You know the drill: Szilvi writes in Italic and I’m with the normal one. Since we’ve been to Bali we have question that bothers us: Is Bali really disappointing?
Finally, we gathered our thoughts together to tell you about our time in Bali. We had to wait a bit to sink. Surprisingly, we didn’t praise this part much, well, not accidentally. I tried not to have expectations, but if you have watched the movie Eat, pray, love, or ever saw a photo on Instagram about this place, it’s hard not to expect something like that. The truth is it’s a beautiful, lush green island, where you can peacefully ride a bike on the road just like Julia Roberts, smiling with your liver…. or not…
This is our personal view of Bali, probably others had different experiences, but keep in mind it’s hardly the same thing to be on a holiday or live an everyday life there for months.
Anyways, you might find this info useful if you’re planning to visit the Island of Gods.
Beyond the Insta-perfect Bali
When you go on a holiday you likely to have a nice budget for it, so you just need to lay back and enjoy your vacation 24/7. You know what you’re going for. There is no chance that anything could go wrong. I mean you can’t imagine that. But when you spend some time there, you actually live there, you have your daily routine with doing the laundry, getting the daily grocery, doing some sport activities (for running you’re very limited options in Bali), doing your daily work, that’s when you see that it is not only rainbows and butterflies.
You see how dirty it is in most places. You can’t even go for a swim on the south without picking up litter with every other stroke. Luckily on the north you can find mindblowingly beautiful beaches with crystal clear water. Yepp, that’s where we learned freediving.
Regarding safety, we never felt we should be vigilant, the locals are very friendly and we always felt safe. The groups of stray dogs on the streets seem dangerous, but those are too lazy and only sleeping in that heat.
The accommodation in general is cheap compared to European standards - however we rented a completely equipped flat in Thailand for the price of a room in Bali. We lived in Ubud and Canggu, we rented a room with bathroom in a guesthouse at both places, nothing fancy. It’s very humid on the island, so don’t be surprised finding mold in the bathroom, yep it’s nearly always like that. I would also question how often the air cons are cleaned, we got sick after spending 2 days in our room.
I was struggling with fever, head cold, sore throat for a month after the first night. That was tough to work daily and to explore or even appreciate Bali’s beauty.
All rooms look amazing on the photos of course, don’t be fooled. Luckily most places have a pool, so you can relax there instead of your room. We paid about £300 for a month with bills, it could have been cheaper if we don’t insist to have a fridge and a decent desk to work on.
At the end we loved our place in Ubud. Its two dogs came to check on us every morning, the daily omelette was served with fruits and these things were amazing kick-offs for every day ahead. Though it wasn’t really the food, it was the chats with the local guys, the smile exchanges and the general happiness that brought us sunshine.
The food is not so varied if you want to keep it cheap. We had about an hour break during work to find food, so had to find the best possible options in the neighbourhood. We paid about £1-2 for a meal per person. If you can afford to pay more you have more options for sure. You can have whatever you want, the most beautiful oats and fruit bowls, smoothies and trendy vegan dishes, needless to say prices are in the sky, not in Asia. I tried a few vegan sweets, but they cost the same as in London or even more, so those were my “treats” on special occasions.
Like everywhere in the world here we also went for the local, authentic experience. Poor tourists are mislead pretty much, they go to restaurants which are only for western people (and their wallets) and the shamelessly expensive (but trendi) vegan places and they think, oh, this is Bali, I love it. No, it is not. It is tourism. But they actually want to see this, not the real Bali. The surface only, the fake surface. We often were just by ourselves amongst the locals in small canteens and even we didn’t manage to chat (lack of common language) we saw how they live, where they go after work, where they live really and felt very welcomed every single time.
I went to a few yoga places, from the very small local ones to the most famous “westernised” places. For me it was a much better experience to go to the smaller local places, not only because they are less busy and cheaper, but I’d rather learn from Balinese than from an Aussie girl for example. We are different, some people like the “garnish”, but for me it’s more authentic and more valuable.
