Is Bali Worth Visiting?

Is Bali Worth the Trip 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

Is Bali Worth the Trip I don’t know, though, why people flock to Bali as a tourist destination, particularly as a beach destination.  I often wonder is Bali worth the trip at all?

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

is Bali Worth the Trip 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

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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? 

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Bali Travel Is Bali Worth It

25 Comments

  1. I totally agree with your assessment Amber. People who have not been to Bali think it is a tropical island destination. Many Brits make the long flight to experience it. However, I too was disappointed in most of the island, particularly the most touristy areas – Kuta and Nusa Dua. The beaches are disappointing – rocky and dirty, and impossible to swim. Nusa Dua is like any other tourist strip in the world, nothing special at all. What I did enjoy about Bali were the beautiful hotels with lovely tropical gardens and pool areas (and spas). We liked the Meridien in particular as it was further away from the tourist hub, driving through gorgeous Balinese paddy fields to get to it and walking distance to a temple. We went there several times whilst living in Jakarta as it was a short hop on the plane and very relaxing. So I would say, if Bali is close to where you live (ie within a short flight), absolutely go and experience it, but choose carefully where you stay or you too will be disappointed. Don’t go there expecting beautiful tropical beaches. Expect beautiful spas and hotels and relaxation but stay away from the tourist centers if you want to experience the real Bali.

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    • Well said Sue. I just saw a blogger post about the perfect 7 day Bali itinerary, which started in Kuta! She was paid to put together the itinerary, and I was shocked. There are nicer points when you get away from those kinds of areas, but I like that you agree about the beaches. Too bad, right?

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  2. I love Bali for the things you mentioned. Vibrance and calmness…Nice photos, Amber!!!

    Julie & Alesah
    Gourmet Getaways xx

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    • Yeah, it certainly has that, if you know where to look!

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  3. I’ve almost gone to Bali several times but always change my mind for another destination nearby. I don’t really know a lot of people who have liked it and the beaches look very unimpressive. I would like to see Ubud someday though.

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    • I think Ubud is a great place if you are looking for yoga, meditation, healthy food, massages, etc. There are a ton of offerings. But, for beaches, I would look elsewhere.

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  4. Well, Amber, I couldn’t agree with you more. Padang Padang, Sanur and Jimbaran beaches were nice, but they certainly didn’t wow me. I’m wondering though if I should’ve headed up north to explore the beaches there instead.

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    • Helen, we traveled up to Amed while living there, and it was nicer than the south, but still not worth the effort. And, as much as it was not Bali, I feel the same about the Gili Islands. I have heard of really nice beaches elsewhere in Indonesia, but I just don’t think Bali’s “sell” is the beaches!

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  5. Take a brief moment to think of all the billions of dollars that pour into Bali each year as a result of their tourism business, and also the millions collected as tax and service charges. Now ask yourself why are children in certain areas of Bali malnourished? Why are the roads, schools and hospitals so under funded? Why is the refuse system so antiquated and over-stretched to the point of being a major health hazard? Bali should be an island of plenty for all, including the Balinese. OK, so some money goes to the Indonesian Archipelago as a whole, but where does the real money go?

    From Cradle to Grave, the Balinese are robbed blind.
    Due to the lack of role models in government and an effective police force that serves the community, not their pockets, the Balinese have many problems. Their teachers often rob them (by taking food from them and demanding they buy their school books from them at inflated prices). Their neighbours steal from them (during hard times, chickens and worse are routinely stolen for cigarette, etc. money). Their employers steal from them (by not paying them their fair / legal share of the service charge they collect from tourists in their name). Their government steals from them (by grabbing private and public land, and selling it for individual ministers personal gain, and by pocketing taxes, etc.). The police steal from them (big time – the police are probably the biggest crooks in Indonesia).

    It is not just theft, but abuse the Balinese have to suffer.
    They are virtually ignored in matters of health, they are certainly not taught effective health education. Men abuse women, wholesale, in and out of marriage, e.g. low class youths will insult or even stone girls they want to sleep with but are refused, or sometimes rape them). If you are a Balinese girl and date a foreigner, locals will openly call you a prostitute in the street. And if you are a western woman dating a Balinese man, you too will be declared a prostitute. Many men routinely cheat on their wives with other women, including true prostitutes. Neighbours inflict abuse and even violence against each other as calling the police is not an option. Neighboring islanders simply arrive in Bali, cut down trees on other people’s land, build houses and then claim the land as their own. Greedy property developers with the help of corrupt building officials and the mafia police of Bali build where they should not, and destroy Bali’s precious heritage.

    It is amazing how the Balinese still manage to smile.
    But take a close look. Watch many of the Balinese faces when they are not aware you are there or watching. You will see the strain, stress and unhappiness show itself. The Balinese are naturally gracious people, but it is surprising they are able to be under such circumstances. And you will only make their lot worse if you support, consciously or inadvertently, the fuglies in Bali. If you support those that steal from and / or oppress the Balinese, you are guilty of their demise yourself. Plain and simple.

