I am really bad at keeping secrets, so before the word gets out and someone else says it for me and there is a huge misunderstanding, I suppose it is better that I actually say what I have been holding down for a while, since the day I got back from my trip to Indonesia. The truth is that I really didn’t enjoy Bali. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think I spent nearly long enough there in order to develop a proper, informed opinion on it.
I went to Bali as part of a very large press trip to Indonesia where I did not get to establish the itinerary (or else, I would have never picked to stay in Kuta Beach) let alone the food I ate, and I stayed along a little longer after the trip was over, to explore on my own. To be fair, I have seen a thing or two that were quite nice and I have actually enjoyed. And had I researched a bit more, I would have found good alternatives to the most touristy attractions in Bali. But that was definitely not enough to make me fall in love with Bali and make me want to go back. It was more like a good and welcomed distraction from all the things I did not like.
Read more about the Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”
Living Up To The “Eat, Pray, Love” Legacy
It would be fair to assume that I arrived Bali having in mind the images of tropical paradise as portrayed in Eat, Pray, Love. That very popular movie (and book) has fed a lot of people with beautiful sights of empty tropical beaches, interesting traditions, and an overall peaceful place.
Or so I have been told, because I haven’t watched the movie and I haven’t read the book, and so I had no Eat, Pray, Love – induced expectations to meet. In fact, I have never really had Bali in my bucket list, so I did not have in my mind the fantasy of a location I would have to look for to quench my thirst for something beautiful and take that exact same perfect photo. All I had were recollections of some friends who had been – some coming back very enthusiastic (but they are into surfing), other a bit less so. I had not even seen their pictures. If anything, what I have learned in Bali is that it is actually fairly easy to take the perfect photo even in what may be the most imperfect place (more of this later).
The whole problem is that I am all about first impressions, with people and even with places. I either love something or someone at first sight, or I don’t. There is either an immediate spark, or there isn’t. There is either a special chemistry, or none at all. And if there isn’t that famous chemistry, the only thing I can hope for is a honest friendship. It is not even a matter of how beautiful a place is. It is a question of vibes. And it hasn’t happened often (although it has, to be fair) that I went somewhere for a second time and finally, magically liked it and enjoyed it. And Bali really didn’t spark in front of my eyes. It’s like I went on a date with a man and he put up his worst attire for the occasion, stick his fingers up his nose, burped loudly and talked on the phone during dinner – that is how Bali was to me.
I may even try to justify the fact that I didn’t like Bali by saying that the extreme heat killed whatever little energy I had in me at the end of a very demanding and at times truly exhausting trip. I may say that the persistent stomach bug that caused me a lot of discomfort did not exactly put me in a good mood to let myself be infused with the magic of Bali. But really, that is not the case. I have still managed to enjoy Cartagena, in Colombia, or Leon, in Nicaragua, despite the suffocating heat. I have been sick all over the world (now, that is something to be quite proud of!) and it has hardly put me off a place (unless there were other reasons involved, obviously). What happened in Bali is that the first impression I got of it is that of an extremely congested, incredibly polluted, very dirty, truly commercial and way too crowded place for me to be able to enjoy it. I am not even sure it is fair to talk about “impressions” because, I’d dare to say, Bali is congested, polluted, and crowded. I really couldn’t wait to get out of Bali. So much so that the Eat, Pray, Love fantasy to me was more like a “Fast, Wish for the best and Get Out ASAP”.
Bali Is Too Congested And Polluted For My Taste
The impression I got in Bali is that nobody likes the idea of walking or biking. I like walking, and I tried to do that. But the minute I stepped out of the hotel, I was invested by a stream of cars and motorbikes, none of them taking notice of me, unless it was to honk loudly so that I would move out of their way. Each and every person in Bali – locals as well as tourists – moves around by car or, even better, by scooter or motorbike. All I saw were scooters and motorbikes: entire local families jump on one, keeping the Indonesian tradition alive (they take bonding really literally) and making the most of the gasoline. It was quite common to see 4 persons riding the same tiny motorbike, none of them wearing a helmet and a small child literally tied to the chest with a rope, to hold him tight while zipping through traffic. I stared at them, curiously and, at the same time, terrified of what may happen if a stray dog crossed the street all of a sudden and they had to break. Those drivers do have skills, because (as anybody who holds a motorbike license would say) keeping a balance when carrying that much weight is no easy task. I guess they were just as curious to see my stare, as they often smiled back at me as they passed (but never stopped, God forbid!).
My first taste of Bali’s extreme traffic was the night I landed in Denpasar, its main city. I hopped on the bus, hopeful for a short ride to the restaurant in Jimbaran, right by the beach. I told myself it couldn’t take that long – it looked quite close on the map. I soon realized that I could have not been more mistaken. It took the bus I was on a good hour to get out of the airport terminal (a total of, perhaps, no more than 500 meters). Scooters zipped through the buses and the cars, left and right, in those narrow streets, careless of pedestrians and other vehicles coming from other directions, causing the bus driver to hit the breaks all the time (forget about being car sick!) and to press that horn at regular intervals. Too bad I did not have my iPod to listen to some music, so that loud horn noise was as close to music as it got for me. Not pleasant, especially for someone who is very sensitive to noise.
As I got off the bus, I tried to cross the street. Nobody (cars, motorbikes and buses alike) would ever stop to allow me and other pedestrians to cross. Scooters would rather drive around me than stop. I was pretty certain that they would have hit me had I not run, screaming in terror, to get to safety. No distraction was allowed, unless I wanted to risk my life. I have later on tried lots of tricks to demand drivers to stop – including putting my arm out, rigidly – with little or no success. The only thing that worked when I wanted to cross the street was finding a policeman or even a hotel employee that, whistle and torch in hand, would stop the traffic so that I and other tourists could cross the street.
I found it really hard to get away from traffic in Bali. If Denpasar and the nearby Kuta – which didn’t take me long to realize that is not another city, or a resort: it pretty much is just a huge neighborhood of Denpasar, and there isn’t any city interruption, let alone traffic break – are the most congested places on the island, I didn’t exactly have a joyride when I tried getting to other parts of Bali. In order to get from Kuta to the theoretically more rural Ubud I had to fiercely haggle a taxi which would have gladly ripped me off (although I had a very clear idea of the price I would have to pay). I was told it would take about 1 hour, I expected the ride to last about 90 minutes, and it eventually took 2 hours. I guess by then I was used to the different perspective on timings that Indonesians have compared to Europeans.
As if the traffic was not a problem in and of itself, I was exhausted by the pollution that plagues the most crowded destinations in Bali. I spotted several locals and the occasional tourist wearing a mask to block the exhaust smoke and the bad smell coming from the piles of garbage being burnt, but I have doubts that it helped much. I was surely disappointed at this. Again, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bali, but sure enough, coming from a city, I would never pick to go on holidays to a place that is seriously polluted and where traffic is a huge issue – it just isn’t my idea of a relaxing time.
I found Ubud a bit better in terms of traffic and even more so Bedulu, a smaller city right next to it where traffic seems to slow down at least at night, and there are a few and very welcomed oasis of peace where I could enjoy some much needed silence.
The Bali I Saw Is Dirty, Crowded And Commercial
Bali isn’t nearly as rural and pristine as I imagined it would be. I had to check a few facts when I got there, because I could not really understand what I was seeing unless I put it in perspective. So, what I have discovered, is that it is a rather small island (a little over 5600 square km) inhabited by a whopping 4.5 million people. That isn’t a small number for such a small place. Just to give you an idea, I come from Sardinia, which is 5 times as big in size and has a quarter of the population. Not exactly crowded!
I then added to the already large population of Bali the huge intake of tourists that visit the island all year long and I got a better understanding of how crowded it was. Most of the time I just felt that there were people everywhere and it was hard for me to get away from them, and from an urban area altogether (because these people do have to live somewhere, so houses and apartment buildings have to be built).
For each postcard picture of Bali that circulates on the web, showing a tropical beach, a perfect sunset and a beautiful rice field portraying a lost paradise, there should be one that shows what is going on behind the scenes, and what the rest of the landscape really looks like. Admittedly, I could not resist the temptation of making Kuta Beach look way better than it really is, to get all my friends back home a bit jealous in front of the magic I was experiencing. But that was just a perfectly concocted show, where I waited for the perfect time to take a shot. I took a few pictures at sunset and the light was lovely and looking at the waves breaking on the shore was quite an impressive show.
But as I looked back, right behind me, all the magic was gone and I could once again see Kuta Beach for what it really is: not a lovely, white, sandy and secluded beach, but one where the sand is dark, there is garbage all over and right behind it there is mall after mall, shop after shop, chain restaurant after chain restaurant.
