It’s true there is more to Indonesia than just the island of Bali, in fact there are more than 18,000 islands that make up the country. Recently though, I read this article, which outlines exactly why you should take Bali off your bucket list. While I can see their point, and as much as I think they probably should have done more research than just reading silly book by a self-indulgent woman (Eat, Pray, Love).
I wholeheartedly disagree that you should even consider removing Bali from your bucket lists.
Firstly, Bali is an island with a population of over 4 million, and is the single largest tourist destination in Indonesia. The proximity to Western Australia means that the majority of these visitors are no only Aussies, but they’re from Perth. Being that Perth is my hometown, I cannot remember a single time I have been in Bali and not randomly met someone I know on the street.
Thirty years ago, the main economy in Bali was agriculture, namely rice. Today rice cultivation is still the island’s biggest employer, but tourism has overtaken as the biggest source of income. This huge amount of income is primarily focused in the southern beaches of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Jimbaran Bay and Sanur. Recently, the Indonesian government spent a huge amount of money upgrading and extending Denpasar airport to cram even more tourists into this area.
Now, all this money and all these people visiting would generally mean an increase in the local class system. While Indonesia as a whole does have an emerging middle class, it seems that for the poorest of the poor cannot get a foot up. Open your eyes and you will see it, the beggers in the streets, the grubby children playing on the beaches when they should be in school. Almost 93% of Bali’s population are peasants. The people you see working in your resort, and the lady who gives you your massage, they form part of this new middle class.
Now given all these statistics, do you not think you should still be spending money here? The immediate argument to this is always going to be “But how much of my tourist dollars end up in the pockets of the poor?” and you’ve got a valid point. But what I can guarantee you is this: If you stop going, Bali will die. If Bali dies, these people will have no hope. Right now, they have a little hope. Don’t take that away from them.
Let me prepare you for the reality of Bali, without all the gloss and fakeness of Eat, Pray, Love.
You will arrive at Denpasar. Now, the last time I was in Bali was 2013, and the airport hadn’t be upgraded yet. But from what I have heard the initial landing is the same. Confusion, a heap of people, zero aircon, and that smell. You know the smell that means you’ve landed in Asia. The one that has curry, sweat, smoke and humidity in it? Bali has that smell, and the airport is the worst for it. The good news is that once you’re out of the airport, the smell goes away.
Now, once you’ve cleared through customs you’ll need to get into a taxi. This is the only way to get from the airport to where ever you are staying. Welcome to the onslaught of drivers, taxis drviers, hotel shuttles and other random people waiting to collect someone from the airport. Thankfully, I now have a permanent driver in Bali, and I don’t need to deal with the ruckus. But go ahead, get yourself a cab. Enjoy.
Once you’re through all the madness and you’ve got yourself checked in at your hotel you can relax. Chances are, 99% of the people at your hotel will be Australian, Chinese or Japanese tourists. Aussies will befriend anyone, so chat to them. The Chinese and Japanese tourists tend to favour the bigger, more luxurious resorts on the south coast of Nusa Dua and Jimbaran Bay.
Go for a wander from your hotel, and you will find dusty, dirty streets – typical of the third world. Now, I don’t care what Elizabeth sodding Gilbert says in her book about the beaches of Bali, the reality is Bali is a volcanic island, the massive volcano in the middle should really give that away. Therefore you cannot expect the powdery white sand beaches of Thailand or the Philippines here. And know, Eat, Pray, Love is full of lies and you CANNOT ride your bicycle from Ubud to the beach. It takes an HOUR to DRIVE there…. don’t be ridiculous.
But, if you’re prepared for all of that – what you won’t be prepared for is the warmth and hospitality of the Balinese. Now, there are a LOT of Javanese islanders living in Bali now, hoping to make money from the tourist boom. But if you manage to find yourself a Balinese family, stay with them. Get to know them. You will never find yourself smiling more, and wanting for less.
Now that we’ve got the money stuff out the way, and you know what you’re really in for…. I should tell you the REAL reason I think you should keep Bali on your bucket list. And I’m sorry, but it’s 100% selfish.
I love Indonesia. I love the people, I love the beaches, I love the weather. I plan on retiring to Ubud and being a vegetarian, meditating, yoga-going hippy in my old age. If you take Bali off your bucket list, then you will start discovering the other islands around close by, and then I will have to hate you, and I don’t want to do that because I love you all really. Because those are the best parts of Indonesia, and those are the places that stole my heart, and those are the places you all will ruin if you leave Bali.