The Side of Bali You Don't See
Indonesia

The Side of Bali You Don’t See

Each morning, like most of you, I unlock my phone and begin an almost never-ending cycle of scrolling through social media. The first image that pops up is of a young, good looking woman in a swim-suit posing alongside a swimming pool. Bali. Another is of someone between an impressive looking temple gateway. Bali. A third image has you looking out over terraced rice fields with not another soul in sight. Again, it’s Bali.

I think it’s fair to say that Bali has been very popular over the last few years. The pictures you see every single day are enough to stoke the embers of wanderlust in just about anyone. On leaving Australia, Bali was the place I most looked forward to. From what I had seen and read in various travel publications, Bali was paradise.

The Side of Bali You Don't See

For those that don’t know, or would like a little background, Bali is an Indonesian tropical island just a few hours from the West Coast of Australia. With dramatic and active volcanoes, thousands of temples, jungles, beaches and resort towns, you could say that this small island really has it all.

For all its fame and good looks, there is a side of Bali that you don’t see. Well at least until you’ve arrived and only then do you question whether you’ve got off the plane one stop too early. It’s not a side that’s really shared on social media. Who wants to tell their friends that their dream holiday or travel destination was less than impressive? We live in a world now where, apparently, there are no negatives.

Before I start and get all honest with my feelings about Bali, I have to provide some caveats. I only visited Bali for two weeks. I stayed in Ubud in a home-stay before staying in Seminyak in a hotel. During my time there, I visited a number of places but there are many areas of Bali I simply did not venture to. My views are therefore simply that; they are mine. I do not intend to come across as nasty or anything of the sort. I just want to share the side of Bali you don’t see on social media. For those planning to visit the island, this post is intended to ensure that your view is balanced. I have spoke to many people when preparing this post who have suggested that they just didn’t expect Bali to be as they found.

The Side of Bali You Don't See

What I Didn’t Like

Okay. You’ve probably got the picture now that I didn’t fall in love with Bali. There were aspects that I did like of course but, unfortunately, these were outweighed by the negatives.

1. Bali is Busy

I think busy is a vast understatement. I’m not knocking Bali as it’s economy depends on tourism but, year on year, visitor numbers have increased without the infrastructure in place. Bali cannot cope with well over 4 million visitors a year.

It’s no secret that Bali’s roads are heavily congested. On a typical day in Ubud, the cultural centre, every road in and out is full of stand-still traffic. You can’t get anywhere without walking and without breathing in polluted air.

The Ubud that was portrayed in ‘Eat Pray Love’ is the Ubud that we all come to see yet we have not realised that we’ve destroyed it by simply being there. It is no longer a peaceful jungle retreat. It’s full of tourists who come in by the coach load which all adds up to one chaotic town.

The same applies to Seminyak, the most north-westerly point of the huge expanse of urban city stretching all the way from Kuta. Each evening as sunset approaches, there are literally thousands of tourists making their way to up-market beach clubs to wrestle with one another just for a drink. All of the roads, again, are full with taxis. Mopeds take to what little pathways exist just to try and beat the traffic.

Temples on the other side of the island that take a few hours to get to are also packed full simply to take a photo and leave.

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

2. Touts

With increasing tourism comes increasing ways for locals to make money. I agree that the local Balinese people should take advantage of this but I’m afraid it does take the edge of.

I have but a few examples. Firstly, when walking any street in Bali, I can almost guarantee that you will not have a moments peace. There will be constant cries of ‘taxi’ or ‘massage’ much more so than other places in South East Asia. You are often ‘strongly persuaded’ to enter into tourist gift shops. Just leave me alone please.

Everywhere someone is selling something. I didn’t visit the Tegalalang Rice Terraces for this reason. I’ve heard that you have to pay initially to enter. Then there are additional payments to ‘staff’ in order to progress down the terraces. I am also confident that to get those pictures you see on social media with an ‘I Love Bali’ sign in the background or swinging over the rice terraces, you have to pay. Oh, and you might have to stand in a queue full of tourists all dying to get an identical image for their camera roll.