And, just to make it even less appealing to me, there were the crowds. Not just the crowds there are on a Sunday in any popular Sardinian beach. I am talking about so many people that I thought I would never find a spot to sit and relax, and just stare at the ocean. I am talking about crowds that exasperate the desperate conditions in which the island verses. I am talking hordes of drunk tourists that find it ok to casually forget plastic bottles and bags on the beach, as if it wasn’t dirty enough already and Bali wasn’t struggling with its garbage. So much garbage there was, that when I saw rats roaming among the piles of trash I was actually not that surprised but just a bit disgusted.
So many people there were on that beach, that I just wondered how they could surf without risking hitting others in the water.
It was not a pretty view, at least not to me. And between all the garbage, the dark dirty sand, all those people everywhere and the vendors who tried to push flowers, trinkets and what not on me, I just thought I’d better leave and go back to the hotel and find tranquility in the privacy of my room.
I am not sure where the image of a lost tropical paradise comes from, because the more I saw Kuta, the more I thought it looked like the Benidorm of Indonesia.
Care to be a more ethical tourist? Make sure to read my post “The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.”
Had I been a shopaholic I would have seen the benefit of visiting a huge mall-city. Bali surely is a shopping paradise and one could spend days browsing through the shops and the market stalls in search of a good deal, which inevitably implies the ability to haggle fiercely with the vendors in order to avoid being ripped off (the same goes for taxi rides, by the way). Too bad I can’t be bothered with shopping!
I may have noticed all of this because I am a spoiled girl from Sardinia, used to beaches that despite getting crowded in the summer months, never get dirty and most definitely never get commercial (it is actually forbidden to build anything even just close to the beach, that is how much we value our territory). I do understand that being from Sardinia is at times a limit, as I can’t help compare whatever place I visit to my beloved homeland. Perhaps someone who isn’t as spoiled as I am is able to enjoy the beaches in Bali.
To be fair, I found Ubud to be better than the rest of the Bali I saw. It has a bit more of a genuine feel and a bit more of character. But I can see that the impact of mass tourism and commercialization is seeping deeper and deeper here too, with more“high street” and chain shops opening to replace the smaller boutiques and the local businesses. I saw taxi drivers becoming more aggressive – they would not take a “thanks, I do not need a ride”. But at least, it was not as loud, not as “right in my face” and not as tacky as Kuta. Here’s a guide to Ubud with plenty of things to do.
Is Bali Really That Bad?
I don’t like being completely negative. And I would lie if I didn’t point out that Bali actually does have its charms and that there are a few cool things to do in Bali. I saw some really beautiful sunsets and sunrises – so gorgeous they were, the light so beautiful, that for a while I forgot about all the other things I did not like about Bali. I thought that seeing the traditional boats as they navigated the ocean, at sunset, from the view point of Ulu Watu temple, was a mesmerizing view.
Read more about Bali on my post “Things to do in Bali in one week.”
The rice fields took me to a world that I hardly knew existed, with their bright green color.
I was captured by the traditional dances such as the Kacak – yes, it is mostly a show for tourists but it was fun to watch and experience, it was engaging and I really laughed hard at the jokes. I enjoyed spots such as the Elephant Cave. And I had a blast in Monkey Forest, where monkeys always put up a good show and I had to fight with a naughty one who thought it would be ok to steal my sunglasses (I got them back, I won!).
I found a few good restaurants in Bali – from the most traditional Balinese and Indonesian cuisine, to other international cuisine, I could have a different meal every day (that is, as soon as the trip was over and I could actually make my own orders!).
I saw some gorgeous resorts and hotels in Bali where I managed to relax and unwind for a real steal.
And, when I looked around, asked and haggled, the prices were really convenient and it was a real budget destination where it was easy to splurge without breaking the bank.
All in all, my impression is that tourism has had an overly negative impact on Bali and I am afraid that this once beautiful island has lost much of its character and its uniqueness for the sake of mass tourism. While I understand that tourism can give the local economy a huge boost (again, I shall point out I am from Sardinia and tourism is the biggest revenue here), I appreciate the need to protect the environment, the authenticity of a place, its culture and traditions.
I would have liked to see a more traditional, more slower pace, more cultural Bali – where people, locals and visitors alike, can still appreciate the little things in life. I would have liked to have more interaction with the locals, one that involved more than begging them not to hit me with their scooters while I tried to cross the street. I am sure there is a better Bali – I just did not get to see it, and that is a shame because it should be everywhere and not just in the hidden spots.
I really hope that the Balinese people can take the protection of their culture, traditions and environment a bit more seriously and invest in them, even as a way to attract a more responsible kind of tourism, one that has less impact on what could otherwise be a really nice place. Till the day this happens, I will prefer to stay away from it. And perhaps travel to Raja Ampat, where apparently my friend Margherita found plenty magic.
Have you been to Bali? What were your impressions on it?
166 thoughts on “Has Bali Lost Its Magic?”
I wholeheartedly agree! Completely overrated and not the best beaches (unless you’re into surfing which I’m not). But we did like Ubud very much.
The funny thing is that I have a friend who’s into surfing and not even he liked it!
Wow, this is not the impression I always get from Bali. Kudos to you for being honest. It’s actually pretty helpful. I’m totally victim of idealizing this place based off of not only Eat, Pray, Love…but other bloggers too. I hear a lot of DIY yoga retreat posts suggesting Bali, but this makes me give pause–which is a good thing! Thanks for sharing.
Oh well… I am not into yoga. But I suppose if you are, it may be a good place 🙂
Also, I gave MY opinion… I would imagine that other people would like it. It really is a matter of taste. Some of us like busy, lively places. I am not one of them and that is why I did not enjoy it. Also, I haven’t been there very long so this post is based on the impression I got in the short time I spent there (but then again, I am all for first impressions).
From the last time I visited Bali 10 years ago it really has changed for the worse even magical Ubud which is almost as bad as Kuta. Fortunately I made it to the west side where tourism is more gentle, relaxed and not as crowded and I think the main thing with popular destinations is that you have to go even further away from the busy hubs to find something authentic and non-commercial. It does still happen in Bali, but you need to get away from all the noise in the tourist areas that cater to all the crazies. I’m glad I made it to see the unspoiled areas of the island and those lush green paddy fields and real locals.
Love your honesty. Such a shame you did a tour of Bali. There are lovely bits to it, but you’ll never be taken to them on a guided tour. Tours go to the most overcrowded, congested places on the island. I totally agree with you, Kuta is an awful place. I always advise people to avoid it completely, Kuta and the whole south of the island. If you go off the tourist trail – like in most places – you’ll find quite villages and clear(ish) roads.
I do feel sorry for Bali. Development is completely out of control there, with corrupt authorities allowing all sorts of nightmare buildings right on the beach. The water table on the island is dwindling because all the big hotels are taking as much as they want for pools etc. The locals are stuck between a rock and a hard place – they know the island is overcrowded in areas, but building keeps on going. They have no control, and are offered so much money for their land they can’t refuse. To top it off, the tourism bosses have announced plans to grow tourism by another 500,000 next year. Can you imagine that?!
I can understand you. I am here for almost 2 months now and I did my yoga teacher training in Canggu. I haven’t been to Kuta so far and everyone told me to just skip it. I liked Ubud a lot especially as you mentioned those small boutiques. What annoys me here as well, is the trash everywhere. When I drive for a while with the scooter I have to wrap a shirt around my mouth and nose because I can’t handle all these bad smells (they burn their trash, especially plastic) at almost every corner. So that’s something I really have a struggle with. And I understand that coming from Sardinia (which I love, love, love) it’s hard to understand why people do build so close to beaches, etc. Although I have difficulties with their trash management, it’s so wonderful to talk to Balinese, they are so friendly (might not be in Kuta where they are constantly surrounded by tourists)….but every once in a while I meet incredible people and they make this place magical. As well as all the ceremonies that are constantly happening. Yesterday we went to Tanah Lot and it wasn’t magical at all. It probably was like in Kuta. Way too overcrowded with so many people trying to get their perfect selfie in front of the sunset that I didn’t even want to take pictures anymore…it was just too much.
Let’s hope Bali is taking care of its island more and invests more into eco tourism and trash management.
I’m always a bit afraid of overhyped places like Bali for exactly those reasons. It doesn’t take long for tourism to turn a paradise into an over-crowded, polluted mess of people trying to make you buy things if it isn’t done responsibly. Thanks for your honesty!
Also, I’m definitely guilty of taking beautiful pictures in less-than-charming places, without showing the other side. In the moment, I’m like “That’s pretty! Picture time!” but in retrospect, I’d like more visual evidence to show people the less glamourous side. Something to work on, I suppose!
Good to see both sides of the story.. sometimes the “most beautiful places” get overrun..
