Picture this: You step onto a secluded beach in a tropical paradise. The breeze is just enough to alleviate the heat from the blaring sunshine. As you sink your bum in the sand, a tall, ice cold crappy pilsner beer appears in your hand and as crappy as it is, it seems to just hit the spot and refresh your palate. Lunchtime rolls around and you retreat back to the empty resort for a cheap, delicious spread and post-lunch yoga overlooking the water.
Ain’t too shabby, right?
This was the painted fantasy I had in my head about Bali. I had heard from other travelers that Bali was “overrated” yet I was determined to have a beachy, yogarific paradise of a time tapping into the wanderlust zen side of me.
Now, before I rip Bali a new one I do need to preface many aspects of our trip that were impacted by our choices. Spoiler alert: I did not get that painted paradise of a time in Bali – although, I do believe that MAY exist somewhere on the island…but I’m not positive where.
Allow me to break down the trip experience a bit from our perspective!
I really had no expectations on how the locals would treat us as tourists. Sometimes, you go to these touristy places and you just feel like a big piece of meat. For the most part, the people of Bali were absolutely wonderful! Some of the most genuine people I’ve met on this trip thus far. They were so interested in learning about us, wanted to know where we were from, how much we like Bali, what our itinerary was and they spoke pretty good English so you could hold great conversations with them.
We ended up making friends with a couple staff members from our hotel – one was hilarious because he was obsessed with America! There are not a lot of Americans in Bali, mostly Aussies followed by Europeans, so when an American does come around they always seemed extra surprised. We stood in the parking lot for about 30 minutes chatting with them and he went on with his very own “I have a dream” speech that was, no joke, so inspirational and adorable to hear!
He talked about how some of his friends from his village have moved to the US to work and ever since he was a little boy, it’s been his goal to do the same. He moved into the “city” at Kuta Beach to work in tourism to gain experience so he can eventually try and start a life in the states on his own. It was precious.
We hired a private driver for about $35 a day to take us around for two days and he showed us all of the beautiful sights of Bali. One thing we learned is traffic is HORRID in Bali and it takes forever to get anywhere. It was nice to have a driver so we didn’t have to worry about taxis in the traffic and a lot of the beautiful sights were way far away from where we were staying.
Where we stayed was the major tourist spot on the island so there was just about every type of food you can think of; Indonesian, Curry, Chinese, Sushi, Burgers, Italian…with all of your typical touristy spots like sports bars, Hard Rock Café, McDonalds, KFC, blah blah blah.
One thing that shocked us was how pricey everything was. We half expected cheap meals, and we were able to scout out some, but most everything was around the $10-15 range and it was near impossible to find really cheap drinks! The last night, we found two joints that had ridiculous drink prices (like $1) but they also gave us a headache the following morning, so choose wisely ;)
Traditional Balinese food is sort of a mish mash of other Asian cuisines – a little bit of fried rice, rice noodle stir fry dishes, kabobs and grilled fish. If you can find a good joint, it’s not half bad.
As I mentioned earlier, the majority of people you’ll see here are tourists & mostly from Australia since it’s only a short flight away. We stayed in the area called Kuta Beach which most certainly caters to tourists and it was very interesting to get some insight on the real culture of Bali from our driver. We had asked him whether or not tourism is a good thing for Bali and he replied with, “With tourism, everything is alive.” He said Bali would be nothing if they didn’t cater to the tourists.
Our hotel staff buddies said something similar and mentioned that they love working in tourism because nobody is sad about being in Bali. When people come visit, they are happy, carefree & relaxed so they love helping smiling faces every day! I thought that was a cute perspective!
