Bali, a beautiful, tropical island in Indonesia – known for its stunning scenery, expensive wellness retreats, and tasty culinary delights.
But there’s an ugly side to Bali. A side you may find hard to believe thanks to the glamorous Instagram feeds belonging to models, influencers and surfers. These insta-fluencers fail to mention some of the culture shocks you will likely experience during your time in Bali, which is why I wanted to give you a post highlighting exactly what to expect while staying in the tropical Indonesian island, without too much fancying and glamorising.
I want to give you the REAL side of Bali
Now, the pro’s of Bali 10000% outweigh the cons – Bali is beautiful and you will absolutely love it. When you leave, you’ll be saving up for your next visit and counting down the days till you return. It’s almost like the island has a mysterious pull. It urges you to pack your bags, hop on a flight and move there forever.
However, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.
Bali and Poverty:
Over 150,000 of the island’s inhabitants still live under the poverty line. In remote villages, away from the tourist resorts, many Balinese residents work as farmers. However, the farming industry in Bali is dwindling and with volcano evacuations around the Mt Agung perimeter, many farmers have had to leave their homes, move into shelters and lose their livelihoods.
In some remote villages, some residents still lack access to clean water, education and even electricity. It won’t be unusual, during your stay to see people washing in the rivers. Some of the men living in poverty, head to the tourist resorts to find work, leaving their wives and children struggling to get by – and even still, there is no guarantee of tourist work.
In fact, Bali’s governor has stated that the state of the tourism industry was a disaster for those living in poverty as the prices for basic commodities is raised so much that the poor islanders have to sell their properties and other belongings in order to survive. And that’s not the only problem with tourism…
Bali and Overcrowding:
Bali is packed to the brim with people. Beaches are crowded, streets are crowded, roads are crowded, tourist attractions (obviously) crowded. It’s difficult to move. If you’re planning on sightseeing, my suggestion is to get up early and be the first out the door in the morning. Planning to romantically watch the sunset at the beach? So are the rest of the island’s tourists. My advice is to visit just out of season and avoid Australian school holidays.
Bali and Traffic:
The road infrastructure in Bali is at breaking point. With no public transport, tourists resort to renting scooters or jumping in taxis. The issue is, I genuinely think there are more taxis than people. When you arrive at the airport, you will feel like you’ve been thrown in a pit of piranhas. “Taxi” “Taxi” “You want taxi” echoing over and over. You’ll get surrounded by about 80 taxi drivers all trying to get you to use them. Some will even hand you mobile phones so they can be your personal driver. Just keep cool.
Make sure you’ve got a taxi/hotel shuttle already planned, and you can deal with the craziness later.
The problem isn’t just with the number of taxis, it’s the amount of them that are consistently on the roads. After a day at the beach a half hours walk away, I managed to blister my feet in my new flip flops, so we decided to take a taxi home. Big mistake. The taxi actually took longer than the walk would have and people on the streets were walking faster than the traffic could keep up with. Of course, I appreciated the sit down in order to relax my poor feet, but it seemed like such a counterproductive process. The roads are unbelievably congested. So much so, that many scooter riders think it’s acceptable to drive on the paths narrowly avoiding pedestrians. And with all that traffic comes…
Bali and Pollution:
There is a big pollution problem in Bali. and not just pollution from vehicles, but plastic pollution too.
If you’re heading to Ubud or Seminyak, you may want to pack a face mask or a scarf. You’ll notice there is a whole load of smelly, fuel-filled fumes and you’re going to want to protect your lungs. You’ll see that Many residents wear their masks when on their scooters or even just walking down the street, but I found holding my scarf in front of my mouth sufficient enough to block the taste.
We’ve all seen the videos and photos of the beaches around Bali. If you haven’t, then here’s one:
It’s horrible, right? Unfortunately, that’s another problem with being a big tourist destination, having a desire to keep up with modern living and not having the correct measures in place. A few years ago the only rubbish the Balinese would have was organic material that could rot away – now, with the introduction of bottles and other one use plastics combined with bad waste management, Bali has a serious problem.
But there’s hope!
Recently 20,000 people in Bali participated in a “Clean Up Bali Day”.
Actually, the plastic pollution in Bali is such a big topic – I think I’ll save this for a separate post as I could go on for ages about it…
Bali and Street Sellers/Taxi Drivers:
Understandably, these people need to make a living. You already know how poverty is a big problem so it makes sense that these people are trying to make an income. However, they can be very intimidating. Generally, the Balinese are some of the kindest, loveliest and most welcoming people you’ll ever meet.