I mentioned an impressive looking temple gateway above which really is just a gateway to a golf resort. One person decided to take a picture, post it to Instagram and now it receives a steady stream of visitors. There are guards there who charge you for a ‘selfie ticket’ and an orderly queue forms for you to take your picture. I complain but our driver took us there on a tour of the island; I am part of the problem too.

If you want to get around Bali too the best way is to hire your own driver for the day. Public transport is practically non-existent and taxis are often controlled by ‘mafia’ in order to keep prices higher. One taxi we managed to flag down tried to charge us A$20 to go five minutes down the road.

The Side of Bali You Don't See

3. Is this Magaluf?

There are many people that love drinking themselves into oblivion on the strip of Magaluf or Malia. I however am not one of them. I love a few beers and a few whisky and coke’s once the night sets in but I didn’t expect Bali to such a party island. Now I had heard that Australian’s love to jet off to Bali for a weekend (for those on the West Coast, it’s closer than Sydney) and that some like to party in Kuta.

I purposely avoided Kuta for this reason. However, as I said earlier, the urban area has developed into a metropolis where there is no apparent divide between Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. Seminyak is apparently a more up-market resort but, once the Aussies descended on it, it was no different to ‘Brits abroad’ descending on Magaluf.

It probably didn’t help that my hotel room in Seminyak looked directly into a nightclub which stayed open until 6am. I’m in my late twenties; I don’t (read: can’t) do nights like that. Whilst we’re talking about alcohol, it does lead me on to my next point.

4. Alcohol is Expensive

Not so much a negative but something I didn’t expect. I guess with increasing demand comes increased prices. We’re talking about prices the English would find expensive and the Australian’s a bit cheaper than normal. Of course, it all depends where you are drinking but I did find it more expensive than I thought it would be and I’d just spent nine months in Australia.

Sunset Cocktails

5. Pollution

So this is where it gets interesting. All of the above could be taken either way and may not put a dampener on your particular visit to Bali. However, there is one thing that cannot be ignored and that is the amount of rubbish discarded all over the place. The rivers that will eventually empty into Seminyak’s sea were full of plastic bottles, plastic bags and general rubbish. On top of that I’m afraid they absolutely stink of raw sewage. I have read previously although I cannot find where now that the sea around Seminyak has been classified as raw sewage. Not that you’d want to swim in it anywhere thanks to the notorious rip currents.

I found Bali to be incredibly dirty and I can honestly say that I felt cleaner in Bangkok; a city notoriously polluted.

As if Bali wasn’t busy enough, new hotels and beach clubs are being built wherever there is space. Building works do not stop at the weekends and often run late into the night.

One of the graffiti slogans I saw simply said ‘Make This Land Clean Again’. I think tourism is a double-edged sword. Bali needs the tourists to survive and bring an income yet tourism has, in my view, ruined the island. Unfortunately, it seems Bali cannot offer both a clean land and paradise for tourists in their millions. I’m not sure many places could.

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

6. The Food

I loved the food, I really did, but to find authentic Indonesian or other Asian food wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The restaurants cater to the market namely Australians. Almost everywhere you can find poached eggs and smashed ‘avo’ on sourdough toast or buckwheat pancakes. Don’t get me wrong, I ate these things and very much enjoyed them. However, I can’t quite describe the feeling, but it wasn’t the Bali I thought.

What I did love however was the Nasi Goreng, Babi Guling, Balinese ribs and rice; real authentic Indonesian food.

7. Rich and Poor

When you venture out of the resort towns, you really get a grasp of just how poor some Balinese people are. It pains me to see five-star luxury resorts in and around Ubud costing thousands of pounds to stay in yet many Balinese still live in poverty. Many stay in these resorts in comfort when literally a couple of hundred metres away, the real Bali lies bare for all to see.