A couple of negative experiences we had with the tourism culture… one was when we were checking out at a convenient store and the clerk tried to take advantage of the fact that we were tourists and changed the price total to a higher price. Andrew watched him delete the total and re-enter and Andrew lost his ISH! To give you perspective, a US dollar is equivalent to about 13,600 rupiah so it would be very easy to confuse a tourist if they’re not paying attention and doing the math! Andrew called him out and he denied it at first, and then realized that we were messing around and apologized. LOL
The other experience we didn’t care for was when we were walking the street markets – the shop owners were VERY aggressive and would grab our arms to pull us into the store. Awwww helllll noooo, don’t you go touchin me! I was not havin’ that…
So here’s the part where I’m going to break down where we made some choices that did impact our Bali experience. Andrew wanted to go all out and get a luxury hotel (which are very good priced!) and we were looking at a couple out in the middle of nowhere. While these would have been closer to the image of Bali I had painted in my mind, I knew that we were also going to some small islands in Thailand where we would have the same experience. I opted for a cheap hotel that was simple, modern, and quite nice in a popular and accessible area.
Upside: we could walk to dinner, paid less, were close to shops and across the street from the beach. Downside: It was disgustingly touristy, busy and NOT tranquil whatsoever. Ugly area. Tit for tat. However, had we staying in the mountains we would have been two hours away from anything, which is not very convenient.
What I LOVED about Bali were the spas EVERYWHERE for ridiculously cheap. The ideal demographic for Bali truly is a bachelorette party from Australia because they can get pampered all day, go to the beach and party at night. We spent our anniversary in Ubud, Bali which is a central tourist town that’s known for the spas. For $40 each we were pampered for 5 hours – couples massage, body scrub, manicures, facials…it was marvelous! I’ve never felt so fancy in my life and the location was gorgeous.
That was the good spa experience ;) I was also set on getting eyelash extensions in Bali because they were so cheap and welp, I got what I paid for! On our first night there, we spontaneously stepped into a spa and I decided to go for it without doing research on the place, which is very unlike me. The experience was great until he was finishing up and it felt like he was painting my lashes with glue. Oh, as it turns out he was actually.
He finished and I got up and looked in the mirror and was LITERALLY speechless for about two, very long, minutes. It looked like a disgusting fake strip of plastic lashes had been glued to my lid – one was flat and crooked and the other was misshapen. I cried, I freaked out and I made them removed them immediately, which was the most PAINFUL experience I’ve had and they ripped out so many of my natural lashes and burned my eyeballs like CRAZY! I was furious.
Moral of the story, don’t get lash extensions in Bali!!!!
Here’s my recommendation: If you are just going to Bali, I would definitely stay somewhere remote for at least a section of your stay so you get the full vibe of the island. We knew we were going to have that experience elsewhere on our month long trip, so we chose not to go that route, but there are tranquil, yoga-esque places in Bali!
Must see spots:
- Sacred Monkey Forrest (just don’t look the monkeys in the eye, they bite…I learned the hard way!) http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Attraction_Review-g297701-d378969-Reviews-Sacred_Monkey_Forest_Sanctuary-Ubud_Bali.html
- Ulun Danu Bratan Temple (on the lake) http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Attraction_Review-g608496-d447061-Reviews-Ulun_Danu_Bratan_Temple-Tabanan_Bali.html
- Ubud, Bali
- Bali Jetpacks & Water Sports http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Attraction_Review-g297698-d7000909-Reviews-Bali_Jetpacks_and_Water_Sports-Nusa_Dua_Nusa_Dua_Peninsula_Bali.html
- Luwak Coffee (most expensive POOP coffee in the world!) & tea tasting: http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/ShowUserReviews-g3388764-d3331610-r167571274-Teba_Sari_Bali_Agrotourism-Lodtunduh_Ubud_Bali.html
In the end, we enjoyed our trip overall but it was not what I expected. We were surrounded by American shops (they love Polo Ralph Lauren for some reason…they’re everywhere!) and our experience didn’t really feel authentic. Thank goodness for our driver, Dewa, because had he not taken us around we would have really been disappointed!
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t like Bali. Our time spent there was fine but part of me wishes we had splurged on a yoga retreat or fancy resort. Our experience would have been much different then. Kuta Beach area is something you can SKIP for sure if you’re looking for a relaxing vaca.