We stayed at Kuta bali but didn’t really spend time there. We knew that it was what it was and only came in for cheap accommodations and accessibility to other outskirts of town. We wished we could’ve stayed at Ubud instead to really feel the authentic peaceful and calm bali life. However I recommend everyone to hire a private bali driver instead of going on a group tour.
Kuta is a hole, so let’s get that out of the way first and foremost. lol.
It is like I said on Facebook – we hated it too at first. We were lucky enough to spend a month there so although we despised it for the first two weeks or so, after that we grew to love it. We also stayed in Sanur, on the eastern side of the island, so although that is touristy and noisy and dirty too, it’s very quiet compared to Kuta. And I loved Ubud but yes, it is definitely busier and more touristy than it used to be and all the towns are starting to just become suburbs of each other. To see the real peaceful idyllic Bali you have to go north, specifically northwest. That part of the island is about four hours’ drive from the airport, so most tourists aren’t going to make the effort and as such, that area hasn’t been destroyed yet.
It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy your time in Bali. Oddly, I didn’t notice any of the points you’re making while I was there.
We went in October 2 years ago, so maybe the time of the year made a difference.
We stayed near Kuta for 2 days, at a lovely resort with a private beach. Everyone told us to avoid Kuta, so we never visited the city.
We took a taxi to Ubud where we stayed for another 2 nights in the hills. It was very peaceful and away from everything. Ubud itself was busy at times, but it never felt overcrowded. We hired a scooter and rode out without a destination. We rode around pretty streets with only locals walking around. We even passed a procession with no tourists around, we felt like we were intruding on something sacred..
We also went on a group bike tour, which led us to rice fields, temples, pretty streets and forests, again there was almost no one around.
Our last destination was in the North West of Bali, we hired a taxi to take us there, stopping at beautiful sites along the way (temples, waterfalls). We stayed at the Menjangan, in West Bali National Park. It’s a very peaceful place with not many tourists around.
I know that resorts don’t represent the real Bali, but even when we were driving around, away from the tourist spots, I did see a beautiful place I would go back to in a heartbeat.
awwww.. shame.. but did you stay in Nusa Dua?? That’s like paradise! LOL
How long exactly did you spend in Bali ?
I agree, I’m not very fond of Bali either. It’s too commercial and superficial for me. I’ve been to Indonesia 7 times and I still can’t warm to Bali, whereas I adore almost everywhere else I’ve been in the archipelago. I fly in and out through Denpasar because it’s the closest and cheapest gateway for me into the country, but I usually find a connecting domestic flight ASAP to somewhere else further afield. It’s interesting how you draw the comparison with Sardinia, which is also so heavily dependent on tourism, but I guess the real difference is the high level of corruption that occurs across Indonesia, and particularly in Bali. Garbage management has only recently become a government priority, but how long it takes for officials to do anything is anyone’s guess. When I was in Bogor last year (that’s in Java, not far from Jakarta) I met some public health officers who were trying to educate villagers to start using garbage bins as they were only just planning to start up a garbage collection system. It’s a long road of education and behavioural change. Oh, and if you thought Bali was congested and polluted, DO NOT GO TO JAKARTA!!. LOL.
Don’t listen to the people who said you didn’t spend enough time in Bali to form an opinion. Yes, it is unfortunate that your beach experience was focused on Kuta, but Seminyak and other southern beach areas are right there in line with Kuta on being touristy, overdeveloped, loaded with traffic, and trash on the beaches. I lived in Bali for 18 months, and yes, there is some beauty to be found, but it is very easy to dislike Bali. It just does not live up to the hype of the perfect beach destination, by far!
One week. As I explain in the post, mine is not an informed opinion but just a “first impression” based on whatever little I saw there.
I am sure there are pretty places to see. I just did not have a chance to see them and given what I saw, I am reluctant to give it another try…
Oh gosh, seriously? Why can’t they invest in proper, responsible tourism? Lots of places have been doing that and the impact on the environment, the people and the revenue has been incredible!
You do have some stamina! I really could not stay there for so long. Not in the places I saw for sure
It is way too tempting to just take the nice shot… and not show reality. But at times I get really too annoyed and have to do that!
It wasn’t my choice, really. I was there on a press trip…
I also didn’t go precisely for that reason – too far from the airport and I was staying for such a short time to make the effort. 🙁
Ubud is definitely not as crowded as Kuta. I think you are lucky you had time to go to other parts of the island. I didn’t have time so I can only speak for what I saw
I only flew into Jakarta and didn’t dare going into town!
It if fair to all have different opinions 🙂 Yes I disliked it, but I am not trying to convince anybody to dislike it here. I just speak for myself and on the basis of what I experienced. I really don’t know how you could live there for 18 months!!
Yet another sharp and honest analysis ! Myths need to be deconstructed at some point in time, don’t they ?…
Ohh that’s sad! I’ve never been to Bali yet. This is not what I always hear about Bali..and it is on my bucket list.. Thank you for your honesty!
Hmm I was in Bali earlier this year. I’ve always wanted to go but to be honest, it didn’t live up to my expectations. You got some great shots though! I didn’t get to Ubud so maybe I’ll have to go back…
Whatttt??? Bali is one of my favorite countries in the world! Ubud is magical and the people are so sweet! I’m in Sanur right now, staying at the cutest little guesthouse! I think it really depends on where you travel within Bali and where you stay. I’ve heard awful things about Kuta, so I’ve avoided it at all costs and as a result have absolutely loved Bali. Seminyak and Canggu are known to be much better spots than Kuta – heading there on Sunday!! Hopefully you get a chance to come again because it really is so amazing! x
I also heard really different things about it… but it was my experience!
It’s easy to get good pictures, really. You just have to wait for the right moment. But then you turn around and see what the harsh reality is!
Unfortunately I did not have much of a choice on where to go…
Bali has a great nature and resorts. But tourist are too many. My impression of Bali was the same. It is not bad place, people are making it. Best regards!
Thank you for being honest! It’s not the first time either that I travel to places and instead of being delighted as I should be (dah! you’re a travel blogger) I felt similar things which you are describing. Yes, not all places are clean white sand beach and golden sunset and friendly people. Sometimes you have to deal with sh*t. So, there’s no need to pretend that every destination is perfect.
First time visiting your blog…thanks for Kate 🙂
I’m so glad I found this piece about Bali. I’m Balinese, all my family still live there…But my path have take me to live outside the Island of Gods and now Spore is my residence.
Completely agree with you!!! I think you gave an honest review of your short trip.
Whenever I go home, I no longer go out..the traffic is too much for me. Makes me sad because Bali as you admit yourself have its magic.
Nowadays I have to do my research and go further up from the city for a nice relaxing holiday. Denpasar, Kuta even Ubud feels over commercialised, over crowded, bad traffic problems of big city.
From what I learn about Indonesian politics, Bali a cash cow as it provides the most in tourism revenue for the nation BUT the amount of money they get back from the federal government is little compared to what they give. Hence, it is better-off to take kickbacks on the local level than “surrender” your money to Jakarta.
Sustainability is last on everyone’s agenda because it’s all about their own survival and in the end, Bali will lose out.
It definitely has lost it’s magic, if it ever had it at all. There are absolutely some nice parts of Bali and I did enjoy some of my own time there on the few occassions I have been, but overall it is not a place I enjoy spending any time in and is not a place I would revisit again if I had any other choice. And you had to go and mention that damn book ….
I can’t wait to get to Indonesia, though I do have reservations about hitting up Bali, mainly because I had guessed that mass tourism would have probably had a fairly decent impact on the authenticity of the place. Bali is the hotspot for Australians, it’s our version of Cuba for Canadians. So thanks for the honest review – I’ll stick to other parts of Indonesia instead.
I guess any place, especially the famous ones, can seem enchanting to some people and can be disappointing for others. For instance, Paris and Vienna are crowded and commercial – but, I admit, I love them. Because I love big cities, because I love these cities (along with others) and because I knew what I should expect when visiting them. I’ve never been to Bali, but I hope I’ll get there one day. Articles like this one are a true help for anyone planning a visit in a given place as they offer a comprehensive view and, sometimes, a different perspective. Loved the photos!
I guess it is the same way Acapulco lost its fire in Mexico! It’s hard to maintain the charm unless a government is smart and vigilant.
I haven’t visited yet but it is still high on my list despite a lot of negative things I have heard. I still have to see for myself! But I did hear a lot about the pollution and that it is over touristy :/
I have to say, that Bali, for me, was the worst place in Indonesia, overcrowded and overrated… however I found there a few nice and calm places, but still it’s not an island for me…
You make some valid points there. Bali is indeed a bit overrun by tourists and certainly isn’t as clean as for example Thailand. The Indonesian island of Java is even more polluted by garbage, recycling isn’t something the locals know about 😉 When I asked our driver where I could leave my empty cup of coffee, he waved to give it to him … and then threw it out of the car window! I always suggest to my friends that want to visit Bali, to visit Ubud and then go to Lombok instead. Indonesia is so much more than just Bali.
