Huuummmmm Bali.. Paradise it is not!

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August 27th 2009
Published: September 24th 2009
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1: Funeral Procession 12 secs
2: Lion in Legong Dance 15 secs
3: Legong Dance... 14 secs
4: Legong Dance... 16 secs
5: Legong Dance... 17 secs
Our time in Bali was one of love and hate.. at first we disliked it.. then we loved it (well Sophie did) and then we left hating it and vowing never to return to this island ever again...

We caught the bus from Probilinggo to Denpasar which was an easy overnight journey and one that actually left Probilinggo 2 hours early! This meant that we got to Ubung bus station at around 2.30am which is a really bad time for finding accommodation. We sat around for a while considering our options then decided to quit our losses and get a taxi to Kuta in the hope that it's a 24 hour kind of place and we might get a room.

Kuta is indeed a 24 hour kind of place but finding a room wasn't that easy. We'd arrived just in time for throwing out time from the bars so the alleys were filled with drunk young Australians and transvestive prostitutes on mopeds none of which were very helpful to us despite them trying. We wandered round and round the streets but all guesthouses were either full or had noone there. After a couple of hours we gave up and sat outside a corner shop for a coffee and a rest from our heavy packs. It was getting a bit light then so we walked down to the beach and decided to try to sleep for a few hours then try again at checking out time. When we got to the beach we were amazed at just how busy it was at that time of the morning, not just a few people milling around but there were hundreds of people running, sitting, dog walking and of course surfing. We did manage a few hours sleep then tried again and hit the jackpot scoring a lovely room in Legian, the next resort to Kuta for just 75,000Rp (£4.50) so were pretty pleased with ourselves that we'd waited to find something after such a bad start.

To be honest Kuta and it's surrounding resorts are a far cry from the Bali images we see at home, paradise it most certainly is not! We would equate it to an Australian version of Magaluf in Majorca... all Aussie restaurants, bars and of course Australians with hardly a trace of the real Indonesia. The beach is ok but you can't swim in it because the waves are so big and you are constantly hassled by the hawkers over and over again.. if we said no to the massage the first time then chances are we don't want one when you ask us again 5 minutes later!

The one good thing about this area is the shops! This is obviously from Sophie's viewpoint as she couldn't believe her eyes when she saw all the bead, shoe, handbag and clothes shops! All with tourist prices of course but fantastic to look in all the same! Dale was not quite so enthralled with this but patiently tried to be enthuiastic as he was dragged from shop to shop giving his opinion on the various coloured beads and what handbag was nicest!

By the end of our first day we'd had enough of Kuta and all that it had(n't!) to offer so hired a bike out to go and explore the Peninsular and find some more beaches. This was a great move as this area is a far cry from the built up area of Kuta and here you find pure white beaches with turquoise waters. Dreamland was our first stop, this used to be a beach right off the beaten track until they built a huge resort that leads right up to it. The beach is still beautiful though and much more the kind of scene you would expect to find in Bali, the waves are still huge so there is no swimming here just looking at the water crashing around. The other beaches on the peninsular were just as beautiful even if they all were packed and we left quite happy that we'd made it out of the Kuta area to find a bit of the more real Bali.

The following day was our first real experiences of just how difficult Indonesian transport can be. We don't mind having a bit of a challenge but it just seems so illogical that you can't get a bus from A to B when this is a well run route and you have to go from A to C to D to get to B.. all very frustrating and made all the more so that you have to argue to get the 'real' price every time you get in a new Bemo (minibus) but we'll come onto our thoughts on Indonesian transport later on...

When we finally arrived in Ubud we immediately fell in love with it. As well as the lovely shops (again Sophie liked these!), this is a city filled with Hindu Temples on every corner, beautiful buildings, it has a lovely feel and is surrounded by green paddy fields which make for nice walks out the city centre. We also loved the Hindu offerings you find all over the pavements and it makes for a fun game to have to try and avoid them as you walk along in case you slip on a flower or pile of rice!

We bagged a great bungalow for 100,000Rp which was the same price we'd paid for our prison cell in Cemero Lawang. This was however much nicer and came with a hot shower, beautiful gardens to look out on and a yummy breakfast brought to us on our terrace each morning. From what we saw all the accommodation here is of a very high standard, most is found in private house gardens and are run by really friendly ladies who can't do enough for you so we immediately felt at home here.

