I have a mess of blog posts that I have written and never finished. Often they are posts that I write when inspired by something, or when I drink, that never pan our, or I never quite finish. Analyzing our #BaliProblems was one of those posts.
Sometimes though, it is because I can’t come to a conclusion on the topic. This is one of those posts. I actually wrote the initial draft of this well over a year ago, and now, I am finally getting around to finishing it. I am still unsure how to answer the question “Is Bali Worth Visiting?”
The Word “Bali”
You say the word Bali and it connotes images of a tropical paradise, no matter how you slice it. Verdant, green hills, with terraced rice paddies, rustic villages with chickens crossing the road, gorgeous, white sand beaches lined with palm trees. I mean, it’s a tropical island, how bad could it be? There is just something about the word, but, honestly, I am not sure why.
I know why I have called Ubud home for the better part of the last year and a half. It is, generally, and easy place to live. It is not too expensive, there are a wide variety of western conveniences, we can motorbike around easily, and it can be pretty beautiful. I fell in love with our house, and our view.
Bali As A Tourist Destination
Those images of a tropical paradise that are reactionary when one hears the word Bali might be how the island once was. Perhaps it still is a tropical paradise, in certain pockets of Bali, ones that are often hard to find. But there are certain things about Bali, and how it has changed over the years, that entirely irk me. And, after hearing from a few fellow travel bloggers about how they were utterly disappointed with the island, I spent some time considering why that is.
My first trip to Bali was only in 2009, so I cannot talk about decades past, where Ubud was a magical artists’ haven and Kuta a budding surf destination. I can, however, talk to how Bali appears to me, now that I have called it my home for more than a year.
Tourism Run Amok
Heading into towns like Ubud, Legian, Sanur, or god forbid, Kuta (the arm pit of Bali), it is hard to see what is so amazing about the island. Circle K convenience stores rule, along with tourist focused restaurants, tour operators, signs for elephant rides, and trips to the local safari. Everyone is trying to sell something.
The touts are unbelievable. You cannot walk 5 feet in most of the tourist areas without hearing a call for “taxi” or “transport.” In Sanur, walking down the street is a full contact sport, as you avoid the broken sidewalks, motorbikes, and touts. One of the benefits of renting a motorbike in Ubud is to avoid these cat calls while walking the main roads. Just walking while carrying my helmet seems to keep them at a distance.
Even at the old international airport (which was easily one of the shoddiest international airports in the region, until the new terminal opened just recently), touts tried calling me into a restaurant, souvenir shop, and massage parlor. I have never been to an airport and been beckoned into a restaurant. In 2010, in Legian, while walking to the beach, a tout grabbed my arm to pull me into his shop, something Eric certainly did not appreciate.
It is not merely the touts that annoy. The numbers of tourists (and us expats in Bali) has exploded in such a way that there is a drain on resources and infrastructure. Issues like water supply, cleanliness, and waste removal, are not managed. Roads are too narrow to handle the numerous giant tour buses that make their way around the island each day. The authenticity of the island has long gone.
Despite this, the government, almost weekly, announces new initiatives to increase tourist numbers, focusing on Europeans, Russians, and Chinese. One article in the Bali Daily stated the government was looking to increase the numbers of Australian tourists, as if more Australians are needed in Bali.
To aid this development, the government just announced it will waive visa on arrival fees for tourists arriving from Australia, Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan, starting in 2105. Most of those tourists are the ones that arrive in tour groups, and clog the roadways in giant tour busses. It is also often argued that the large tour groups offer little to the local Balinese economy.
The Bali Beaches
I wonder whether Bali is worth the trip as a beach destination when I have yet to find a beach that I love on the island? The southern beaches, like Kuta, Seminyak, and even Canggu contain large waves, more appropriate for surfers, not for swimming. Those waves can knock you straight off your feet, and knock the wind right out of you.
Sanur is a more accessible beach, but you have to try swimming at the exact right time of the day, high tide. Otherwise, the beach is shallow and rocky, like many of the beaches in Bali. The beaches themselves continue to suffer from severe trash problems throughout the year. It’s worst in the rainy season, when the rain washes the trash from the rest of the island into the ocean, and the tidal flow keeps it on the shore. Amed is nicer, but even there the beaches suffer low tide, rocky beaches, and from similar trash issues, despite its remote location.
I understand I am the Goldilocks of the beaches, but I have only had one enjoyable swim in the water here in Bali. Many of the beaches are nice to look at, with palm trees, cliffs, and Balinese temples overlooking the water. In my opinion, though, there are much nicer beaches elsewhere in Asia.
So, is Bali Worth Visiting?
What Bali offers, that is different in my opinion from so many other tropical beach destinations, is Balinese Hinduism. Daily offerings, ceremonies, incense, holy water, traditional dress. It is one of the things that that I have loved about living here, and what continues to draw me to the island. And, of course there is the yoga and massage industry, which is really what has kept us here. Oh yeah, and the friends we have made.
But, as we make our decision on how to spend 2015 and beyond, this question plagues me even more, is Bali worth the trip?
Have you been to Bali? Love it or Hate it?