However, some of the street sellers and taxi drivers give the Balinese a bad reputation (partly because a lot of them aren’t actually Balinese and are just profiting from their thriving tourism industry). Firstly, you’re going to want to avoid unmetered taxis who will charge you the earth (because they can). A 5-minute journey could end up costing you over £20 (take it from someone who knows)
ALWAYS USE METERED TAXIS
Download the Bluebird app too, it’s a bit like Uber except it’s Bali specific and all journeys are metered. The issue with these people is that they can be pushy, intimidating and just be blooming annoying. If you ever want to walk anywhere around Ubud or Seminyak then you’ll have to deal with the constant beep, beeping of taxis and “yes sir, taxi”. If I want a taxi, I will wave one down, making me jump out of my skin when your loud horn goes off is not gonna make me want to get in. Maybe they think you want a taxi because…
Bali and Pavements:
The pavements in Bali are crazy. They’re usually not well maintained and you’ll wonder how on earth anyone could push a buggy or a wheelchair around. The curbs are high and usually without ramps so it’s really not that accessible for people with disabilities. And even without disabilities, you’ll probably spend a lot of time watching your feet to ensure you don’t trip, or better yet fall into a hole like we nearly did in Ubud.
Bali and Bali Belly:
If you’re one to get ill a lot, then you’re probably gonna get the dreaded Bali belly. Handling money, wash your hands. If you’re eating salad? Make sure it’s not washed with tap water. Avoid ice in your drinks, etc, etc. Follow all the standard advice.
The main issue is, the water in Bali is filled with different minerals, that your body is not used to, which in turn can you make you really ill.
Mr L managed to get it while we were there and believe me when I say, it’s not fun. You’ll notice in the bathroom of most hotels you’ll be provided complimentary bottles of water for teeth brushing (Mr L didn’t use these and swallowed the tap water instead). You’ll find plenty of pharmacies in the main towns and they’ll all be able to help you should you require it. Personally, I ate salads and fruits and ignored some warnings not to – but you may want to be a bit more cautious.
The Pros of Bali:
Now we’ve got the negatives out the way, and you’re not disillusioned by your Instagram feed I can talk about the real magic of Bali and why it makes everyone want to go back year after year…
Bali and its Beauty
Bali is truly one of the most beautiful places you will ever go. It’s magical, fascinating and even in the dirtiest or saddest of places, there’s still so much beauty to be found. One of the most beautiful moments we had was when our driver got lost in the middle of nowhere searching for a waterfall. We ended up in a traditional poverty filled village full of the happiest and friendliest people, it was absolutely heartwarming.
We were waved at by the rice farmers, we watched them carrying heavy loads with a smile on their face and then we drove through a village where mats of rice lined the roads, drying out in the sun. It was such an extraordinary sight, that you just wouldn’t find in the western world.
Bali and its People
The Balinese are the friendliest people you’ll ever meet – FACT. They are warm, welcoming and super smiley. They’re always willing to help you and give advice. Even when they’re beeping at other drivers, they’re not even mad, imagine road rage – without the rage! You’ll find it hard to find a single, angry Balinese person, even when they were getting cut up by scooters 24/7, they’re still always smiling.
Bali and its Bars
It’s so incredible how much Bali can vary between rich and poor. Some of the bars in Canggu, Seminyak, Kuta and other beach locations are incredible. So grand, luxurious and architecturally brilliant. If you’re looking for luxury views and expensive cocktails then I definitely recommend spending a few evenings watching the sunsets at:
- Finns Beach club
- Ku De Ta
- Potato Head.
And as you know, the beaches can be overcrowded, if you’re willing to spend a little money in these places, you can usually grab a good/comfy front row seat.
Bali and its Beaches
So the beaches have a bad reputation for their cleanliness and rightly so, they can get extremely dirty. But what’s incredible, is when communities of locals, expats, tourists, hotel workers and just about everyone on the island, come together and helps clean up the plastic waste restoring the beautiful beaches to their former glory. And when they’re restored? They make great, relaxing sandy beaches – perfect for cocktail sipping and relaxing. Another reason the beaches in Bali are so popular is thanks to the incredible…
Bali and its Waves
Surfing waves. One of the main reasons people travel to Bali is to catch waves. The waves here are great for surfing and depending on where you are on the island, they’re geared for different levels. However, always take precautions and listen to the advice from professionals as the sea’s can easily change and become dangerous.
Mr L took a surf lesson with Santi Surf in Kuta and had the best time! Here are some videos of his (failed) attempts.
Bali and its Architecture
Temples, everywhere. Whether it’s religious architecture like the temples or even the domestic homes, the craftsmanship in Bali is phenomenal. Traditional houses, developed using organic materials like bamboos and thatch roofing, as well as bricks and stones, are just one, of the many, unique building styles you’ll find in Bali.
