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Bali is one of those destinations that’s been hyped so much by influencers, digital nomads and social media stars. But is Bali worth visiting? Or is Bali overrated?
I spent a year living in Bali and I always find it difficult to answer this question. Personally I don’t have much desire to go back and I always tell people that they may have a bit of a shock when they get there.
However I do think it’s worth seeing, just because it has a unique culture and I think it’s worth seeing any place once.
If you’re expecting an idyllic island with pristine white beaches though, Bali is definitely not that. It’s incredibly chaotic, there are tons of scooters everywhere and many of the beaches on the west coast are littered with trash.
Pre-pandemic, Bali attracted around 6.3 million tourists per year and so there’s no doubt it’s incredibly popular. But the influx of tourists has brought with it the construction of many boutique hotels and luxury resorts all over the island. The cost of living in Bali has shot up and things cost a lot more than they did 10 years ago.
Bali is now known for its international restaurants, Aussie-style cafes and trendy beach clubs like Ku De Ta, Potato Head Beach Club and Azul. While those things are cool for visitors, it obviously feels like the island is losing a little bit of its soul.
With Bali being one of the closest places to Australia, it also naturally attracts lots of Aussies who are looking for a cheap vacation outside of their home country. Some of them drink excessively, get into brawls, crash their scooters or just don’t have much respect for the local culture. Of course not all of the Aussies who visit Bali are like that, but it does attract a certain crowd.
On top of that you have all the influencers snapping photos in long, flowy dresses, making the island look like something out of a fashion shoot. The reality is somewhat different and the Instagram photos don’t quite capture the actual chaos and pollution of the island. Yes, Ubud is beautiful, but no-one’s really posting photos of the traffic on Sunset Road or pictures of plastic bags washed up on the beach.
Anyway, is Bali worth visiting? To answer that question, let’s take a look at the pros and cons. I’ll start with the cons, then finish with the positives.
Cons About Bali
Polluted and Dirty
Bali is polluted and many of the beaches are covered in plastic and trash. This is especially the case in Kuta and Seminyak. The rainy season is absolutely the worst time to visit because the rains seem to wash everything into the ocean.
While living there I travelled all over the island and there are some nicer beaches for sure. Balangan, Bingin and White Sand Beach (Bias Tugel) in Padangbai were some of my favorites.
But a lot of them are difficult to get to or located at the bottom of steep cliffs. Places like Bingin and Uluwatu have lots of rocks and sharp reefs that make them difficult for swimming. These beaches are great for surfing but not that great for sunbathers.
Kuta really sucks. It’s super touristy, very trashy and just not very nice. While it has plenty of cheap accommodation for backpackers traveling on a budget, there isn’t very much going for it. The beach is brown with lots of trash and plastic bags everywhere. The restaurants are kind of mediocre.
Yes, there’s plenty of nightlife there and lots of places where you can get drunk for cheap. And if you want to buy a Bintang T-shirt or some cheap souvenirs you can find them there.
But generally I’d say skip Kuta, you’re really not missing anything.
Too Many Influencers
Bali attracts tons of influencers and digital nomads. Many people go to Bali so they can work from their laptop while looking out at the iridescent rice fields in Ubud. Lots of fashion designers also visit (or live in) Bali since they can get their goods made cheaply there. The island has quite a thriving expat community and therefore it’s an incredibly popular spot for working remotely.
Bali is great for digital nomads, but obviously that comes with its downsides. The island is filled with people looking to get that perfect Instagram-worthy shot. If you scroll through Instagram you’ll see photos of influencers on swings overlooking rice fields or shots of bikini clad girls next to swimming pools.
Lots of foreigners are visiting the island staying in fancy villas and using the Balinese landscape as a backdrop for their photos. Are they really discovering the Balinese culture? Is their money going back to the Balinese people or is it all going to expat-owned businesses? I’m not sure.
Instagram makes everything look perfect but the reality is that Bali, like many places, is not so perfect.
There are a number of scams that you should be aware of in Bali. The main one to watch out for is ATM skimming. This is where people attach devices to the ATM in order to steal credit card info from the magnetic strip and cameras to record you entering your pin.
While many of the minimart ATMs are safe, if you want to be extra careful, take your cash out only at the airport at reputable banks. Banks such as Bank Rakyat Indonesia, Central Bank Asia, CIMB Niaga and Bank Negara Indonesia all have 24-hour cameras and security.
One thing to note is that some ATMs will give you your cash first, then your card. In places like Australia, the US and Europe, ATMs usually give back the card first and then the cash. Don’t make the mistake of walking away with the cash but forgetting your card. I made this mistake a couple of times while I was living in Bali!
While in Bali I visited Ketut Liyer, the medicine man who was featured in Eat, Pray, Love. I went to him for a reading but Ketut turned out to be a complete con artist.