Wow, what a relief! We visited Bali in July and were also disappointed by our experience. Thankfully we also spent some time on Gili Trawangan which possesses much more of that tropical island magic, at least for the moment.
Bali was my first experience of Southeast Asia five years ago. I appreciate your honesty about the island, and although it may not exactly be “paradise” it still is very nice. My favorite was Ubud, felt a tiny bit more off the beaten track at the time.
You should always tell your opinion from your experience and that’s fair and honest. But I have been to Bali over 20 times in the last three years and I have learned that some parts are best avoided. But Bali is s very large island and there are still plenty of isolate genuine and local parts where you can experience real Balinese life without the tourists. I was just in the north shore and it was unspoiled and devoid of any tourists. It was a beautiful experience and one that I recommend anyone. Kuta is to be avoided for sure. But give it another try and head north, it won’t disappoint
I agree, and disagree 🙂 Kuta is awful, definitely. However, we absolutely loved Tirta Gangga (rice terrace hiking, villages), Kintamani (small village, lake, hiking volcano), Lovina in the north (quiet’ish, black sand beach), and Ubud was nice, although it was much busier than we had thought it would be.
Parts of Bali are very busy, while others are lovely. …stick to Sumatra 🙂
Thanks for being so honest. Cheers!
I completely agree!
Yet many do. Or perhaps they really see it perfect?
I can’t imagine what it feels like for you, seeing your place be ruined like this. I really hope the authorities make much of an effort to protect it!
I haven’t read it!
You really can’t compare Bali to Cuba. Cuba isn’t even remotely as crowded with locals, and there are not nearly as many tourists there as there are in Bali. I think in Cuba the government has been very strict in protecting its environment, and it shows. I hope the Indonesian authorities can draw from good practices too!
I completely agree. I have been to some very touristy place and still found them charming. But at times, it is just too much!
You should totally see for yourself, and hopefully you will get a better experience and manage to go to more isolated places!
Oh my! That has not happened to me. I would have yelled at the driver!
I heard Gili is so much better!
It’s good to all have different perspectives 🙂
I wish I had a choice to avoid them…
I didn’t have much choice in the itinerary. Perhaps I should go back and hit the places you mention!
We spent recently 6 weeks in Bali, in Kuta, Nusa Dua, Canggu, Ubud and Gili Air. For me it was my third time to Bali. I have to say, Bali was insanely cheap when I came the first time 6 years ago. I stayed in rooms for 50,000 rupias a night. Prices are at least 4 times higher than it used to be. (except gas, still dirt cheap).
I totally understand your point with the garbage and the pollution, I felt the same way. The only things I loved in Bali were the healthy food options, especially in Canggu and Ubud, and the views over the rice terraces. The locals we met were friendly, without exceptions. But after all, I didn’t fell in love with the place. We originally wanted to stay longer but finally decided to cut our trip and move to another place. Indonesia is such a huge country with thousands of islands, I think it’s time to move on and discover other places in Indonesia that are not overrun by mass tourism yet… Happy travels.
I liked Bali. Maybe because I read a lot about it and I haven’t seen that movie before journey, and also I didn’t visit all those crowded places like Kuta, so I spend really nice and calm time on Bali. Only one crowded place we were was Ubud, but still I really liked this village and we had nice, small and quite hotel near the center. There is a lot of nice, clean places on Bali.
I think so too! And yes, the locals are very very friendly and kind
You had the chance of picking what places to go. I think perhaps if I had that chance I would have also picked different ones
Bali was lost for the people who live there decades ago. The streams are polluted and the beaches packed. The rice fields are now hotels, and the place is a sad remnant of what it was. You are right.
The beaches did get polluted but when I got up early every morning a group of locals were walking along the beach and cleaning up, and by 9am it was clean again to start the day. I recently went to Bali for the first time, and I loved it. The sunsets, the sunrises, the temples, the people, even the congestion and noise and pollution. It must just be a state of Mind. The cost to get there from Australia is reasonable, and the food was great. Swam everyday as it is hot. It’s worth another try. I sometimes don’t like a place, but give it another go.
That’s so sad. Really. I have seen a lot of changes in Sardinia too and it hurts to know that where there once was a vineyard there now are townhouses. But at least we are protecting our coastline and environment. I hope that the Indonesian authorities finally take a clear stand in protecting their precious land!
I totally agree with you. There are a lot of places that do deserve a second chance. I am not quite ready to give that second chance right now. But you never know in the future…
It is a bit strange that often Tourism boards invite bloggers to help spread the love for the destination but they put them in the most crowded and touristy place. I can understand why you had a bad experience. Hopefully if you get there again, you would have a space to choose better where to stay. And I hope that locals and government will do something very soon about their pollution.
um…sorry but Bali is not a country. It’s just an island within Indonesia.
more and more people have made reference to go to Gili Trawangan instead of Bali, and I believe it will be just like Bali in no time. Overcrowded..
Indonesia is huge, people could steer away from Bali and and Gili Trawangan if they want some place quiet and beautiful and afraid tourism will ruin a once beautiful place even worse. Just browse around and you’ll find many 🙂
I like your honesty about the Bali you’ve seen. I’m on the same page about Kuta and Ubud. But yeah there are remote places that can still give peace and quiet, mostly further away from main tourism spots. You could find it within one week.
Some local Balinese have been protesting against tourism that gives no shit about environmental issues, for example reclamation to build a ground for yet more luxury hotels. The government’s lack of good judgment plays a big role in destroying the environment, as well as investors who just don’t care, I think. To top it all off, tourists still come to Bali (more specifically South Kuta) even though they have heard about it being damaged (and then rant about it when they had been warned).
I heard that even many of the locals don’t get proper water for daily living because the good source is sucked by the expensive hotels and resorts. And while being secluded in high-end and peaceful resorts with scenery feels really good, be aware that it might be one of the reasons for the pollution and garbage (because usually everyday they change the bedsheets, soaps in plastic wrap, and water bottles, to the least).
If you had another chance visiting Indonesia, I suggest you visit other islands. There is still so many gorgeous and way less untouched than Bali (and Gili Trawangan). But expect more hassle – or let’s call it adventure – getting there too. 🙂
This is really very heart touching that most of the beaches in Indonesia, Bangladesh, SriLanka, India are being polluted.
Yes, I was also surprised – I wonder if they actually ever realised it wasn’t pleasant for us at all?
I got to Bali and immediately left! Well, I went straight out to the islands – Nusa Lembongan, Ceningan, and Penida. Best decision ever! Beaches were not crowded. Was much less polluted than the mainland. People walk places. And the cars and motorbikes are muuuuch much fewer. I found myself alone and at peace many days and in many parts of these islands.
I also found serenity in Candidasa. There’s a white sane beach there that is a must see over Kuta beach. I avoided Kuta like the plaaaaague. Anything place that is mentioned that much and associated with drunken teenagers and 20-somethings is a huge N.O.
The only slight mistake I made was staying Ubud for too long. I went for 4 days but honestly could have done it in one overnight stay and then moved on to Northeast Bali right away. There’s lots of the more traditional, less crowded Bali up that way!
I don’t think I would have liked those kind of places even in my twenties. I remember traveling to the coast of Spain when I was 25 and not one day I went to the beach, as I found it gross!
I think this article is very apt for a short impression of Bali and was similar to mine the first visit. Then my friends moved there and I spent 4 months living there.
Alot of the issues (Rubbish burning, too many tourists, trash and hassle) are true of many parts of SEAsia – I think because Bali is an island and always deemed to be a small one people latch on to these facts so much more.
Living their like a local and really getting to know the whole Island I fell in love with it. There is much wrong with it and I can have a balanced argument both ways but the ceremonies, people, way of life, food and the nature on offer are fantastic. The problem is, many bloggers will rave about Kuta or Ubud and it means those who just have a week or so there never get beyond that.
I lived in a very small local village, the only ‘Bule’ around and so had to interact fully on a local level. It is something I am so glad I did but, to be honest, I am not sure like my friends who have been there four years I could live there permanently.
Give it another shot if you are ever Back in Indonesia, but it takes a lot of research first. The rest of Indonesia is also so diverse and incredible, it has got to be one of my favourite countries.
The water thing is true for sure. Our village I lived in would get cut off if needed so the luxury resorts would have enough. We would have to chip in to have the wells filled with bottles water or shower with a hose. 🙂
Thank you for this great comment Dan. Yes, I have spent way too little time in Bali – my post is based on my very limited experience there, and these are the impressions I got in that limited time. I didn’t have much of a choice with the itinerary. If I had one, I would have surely skipped Kuta!