Unlike Europe and the western culture, Balinese homes are a collection of structures within one walled compound – instead of your typical one building house. The bedrooms are all separate structures with a courtyard in the middle, a communal kitchen and a religious shrine. Typically, Balinese houses don’t contain showers as the Balinese use public baths to wash. Another thing you’ll notice is the size of the compounds entrance gates, as a general rule, the bigger the gate, the richer the family.
Unlike other Hindu cultures, Balinese temples are created to be open-air worship places within a walled compound – much like the compounds they live in. There are many different types of temples in Bali, but they all follow the same design rules. There are water temples, sea temples and normal land temples, each just as beautiful and intricate as the other.
They’re absolutely breathtaking and they have to be seen to be believed.
Bali and its Waterfalls:
One of the many posts you will have seen on your Instagram feed is of the remarkable Balinese waterfalls. There are so many in Bali. Each waterfall has its own beauty and individuality. We visited 2 out of the 3 on our list and the locals are more than happy to take your photos so you can remember your experience. Make sure you don’t visit after a heavy rainstorm though as the water won’t be the crystal blue from your Instagram feed, but will instead be a murky, muddy brown like ours.
Bali and its Culture:
Bali is a very religious island. With a mix of Hindu-Buddhist, it’s very different from the rest of Indonesia which is generally an Islam country. Balinese culture is an artistic one, filled with dance, art, drama and crafts. There are plenty of impressive and colourful religious festivals on the island but religion is also celebrated daily in the form of offerings. Every day (except when there is a death in the family/community or Kliwon, Purnama, and Tilem) the women of the island make little baskets filled with gifts for the supreme god Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa and leave them on the street. The daily offering is called Canang sari and you’ll notice baskets everywhere you go, some even contain lit cigarettes.
Bali and its Cuisine:
With such a tropical environment Bali is treated with many types of exotic fruits and vegetables. During your holiday make sure you sample the traditional Balinese foods like
- Nasi Goreng – its literal meaning is fried rice.
- Kopi Luwak – AKA Cat Poo Cino or Catshit coffee. It’s Coffee made from animal poop (not actually, but kinda)
- Dadar Gulung – a green pancake-like dessert (delicious)
And of course, for drinks, you’re going to want a refreshing bottle of Bintang or a delicious young coconut to go alongside.
But you don’t have to stick to Balinese cuisine, in the tourist centres there are plenty of cuisines from all across the world and 2 of the restaurants in Seminyak we recommend are:
Sea Circus and Motel Mexicola you’ll notice the presentation and decoration in this place are pretty insta-worthy
There are also loads of street vendors that’ll you’ll find pretty much everywhere selling food for really REALLY low cost. However, there was program a few years ago though how some of these places got found out to contain dog meat – so you may want to avoid.
Bali and its Hotels
Again adding to the poor/rich divide, some hotels in Bali are unbelievably extravagant, luxurious and so beautiful you’ll wonder if selling your home to afford to stay a few more weeks is a worthy investment. A night at Ubud’s Mandapa, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve hotel will set you back over £300 a night – but it’s so unbelievably beautiful, charming and filled with atmosphere, it’s hard to say no. Obviously, we did, because who has that kinda money lying around, but we did go past it during our rafting trip…
Bali and Its Tourist Activities and sights
Bali is an island geared at tourists, which means there are so many fun activities to do during your stay. My favourite was the water rafting we did with Red Paddle. Where you can explore the longest river in Bali – the Ayung, on an inflatable raft, with the funniest “guide”, through the most beautiful rainforests and then you even get lunch included!
Other activities you can find in Bali include:
- Surfing (as already discussed)
- Day cruises to neighbouring islands
- Water parks
- Underwater sea walking
- Kopi Luwak coffee making
- giant swings over rice fields
and so much more
Then, of course, there’s all the sightseeing:
- Rice paddies
There is so much to do on such a small island, you could stay there for weeks.
Bali and its Climate
Bali has 2 seasons rainy and dry. It has a tropical climate thanks to its location close to the equator and the average yearly temperature is 26-27 degrees with humidity around 85%. The rainy season in Bali runs from October to March and dry from April till September. We visited in the first week of October and in Ubud it rained every day, but in Seminyak, it was bright sunshine and nice every day. So the weather can vary so much between each town – strange when you consider how small the island is.
Bali and Serenity
If you want to avoid the tourist resorts and head out into the sticks, then you certainly can escape the hustle, bustle and overcrowding of the tourist resorts. Head to San Giri a mountain glamping resort nestled within the mountains of Jatiluwih and in the centre of the beautiful rainforests. From here you can trek through the rainforests, take a morning stroll through rice paddies and even hire bikes and go exploring. If Serene is what you’re looking for then this is it… There are also tons of untouched (or almost untouched) places on the island. Just stick on your backpack, speak to residents and Dora explorer.
Are you heading to Bali this year? Or have you already been? – let me know in the comments