    If you visit Bali, you owe the Balinese.
    The Balinese, like you, want a better life for themselves and their children. That means having a proper education in a well funded school to help them leave the tourism poverty trap. That means a public health service that serves the people, not the politician’s pockets and which simply adds to the Balinese people’s problems. Is there any doubt, if you stay at a fugly hotel or allow the nasty corrupt Balinese police to get your money (don’t forget, that means money you pay to a hotel, restaurant or driver – if the police take it from them, as they do, they are taking from you) and not do something about it. You are a part of the problem yourself.

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  6. Amber, I am vacationing in Bali right now and can’t agree with you more. We flew into Bangkok, stayed for a few days and then headed over to Bali. We have visited beach towns like Phuket and Ko Samui in Thailand and can safely say that no beach in Bali compares to those places. Its not just the beaches, everywhere you go there are overpriced items to buy. Eating out is quite expensive and does not really justify the kind of prices you are paying for it. I just hope that billions of dollars being poured into the country by tourists is somehow making the daily lives of the Balinese people better and providing them better opportunities for themselves and their kids. Thanks much for the article.

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    • Thanks for your thoughts. There are times when I look back at some of our photos from Bali and really do miss it. I think there is something really beautiful still there. It’s just harder to find than it once was. Try Canggu for a more chill beach scene, or Uluwatu for beautiful views!

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  7. Don’t go to Bali guys, I’m Indonesian and I recommend you to visit Wakatobi Island! Worth the visit! I can assure 🙂

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    • Great tip. Thanks!

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  8. As I see in your writing Amber that many of the tourist community in Bali tends to be Europeans, Chinese & Australians. My partner and I are from North America. The first time I visited Bali was June of 2016. Originally I was staying in Melbourne Australia and decided I wanted to get an island feel as it was fall in Aus and only a 6hr flight away. Too enticing to give up! So, I vacationed there with a couple Australian friends. First time I visited I stayed in Seminyak. Towards the end of my trip I visted Ubud. In the end my boyfriend and I realized Ubud is much more our speed and loved how quiet and cheerful the area of Ubud was. So this year I intend to return in March of 2017. So to say if Bali is worth the trip I totally believe it is. Coming from someone who chooses to fly a very cramped 23hrs believes that Bali is worth it. I grew up in Philadelphia. I’m a city girl at heart but enjoy the peace and quiet. To be someone who is used to NYC the bustle of Seminyak streets did not put me off. Also, being someone who has experienced the carribean in the Bahamas I have experienced very intense touts. But since I speak fluent French it seems to keep them off my tracks as they don’t understand me 😉 The first time I came to Bali I truly felt off the grid. The beauty of such a funky place are the the honesty and joy in such real, beautiful kind Balinese people. Waking up in the early mornings in a private pool villa of my own to the scent of burning incense warm sunshine heating up my yoga mat, I can’t help but say Bali gives one the experience of hardship, beauty in small things, and realization of simplistic kindness. I think I can say as an American I was pleasantly surprised by Indonesia. It was so far from what I expected but exactly what I feel is needed to experience in life. We forget growing up in certain countries how everything is so attainable in Bali you really get to surround yourself in culture. There is NO way you can’t. As far as the beaches go, yes I was a little disappointed but I got to experience a beach called Suluban so if you are still there, or ever returning I would request to check it out! its very hidden and in a beach town about 45 minutes outside Seminyak with light traffic. It’s certainly a day trip. You have to descend a scary 200 steps to get down to the beach. It is a surf beach, and the waves can be strong. Coming in the morning is the best because some times the tide comes in towards the evening but it really is a beautiful beach to explore. You weave through all these rock formations and its almost cave-like. It’s not overly crowded and the sand is pretty smooth. There are rocks you can sit on once you reach the clear green water. Suluban is certainly worth seeing. This year when I go I am going to stay in Gili Air. I hope the oceans are a little more tropical standard! Well, Thank you for your info! I hope you enjoy mine 😀

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    • I am glad you enjoyed your trip. I do think the experience of being a tourist is different from living there, which is where my view point came from. Enjoy your return trip!

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  9. In Bali at the minute. From the UK. Have been before. I have travelled the world and although I have enjoyed Bali before, we haven’t this time. It’s true there are better beaches, more beautiful beache’s elsewhere in the world- Mexico, Thailand, USA……it’s getting so expensive now- a beer costs the same in a restaurant as it does at a bar, the beach and the shop- how/why??? Cannot be so!! Not good for a tourist anymore; so many other options elsewhere, that cost less and are nearer to where we live without the huge flight. Infact, I truly believe this is how the Balinease want it- they don’t want the tourism here, they want the Island left untouched for their own, but let’s be honest that isn’t really reality. They need the money!

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    • Thanks for your thoughts. We haven’t been back in two years, but may be there soon. It will be interested to see how it changed.

