Visiting Bali, Indonesia


“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

I almost feel like I’m about to make a terribly sacrilegious comment, but here it goes: Bali ain’t all that.

Now, wait, don’t freak out on me. Before you call me ungrateful, insane or delusional, let me explain.

Before my trip, I built up high, high expectations for Bali. People described a beautiful, serene island with sand for days and peace and quite. They talked about Ubud, an artist’s paradise, and Dreamland, a surfer’s wettest dream.

So I was ready to be impressed.

Then, we made the mistake of staying in Kuta. On the Southern part of the island, Kuta is the main tourist town. This is the town, that in 2002, was bombed, and 202 tourists were killed. After that tragedy, Bali’s tourism came to a near halt, but now, seven years later, there is very little sign of that.

Kuta is crowded, loud and sort of like Cancun on Asian steroids. The streets are lined with tiny shops selling wood carvings, Batik fabric, ceramics and other tourist junk. But when you are harassed every time you walk in front of one of these shops, it gets really old. There is no sign of the interesting culture of the island left.

Thankfully, we left Kuta after a couple days, and spent some time on the tiny island, Nusa Lembongan. This was more like. There are very few, if any cars in this tiny island, and you can walk on the beach to tiny restaurants for dinner. It is quiet, with the exception of the ridiculously loud roosters, who wake up at about 5 am. But when we were ready to return to the main island of Bali, our boat host conveniently told us that the fee for the return boat ride had doubled, leaving us to either pay up or be stranded. So, watch out for this, and settle your fees up front.

We then spent several days in Ubud, which is in the center of the island. This was my favorite town. We toured the monkey forest, where dozens of monkeys wander freely, and aren’t afraid to jump on you for a treat. We toured temples, and looked at art. This city is a perfect balance of peace and quite, and some conveniences.

All in all, Bali is a beautiful place. First impressions aside, there are places on the island that have what you’re looking for. If you need crowds and nightlife and tourists, head to Kuta. For a solitary life, head to one of the smaller islands. And for a balance of the two, check out Ubud. Just be prepared: hustlers and sales people are everywhere.

Here are some tips if you are planning a trip:

1. Watch out for scams. At a certain temple, the largest one on the island, the “guides” will tell you that you are required to take a Balinese guide with you in order to see the temple because there is a religious ceremony going on. This is not true.

2. When visiting a temple, bring a sarong. They are required, and there is often a free to rent or buy one.

3. Like I said before, if you are going to one of the islands, agree on the price of the return boat ahead of time. Make sure to take one of the legitimate companies.

4. Barter, and barter hard. Start very low (about 1/3 of their offered price). You can usually get things for at most, half of the offered price.

5. Enjoy!

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