Conclusion

As I said earlier, what I’ve outlined above may be your idea of travel heaven but I really feel that my honest views of Bali need to be shared. The pictures may shed a little more light on what I mean if I haven’t got my points across. On one you can see a row of shops often touted as one of the most ‘Instagrammable’ (god I hate that term) things in Bali. All around though, it’s just dirty, run-down and quite scruffy.

Whilst I enjoyed my time in Bali, there were aspects I did not like and I probably won’t be returning. There are many others that share that view too. However, the question I keep asking myself is whether I didn’t like Bali or whether I didn’t like what some people’s version of ‘travel’ has become. These days it seems much more important to portray a place as perfect for gratification in the form of likes. Not many want to share their honest views if those views are negative and I feel that is wrong.

If I had known what I now know and seen the side of Bali you don’t see, maybe I never would have gone. Maybe I would. All I know is that there are two sides to every story and that needs to be shared.

I welcome your thoughts on this post. Let me know what you think in the comments below. I fully accept that many will have a completely different view and I am sure those will accept mine.

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

The Side of Bali You Don't See

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The Side of Bali You Don't See

38 Comments

  • S. Stewart

    I really appreciate the honesty. I don’t think most people want to see or choose to see all of that in high tourist areas, I just came back from Italy and I thought Rome was amazing, but dirty, touristy and overpriced as well. It is blogs like this that help people make good choices when planning travel. Thanks for your post!

  • John

    I do appreciate that you tell it as you see it, that takes guts. I’d never go to Bali anyway, too far but some of the photos you took remind me of Las Vegas with the wealth of the Vegas Strip and then just off the Strip are people living in tents. It’s just wrong. Tourism indeed has two sharp edges.

  • globalgaryblog

    Excellent post. It seems there is a FOMO cycle going on. People show on their Facebook/Instagram accounts the edited highlights of their life, including travel. Friends see these picture-perfect images, have a real fear of missing out and then you get exactly what you have experienced in Bali. I am trying to visit at least one place a year that no one I know has visited!

  • thelifeofasocialbutterfly1

    As someone who has only seen the “Instagrammable paradise” shown on social media, it’s refreshing to read such an honest, well-written account of your trip Jamie. Like many, I had wanderlust over the pictures shared, though this post has made me think twice about visiting. On a recent trip to Zante, I was horrified to discover little is being done to preserve the natural habitat of the indigenous loggerhead turtles in the party area of Laganas. More needs to be done to protect the wildlife, oceans and habitat directly impacted by tourism.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Jasmine

  • thelifeofasocialbutterfly1

    It’s never easy writing about the negatives of a destination. As someone who has only seen the “Instagrammable paradise” shown on social media, it’s refreshing to read such an honest, well-written account of your trip Jamie. Like many, I had wanderlust over the pictures shared, though this post has made me think twice about visiting. On a recent trip to Zante, I was horrified to discover little is being done to preserve the natural habitat of the indigenous loggerhead turtles in the party area of Laganas. More needs to be done to protect the wildlife, oceans and habitat directly impacted by tourism.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Jasmine

    • jamiechancetravels

      Thank you so much for reading and the kind comment! I was nervous about this one! All I wanted was for people to take a step back and look at both sides!

      Ah definitely I haven’t been to Zante for a long time but back then there were very few tourists!

      Thanks

      • thelifeofasocialbutterfly1

        I always like to see different perspectives of a destination & that’s the beauty of blogging. Everyone has their own unique take on a destination.

        Needless to say, I didn’t stay in Laganas, but it was interesting seeing a different side to the party Island (I’d always been put off going!) More needs to be done to educate tourists I think 🤔

  • loudoestravel

    I’ve always wanted to go to Bali and have already heard mixed reviews so much of what you have said is not too surprising to me. I think this post has been written perfectly in a way that gives the other side of the story, totally agree that too many ‘influencers’ make out that these places are perfect, when in fact many are not! Thanks for sharing 👍

