One good thing about travel is that time seems to move slower. When I am busy at work five days a week, time goes by so fast that my life seems to flash past like a bullet train. Time doesn’t go slower when travelling because I am not enjoying myself. Rather, I think it goes slower because I am not busy, not rushing. I honestly cannot believe it was only 1 month which I spent in Bali, it seems like it was much longer.
I nearly made a big error when writing the title of this post as I nearly called it “My thoughts on Indonesia”. Having only visited 4 islands out of 17,000 in the archipelago, that would have been a grossly misleading title.
During my time in Indonesia, I visited Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Gili Trawangan and Gili Air and as I am doing after each country now this is a summary of what I liked, what I found challenging or annoyances and basically a conclusion of how I feel about my time in the country.
So let’s start with juicy stuff – what did I like about Bali?…………..
For me, a visit to Bali isn’t complete without a visit to the islands scattered around the Bali Sea between Bali and Lombok. In fact, I would go as far as to say they are the highlight of any visit to Bali, rather than the mainland itself. The beaches are nicer, the pace is calmer, the sea is clearer and the islands have retained their paradise status for the most part.
By the islands, I mean the Nusa’s and the Gili’s. During my time in Bali, I visited Nusa Lembongan, Gili Trawangan and Gili Air. Gili Air was my favourite but I loved all of them.
Money, money, money! It’s all about the money.
I am joking of course but you do need money to travel despite what anyone might tell you to the contrary.
I do feel a little dull putting a financial based advantage on this list but it simply has to be included – it cannot be denied that being able to have a nice meal, or stay in a decent hotel for a lower cost is a positive, especially when budget travelling.
After having travelled all around Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, I had some comparatives to work with and I can confirm that relative to those other countries Bali, Indonesia is cheap. Much cheaper than the countries I just mentioned.
We stayed in the below hotel for £7.50. A place with a swimming pool. The rooms were big and had great air conditioning, a safe and a 24 hour reception. For £7.50 in Thailand, I could just about afford a 12 bed dorm or maybe a room in a locals shed. A room like this would have cost me at least £20, maybe more.
Food was cheap too, despite the 10% tax they add at all restaurants. I was paying about £3 – £5 for a decent western meal which would have cost about £5 – £7 in some of the other countries I mentioned. Local food was slightly cheaper too.
Transport was also cheap and we spent about £4 a day renting scooters. In Vietnam, I paid £7 and in Laos about £6.
Beer was the only thing that was a little pricey in Indonesia, coming in around £1.50 which is about the same as Thailand but a little more expensive than Cambodia and Laos.
Overall, in the same amount of time (one month) I spent about two thirds of my budget than I spent in the afore-mentioned countries for the same period, mainly I guess due to the low costs of accommodation.
I also managed to spend less while drinking more alcohol as I was with family socialising more frequently. As a Solo Traveller, I only drink a couple of nights a week, yet with them I was drinking most nights and still managed to spend less overall.
The friendly people
When I first came to Bali, locals would occasionally come up to us and just start chatting away. I was friendly back but also waiting patiently for the sell to come but in quite a few cases it never came. They genuinely just wanted a natter! This surprised me at first. I wasn’t used to it. In some other countries, if a local came up to you for a chat, the sale pitch would eventually come at some point – transport, cheap watches, sunglasses, a tour………
Now don’t get me wrong, there was serious hawker hassle in Bali, and I mean serious and I will get more into that in my challenges section below but there was another type of local who just liked to be friendly. Many of them are very friendly, smiling and saying hello.
Also, we had a few nice experiences in terms of the service we received from staff etc. They seemed honest and a couple of times, we gave the wrong money as it was confusing currency and all looked the same and they were honest about it, informing us of our mistake and returning the cash – in one case even running down the road to return it when I was on my own changing some money on the last day.
I mean you would hope to expect that but it was nice to experience that sort of thing when people always try to warn you about scams and theft in these types of countries. It seems that not everyone is out to scam or rob you.
Hotel staff were generally very nice, welcoming and friendly.
Firstly, they are beautiful. And secondly, they have SURF – a feature which is largely missing from the beaches of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. For me, a beach isn’t really a beach without some waves to have fun with. I will let the photos do the rest of the talking.
