Oh, Bali. An organised chaos of tourists, traffic, and beach culture.
A place that you either love or hate, and you’ll likely know somebody that feels the opposite way.
The first time I went to Bali, I didn’t particularly think much of it. I stayed in Nusa Dua, an area south of Kuta that consists of a bunch of fancy hotels on a pretty beach. It was a lovely place but to be honest, staying there was not really my style of travel. I love to be in the middle of it, where things are happening. Nusa Dua was a 30 minute taxi ride to anywhere of interest and it felt kind of secluded.
The second time I went to Bali I stayed in Seminyak, which changed my opinion on Bali completely. No longer was I dining at pompous hotel restaurants and deciding whether to spend the day in the pool or… in the pool. Now I could walk among locals selling fruit or handmade clothing. I could smell street food cooking and see kids flying kites on the beach. I could walk in a number of directions and find countless alleyways to look down and different sights to see and new restaurants to dine at every day.
Some find Bali uncomfortable, annoying, or boring, and some find it interesting and beautiful. My opinion would sometimes change depending on the mood I was in that day, but I’d often find myself in the latter category! Here are 9 things that I think will have you loving or hating Bali.
1. The weather
When I first visited Bali I was living in chilly Hobart, so it was a shock to my system to be thrown into this kind of humidity. I was constantly sweating and going out during the day was exhausting.
But I know some people that can’t get enough of this kind of weather. They’re constantly drawn to locations close to the equator to get more of this heat and spend day after day sunbathing. Is this you? If so, you’ll love this place.
2. The beaches
In Australia we’re very lucky to have a large selection of pristine beaches to choose from, so fellow Aussies may be disappointed with Bali’s beaches. They often have dark sticky sand and no shade, maybe a little bit of trash lying about, and locals approaching you to sell their wares every 5 seconds (well that’s what it feels like anyway).
But if you’re willing to separate from a little cash, you can drink a cold beer on the beach under a shade umbrella and hop in and out of the bath temperature ocean for an entire day. The surfing is also great, and you can rent surfboards and get surfing lessons on any of the beaches.
3. The shopping
Bali is great for brand name surf stores, Billabong and Quicksilver line every main shopping district. There are also countless market stalls for you to haggle with locals for Bintang singlets or ‘fake bans’. But if you’re not into the market wares and souvenirs, you may not find much else.
4. The nightlife
Kuta is known as Bali’s nightlife center. Want to dance late into the night in trashy clubs with people wearing very little clothing? If so, Kuta is for you.
If that’s not your thing, you can head to once of the el-casual beach bars run by locals. Purchase cheap beer and put your feet up on a milk crate while you watch the sun set.
If you’d like to be a little more upper class, have cocktails brought to you at one of the many beach bars at Legian while you listen to live music and laze about in a bean bag.
5. The food
Let me explain my experience of food in Bali. We stayed in Seminyak, and it was fan-tas-tic. We did not have a bad meal. Everything was delicious and reasonably priced. There were plenty of cuisines to choose from and great service in every venue.
And then one night we went to Kuta. Oh, Kuta. All restaurants we passed had what I call an ‘everything menu’ – the venue is trying to please everyone by supplying every cuisine possible, and therefore failing at all of it because they have no idea what they’re doing. When this happened we chose pizza, with the logic that you can’t get a bad pizza, right? Wrong. Flavourless and covered in toppings that didn’t really go together, we were very disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are tucked away finds in Kuta but you will have to know someone that knows where they are and tells you exactly where to find them, otherwise you’ll wander for hours looking at the same menus with the same food choices. If this happens, your best bet is to choose Indonesian cuisine because you know they’ll at least get that right.
6. The roads
There is no other way to explain the roads other than chaotic. The roads are narrow and most of the time they are jammed with cars and scooters. If you take a taxi or get a tour to other parts of the island during the day, you may spend the majority of your time stuck in traffic.
Walking from our hotel to Seminyak was an amusing challenge. The sidewalks are crumbling and falling apart in some areas so we had to be careful not to fall into gaping holes, and the Balinese happily place pot plants and construction items right in the centre of the path so that you occasionally have to step onto the road in front of traffic to continue walking. I would highly advise young families to leave the pram at home, it will have no use here!
7. The noise
Whether you are in a restaurant, sitting on the beach, or chilling in your hotel, you’ll find Bali a noisy place. There are taxis constantly beeping at you for a fare and thousands of scooters shooting by. The nightclubs in Kuta pump out club music (mostly songs that were popular 5-10 years ago) from early evening until late into the night. There are people loudly asking if you’re interested renting a scooter or trying mushrooms.
I think the noise is part of what makes Bali so interesting to experience, but if you’re looking for a quiet holiday, you’ve chosen the wrong place!
8. The locals
The Balinese people are mostly Hindu, and I found them very kind. However, most Balinese are trying to make a living by making a quick buck and you may be unnerved by the amount of times you are asked to part with your money. They’ll sell you anything they can! You’ll get offers for white water rafting tours run by ‘a friend’, scooter hire or ‘transport’ as they call it, handmade hair clips and bracelets, fake brand name watches, and sometimes some of the more seedy services Bali is known for. Don’t worry, if you say a firm no they won’t continue bothering you.
9. The tourists
Most Australians will be aware of the Bali tourist stereotype. Young males wearing Bintang singlets and partying hard until the early morning, and young women wearing a bikini top and short-shorts at all times of the day, even in stores and restaurants. But if you can get past that, you might just find Bali a haven of international travellers of all ages that are more than willing to strike up a conversation and share their experience of Bali with you.
Where to stay
Bali is a great place to live it up in a resort or villa, as the prices are much lower than other tropical islands. We stayed in some gorgeous villas in Seminyak, but you can find amazing villas all over Bali.