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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.