Great timing to find your post. I just returned from a nice trip to several Magic Towns in Mexico and had a fantastic experience, but while thinking about this upcoming trip to the Philippines and other SE countries, I was worrying to see even more of the contrasts, poverty, urban challenges and way to do this and the such so soon.
After reading your article I’m thinking to this time visit more “predictable” places like, Singapore, japan and Korea. I’m up for connecting with locals, trying the local food and getting out of the “recommended” sites, but sometimes it can be too much contrast and some of us get overwhelmed at times. I try to mix “discovering” places with more predictable ones to avoid feeling burned out and then disappointed. I know I’ll enjoy the challenges at another time.
Don’t let this discourage you though. Indonesia is actually packed with other interesting sites – Gili Islands, the Komodo Islands. Those are incredible places – quiet, real, and simply gorgeous!
Indonesia has over 17 000 islands. Why on earth anyone would bother hanging around long enough in Bali to find whatever miniscule pleasant bit is left is an absolute mystery, when you can go straight to somewhere nicer, cheaper and friendlier, without being surrounded by 1000s of people. If you want a package holiday drinking beer and eating Big Macs, with the option of a yoga course to relieve your guilt, then fine. Bali is full of sheep, utterly devoid of the imagination to explore the rest of a wonderful nation because they believed 20 year old glossy brochure hype.
I have been to the Komodo Islands. Needless to say, 10 times better than Bali. I hope the authorities do realize that it is time to protect the environment, rather than exploit it!
I agree with you 100% Graham. I am still baffled by the fact that it is so heavily promoted as a tourist destination. I wish the efforts done to promote it were used to restore it!
Internet is pouring with good words about Bali. Now I think Bali is overrated.
It most definitely is!
I’m visiting Bali right now. We stayed in canggu, Lovina, Paddang paddang, island lembongan and Kuta. Bali is good if you like surfing but not special. The tempals if you seen 1 you seen all. The island is dirty even lembongan it is already started. The people are friendly. They are also tired that the 10 same hotel will be build. While even in high season 25% hotels are empty. The north is better. But Europe is far more beautiful than Bali. For example go to Croatia or Montenegro if you want nice sunset.
Funny how you talk about sunsets. That is about the only thing I really enjoyed in Bali – together with the monkeys. Building stuff (hotels, condos, etc) is a development strategy that works only in the short term. I think that is the case in Bali too. Overdevelopment and exploitation of land and in the end… no land will be left for people to enjoy!
I just came back from Bali and was honestly dissapointed with it. Before going, people around me were excited for me as I finally get to visit Bali but I loved nothing about it except for the warm staffs at our hotels. The beaches were dirty and even though it was the non-peak season, it did not make it anymore enjoyable. We even visited Nusa Dua, the more quiet side but were not impressed with it. I wish people would stop making Bali out to be the ‘it’ destination.
I celebrate beautiful destinations, and deconstruct myths if necessary 🙂
That is why I wrote this post. I think at some point Bali must have been amazing. And I actually think it has great potential to return to being amazing, if only they invested in some more responsible tourism, cleaned up the place and stop building useless hotels!
You absolute right. Flores, the region where the Komodo island is, beaches are 10x better than Bali. You should visit pink beach near the Komodo Island. It is absolutely stunning. Flores, Ambon, Belitung, Derawan Island, Raja Ampat Papua are some parts of Indonesia which have amazing and stunning view compare to Bali and the other beaches in the world . They are not as famous as Bali cos the lack of infrastructure and promotion so there’s only a few tourist going there. But they are absolutely more beautiful than Bali. I am Indonesian btw and i am proud of the natural beauty of my country but yes Bali is too way overcrowded.
Flores is FANTASTIC. I have been to the Pink Beach and yes, it was amazing!
Hai, I am balinese person and really sorry for what you experienced at Bali. I agree with your perspective when you said Bali become crowder, being polluted, and garbage issues still a big problem in Bali, because I also feel it. It happened because massive growth in our country but there is no change in the transportation, infrastructure,policy, and little awareness about the importance of environment.
I think you visit the wrong destination at Bali because Kuta and Denpasar are a good place for nightlife activity (and from what i read above, I bet you are a person that love peace, biking, and dislike pollution) if you have a plan to visit Bali again, I recommend you to visit Tirta Empul, Jatiluwih, Candidasa, Amed, Lembongan 🙂
Sorry for the grammar and vocab, I’m not a native speaker
Your English is great! 🙂
Yes, I am more interested in culture, nature etc than nightlife and yes, I visited the wrong locations (but it was not up to me to decide!). Thanks for your suggestions. I will keep them in mind in case I go again!
People loves Bali or hate it:) But everything depend in which part of Bali you are:) I just came back from couple days trip in the North part – it’s totally different from the South. North surrounded by hills, everything more green, not crowded, paradise for snorkeling or diving. The beaches with black sand, maybe not as some of them in South part but still worth to explore. I think if you choose the right place, you can enjoy it a lot, but Kuta and places around it – not the best ones for those who are searching paradise 🙂
Thank you Ria. I think perhaps it is worth going back and give it a second chance!!
I recently got back from a 3 week trip to Bali by myself as a 18 year old. It’s sad that this is what your describing Bali as. You went to the 2 most touristy places on the island. You can’t judge the island based on that. I stayed in ubud for a few days and it was ok. Then I went to stay with a host family in Tabanan. It is stunning the people are so friendly it isn’t crowded it is quiet and beautiful. I would travel to canguu everyday to surf it was amazing the beach wasn’t crowded at all sometimes even deserted. I think if your going to write a whole article bashing Bali you should experience better areas. Bali is a magical place and the people are the kindest people I have met in my life. The culture and Hindu religion is beautiful to observe. Staying with a family made me learn so much and see the real Bali which I recommend you do before bashing it.
Thanks for your comment Lauren, I surely appreciate it. I actually intend to go to Bali again, and go to more places that are not as crowded to double check what it is like. I do agree with you: it deserves a second chance for sure! And if anything, I can always go back to the Monkey Forest 🙂
Not sure when you were in Ubud but we were just there and it is INSANELY crowded in July! The traffic is awful. I found just one place I really liked in Bali: a small town in the east called Sideman. In a place like this, you really need to get off the beaten track, as most of S. Bali and Ubud are overrun with tourists in the high season. Thanks for your honest post– you would dislike Bali even more if you went in summer, I think.
Oh my!! I would not enjoy that at all! For sure, if I go again I will make sure to head as far as possible from Ubud and Kuta!!
My last night at Bali tonight. I completely second each and every word you have mentioned. I have been here for 4days and ever since I have been here, I have tried to like the different places beaches but I cannot seem to connect. The natures paradise is completely ruined by traffic,pollution & commercialization. Its an overcrowded,overrated mass tourist village. I don’t think I would like to return back. I missed the tranquility, serenity, peace and calm of a tropical paradise.
I am sorry to hear about your experience, which is very similar to the one I had. I somehow hope that the process of commercialization of Bali is reversible and that more effort is put into protecting its environment and culture… We shall see what happens!
Everything you say is spot on and I’ve travelled all over the island. Can’t wait to leave in a couple of days.
Every time someone agrees with me on this post, I am relieved – for at least I know I am not completely blind and biased. But I am also sad, because it means the island really has lost the magic it once certainly had. Here’s to being hopeful that the government takes measures to change it back!
Not sure where you got your rose coloured glasses from but maybe share them around because I’m absolutely disgusted by the polluted abomination this island has become and will never be returning. I first visited in 1985 and it was polluted back then but what it has become is beyond repair. It’s a very sad state of affairs. The pollution is one thing but the way the Balinese treat the animals is just heart wrenching. Neglect and abuse is normal. I have saw young Balinese men drive past dogs on motorcycles and stick their foot out to kick it. They thought this kind of nasty cruel behaviour was funny. As if it’s not bad enough that the dogs are already emaciated and full of mange through neglect. Bali is literally hell on earth.
Nusa Dua is a completely artificial tourist resort. The whole place is owned by big chain resorts. You may as well be anywhere in the world because it is not really even Bali but completely fake. Any shade under trees along the beach is used by $500 and up per night resorts for their sunbeds. I tried to sit on the sand in the shade and I was told to move on my Hyatt security. Everything in Nusa Dua is 3-4 times the price of the rest of Bali. The place is a pathetic fake rip off and the beaches are very average.
The only people who enjoy it there are people who have no idea what a nice beach is and whose idea of a holiday is staying inside a 5 star resort. Don’t even bother with Nusa Dua. Oh and trying to get there from Seminyak etc is a nightmare and takes hours of sitting in traffic and moving slower than walking pace.
