(Tourist) Bali: A Surfer’s Paradise… and that’s about it.

When we incorporated a brief stent to Bali into our honeymoon plans, we saw visions of turquoise waters and sandy white beaches, an oasis that would bring time to a standstill amidst the sounds and sights of exotic Indonesia. Unfortunately, that was the farthest thing from the reality that awaited us.

For those of you who are as unfamiliar with the layout of Bali, there are many beaches from which you can choose on the West coast, the East coast, and the Southern tip of the island. There are also islands nearby that supposedly trump Bali in beauty and serenity (Gili Islands, Nusa Lembongan, etc) but if you are flying into Denpasar with the intention on staying in Bali for four days, taking a 2 hour boat to an isolated destination is a major commitment. Thus, we chose to base ourselves on Seminyak, on the West coast of Bali where we could easily beach-hop our way around the island or veg for four days and indulge in the wonderment of marital bliss.

Day #1: Seminyak, Kuta and the best hotel in Bali

We arrived mid-afternoon into Denpasar and were immediately struck by the pollution and underdevelopment of the main roads as we made our way to Seminyak, about a 30 minute drive from the airport. Despite the fact that Bali literally caters to tourists (mainly Australians) and was, at the time of our visit, hosting the ASEAN conference featuring such notable figures as Mr.Obama himself, the region was clearly in need of dire repair. Buildings were semi-constructed, paved roads would gradually fade off into ditches on either side of the street and there was a feeling of neglect that seemed to linger at every corner, no matter which way we turned.

After what was a rather surprising drive from the airport to Seminyak, our hotel was truly an oasis of quiet and calm. We stayed at BNG Villas for 4 nights, having found a great deal on Asiarooms, a website that offers amazing discounts on various hotels around Asia.

Our one bedroom villa at BNG was spectacular. With our very own plunge pool where we enjoyed our daily morning coffee and breakfast served promptly at the prearranged time, we were in honeymoon heaven! The customer service was fantastic and after a welcome drink given to us upon arrival, we settled nicely into our new home for the next four days.

After putting down our luggage, we took the free shuttle into Seminyak to explore the beach and get our tan on! Unfortunately, the only thing we experienced that afternoon was disappointment after disappointment. Now, we, being honeymooners thrilled to finally have time alone to celebrate our union, simply made the best of a bad situation. That being said, it is my duty to be honest with you, my dear readers, and thus, I prepare you for what has yet to come. Walking along the beach from Seminyak, through Legian and onto Kuta, our Balinese adventure began.

Refraining from jumping into the water due to the extraordinary amounts of garbage turning up on the beach, we decided to stick to a simple stroll down the beach. As we made our way towards Kuta, we literally stumbled across things like this washed up puffer fish (see below), jellyfish, hundreds of plastic bags, and the icing on the cake… a dead dog. Yup. Nice eh? Now, needless to say, of course there are things – living or not – that may end up washed up on the beach. Our question is why this garbage is being left to greet tourists who bring in millions in revenue on a yearly basis? In a word – complacent. Whether it’s the hotels lining the beach or the city representatives, someone should take the responsibility to maintain the beauty that made Bali the paradise it once was. The present situation really makes obvious what happens when things are left as is for far too long. Our prediction? If Kuta doesn’t pick itself up soon, Bali will be off the tourist map for good.

Day #2: Nusa Dua and the joy of Jimbaran

Our second day in Bali was much more enjoyable. With favorable weather once again, and determined to find a beach where we could relax and swim without worrying about garbage knocking up alongside us, we rented a motorcycle and headed to Nusa Dua.

Nusa Dua, where the ASEAN Conference was being held, is on the East side of Bali and is known for boasting 5 star resorts the entire length of it’s white sandy beaches. While the beaches are enough to keep you lounging around, the lack of anything Indonesian means you could be situated just about anywhere with a tropical climate. With a lack of eateries outside of on-site restaurants at high-end hotels, Nusa Dua is definitely meant for those looking to book a nice resort and never ever leave… ever. After flying 24 hours just to get here, that was definitely not what we had in mind. So, after lazying around on the beach, dipping our toes into the water (I was somewhat object to the seaweed floating around but compared to the dead dog, it was a swimmer’s paradise) and getting my first Balinese massage on the beach, we made head way to Jimbaran where we were hoping to find a beach finally suited to meet our seemingly very demanding needs.

After a day and a half of scouring the island for a beach to call our own, we finally found our little slice of paradise in what was fast becoming one of our least favourite holiday destinations. Jimbaran was perfect.

An old fisherman’s village, Jimbaran was what we had been searching for since we stepped off the place in Denpasar. Nestled in a beautiful bay surrounded by mountains to the right and hosting a stunning sunset to the left, the beach is wondrous blend of scenic beauty and liveliness. Where tourists come to unwind and enjoy a quiet day on the beach, locals come to collect fish from the plentiful waters or kick around a soccer ball as the sun goes down. The beach isn’t stuffed full of resorts and is perfect for families, couples or individuals just looking to get away. It’s during sunset hours that the restaurants on the beach open for business.

As the day comes to an end, be prepared to enjoy some of the freshest seafood in Bali… according to my husband anyways. Being an avid “fishetarian”, I stuck to the chicken satay, which was just as scrumptious.

