I will probably never go back to Bali. Sounds harsh, right?
I wouldn’t mind going back to Indonesia someday, but Bali specifically… I think I’ll pass.
I had high hopes for Bali when I first started planning this trip. Everyone I knew who had been raved about it, and the photos of lush green rice paddies alone had me excited to finally make my way there.
However, Bali wasn’t what I was expecting at all.
Is this America?
It’s not that I was expecting to land in a country where there were zero tourists; after all, I myself am a tourist. Plus, sometimes it can be comforting to see people similar to you in a foreign country.
But when I first arrived, I took a look around and noticed lots of western shops like Pandora, Quiksilver, and Billabong (among countless others) lining the streets. There was even a Starbucks literally across the street from my homestay. It was… odd.
What is this place? I remember thinking. I felt like I was back in Hawaii.
Another traveler I met said it best when she proclaimed Bali was more like, “Asia: The Resort” meant for the kind of tourists who wanted to visit Asia and see a little bit of the culture (but not too much) while still having access to all the luxuries we’re used to back home.
For the Gram
I like to engross myself into cultures when I travel, but when a country becomes so popular to the point where it’s old customs and ways of living get shoved out of sight to make way for the visually appealing, it’s a challenge. Suddenly, a once-considered third world country is now a trendy vacation destination and digital nomad hive. Everything in Bali now appears too picture perfect. Like the creative director of Free People came in and gave the country a makeover or something.
I went to more than one rice paddy and found that they were all lined with giant Bali swings, artificial nests, pseudo Indonesian decor and set-up “Instagram frames” all specifically meant for photos–each one costing you a fee. For lack of better words, it all just felt extremely fake and staged to me.
And yet… behind all the luxury resorts, modern cafes and photo-ops I came across were streets in shambles with countless cables hanging dangerously, severely broken pavement, sick stray dogs everywhere, abandoned shacks, and mounds of construction rubble. But none of that ever gets shown on social media, does it?
There is no public transport system, traffic is always terrible, and I didn’t feel safe renting a scooter to drive myself, so I felt… stuck. In many areas it’s also illegal to use rideshare apps to get a car, so you’re forced to haggle with a random driver you’ll meet on the street. Which you won’t have trouble finding since you literally cannot walk 10 steps without a man pestering you, asking “taxi? taxi? taxi?” even after you politely decline.
“Why not just learn to drive a scooter then?” It’s SUPER common to see injured westerners walking around town with bandaged arms and legs; scooter accidents happen all the time, and I was not about to learn how to drive one by myself and take the risk.
In central Ubud I was able to stay on a street where I could at least walk to the Monkey Forest and some good hole-in-the-wall restaurants (or “warungs” as they’re called), but the other sights I was there for all required hired transport. Which, if you’re traveling solo like me, adds up pretty quickly.
My cheapest and most convenient option was to go with a tour since they hit all the stops I wanted, but it all felt so forced and rushed. Like every place was simply a hop on/hop off spot for us to get our photo and move on, no time to explore.
On top of that, every stop also felt like a cash grab (fees to see temples, mountains, waterfalls, general nature, etc). They’d also force us to make stops at pricey restaurants where there are no other options around. Little scams like that here and there… it was annoying.
It just always felt like a giant hassle to go do any little thing.
Is it just me?
Every time I posted a pretty photo of my time in Bali, I’d get a bunch of DMs on Instagram saying, “Wow!” or “I wanna go here!” paired with a bunch of heart-eye emojis. Part of me wanted to respond, “It’s not all as it seems!” but I’m not one who enjoys being a Debbie Downer.
I tried to escape the western crowds of Bali and made my way to the island of Nusa Penida (a 25 minute boat ride away from Bali), which definitely felt less touristy, but again, because of my lack of being able to ride a scooter, I was stuck with hiring someone and not being able to explore the way I preferred AGAIN.
People pointed out that most popular places all become touristy eventually, but if that’s the case, how come I’ve been to Tokyo, Beijing, and Seoul and have LOVED each of those places, despite them all being big Asian cities popular among tourists? 🤔
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me?
Bali is a huge country, and I know there are less touristy areas up in the northern parts of the island, but with the overwhelming traffic, the pushy people trying to sell you things you don’t want, countless hours in a car trying to see all the must-see spots (that you can’t hang around for long anyway), it was all just too much for me to handle.
I will admit, however, that the local food was delicious.
So, is Bali worth going to?
If Bali is a place you have always wanted to travel to yourself, then yes, you should go.
It’s common to hear a lot of mixed reviews about this place. Some say Bali is overrated, and others had the time of their lives here. I have friends, whose opinions I trust, who LOVED Bali! I wanted to love it too.
But your experience could be way different than mine.
Maybe you’ll be going to Bali with way more money to splurge, a great travel buddy to split costs with, or the confidence and experience to easily drive a scooter and explore the country at your own pace. Maybe staged set-ups in nature, long hours stuck in traffic, and a monsoon of westerners posing in religious spots sacred to Hindus won’t bother you.
I, unfortunately, didn’t have any of these perks, so when my time in Bali came to an end, I was more than ready to leave.
I would like to note that I didn’t have a terrible time my entire trip, and there were even things I did like about Bali.
Like I stated earlier, I really enjoyed the local food here (which was cheap as well). I met some really nice people. I loved watching the morning ritual of local Balinese women walking around town placing these “canang sari” (shown above) all over the streets as a thanks to their Hindu God. I even had fun riding around on the back of scooter while visiting the sights in Nusa Penida.
I don’t believe you should never not go somewhere because someone told you about their own bad experience with that place. Or even if it’s someone you trust who has a good sense of who you are and tell you that you won’t like it… you should still go.
For example, before going to Sydney in Australia, my mom told me I would not like the city because it was too touristy. But I went anyway and, surprisingly, I actually enjoyed Sydney! Had I listened to people who told me they hated Sydney, or to my mom who assumed I wouldn’t like it, I never would have gone and had the awesome experiences I did.
Never not go somewhere because of others’ opinion on a place. No two people have the same experience. Your trip is what YOU make it.