It’s been a week since Josh, Molly, and I flew back into Jakarta after ten days in Bali. We all enjoyed having the time to relax, explore, eat, and spend our holiday time together. And yet, there were many things about the place that baffled us just as much as the rest of Indonesia has. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting in more depth about our trip, but here is a summary of some of the things that stood out most to me as we made our way around the island.
Bali is a dream destination for many, which means that the island has really developed to accommodate travelers. So much so that English is the main language used throughout much of the island, Western conveniences are the norm in most of the cities, and getting around is incredibly easy compared to the other places we’ve visited in Indonesia.
Most of the time, it actually felt like were weren’t in Indonesia. Ubud felt like a tropical version of some hipster American city. The areas on the coast felt a lot like beach towns in Florida. In Java, even here in the Jakarta area, it’s impossible to get around without knowing at least some Indonesian, but English is the default language throughout most of the island.
During our time in Bali, we actually saw more foreigners than locals, despite making an effort to get out of the main tourist cities.
Since there was such a good tourism infrastructure, we decided to base ourselves in the middle of the island, in a village near Ubud. It was easy (and cheap) enough to hire a driver to take us to sights around the island. We ended up alternating days between touring the island and hanging around Ubud to see the local sights while stopping for frequent meals and fresh juice.
The three of us were most interested in the cultural aspects of Bali, and we certainly got our fill. Bali is also seen as a spiritual retreat–we didn’t try out any yoga while there, but we were grateful for the abundance of all-natural, organic vegetarian food that was available throughout the island.
Of course, many people see Bali as a beach getaway, so we spent a little time on the coast, though that wasn’t our main interest. There is also some impressive nature in Bali, but we weren’t able to take any hiking trips because dengue fever had left me with some lingering weakness. The scenery we saw from the car during our day trips was gorgeous, though, and a hike through the rice paddies will be a priority if I ever find myself in Bali again.
Bali’s economy is based on tourism, so it’s no surprise that they cater to all sorts of different travel styles. This versatility is probably what makes Bali such a famous holiday destination, but its popularity isn’t without some serious setbacks.
Environment and Animal Welfare
I’ll preface this by saying that while I’m perhaps more environmentally conscious than most people, even Josh and Molly cringed at a lot of the things we saw in Bali.
Many of the animals on the island are mistreated or neglected, from people riding elephants that are tortured into submission to the coffee-producing civets that were held in the tiniest of cages. Wild monkeys around the island munched on discarded trash, and I won’t even get started on the (illegal) ubiquitous cock-fighting culture here.
Another issue that resonated very strongly with me and Josh was the pollution. Indonesians usually throw their trash on the ground, where it might eventually get swept up and burned in a nightly trash fire. Smoking is also extremely prevalent in Indonesia. Josh and I are extremely allergic to bonfire and cigarette smoke, which ended up being a bigger problem on our trip than we anticipated.
Despite wearing our pollution masks at all times (except while eating or taking photos), we each suffered from awful allergies. His sneezing, runny nose, and streaming eyes were bad enough that we blew a big part of our food budget on extra-strength allergy pills–which ended up being mostly ineffective.
And my own allergies were so bad that I had to use my inhaler for the first time in months. Though that also ended up being pretty ineffective; it only succeeded in turning my gasps for air into loud wheezes. By the end of the trip, I lost my voice and developed a raspy cough that I’m still trying to get rid of.
Needless to say, STAY AWAY FROM BALI IF YOU HAVE SENSITIVE LUNGS. We liked the rest of Bali enough to go back, but this reason alone is enough to make us consider other destinations in Indonesia (such as the fresh mountain air in the Dieng Plateau) rather than going back to Bali.
While some of these problems are embedded in Balinese culture and others are issues that have arisen from the development of tourism on the island, it’s clear that there needs to be some change.
Bali still has a lot to offer, and I’ll finish this post on a more positive note. We were glad that we had a chance to explore so much of the island’s culture. Our day trips took us to historic temples around the island, and our location in a small village gave us insights into the local life.
To get to the secluded villa where we stayed, we had to walk along a narrow path that took us past a stream where the locals bathed and washed their clothes. Little children ran out from their huts to smile and wave at us as we walked by.
We also saw a lot of authentic ceremonies as we walked around the area. The village temple held frequent ceremonies, and the public areas were used for the children to practice traditional music and dance. A lot of the cultural practices of Bali are put on for tourists, so it was interesting to get a candid look into these practices.
There are thousands of Hindu temples in Bali, and it was interesting to see how the religion influenced the culture. I found it fascinating to experience the distinct difference between the Indonesian culture I’ve experienced in Java and Balinese culture, which hardly seems comparable to anything else.
These are just some of the things that contributed to making my trip an interesting one. Stay tuned for more stories about my time in Bali!
*All photos in this post were taken by Josh.