com) or go to the airport Histopath booth and pay $79 prior to departure, but risk last minute unpredictable queues and unknowns!

Jetstar queues. Image: Supplied. 

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Ultimately the $69, 90 Minute PCR is what you need as of the time of writing for Bali, but the situation is changing daily! Check your other destinations very carefully.

When you get your PCR test result it comes as a text message between 30-90 minutes after your sample was taken, but a text is not sufficient - you must return to the booth and get the actual paper printout before you can check in. You will require it in Bali too.

For Bali entry at this time, you require the “Peduli Lindungi” App to be loaded and an e-form called an EHAC (Electronic Health Authority Clearance) complete with your information. 

This should be the last thing you do.

Once you load this app and only then, when you have your negative COVID test result, can you complete and save the mandatory form.

Set yourself up as a new user, and inside the app you must know every bit of your trip data: flight, passport info, all vaccination dates, clinic addresses, your final test lab, etc.

All that being said, here's how my experience in Bali went back in the beginning of April, when the COVID-19 restrictions were slightly tighter. You can find all the up-to-date Bali travel restrictions here.

Admittedly, I did yahoo my head off on that bumpy landing into Ngurah Rai with many others, and we were greeted with a huge “Welcome back Sydney Jetstar” floral banner from the airport staff and landing officials - it was a warm and wonderful welcome. 

The airport process then was well controlled into corralled seated stations (station after station) again we had to pay for an arrival test ($7.50) then have the actual mouth swap and nose test before we could collect baggage. About two hours later we met our long-lost drivers and friends! 

Once at the hotel, quarantine rules were loose. We did however wait the mandatory 24 hours until our result was texted to us, then slipped off to the nearest open Warung for a long awaited Nasi Goreng and papaya juice. 

Eliza at The Viceroy Ubud. Image: Supplied. 

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Bali as we know it though has changed. Of course the locals who drove tourists, or had warungs, or any jobs in hospitality-slash-tourism, lost what they had.  

Many could not afford their rent anymore, their water costs, or their cars, so sold what meagre possessions they had and migrated back to share room in their families' homes in villages or the city. When I say share rooms, I mean it literally. Many families sleep up to eight in a single bedroom. 

The expat community in Canggu survived, if not thrived. It's still a thumping melting pot of tanned Laptop warriors and Influencers. Brits, Americans and South Americans have filled the space we Aussies left behind, and there are new food and shopping establishments blossoming slowly, but it will be the coming months that the streets will see the return of a new version what used to be, in the weed covered, crumbling vacant shopfronts. Only the luxury hotels, and about 15 per cent on average of restaurants or shops were open this week. 

For now though, the sky over the island is clear and blue. From Jimbaran Hill you can see the clear outline of the volcano and easily make out Lembongan and Lombok like never before. Traffic was sparse en route to Ubud and the streets of Legian a ghost town.

Eliza and Jackson escaping rainy Sydney at The Viceroy Ubud. Image: Supplied. 

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Just in the week though I saw the traffic in Uluwatu increase by the day. By the time we were driving to the airport, Dino our driver was ecstatic that there was a traffic jam, the first he said in 2.5 years that night!

It’s a double-edged sword. Bali rested, licked its wounds and healed a little, and during the blackest times the people still ate fruit from the trees and rice and spent time in the temples, and the sun with their family. 

Almost no locals we spoke to had any experience at all with COVID, and masks were rarely spotted in the week we were there except in quality establishments on the hospitality staff.

When you do go back, please pack your cases full of gifts for any locals you know, like second-hand clothes, surfboards, textas, toys for kids... they will be super grateful.  

My final advice is: DON'T BOOK IT YOURSELF!

Our broken Aussie travel industry needs your business and it will cost only the teeniest bit extra for far reduced panic, trust me.

Call a big, reputable travel agency, like Flight Centre or Smartflyer Australia - those guys are pros and it means you have a butt to kick if anything happens to ruin your holiday.

Thank you, beautiful Bali, for having us back. Please let’s be kinder to you this time round. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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