    • jamiechancetravels

      Thank you for reading! It may not put people off but a lot of friends I spoke to hadn’t heard anything negative!! It’s a shame really as we all feel compelled to go somewhere when it comes across as paradise! The same applies to Santorini I’ve heard!
      Thanks again

  • TrustyRustyTravels.com

    Well written and so True..spent time there in the late 80’s Very different to what you describe both in words and pictures.. But as time Marches on. and of course so do the hoards of Tourists.. Every one trying to get their own piece of Paradise. What you say is also typical of many places. I spent ten years Motorcycling around India and Australia as well. Year by year it changed. including Australia…What you have written has been very good. Personally it would not stop me from returning to these places. But definitely would make me think on How to do it. Thank you for a well Written and informative blog..Well done…Tony

  • melaniethehomebody

    I haven’t been to Bali, but it sounds as unequal as the Caribbean. Even in Florida, we have people who live in their cars or the woods. I bet that in every tourist area, you’ll find misery and poverty and environmental mess. It’s a sad commentary on equality.

  • Alison Hutt

    I get what you mean and it can be disappointing for some who have come along way to visit and think its paradise. But for us here in Perth its a welcome break especially if you stay in Nusa Dua. The people are lovely and the service is fantastic. You don’t get bothered so much in Nusa Dua as they’ve tried to keep it upmarket. So if you ever get back try this place instead. Have a look at my post on Bali!

    • jamiechancetravels

      I do agree it’s perfect for those in Perth and I didn’t mean to paint Australians as party animals; just a lot that were in the area of Kuta up to Seminyak! I can imagine that it would be much more chilled there!

      • Alison Hutt

        No, they’re definitely party animals .. it’s just easier and cheaper to travel to Bali than it is anywhere in Australia 😎

  • nb

    Hi there!
    I was just reading your article on BALI and I am a bit disappointed to know that Bali is a bit different from what I imagined…I was actually motivated by ‘EAT PRAY LOVE’. The place is on my bucket list. Is it really that chaotic and noisy?

    • jamiechancetravels

      Thank you for reading! I’d rather you be disappointed now though rather than after spending a lot of money to get there! Sometimes I feel people may try to love it knowing how much money they’ve spent. In my opinion it was very busy yes. Coach loads turn up to go to the market or to the Royal Temple for example. If you get out early enough then it might be a little calmer by afternoon it’s busy!

  • Iulia

    It took me the entire morning to read your post, as I was commuting to work, but I have to say I appreciate your article and the guts you had to publish it. As you already said, most bloggers picture just the beautiful parts of their travels and nobody is talking about the more disturbing things. As for me, Bali was also on my travel list, but I didn’t yet made it there. After reading your post, I must say it doesn’t attract me as much, although I was expecting it to be touristy, but what you’ve describe is more than I’d imagine. Not sure if I still want to visit, but either way, it is not my 1st stop I will make in Asia. Thank you!

    • jamiechancetravels

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and then comment too! I remember being in Bali and kept telling Emma that I needed to share the negatives. I didn’t plan on putting people off entirely just wanted them to see the full picture and not be entirely disappointed!

  • beyondthewall_travel

    Thanks for the post, Jamie. I can’t say about the whole of Bali but Ubud disappointed me majorly. My main concern is not with Bali being what it is but what travellers and ‘influencers’ make it seem like. Why not share the truth about the crowds, pollution, and more irrespective of they like it or not. I find it misleading that someone wakes up at 3 am in the morning, clicks a few gorgeous pictures with no crowds in the background, and propagates the place to be amazing. Really glad you shared your opinion. Isn’t that what blogging is about!