Bali = Hell
Arsehole of the world
Are you serious?? Where are you from because where I’m from the beaches are pristine. I can’t understand how any surfer worth his salt would payoff a holiday to go surf at Canggu. The beaches are a vile rubbish tip all the way from Kuta and Nortn of Echo beach, pererenan etc. The water is literally shit coloured. You are surfing in raw sewage. I have seen men shitting in those waterways that go straight into the ocean. Get educated about this because you’re currently living in a delusional fantasy land.
Ah because they are corrupt and don’t give a shit about “responsible” anything. All they care about is that the money keeps rolling in for them.
This happens all the time. I have seen locals throwing garbage as they drive over bridges. Is it any wonder that every single waterway is clogged with garbage. I have to say the Balinese people are mostly very friendly but something is wrong when they appear to be completely oblivious to the vile filthy garbage tip that they live in and continue to trash. When they all head to the beach on their day off they lay around in the rubbish and swim in the filthy stinking water draining into the ocean. It’s bizarre.
They allow their kids as young as 4 and 5 to play with firecrackers in the street unattended. Their are teenage boys as young as 11 and 12 smoking and hooning around on motorbikes like cowboys. They take the mirrors off because they think it’s tough. They have shitty arrogant attitude and they leave their crap everywhere.
The Balinese treat their animals in the most abusive and neglectful way. The dogs are emaciated and full of mange, depressed and fearful because people beat them. It’s really awful. Money is everything to the Balinese and they will do everything they can to milk you for every cent. They will deceive you and charge you way more than the going rate for just about anything because you are bule(foreigner). Pronounced boo-lay. A taxi for Indonesian that is 30k will be 150k for bule. They have no comprehension that we all have to work for our money and pay to live. They just think we have endless resources.
There really is no point in continuing the very primitive Hindu religious ceremonies. Surely religion and spirituality is meant to cultivate positive qualities such as kindness and compassion etc but I see very little of that in Bali. All I see is greed, filth, corruption, ignorance and superstitious bollocks,The ceremonies are just a culturally entrenched display that they just do because they have been conditioned to over generations.ey don’t even question it and live in fear of multiple gods, evil spirits , ghosts etc if such things truly existed then surely they would punish the people for having absolute disregard for the natural beauty of the island they live on.
Bali has become a toxic cesspit. It’s rancid. I’m never going back.
The locals are responsible for much of the garbage everywhere. They have no regard for the environment and just trash the place. I’ve seen them do it. They also believ that evil spirits love in the sea and so they don’t care about it.
White sandy beach at candidasa is over rated and full of touts that pester you the whole time you’re there. The boat people also overcharge people to get there and then force you into particular sunbed and warung. I didn’t enjoy it at all and found the beach itself was not all that special. I’m from Australia and we have some of the most pristine beaches in the world so Bali just doesn’t rate at all.
Candidasa used to be an amazingly beautiful atoll reef but the people used dynamite to blow up the coral so they could make it into fucking concrete and ruin the coastline with yet more resorts. Now there is very little reef left, no beaches except for the tourist trap ‘white sandy beach’. Whatever beaches are left they are mining th sand and selling it. The place is yet another depressing example of the stupidly, greed, corruption that exist within Bali. Can you imagine if they kept that reef how beautiful it would have been!! But instead it’s concrete and ugly resorts that aren’t even that great. The food quality at Candidasa also leaves a lot to be desired. There was a only one restaurant we liked and so we kept going back. The others were pretty poor quality food.
Yes but unfortunately the rest of Indonesia are retarded Muslim religious fanatics who believe that the violent actions of jemaah islamiyah against Balinese and westerners are justified so why would you go spend your money in such countries.
Unfortunately animals are not respected in most countries in the world. Even in Italy or the United States we still have to fight for them to be treated nicely, and there’s still a long way to go until this happens. Whenever I see people mistreating animals, I tell them. I don’t care where I am. I make it a point to tell them that this is unacceptable.
While I haven’t been to Nusa Dua, I feel I should defend my friend Ciki here. She’s been to many places around the world, and gorgeous beaches. And even if she didn’t, she may simply have different taste from ours – we may not understand it, but we shall respect her opinion. Let us all be nice here ok?
You know, I would go back – despite everything. I like giving second chances to people and places. Yes, it is filthy and polluted but I think lack of an education system that teaches the importance of environmental respect, as well as lack of a proper system of garbage disposal certainly do not help.
That can only change through education!
What you describe is very sad. I appreciate your frustration, but I should encourage you not to use the f-word on this platform. I’d like to keep it as polite as possible Thanks 🙂
You know, I am a former human rights lawyer. I have spent 15 years of my life working on issues of racial discrimination and freedom of expression, I cannot accept anybody giving such strong comments on my blog. I want this to be a platform where people can express articulate opinions but always showing respect and understanding… Please keep it that way.
Can we please avoid the use of such strong expressions on this platform? I appreciate that we both don’t like Bali, but there is no need to talk like that.
Just know, it got that way because of people like you: outsiders who come looking for an exotic, spiritual experience apart from traditional tourist locations, not understanding their growing presence is turning it into a traditional tourist location–and an attraction for its neediest people to earn an honest dollar from wealthy, self-absorbed, entitled, ignorant tourists. Your kind litters the place with tourism, trashes it, and then has the gall to criticize what it’s become (as a direct result of your own actions). Impoverished areas or locations with severe wealth disparities that happen to be set on tropical and or ethereal landscapes were not put here for your personal enjoyment. Truly, the beautiful scenery (or what was beautiful) is a reprieve for all the locals under perpetual duress. (I mean, this is priceless. Tourists complaining about tourism.)
Thank you for your comment – it allows me to consider things from a different perspective and I always appreciate that. Personally, I went to Bali without any expectations (as I have explained in the post) and I wasn’t even looking for anything in particular. In any case, I agree that some tourists do leave their heavy mark on places they visit – garbage, exploitation and what not. I always do my best to respect the place I am visiting, its people, its culture and its environment.
Thank you for your article, Claudia! I.am in Ubud at present and the level of pollution makes me sad. According to the previous commenter, it makes me want to never go on vacation again. Even though I don’t share his/her fascist attack of your point of view. As if being a tourist disqualifies us. I am rather mad at those naive bloggers, who guided me here, who might have had their good experiences in Bali, but who barely mention its serious problems. You might even prevent people from coming here…for everybody’s advantage. At least I would have appreciated reading your piece earlier!
Hi Aris, I hope you get to read my reply to your comment before it is too late! Do make sure you go aaaaaall the way up north. I haven’t been, really – so I can’t say – but rumor has it that it is much nicer than the over developed south. You may have a better time there (though I can’t promise). And if anything, you can always take a boat to go to the Gilis 🙂
Hi! We are going to Bali in a few weeks. We really hope we’ll have a better experience (and we are sorry for you it was such a disappointment) and can find the “genuine’ Bali. We skip everything south of Ubud more or less (only a few temples and Nusa Lembongan) and will travel to the northwest, north and northeast. I hate crowds, pollution an traffic, so it might be a bit of a challenge for me…
Loved Sardinia btw!! 🙂
I am sure that with a little bit of effort you’ll find the magic that I didn’t see. Let me know how it goes once you are back 🙂
Hi! I found your blog as I sit in Bali, scratching my head. I’ve been here for almost a month and I can’t wait to go back to the US. So much trash!!!!!! I cannot swim in any beach without a random plastic bag or flip flop floating by me. And I’ve gone to beaches all over southern Bali, Lembongan and Lombok. The worst part are the buses full of tourists that come and ruin every beach or tourist attraction I’ve been to. Full lace dresses, umbrellas and selfie-sticks. Everyday it’s a photo shoot for some lame Facebook page! I just wanted some sun and quiet!!! And the pollution in the air. Omg. If it’s not burning of trash or fumes from cars or the boats, it’s the cigarettes. Come on people!!! Can I just Breath some fresh ocean air without having cigarette smoke in my face? The locals are nice but I’ve experienced some sexual harassment in Lombok. Cutting my stay here short because even the hotel security were perverts. Made me feel super unsafe since they have keys to all the rooms. I think the main issues for me personally are the polluted beaches and the annoying “tour-group” tourists. Most annoying, loud-mouth, cheapos that just want to ruin my life right now (joking). 🙂 thank you for your honest post. I was thinking that I’m a spoiled whiny American but Bali is only 20% what I thought I would be. Not coming back. Sticking with Hawaii and the Caribbean. For those that say, that this is a 3rd world country…need to know that most beach destinations are 3rd world and their beaches aren’t THIS trashed. I went to a small Island southwest of Lombok. Population is probably 5 and hardly any tourists and even still trash trash trash.