Challenges and annoyances
This is the bit I don’t like doing so much as I don’t really like to speak negative of a place unless I had a terrible experience but I have to give a rounded account. And where else to I get do have a quick moan if not my own blog! Travelling isn’t all about sunshine and rainbows……….
Anyway, they say in life that you need to take the highs with the lows. Here are the lows or challenges as I like to call them. Or in other words, some things I didn’t like about Bali so much or which I found frustrating.
- HASSLE FACTOR – anybody who has read at least one of my other posts will be familiar with this phrase that I use which basically means the amount you are hassled in the street to buy stuff. If Vietnam and Thailand have a moderate hassle factor, and Laos has a low hassle factor then I would rate the hassle factor in Bali as severe or even extreme. Everywhere I went, I was being accosted by people in the street trying to sell me a wide variety of products such as massages, transport, hotels, illicit substances, spring rolls, ice-creams, watches and bracelets. Oh and crossbows. I mean you cannot blame them of course, everyone needs to make a living but the hassle was so prolific and constant in some areas of Bali that I had to mention it. Towards the end of the holiday, I had a couple of days in Kuta before my flight and the hassle was so bad around my hotel I pretty much got tired of leaving it. Twice we were followed by someone who wouldn’t leave us alone. It was a little sad as in some cases I was grabbed by the arm or even pleaded with to buy something. I expect this is a tactic to make you feel guilty and it worked. I am now the proud owner of 2 bracelets one of which I haven’t worn yet, and the other one which fell to pieces on the second day. The hassle factor may have been worse while we were there due to the recent volcano activity which had reduced tourist numbers making our cash more in demand.
- WIFI – I am not sure if this is a Bali thing or if we were just very unlucky with the many hotels we stayed in but I found the WIFI to be weak, unreliable and slow pretty much throughout my whole time in Bali.
- Plastic Pollution – in some of the more touristy and developed areas, there is a real plastic pollution problem on the beaches and in the sea. In Kuta and on a snorkelling trip to sea Manta Rays, we were literally swimming amongst the plastic. Apparently, this is a seasonal thing and only affects Bali in certain periods when currents flow through from Java. We spoke to a couple of locals about it and they hate it. I could see the efforts they made to clean it off the beaches but it is hard for them to keep up with it as more just gets washed in the next day.
- Dogs – I am a dog lover but much of Bali has a serious dog problem. They are everywhere and many of them are hostile, barking and growling at you.
- Traffic – As well as having a dog problem, Mainland Bali also has a serious traffic problem. I would advise you to get a motorbike taxi if you can unless you want to sit for an hour in traffic to cover 100 metres. In fact, you will get there quicker walking. Kuta, South and Central Bali are pretty much in a perpetual state of gridlock traffic. Even in the middle of the night. It must be so frustrating for the car taxi drivers. It took us nearly 2 hours to get from Canggu to Kuta, a journey which would take 13 minutes without traffic according to Google Maps.
- Bali Belly – every time I have gone to Bali my stomach and bowels have been angry with me about it. This trip was no exception.
Despite the above few gripes, I find that with experiences like this you mainly remember the good things about a place and as time goes by the annoyances are quickly forgotten. I find that for me anyway, the memory has a good way of filtering out the bad stuff and retaining the good.
My overall conclusion is that I do still love Bali and there are essentially two sides to the island:
The first side to Bali, and the side which is likely to be what you first encounter when you get off the plane, is what I am going to call the “crazy-in-your-face” side of Bali for want of a better term – absolute chaos, carnage and noise all around, extreme hassle from hawkers in the street, plastic pollution and rubbish on the beaches, angry dogs barking and roaming wild, hedonistic-full-throttle-ear-drum-bursting nightlife, one of the worst traffic problems I have ever seen and mass tourist consumerism, high priced shopping malls, western fast food chains etc. Your first thought seeing this having been promised a paradise island by the brochure might be…………is this really paradise? More like a paradise lost!
A short journey down the road or a boat ride out to sea, however, and you will find that paradise you came for. It is still there just around the corner if you know where to look.
I think if I ever returned to Bali, I would head straight for that paradise and skip the “crazy-in-your-face” side of Bali. I know where to find it now.
Next post: Northern Thailand.