  • Melis

    This is a very interesting, thought – provoking post. I went to Bali in May and did Ubud, Seminyak and Sanur (for a friend’s wedding). I have to agree with every single point you have made! I did enjoy parts of it though. I actually loved Seminyak, BUT, I was living in Singapore at the time and missing home (the UK) so the inauthenticity was actually fine for me and I thought it was a great place to eat, drink and relax – but 100% not authentic Bali as you say. Ubud was where we went to see authentic Bali and it was unfortunately just full of tourists (like us) taking photos… the rice terrace was actually really good though and not as touristy as I thought, still not authentic though. You do feel strange paying farmers as you go round to then take photos with their crops… It is odd. Before I went to Bali every photo which popped up on my feed made me beyond excited and in awe of the place, now when I see it I just remember what it was actually like. I’m not knocking the place as I really loved our time in Seminyak as at the time we wanted an easy non-Asian break. I actually said to my partner this reminds me of Marbella so your point about Magaluf etc was so right! Thanks for sharing your opinion, glad I found your blog today!

    Melis

    • jamiechancetravels

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read the post and then comment too! I can see how, if you live close by, you might go as long as you know what to expect! I think I was just so disappointed after seeing all of the photos on social media which were all positive; like it was the best place on Earth! Sounds like you had a good time though!!

  • kasiawrites

    I have a feeling that is like that with a lot of places. Every time I go to Rome the Trevi fountain is packed with people like all day and night yet judging by the many pics online you seemingly can have it all to yourself. Yeah, no. The damage to environment and eagerness to exploit tourists are common especially in countries where they are not used to having them. It can create an unpleasant experience.

  • Let's Go Sightseeing (@letsgosightsee)

    I believe these points will hold true for most of the developing economies. In Kenya, anybody who provided a service would be blunt about expecting a tip. Like it wasn’t our discretion, but their right. In China, we could not find a single time when we could take a photograph without having almost a 100 people in it. In India, Delhi has so many monuments to see, but it also has a considerable amount of air pollution. & so on & so forth…

    • jamiechancetravels

      I definitely agree with that! With Bali I felt like the expectations created by social media are of perfection rather than highlighting the negatives! So many people have gone and ended up being disappointed!

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Yep Jamie; like all places on earth, Bali has various aspects that do not make the headlines. I adore the place. But heck yeah it is busy in urban areas and the trash situation can be rough. Little balance there for sure.

  • Barefoot Backpacker

    🙂

    Now, obviously it depends where you go. I went to Bali (accidentally!) back in 2014, but stayed in a place called Padangbai on the East coast, quite a way out of the ‘urban centre’. And it was incredibly relaxing and relatively peaceful (I was there during a religious festival. so YMMV, but … :p!), but one of reasons I made a beeline there was precisely because I didn’t fancy going to all the overly-touristy spots for these reasons.

    I’ve not been to the North (Lovina area) so i don’t know if that’s the same?

    In the coming weeks I intend to record an episode of my podcast on whether we as travel bloggers / “influencers” have the right to be honest about a place, or if we have a duty to not be dismissive about somewhere, because people hang on our every word and what we say effects businesses and livelihoods – it would be cool to get you involved in it 🙂

    • jamiechancetravels

      Yeah I agree – there are parts that will be perfect! I was only there for a few weeks so I can’t pass full judgement but just my impressions really! Yeah I’d love to get involved although I’m not sure how good I’d be at ‘actual speaking’ haha!!

  • jasonlikestotravel

    Refreshingly honest post. I’ve never been to Bali so I’ve only really seen the ‘paradise’ side to it. Interesting to read the other side.

  • Joannda | A Zest For Travel

    I only visited Bali for a week, 4 days each in Ubud and Nusa Dua but found it to be much as you describe here. It was a bit of a let-down to be honest – mostly you hear such great things about it and I was expecting a small slice of paradise… I was definitely surprised by how busy it was – it seemed like all the towns merge into one massive urban area. Your comparison to Magaluf isn’t too far off to be honest (yuck!) I’m sure Bali used to be stunning before the masses arrived but these days, it wouldn’t be a place I would highly recommend to others. Maybe elsewhere in Indonesia is still worth a visit?

    • jamiechancetravels

      I’m sorry that you found it a let down! It’s a shame that so many people feel the same about Bali now. I bet it was absolutely incredible 20 years ago or so! I haven’t been anywhere else in Indonesia but I’ve heard other islands are much better!

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