Bali in smoke: how did hookahs take over the Island of the Gods?

Hookahs in Bali are no longer exotic: they are smoked at parties, sipped at sunset or while watching a movie in a villa. At the same time, the owners of the best hookah lounges on the island, as a rule, speak Russian. How did this happen? After all, the culture of smoking aromatic mixtures came from the East? What do Balinese smokers lack and how to order the right hookah? Baliforum talked to Roman Shershnev, the founder of Hookah Xpress Delivery, a hookah delivery service in Bali.
Hey Roman, is it true that all the top hookah bars in Bali have Russian-speaking owners?
Absolutely true! Hookah culture in Bali is copied from the Russian and Eastern European ones. No one accepts any Arabic hookah here anymore. It all started with the large number of Russians on the island. They brought their smoking culture with them, constantly asking about hookahs in restaurants. A request to the market was formed. The market responded beautifully. It's cool that there was competition.
It feels like there are more and more hookah lounges. How do they compete for guests?
Now there is, let's say, a battle of services. The winner is not the one who has more choice of tobacco or devices - because tobacco is all available and hookahs too - but the one who can give the best service. This is serving and mixology, service in hookah lounges and so on. Now, there are also stores offering all the necessary assortment. Yes, they are not many, there are about five for the whole island, but in all districts they are represented, including we sell premium tobaccos.
What is the specialty of Balinese hookah culture?
It's that Bali's market is limited. It is not infinite, as many people think. There is a ceiling. And, for example, in the tobacco sector, the market player has almost reached it. All the major players are supplied with tobacco and accessories. And where to grow? That's right! Now everyone is trying to enter the local market. And we are among them!
But Balinese people are not yet big fans of smoking tobacco in different flavors?
The locals are cautious about the smoking culture. And all because of negative experiences. Many of them have tried hookah once before. It was badly stuffed, poorly made, too strong, hit the throat, caused unpleasant sensations when smoking. It's like losing your virginity under bad circumstances.
Russian tobaccos - they are quite strong, for the locals especially. If for us it is the minimum, then for the locals black tobacco is already strong tobacco. But we train them and they realize that it is possible to stuff Russian tobaccos not strong. But the majority of customers are still Russian-speaking. Europeans come up to smoke, Arabs smoke, but they prefer to smoke two apples from Al Fakher.
Evaluate the level of Balinese hookah makers?
I follow the hookah community in Bali. And there it means local hookah makers communicate with each other, send different memes. And they're on a roll! That is, they gather, together they smoke russian tobacco, they no longer accept Arab-style hookah, they already look down a little on those who stuffs hookah in foil still, or on unbranded hookah. The level is rising, and it's going to rise. I think it will be another year or two, well three tops. Then the market will be completely filled and hard expansion to the local market will begin.
Although in Jakarta there are already very decent hookah lounges and all brands are already represented.
What do hookah lounges on the island lack, compared to Moscow or a major European city? 
Probably what's missing here is some kind of design story. Like Hookan Place, there, or Dubai hookahs. Some kind of super cool lounge, design work. There are lounges, and pretty enough, but...not that. When the market is full, like in Moscow, for example, or in St. Petersburg, then the owners start to play with their imagination. They go and do something out of the ordinary. Some kind of cascade smoking, with drinks, smoking combined with drinks... 
Is there anything in Bali that reaches the level of the top establishments in the world's capitals?
Not in Bali. There's one in Jakarta. It's the best hookah lounge in Indonesia in my opinion. There's no other way to describe this place.
 Great food, author's cocktails, of course, perfect hookah. And it's the best place I've seen in Indonesia so far. Even in Bali, taking into account that the owners are all Russian-speaking here. The island lacks some kind of premium luxury segment.
How do you know if a hookah lounge is good? You won't know until you smoke? 
There are four criteria for evaluating a good hookah place. The first is the richness of tobacco selection. The second is the atmosphere of the place. The third is good hookah masters. And the fourth is the price.
So, my personal recommendation is to always go to a place where at least two criteria coincide. Ideally, there is a choice of tobaccos and good hookah masters. Atmosphere, no matter how chic it is, if after the first puff, you realize you're sick, no atmosphere will save you. Well and realize that for good tobacco you have to pay money. 
Does Bali have any special flavors of its own? 
There is one brand that is produced here. The same company is involved in the production of hookah charcoal. It focuses its product on Indonesia, of course, the price is lower, it is a budget category, low quality and with special flavors for Indonesia there is even a jackfruit flavor. 
It's not a new entertainment anymore - hookah to the villa. Pros and cons? 
Hookah to the villa is a great idea, it's a great vacation, you don't have to go anywhere. And I see only pluses. I don't see any cons at all. I'll explain why. You sit at home, you want to smoke hookah. You need to get up, get dressed, with someone to negotiate, somewhere to go, something to order, wait and so on.
There are such pros of delivery. You sit, press a few buttons on your phone, in half an hour the hookah man comes to you, you show him with your finger where the outlet and water are. He scored it himself, smoked it, and just brought it to you. Put a hose in your hand. And you're like, thank you! Paid by transfer or card or cash, whatever you want. And that's it, and the hookah man left, and you two hours quietly smoke hookah. Well, as many as you can smoke. Then you text the hookah man, like, that's it, we're done. He came, collected everything, and took it away.
The only nuance is that you have to remember when ordering a hookah home, that when the hookah comes to you, it falls under your responsibility. If you break the bulb, if you scratch it, or if it cracks badly, you have to pay for it. No one is relieving you of your responsibility.
And the second thing. If you are not confident in your abilities, not sure that you can stuff a good hookah yourself, ask the hookah maker or the one who will bring it. Say, guys, I don't know how to do it, will someone help me stuff it? Yes, you'll always get help to stuff a hookah.
And you can always order a cool hookah to your villa, beach or anywhere you want from the guys at Hookah Xpress Delivery!
⏰ We work every day from 02PM to 02AM
📍 We deliver all over the island of Bali
📲 Contact us to order:
✈️ Telegram: @HXDelivery
📞 WhatsApp: +62 815 8800 007
📷 Instagram: @balihookahxpress
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