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      • What a load of rubbish. Don’t you realise that Bali and its beaches weren’t formed for tourism but for natural beauty. There are obviously places in Bali you haven’t been too that are off the beaten track that are untouched by tourism and are stunning. Ubud is fine as a small town but nothing special. I have hired a jeep and driven round the island without touching the popular resorts. The people and the food are amazing and deserve tourists

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        • Thanks for your honest thoughts. The thing is that most tourists don’t explore beyond the big tourist destinations and major beaches, and for them, they need to know what it’s like.

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  10. For all the nay-sayers, I would like to suggest they hire a driver who will pick them up at the Denpasar airport and drive across the island to the north side skipping the southern beach towns and tourist scenes entirely. The drive is about 4 hours but the reward is great. Try Permuteran where one can snorkle in crustal clear water just feet from the white sand beach. There are several lovely resorts there where one can happily stay and which can arrange a driver ahead of time. There is an island national marine park about 1/2 hour’s boat ride away called Menginan. The waters are protected and snorkeling/scuba is unsurpassed. Eat at the local warungs for less than the same food costs at the local “supermarkets.” Add to this, the fact that someone else does the cooking for you and you have a dream vacation. Oh, the last few days of your vacation should definitely be spent getting to know Ubud. It is touristy but its culture is enticing and colorful. Don’t expect perfection and you won’t be disappointed, it’s a real treat.

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    • Agreed that you need to get off the beaten path to explore Bali! Thanks for your thoughts.

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  11. I’m glad I found your blog post about the beaches, Amber. I’m from the U.S. and I go out of my way to to do a lot of research before traveling, but as you know, books and resort websites only post the most lovely pictures. I get this perfect image of what it will be like and if I go and the beaches are dirty, I would have been crushed.

    I’m actually planning a trip to Bali in July 2018 for my 50th birthday. I’ll be traveling solo (my first solo international trip). I’m a beach girl and my bucket list choice was Maldives. 2nd Choice was Thailand. However, July is Monsoon season for both destinations. So sadly, those were out.

    I should also say that I’m not just “roughing it” in a foreign beach destination, but most of my vacation will be a sailing trip via G Adventures, which semi-caters to solo travelers, offering same sex roommates, etc. They have a 6-day sailing trip of Bali and Lombok, which I ultimately decided to do. I am NOT a diver, as huge fish scare the crap out of me. But I can snorkel and enjoy sailing (what little I have done of it).

    Since it is only 6 days, and I’ll be sailing from Nusa Penida to the Gilis, I thought it would be nice to extend my trip and stay at either Sanur or Jimbaran for two days prior to the sailing trip – and relax on the beach. But now I’m wondering if I should bother as it seems like they are dirty, with low tides, lack of sun, etc. I like how one commentor mentioned staying at a resort for the pool, grounds, etc. And I LOVE a sweet boutique resort, with privacy – – somewhere I can just totally chill out with a book, sit in a nice garden, relax, and try to forget that I’ll be 50 in a couple of days. I don’t mind paying for it – its a once in a lifetime trip. Not really a fan of yoga, meditation, or massage. Kinda wondering if the trip to Ubud is worth it. This will be my first trip to Asia though, and I am interested in the local lifestyle and respect it. Wondering if a taxi trip to Ubud is a must for that reason – or even if I’ll have time since I’ll only be staying inland for a couple of days and see relaxation.

    To make a long story short (too late!), wondering what your thoughts are for a single gal seeking relaxation, a beautiful resort, and the best beach I can get – – semi close to the sailing port in Serangan Village, and if I should bother with a trip to Ubud. Thanks so much.

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    • First regarding monsoons in Thailand. There are two rainy seasons for the beaches, one of the east of the country and one on the west. When it is wet on one side, it’s dry on the other. As for Sanur versus Jimbaran, Sanur is more developed. You are more likely to find a small hotel, with a pool, and then you can walk to the beach, but it is pretty shallow. Jimbaran and Uluwatu are areas set up in the hills, where you can find a quiet place with a pool with a gorgeous view of the water, but beach access might be harder. Sanur is better to be able to walk around on your own. Jimbaran is more remote, so it is more often going to a resort or hotel and just chilling with a book. As for Ubud, it’s possible to do a day trip, it is closer to Sanur than Jimbaran, but you will spend an hour in the car each way. If you need a driver, let me know. Enjoy your 50th!

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  12. My bf works with some Indonesians in London and they themselves told him not to go to Bali because it’s not that beautiful. We’re supposed to visit Bali this January but after learning about what his coworkers told him and reading this blog, Bali trip will be put aside for a while. Philippines and Thailand have the best beaches in south east Asia so there we will go.

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    • I still think Bali is worth it if you are interested in culture and history. It really is one of the few areas of Southeast Asia that continues to respect its history, religion, and culture in a way that is beautiful, and not just on display for the tourists. I can’t speak on the Philippines. There are nice beaches in Thailand, but it also depends on where you go and what season it is. They also have their own beach problems, with trash, marine stingers, or unswimmable water. You just need to do your research on the specific beach you are heading to in order to make sure if fits what you like.

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