I sat on his porch and he recited a wonderfully rehearsed speech while reading my palms and my neck. He then proceeded to say the exact same thing to the lady who went after me. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Traffic in Bali is crazy. The roads are filled with scooters and lots of tourists have scooter accidents. Public transportation in Bali is virtually non-existent which means you have to get around by scooter or rental car.
Personally I wouldn’t recommend renting a scooter unless you’re a pro. I rented a car for most of my time living in Bali but towards the end I decided to rent a scooter because it was cheaper. I came off the bike but was wearing shorts, so I ended up with nasty road rash and burns on my legs. I still have the scars today!
Lots of roads have no traffic lights so you just have to beep and watch out for oncoming traffic. If you’re driving on back roads there aren’t any street lights either, so if you’re driving around after sunset you’re basically driving around in complete darkness.
If you don’t want to drive, then you’ll need to get around by taxi or by hiring a private driver for the day. That’s fine if you want to travel between major places like Ubud and Seminyak, but it’s much more difficult if you want to get off the beaten track for the day.
If you wanted to travel to say a remote beach for the day, you’d need to make sure you have the number of a driver and arrange a time to be picked up and taken back.
Bali has a truly unique culture that sets it apart from the rest of Indonesia. While most of Indonesia is Muslim, the majority of people in Bali practice Balinese Hinduism. There are thousands of temples on the island and wherever you go you’ll usually run into some type of Balinese ceremony.
There are lots of interesting festivals throughout the year, including Nyepi, Galungan and Tumpek Wayang, which sees wayang (shadow puppet) performances being held throughout the island. While you’re in Bali you should try to catch a traditional dance performance, such as the Kecak Dance, Barong Dance or Fire Dance.
In the streets and on the pavements you’ll usually see Canang Sari, which are small palm leaf baskets filled with flowers, rice, food and incense. The Balinese people ogive these offerings to the gods each morning as a form of gratitude for peace in the world.
I’m sure by now you’ve seen lots of pictures of the beautiful iridescent green rice terraces, but it also has some beautiful mountain scenery.
Sitting on ‘the ring of fire’, the island is also home to some majestic volcanoes, including Mount Agung, Mount Batur, Bratan and Mount Merbuk.
Mount Batur is the most active volcano on the island and it’s incredibly popular for hiking tours. If you do the sunrise trek you’ll depart super early in the morning so that you can enjoy sunrise views with refreshments at the summit.
The island also has lots of beaches that are very different from each other. For example, the beach in Canggu is black sand whereas Bias Tugel in Padangbai is powdery white. Some a are completely flat and lined with hotels while others are backed by rugged cliffs.
One thing I really do miss about Bali is the food. While I do prefer Vietnamese and Thai food over Balinese food, it’s still pretty damn tasty.
For breakfast I loved eating Nasi Goreng, which is basically fried rice with a sunny side up egg on top and some cucumbers on the side.
For lunch I often ate Babi Guling, which is roast suckling pig stuffed with a mixture of turmeric, coriander, lemongrass, shallots, galangal, chili, shrimp paste, and garlic. It’s usually served with some rice, vegetables and a dollop of spicy sambal.
Other popular Balinese dishes include Satay Lilit, Gado Gado and Nasi Campur.
The people in Bali are generally very friendly and are always smiling.
Balinese people don’t earn very much money and the minimum wage is around 2,297,968 IDR per month, which is roughly $148. It’s not very much money at all, and yet the Balinese people always seem to be very positive.
Yes, in the main towns you’ll sometimes be hassled by taxi drivers and people trying to sell you things. But in general the Balinese are super friendly and helpful.
A Final Word…
So is Bali worth visiting? I’ll let you be the judge of that. Personally I think Bali is overrated, but I’d still suggest you go see it.
I can think of several islands in Southeast Asia that I preferred more than Bali. I spent a couple of months renting an apartment in the southern tip of Phuket and enjoyed that. I LOVED Boracay in the Philippines and also Koh Rong in Cambodia.
There are also tons of great alternatives to Bali within Indonesia. You could visit Lombok, Sumbawa or the Mentawai Islands. You could see adorable orangutans in Borneo or komodo dragons on Komodo Island. Indonesia has five main islands and thousands of smaller islands so you have plenty of options to choose from besides Bali.
However, I do think that you should see Bali for yourself. If you’re naturally curious and you’d like to experience Balinese culture, then by all means, go. Just try to seek out authentic experiences and definitely hire a car (or a scooter if you’re willing to risk it) so you can go all over the island. If you’re not confident with driving, then hire a driver to take you there.
Don’t just stick to Ubud or Seminyak. Get off the beaten track, explore the beaches and less visited places. You can definitely find the “real” Bali you just have to look for it.
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