Speaking of the food in Bali, here’s the low down on our digestive experience. Noodles. Rice. Noodles. Rice. Noodles. Did I mention noodles? Okay, that is a slight exaggeration but in all honesty, if you’re on the Atkins diet, don’t even bother. The most popular dish we encountered was Nasi Goreng (fried noodles). It is served just about everywhere. If you don’t feel like noodles, you can order fried chicken, fish or stir fry, and, for dessert, you can indulge in the delicious Pisang Goreng  – fried bananas! Yum! When it comes to what to drink in Bali, I was a big fan of the fresh fruit juice. Watermelon juice, lemon juice, mango juice, you name it! It was delicious. My husband was good enough to sample the local brew, Bin Tang, on my behalf, since I’m not a huge beer drinker. After receiving a huge thumbs up, I decided to take a sip and it was ueber satisfying! Fresh, cool and goes down smoothly, Bin Tang got the approval from even the harshest of critics. And of course, we can’t forget the delicious Indonesian coffee with which we started each and every day. Deep, dark and delicious! Talk about bursting our caffeine bubble. Canadian coffee will never be the same.

Day #3: Ubud, rice terraces and lots (and lots) of monkeys

On our third day in Bali, we decided to rent a car and head to Ubud, Bali’s cultural hub. The first mistake? Renting a car during the same week that Obama decides to skip around the island. While our drive to Ubud was tolerable, our drive back was awful, standing in two hours while el presidente worked his way to Nusa Dua. As we maneuvered in and out of motorcycles in our boat of a car, we finally arrived in Ubud. It was too hot for shopping at the central market as intended, so, in search of some shade, we headed straight to the rice terraces for a bite of lunch… and it was stunning.

Row upon row of terraces provided the most amazing backdrop for a much needed repose. When we first arrived in Bali, we had expected to spend 4 days lounging on the beach, but our search for paradise had us skipping around the island like crickets. After our brief pause overlooking the rice terraces, we made a bee line to Monkey Forest, a sacred sanctuary where you can walk among hanging vines, take in some fresh air and feed the monkeys… but beware… you will become a human totem pole. Expect it.

After the Monkey Forest, we headed home (it’s about an hour or so from Denpasar to Ubud but thanks to Mr.Obama, the trip was extended by approx 2 hours), arrived at around 10pm and, hungry, tired and frustrated, ordered… pizza. No, I’m not kidding, not am I American, I swear. But you know what? It was one of the most delicious meals I had in Bali!  A Bruschetta pizza – how random.

This seems as good a time as any to say a little something about the cost of food, accommodation and goods in Bali. It is no surprise that goods are exponentially cheaper outside touristic areas. Anyone who walks ten minutes outside any city center is bound to find a cheaper alternative to what’s offered right downtown. That being said, we were shocked at the prices in Bali, so much so that as we departed and saw clothing in the airport priced well below asking price on Kuta, my husband became convinced that “they’re all schemers!”… I think he was right . Food was priced rather fairly, but if you ate at one of the restaurants in town, you were bound to pay Western prices ($25 for 2 people) for a meal that was substantially substandard. That being said, if you escaped the holds of the tourist trap, you could find some great deals, like the meal we shared (twice!) in Jimbaran which offered wicked bang for your buck ($20 for a delicious meal, drinks and dessert included). Accommodation was a joke. The most affordable lodgings are to be found on Kuta in the heart of backpackers territory, but if you’re looking to book a mediocre to nice hotel, be prepared to pay extremely high rates (upwards of $100-150/night) on just about every beach.

On our fifth day in Indonesia, we gladly boarded the Garuda airplane destined for Jogyakarta (and the temples of Borobodur) and never looked back! Bali was… an experience, and while the seasoned traveler can surely make the most of a beach, a beer and an endless ocean at their feet, I would not recommend Bali to anyone looking for a relaxing beach vacation. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend Bali, period.

4 thoughts on “(Tourist) Bali: A Surfer’s Paradise… and that’s about it.

  1. the line about the monkeys made me laugh! the fishing village sounded amazing too. the dead dog on the beach not so much….poor doggie. on to the next entry! I need to catch up…

  2. i disagree! Sad, that you had a bad experience, especially on you honeymoon.. but it seems to me you “did tourist Bali” maybe next time you should go to a place like Sidemen and experience the real Bali & not the package version one. http://mselenalevontraveling.com/2011/11/14/bali-solo/#more-124 Did you see Kekak dance, festive cremation ceremony that just happened to pass by the village, cleansing ceremony Melukat with locals and not tourists, skinny dipped in one of Bali’s amazing waterfalls with no one around, have you seen the most breathtaking Sunset at the Tanah Lot Temple? If not, then your review is not fair. I stayed at a very low cost place in my own bungalow, surrounded by mountains and river ( away from Kuta and all other over exposed places ) What I saw in this post was a an opinion of a person who only touched the ” Tourist side ” of this amazing land.. Maybe next time you should try Nungwi beach , Zanzibar if you want a nice beach and great food experience or Barbados. There’s more to Bali then over crowded Kuta, Ubud & Surfers.. it’s just you never discovered it.

    1. Hi Elena! Thanks so much for sharing. It was unfortunate that we had the experience we did – but like I said, we tried to make the most of it. I would LOVE to skinny dip in a waterfall and see the sunset at Tanah Lot! Unfortunately, our trip to Bali was so short that we had to choose locations nearby the airport and were constrained to seeing the ‘tourist’ version. I am fully open to being proved wrong when it comes to Bali and I really hope I am! I had such high hopes for Bali after visiting many parts of Thailand, Cambodia etc. I totally agree with you about choosing where to go and what to see and as avid backpackers who like to wander “off the beaten path” once in a while, my husband and I knew we were limiting ourselves when we had to choose a place to stay that wouldn’t take 2-3 hours boat ride/drive to get there. If we go back and I experience what you did and discover the beauty of Bali, I promise to write another post! I think it’s important that tourists do understand that these places however, are not worth the visit. Thanks for your comments Elena!

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