It was common that most travelers wanted to experience that spirituality they had seen on Instagram for very high price and you would only see a bunch of people dressed as spiri gurus playing peacocks and treating one another and themselves as they were different (even enlightened) in a place ran by and for westerners with no balinese around. Even the meditations, the healings, the yoga lessons are held by western people. The organized trips are similar and usually something very accessible, easy but at least not cheap. Very authentic, well done.
For example you can go to see those big gates, stand the queue, pay the selfie fee and post it to Insta uniquely just like thousands of others daily. Same with the swings above the rice terraces. Picture on Insta: a girl is enjoying freedom while swinging, looks so attractive, so independent, the whole world is hers, wow! What a feeling! Yes, that’s what the others in the queue waiting for 2 hours behind her. Also it is expensive and there is a safety buckle well hidden under the clothes. For the whole truth: if you’re willing to pay the price, you can get it only for yourself with an amazing view for your villa.
Have you ever heard of “selfie fee” ? Well, it exists in Bali and you have to pay if you want to take photos at viewpoints or waterfalls. You can’t just walk up to the top of a mountain on the path ( which is completely safe and doable for all ages), you have to hire a guide. If you’re thinking it’s not needed, the local mafia will convince you to do so. For me, it was so disappointing to be seen as only a thick wallet. Though people in Bali are very friendly, they speak some English which is very positive, but they completely change when money is involved.
The best part of our two months in Indonesia is those few days on the Gili islands. That’s truly paradise. Watch this short video, it shows you better than we could describe it.
Transport was a nightmare for us. We rode scooters in many countries before, but this madness was unknown until now. They hardly respect any rules, not giving way to pedestrians ever, it wasn’t funny at all. There are not many pavements for walking, if there is it's probably used for taking over by scooter riders. 10 minutes out there and got a headache of the honking and the noise of that huge traffic. So, if you’re still convinced to ride a bike like Julia Roberts, have a very good life insurance.
It was amazing to conquer our fears and dive into a freediving course. There we had an amazing room with seaview and we learned diving just above a WWII shipwreck with so many fish. I made it down to 12 m and can’t wait to practice more and do the next level. That meditative calmness under the surface is just unbelievable.
In Gili Air I actually used my new skills to swim down to see a huge turtle eating at the bottom of the ocean.
Another positive thing is the good choice of coworking places. I think they are a little bit overpriced but there are cheap or even free workshops and networking events.
Is Bali really disappointing then?
Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to visit Nusa Penida and Lombok this time, however I’d love to go there, hopefully those are still in better “shape” than Bali.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to complain that my life is so bad, I visited Bali and it was awful. I wanted to share this to let you know that it’s not all the perfect pictures you get on social media about Bali. We discovered the other side of the story as well.
So these couple of months in Bali turned out to be unusually negative and we were waiting to be back in Thailand finally. We usually have very positive attitudes for everything, here we found the downsides very daunting. Despite all these I really would love to go back. Why?
Because it just got us in a bad time. We both were sick, we lived in shitty areas (those cheap and “well equipped” but far from everything), I was recovering from a fractured collarbone, we couldn’t stand the fake “spiritual travelers” who were just there doing nothing but spending a wagon of cash. Surely this bothered me a lot. The fact that I couldn’t afford things. We just started making some money (not even enough to cover daily expenses in Bali!). But at least this way we got a clearer picture of the reality there.
But let’s be fucking honest here: we didn’t really live it. We were just being there but didn’t actually went after everything that Bali could offer. We just wanted to survive.
Next time it will be different. Now we know the drill, we know how we should live those moments. Sunsets, surfing, freediving, hiking, everything!
Bali is way overhyped. Fact. But I would still recommend it to everyone with an open mind. It’s a small treasure of the world. Forget about the Instagram, don’t be a lazy tourist, look deeper and enjoy! Then answer the question: Is Bali really disappointing?