What you are experiencing is horrible, and hardly surprising sadly. Have you thought of going to Rinca island, or Raja Ampat? It is much better there. Or else, my beloved Sardinia. It gets packed with tourists in the summer, but the beaches are spotless 🙂
Your account is accurate. I lived there for almost 7 years. Although many of the local Balinese people are fantastic, when you live there, you become aware of the esculating crime rate. Mugging sat knife point at ATM’s, bag snatchers, attempted rape in broad daylight. It’s a seriously dangerous place sure it has its charms, but they are overshadowed by the problems you’ve highlighted. For myself, it was a great relief to return to the security of Australia. Bali has become a great place to party off the hook if you’re under 25 years old. Not my idea of fun!
I have lived 14 years in Java and never go to Bali. It is a bad place to be,
expensive, filthy and a lot of alcohol abuse and sex tourists in recent years.
Thank you so much for this, I just wish I’d read it before our recent trip to Bali. We too were only there for a week but agree with everything you say – too busy, too polluted. Our villa (Villa Avalon 2) in Canggu was beautiful however, just a pity that the nearby beach was a bit grim and we couldn’t walk very far beyond the villa for fear of being knocked over by cars or scooters. We did do a bike trip through rice paddy fields and then had a traditional lunch at a village house near ubud. I highly recommend this to see the true rural Bali – we went with Jegeg Cycling Tours and they collected us and returned us to our villa. It’s a full day trip with the traffic getting to and from Ubud. There are some lovely restaurants in Canggu which you need to get a taxi to. I think the lack of being able to walk anywhere, other than down the beach was my biggest disappointment. We also came home with some gorgeous photos!
If I ever go back, I will follow your advice. I like places where I can walk around… I don’t understand the scooter culture!!
Thank you for writing this! I wish I would have seen your post before or shortly after visiting Bali. I understand that everyone may not have the same opinion based on individual experiences, but my husband and I visited for our honeymoon last year and wholeheartedly agree with your observations. While researching for our trip we came across a few blogs that mentioned trash on the beaches durning certain times of the year due to ocean currents, but none that really described the amount of trash and pollution that we experienced. We took the same sunset photos that you mentioned and unfortunately for the same reasons.
Durning our trip we spent a few days in Nusa Lembongan and it was by far the best part of our trip to Bali.
Such a pity! A friend of mine is currently there with his family. He’s taking his time to explore and he’s been finding some amazing places. I think it is all a matter of how far you manage to go from the big and crowded tourist attractions. All in all, not my place – but I’d love to go again, just to double check!
I’ve recently came back from my two weeks trip half Bali half Flores.We had a tour guide for our small group(she has been living for years now in Indonesia)
Despite of part of Bali is dirty,crowdy and polluted this island offer much more.I live in London…have you seen London city centre Saturday,Sunday morning..or in rush hour.Is disgusting… is overcrowded and top of that is expensive and still one of the most popular touristic destination…
I guess I’m not a picky person and I did not bother that much(yes of course would be way better without this existing problems) but I enjoyed the island’s benefits….delicious food and culinary experience(durian haha),balinese massage( I had altogether 4hrs foot and full body massage for £20!) ,rich culture and activities(snorkeling,rafting) people and fun.Luckily our itinerary was so eventful and apart of sort stay in Kuta and Ubud we’ve seen a bit of north Bali,Lovina(dolphin watching) and real Indonesia(Labuan Bajo,Rinca and Kanawa Island,Moni)
We were so lucky avoid the rain(I have enough here) and mosquitos!! 🙂
Usually I visit every year a new island but I think I will break my rule and next year I will go back to Bali rent the bike and see what I have not seen yet!
P.S.Not talking about Papua and New Guinea but that is another challenge.
“The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone”
WOW! You have described such a beautiful place that now I want to go again and give it a second chance 🙂
I agree that Bali is not as beautiful as before. but I believe the magic is still there. with its traditional culture that is still EXIST, with its friendly people. and some secret places. I think it’s not enough for only one week to enjoy Bali. If you can look past the many tourists especially during the peak season, Bali will definitely still delight you.
I agree. A week isn’t enough for sure. I have been wanting to go back actually!
I can’t agree more. I’m right here, in Kuta, and I’m disgusted and I’m trying to find proof that it’s not just me. I’ve been on many beaches, searching for a clean one. Unfortunately, it’s impossible.
The fact that the article is written in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism makes me wonder a bit…
They care about advertising the place…so that more people see the dirt and make more dirt? I’m trying to find some solutions for this and its a bit overwhelming that the issue is way to big.
Hi Gloria, thanks for your comment. I visited Bali on a trip that was organized by the Ministry of Tourism over 2 years ago. Yet, I felt compelled to write about what I saw – which wasn’t exactly the paradise most people describe. I guess the Ministry was not happy with what I said, but I had to say it anyways, as a warning to those traveling to Bali and even to them, that they should do something to stop the madness! I know from some friends who have been there that if you really really travel far from the main tourist hubs you can find some clean and quiet places. You may have to search the web for them!!
Claudia, you have to go back and see the “other” Bali! My husband and I moved to Singapore 2 years ago. We’ve been to Bali three times already and every time it has been wonderful. We are super picky travelers and we hate the typical tourist destinations. We actually didn’t expect to like Bali and only went in our first month of living over here just to tick the box. But we were wildly surprised! We aren’t surfers. My husband hates crowds and wants to be the only person on a beach. We skipped Kuta and Semanyak and went straight to the more local gems. Ulu Watu was our first visit. We stayed in an inexpensive, small hotel that overlooked the ocean. We rented a motorbike. We traveled around small roads you would never see with a guide, and we found secluded beaches that had small wooden signs pointing to the path and no one else in sight. The real southern part of Bali, when you get away from the crowded areas, is very clean for Asia and oh so peaceful. The next time, we went north to Lovina. The drive north through Tabanan (bypassing Ubud) was gorgeous. We saw rice fields and amazing vistas. We didn’t stop at the waterfalls, but should have. And Lovina was so quiet. Last week, we went to Gianyar and then a little further east to Candidasa. There wasn’t much to see here in terms of culture or points of interest. It’s much more local. We checked out a night market and had a hard time finding people who could speak English, so that was a fun challenge. The beaches here were stunning. The key to Bali is never stay at a 5 star hotel, skip the beaches with chair rentals and crowds, and always so no to where the tour guides want to take you. Losing your way in Bali will make you lose yourself in Bali in such a good way. And the people are so friendly and hospitable, and the food at the small, hole-in-the-wall places is so delicious, that you will never be lost. (P.S. We loved Lombok too, but did the same avoiding of the tourist places here. /The South of Lombok is one of the most beautiful places we have seen. The Gilis are fun for a beachtown vibe, but a day is enough since it’s so touristy and busy.)
Deven, thank you for such an insightful comment. How funny, it comes right after I said to a friend that despite not really liking Bali the first time I visited, I am now ready to go back and see more of it. I think it really deserves a second chance (don’t we all?) and your comment confirms this! I will make sure to follow your advice next time I go!
Singaraja region and downwards through Munduk is real Bali – it’s a shame you’ve formed an opinion not even having been north! That’s youve written a blog casting off the country based on hitting tourist towns makes me wonder about your objective opinion and the rest of your travel blog. I’ve just returned and loved Bali, yes it’s busy, but it’s also magical and full of nature wonders and kind people. Waterfall treks in the central north and the winding roads in the hills behind Lovina and prayersong rolling through the hills. This is the Bali I fell in love with
Hi Rachel, thank you for your insightful comment – I appreciate it. Perhaps it doesn’t come across clearly from my post, and if that is the case I need to edit it. I know my opinion can only be very limited as I have only been to one part of the island. Rest assured that I intend to visit again, spend more time in Bali and get to know the north and the rest of the island. I am sure that I will find what I didn’t see my first time there!
I’m in Bali for the second time, the first time I came here was last year (my first trip out of the country, so I was a little too anxious to take it all in in 10 days). When I landed last time although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, I realise I was super uncomfortable since the moment I arrived. There was a weird stench at denpasar airport, as soon as we got out there was a huge herd of drivers yelling in chaos offering transport, the air was thick and didn’t feel clean. A random driver actually went to grab my bag to take me to his car when we already had a driver! 2 days later I got a massive cold sore and then Bali belly for the rest of the trip. I came here again this year to give it another try, as I thought perhaps my last experience was not that great because of my anxiety (I can get it quite bad) and I wanted to challenge that, see if I was more Comfortable the second time around; my partner surfs which is the reason we’ve been here, he invited me.
