We set out with wide eyes and big hopes. After being stationary in stunning Mission Beach for 6 months we were ready to stretch our legs in Bali. We wanted adventures by day and to stroll along endless beaches by night. We wanted to visit small village towns, view the volcanoes, the sunsets over the water and take our time navigating this small Indonesian Island.
We cram-studied the basics of the Indonesian language before we departed Australia and braced ourselves for the humidity and tourism Mecca that would greet us at Denpasar. We thought we were prepared… but in all honesty, nothing could have prepared for what we we’re about to experience over the coming 17 days in Bali.
Now let’s preface this by saying that I do not believe that everyone will have the same reaction as we did, nor should they. We are all on our own journeys and seeking different things out of life, love, work, travel and society. We were seeking freedom and adventure and left Bali feeling like that dream was cut off at the knees, as well as a deep regret for having come here in the first place. This regret is not based on the fact that I didn’t not enjoy our stay, but rather the deep-seeded damage that we feel we have contributed to by visiting Bali in the first place.
We left with the feeling that travellers will struggle here. Tourists will thrive. There is no off the beaten track in Bali. There is a very well beaten track and an already paved track. Both are covered in rubbish. We accidentally found ourselves on the very well beaten track for our first week in bali. We hated it. Immensely. At different times we both sat down and cried because what we were seeing was just too much to ignore.
I don’t necessarily want to go into details about what we saw, or why we are both very clear that we will not return to Bali. I understand that Bali holds a special place in the hearts of many Australians, and I don’t want to take anything away from them and their experiences. I’m simply here to let prospective Bali travellers know our impression.
If you want to travel Bali; explore it, roll around in its glory, breathe it in deep, indulge in its culture and authenticity, eat alongside locals and basically do all that you can avoid being ‘just another Australian in Bali‘. I’m here to burst your bubble. There are more than 10,000 Australians who live in Bali or who spend a substantial part of each year on the island. In 2013, 16,000 Australians travelled to Bali each WEEK, making up a large portion of the whopping 3.27 million international tourists that arrived to Bali in 2013. When you consider that the population of Bali is only 4.15 million you will understand why you simply cannot fly under the radar here. There may as well be a separate currency for international tourists, there is already a second economy for us. It’s almost impossible to get the anyone you will encounter in the hospitality and tourism industry in Bali to treat you as anything except a gullible walking ATM (and a quick look at the minimum wage will show why).
Don’t get me wrong, Balinese are some of the nicest people in the world. Huge smiles and big hearts, however the layout of the tourism industry, the relative power of the Aussie dollar, UK Pound and Euro plus the way tourism drives the economy here (its estimated that 70-80% of the income of Bali is derived from tourism) means that an open, equal and honest conversation with the locals is not an easy thing to pull off.
This is certainly very different than the experiences we had in Vietnam and Cambodia, where hoteliers, tuk-tuk drivers and hospitality staff will happily sit and chat about their lives, their families, the town they grew up in and what their wives or mothers cook them for dinner. These small interactions are what makes a place memorable for us. It is why we feel connected to certain towns and have favourite hostels or guesthouses. Genuine human interaction for us is paramount. But I digress…
Bali is in trouble. That is not just our opinion, it is becoming well-known. You can read about it here, here and here, as well as on other travel blogs so we won’t repeat what is already being said. I can only think at the end of the day, that maybe we prefer to spend our tourist/travellers dollars in a place where my money might eventually trickle down to the locals and improving their everyday lives. The Balinese urgently need a freshwater supply and a garbage disposal/recycling system. Instead, the government are looking to heavily invest in a new international airport in the north of the island and a toll road from Denpasar to Gilimanuk (West Bali) to ferry tourists to new development in the West.
By all means go and explore Bali for yourselves, like we said, this is just our opinion. We genuinely hope that your experience is more enjoyable than ours.
I am also aware that many will be offended by this article as they have a deep affinity with Bali. I get it. I do. I had just that same reaction this week as I read an article by Nora Dunn about why she could never live in Japan. I was enraged. I admire Nora but she was wrong, Japan is incredible! However after I drafted a reply about how incorrect she was and narrow minded she was being, I deleted it. I realised that this is just her opinion and that Nora is on a different path than I am, she is a whole other person than I am, and just because we both live this nomad (freaking amazing lifestyle) we do not need to have the same opinions.
If you’re planning a trip to Bali and concerned about the same issues, then check out our post “Seeking paradise in Bali” for a rundown of exactly where we went and what we did enjoy