Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mixed feelings on Bali

Everyone has an opinion on Bali.  Between being known for its beaches and being known as a hot spot for a lot of young drunken holiday makers from certain countries in Oceania, it has a bit bipolar reputation.  One way or the other, it's a location that seems to either elicit love or hatred and not a lot in between.  If you can't tell where this is going, I fall into the in between.

We were there for several days recently with a friend who was visiting from Switzerland.  We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Bali in Nusa Dua, which was very nice.  Quite predictably, food and drink inside the resort was triple the price of that just outside.  The resort itself caters to families, but as we weren't there during any country's school holidays it wasn't completely overrun with young kids and we were able to make use of the water slides that are there for their benefit.

The grounds of the resort were immaculate, thanks in no small part to the multiple people they had out there raking things off the beach every morning.  Otherwise I imagine it would have looked like this beach no more than a half a kilometer away:

For a place with a reputation for being pristine, I was surprised by the amount of pollution on the island.    Bali looks as if it has become a victim of its own success and not even the signage seemed to help.

Can I just say that I love this sign?

In addition to litter being strewn about, the traffic on the island resembled that in KL.  There are a lot of people and a lot of tourists, which means that it takes forever to get anywhere.  There are, however, certain advantages to an area drawing in a large number of tourists.  We had some amazing food in great restaurants that would have no reason to exist if there wasn't a flourishing tourism industry: notably Sardine in Seminyak and a menuless restaurant called Warung Kayu.  Both rate on the list of best meals I've had thus far this year.

At the end of the day it's plain to see why people flock to Bali.  The island's unique culture and thousands of temples combined with its development means that you can have whatever type of holiday you'd like there with the assurance that you're not going to be bored.

I didn't particularly love it, but I didn't dislike it either.  I've been to much better beaches, but I had a really nice time and wouldn't be opposed to going back.  I think that on a return visit I'd stay in Seminyak over Nusa Dua, simply because for us it would mean spending significantly less time in taxis.  Do I think Bali is worth flying half way around the world for?  Not particularly.  Do I think it's worth visiting if you're in the neighborhood anyway?  Absolutely.


  1. I went to Bali over a decade ago as part of a trip through SE Asia. We came to the conclusion that if all you were going to do was sit on the beach (as we did), we might as well just go to Mexico. My friends in Penang who have gone recently had the same reaction as you. Everyone's expectations were built up so high that it was a bit of a letdown. Traffic and polluted beaches were downsides for them as well. (People cut down trees??!) One friend has said that Langkawi has turned out to be closer to what she dreamed Bali would be (and the water doesn't dye your suit there).

    1. I think we're going to have to check out Langkawi then. We've heard great things and can get a pretty cheap flight from KL. I'm relieved to hear that the water's better over there too.

  2. I have no intentions of visiting Bali mainly due to the certain Oceania tourists I think your post refers to (and I am one of!).

    1. I have to admit that this is one stereotype we didn't run into at all. I think you can avoid the spring-breakesqueness of it all by just staying out of a certain area.

  3. As you know Katie, Bali is not a destination that Wendy and I would be very into. But we did spend about a week there in 2003 on our 4-month Indonesia trip, and tried (with mixed results) to see if there was a non-touristy circuit we could take. We started in a lake temple area towards the north whose name escapes me, and apparently I didn't mention it in email updates to friends. But here are some snippets of what I wrote about some other places:

    And so now we're on Bali. I haven't really found it to be
    anything special, but I guess that's what I expected. This
    island would be great if I wanted to go to a beach resort or
    buy souvenirs, but I don't. (And while on that point: who
    really wants to buy a wooden carving of an elephant's trunk
    and ears in the shape of a guitar?) The Balinese temples
    we've seen have been beautifully situated, but the temples
    themselves aren't anything great, especially after Prambanan.

    Right now we're in Ubud, which I'm sure was once a lovely
    little village but is now little more than a tourist theme-
    park, with more than 250 restaurants and even more souvenir


    As it happened, our Bali fortunes picked up after I wrote the
    last e-mail. We headed for Padang Bai on the east coast,
    which was a little touristy but not too bad, and had some OK
    beaches, decent snorkelling and excellent seafood. But the
    big bonus came on our last day in Bali, when we were able to
    go to a funeral ceremony nearby. It is an event that only
    takes place once a year in each of the various regions around
    Bali, and all the people who died in the previous year are
    cremated. So, the process went something like this: All the
    bones of the deceased were placed in a purpose-built pagoda,
    which was then carried by dozens of men to a cemetery. The
    bones were then transferred to a purpose-built sarcophagus in
    the shape of a lion - this took about 2 hours. Then the lion
    was set on fire and the bones of 153 people and all the
    offerings placed for the the gods went up in smoke.

    Seeing this local festival was one of the great highlights of
    the trip, the kind of thing we had hoped to see in Kalimantan
    but didn't. There were only about 20-25 tourists among
    several thousand locals, so it felt quite "real" - the aunty
    of one of the locals I spoke to was one of those being

    1. The funeral sounds like it would have been amazing to see. How long were you guys in Bali total?