So far I have been much calmer, so I’m so glad I did this again for more personal / spiritual reasons. But I just can’t wrap my head around how I feel about the place. Everything you say in this article I relate too. Last year we saw seminyak, keramas and nusa lembongen (kuta was not pleasant at all, I struggled to understand the hype) and also ubud. This year we’ve been to canggu, keramas, a little more remote canggu, uluwatu and ubud again.
Tana lot we visited, I expected a gorgeous temple in the ocean in front of the stunning sunsets here, but when we arrived there were people EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t get one nice photo without some one or a bunch of people in the background, I was pretty dissapointed overall, as I could see how magical the place naturally was, and what a different experience it would be with even less then half the people.
Uluwatu I hoped would be different, a more isolated cliff with gorgeous more private beaches below. I couldn’t believe the crowds of people and shops that saturated this cliff leading down to the cave (and entrance for surfers to paddle out) it was stunning, but I feel sad that it was again filled with people, shops, and gangs of locals hanging at the warungs clearly judging much of the fresh tourists, one guy even laughed at me because I was lost.
We saw the new statue built that you can see from most places here, and that area was better, but when we got the the main statue again I could not get a photo because of the crowds.
I loved the rainforest in ubud, gorgeous. The sunsets in canggu and uluwatu. The cheap stuff, and surprisingly good food at alot of places in busy areas and the variety.
Overall I’m not sure if I dislike it more than I liked it. I experienced small snippets of the culture, and the beauty of the place (that doesn’t include the trash, the smell, the rough locals in busy areas and desease/common illness from water and food). I forgot to mention I also got bitten by a dog without instigating it, and gave had to get three rounds of rabies shots while I’ve been here.
It’s overall, for me, not an overly pleasant place to visit. It’s not overly comfortable unless you have a good travel companion and a nice room to go back to. I’m dissapointed but don’t regret coming here. I do believe there are places for me to travel that will be much more ‘me’ . But everyone is different and has a right to love Bali to.
I just can’t say I love it, at all. But it has been an interesting experience.
Ohhhh I can appreciate how you feel. I am postponing the day I go back, after reading your comment!!
Loved and appreciated your honesty. In a lot of ways, I’m in agreement with you, as well as many of the comments I managed to peruse through such as the suggestions of visiting other parts of Bali. And the utter decadence of Kuta, and the ordinariness of Denpasar, and so on.
In my opinion, it’s all honest, truthful stuff.
But one comment I didn’t see is this: Sometimes we meet someone, and they can be full of faults, and still we fall in love. And when we do, somehow all the faults soften in our eyes. We don’t deny them, but this love overwhelms the things we don’t like about the other. And we come to realize that like and dislike aren’t the best ways of to choose our way through this life.
And this love strengthens us so that we can help bring out that which we adore and cherish in the other through our patience and love. And this love gives us a kind of commitment to the other, so that it becomes more about how we can contribute and participate rather than how much we get out of the engagement. And through a kind of sublimation of self, we become enriched in ways that we otherwise we couldn’t. Or we feel profoundly transformed by this kind of love.
(It also doesn’t mean we deny our own voices. No, in fact, we have to accept our own truth throughout these engagements as well.)
So in my experience, it’s the same with places.
It’s not about how much a place conforms to our fantasies of paradise or whether we like it or not. It’s about love. And our sense of commitment to showing up to a place, over and over, because we have a sense that there may be something going on beyond what we can currently comprehend. And as we stay showing up because we’ve been offered glimmers of something deeper going on, it grows in us, and around us.
In this way, some of us fall in love with Bali. For me, it’s Ubud. It’s a disaster there. Traffic. Trash. Pollution. Materialism. Foreigners exploiting the locals. All of it and more. There’s almost nothing to like there. And yet, for some of us, there’s a spirit there. It can still be found. And it’s like no other place for those of us called there.
But it may take a strong bout of Bali Belly before our hearts are purified. Or a heartbreak for some (as I believe that book/movie was about that; never read it or saw the movie)? So purification is sometimes necessary before we can see. I certainly required my share of it!
There are places here that awaken something deep inside. You can just go to Tirta Empul and sit there, quietly, away from the tourists. Off in a corner. Or ask a local to show you how to join in the ceremony, and enter the ceremonial grounds, and sit there quietly. And be willing to stay. For hours if need be. But at some point, you’ll notice. You can’t help but feel a rumbling from deep beneath. An energy. A spirit. Not sure what one could call it. And that grows within your body. And pretty soon, it’s like you’re part of the breathing and rumbling earth.
And it feels as if ordinary reality fades. And you’ve entered an altered state of mind, where the unreal and extraordinary feels ordinary.
And it’s from there, that other events begin unfolding, that the unthinkable begins unraveling. A kind of magic. Almost anyone who’s a fan of Ubud will speak of this magical quality of being. A kind of flow to life. Once you know it, you’ll start encountering others who know it. And you’ll pick up clues on this, as it continues to expand into all aspects of your life as you know it.
Or you could go to Mt Agung. It’s a tremendous energy, a spirit. I can’t imagine a human being who wouldn’t be galvanized by the sight of it, inspired, strengthened. Or I can, actually. I imagine most tourists with their phone cameras would miss it.
But to someone who is seeking with sincerity, seeking something deeper, beyond the veil of ordinary reality, this place is rich. But one has to look past one’s likes and dislikes, as those are simply aspects of our personality, of preference, which are our conditioning. And our conditioning keeps us from seeing things afresh many times.
So I’m not sure if much of what I’ve described is accessible to anyone. But I’ve encountered many who understand what I’ve written, and the magic here. I also have met many others who have visited the exact same places and have no idea. The latter usually have an agenda. Yoga teacher training. Sightseeing. Furthering of career. Meeting a love. Doing the foodie tour. Whatever the agenda may be. If one isn’t fully open to going along with what arises (rather than what one wishes), then it’s nearly impossible to stay open to the deepest kind of blessings.
Of course, this is possible anywhere, ultimately. But again, Ubud, or somewhere in the outskirts of Ubud, there’s something profound happening there. I know this for myself because I’ve visited and left over and over, at least 8 – 10 times, and each time, it’s the same. (A milder version of this is when people say that they just miss Ubud. They’re speaking to something similar.)
And this is why some of us fall in love with this place while still recognizing the faults and shortcomings. And we continue to try to find ways to contribute to keeping whatever good there is from further eroding.
Thanks for inspiring me to write all of that.
OMG thank you so much for all these insights! It definitely is about love. For some reason, Bali and I didn’t click. But I’d love giving it a second chance!
Bali is finished as a premium place to go.Been in Indonesia six times ,business and pleasure and watched it slide as it sold its soul.Too bad,half the restaurants think that chili sauce is sambal.
It used to have a magic,but its gone.
That’s how I felt when I visited. I am still debating whether I should give it another try, or go elsewhere…
Just come across this post
Kuta is ideal for backpackers, not people who are looking for peace and quiet. Therefore your view is inaccurate, as a backpacker who is in Kuta- everyone there loves it!
Bali is lovely- you clearly can’t accept a different style of culture that is different to the westernised culture you live in
That’s why I made it clear this post reflects my point of view, and not that of others 🙂
It’s true, too congested with cars, motorbikes, and tourists. If I ever come back again, I’ll stick to Nusa Lembongan and the Gillis. Thanks for being honest!
Thank you for appreciating my honesty 🙂
I feel like you clearly didn’t do your research and had no idea where the nice places actually are? There are tonnes of white sand crystal clear beaches in uluwatu and nusa lembongan…
Thanks for pointing them out. I will make sure to check them out next time I go.
Ollie, I definetly agree with you ! Bali is amazing !! if You want quiet beach you should try Padang-padang, karma beach or Suluban ! You cannot try Kuta beach and expect to be quiet !
Stephz, if she visited only Kuta beach, of course she didn’t do her research ! I use to go to Bali every year, and I’m still finding amazing places to enjoy !! Claudia Tavani, Im afraid your honesty has something to do with lack of Informations and You Didnt Even explore 2% if the island !
Hi Georgiana, thank you for your comment. You may have not read the post in full – I think I have written all over the place that my experience is limited (yes, for as limited as it is, I do have a right to my own opinion) and that I wasn’t the one setting my itinerary. Had I had a choice I would have gone elsewhere for sure, and not picked Kuta.
You probably have missed the second paragraph of the post, the one where I state “I went to Bali as part of a very large press trip to Indonesia where I did not get to establish the itinerary (or else, I would have never picked to stay in Kuta Beach)”.
You are very patient to explaining to aggressive pack of souls. You don’t only speak about the beach but also about the conditions of the streets, the dirtiness, pollution, etc. We are living in an internet era dictatorship. This is your blog, it’s your territory.
You wrote this entry in 2015. Now, in 2019 things become worse… I guess. It’s my first time here and it’s crazy !