While Sophie would have been content with wandering round and round the shops for her entire stay here, Dale was keen to get out and about and experience a bit more in this cultural centre so we headed out of the city on our first day. We took a walk via the Monkey Forest Sanctuary which is home to.. funnily enough.. hundred of naughty long tailed macaque monkeys. These may look cute but they're anything but and make a grab for everything they think might be food so you have to be careful and we both walked with our arms firmly crossed so they didn't mistake us for anything! Having seen so many of these throughout Asia the novelty has well and truly worn off!

Out the other side we got to walk though some small villages which are overflowing with handicraft shops, greener than green rice paddies and yet more shops! It was a lovely walk and we both felt that this side of Bali is infinitely more beautiful than the images we are shown at home. Back in town again we headed to the Waringiby Oka which is a popular restaurant serving up the Balinese speciality of roast suckling pig. It's a bit like the hog roast at home and we gorged on succulent pork, crackling and rice loving every bite. Obviously here in the Muslim countries we don't come across pork very often and it's amazing how good something tastes when you haven't eaten it for so long!

Not yet saturated with the Balinese culture we spent one evening watching a traditional Legong & Barong dance in Ubud Palace. This performance was so much better than we could have hoped for such a toursity event and we were both captivated by the dancing, costumes and strange eye movements for the entire 2 hours. Had we had more time here in Ubud we would have gone to see a different dance as there are lots on offer and we're sure that every one would have been as good as this one.

On our final day we took a walk North of the city in search of the rice terraces we'd seen on other people's photos. These are overlooked by the posh hotels we can only dream of staying in so we got to see some of these too! We found the hotels & terraces with no problem but were stopped from walking across the public

We just watched!
paths by builders & farmers who wanted paying for the priviledge because they'd seen a corner in this market and took it upon themselves to scam people... needless to say we turned back around!

The day was not lost though as we stumbled on a huge Hindu Cremation Ceremony up the road. There were thousands of people here for the 55 people who were to be cremated on this day. We were a little unsure of what was going on but a local lady came to our aid as we were purchasing our sarongs (yes Dale got a skirt!) and took us to her house to change and then onto the funeral. At the start we got to see the bodies all lined up with their clothes and photos all hanging above every coffin and in front were the dragons that led the procession to the cremation area. After a while the procession began with groups of the people (presumably the dead's friends) each taking a lion down the street, spinning around at each temple and then into the cremation field where they ran around and around.. it was all quite funny to watch! The whole event was so far away from what we are used to in the UK with bright colours, loud music and laughter from everyone and we thought that this was a lovely way to send people off. We stopped for most of the afternoon watching what was going on but after a while our tummies were rhumbling and with no sign of when they might go to the next part of the ceremony we headed off back to town.

Ubud really is a beautiful city and one of our highlights here in Asia, although Dale didn't love it quite as much as Sophie we both though that this would be a beautiful part of the world to live in and were quite taken with Bali by this point. This was until we did a complete U-turn and we left Bali that day with a completely different viewpoint...

Shunning the tourist bus again we decided to make our own way to Padangbai, the town where you catch the ferry across to Lombok. We got a minibus back to Denpasar which proved quite easy for a change and thought that maybe today we'd get an easy ride even though we had to go backwards
Woodcarving shopWoodcarving shopWoodcarving shop

of which there are many!
to go forwards.. this is Indonesia after all! We got to the Batubalan Station and then had to get one more minibus to Padangbai. We managed to get what we considered a good price with the terrible mafia bemo (minibus) runners and settled in our bemo for some more people to arrive before the driver would leave, we're quite used to this and were pepared for the wait frustrating as it is.

While we were waiting we laughed at a stray dog who mistook 2 goats for dogs and his face when he realised his mistake as he got closer to them. We returned to our reading and the next thing we knew there was this horrific sound coming from a dog and looked up to witness the final act of a bemo man beating the dog to death with a lump of wood. We cannot even begin to tell you how disturbing the noise was and it's not something we'll forget for a long time. It took us a few seconds from shock to take in what we'd seen but once this was over Sophie was up and out the van crying and screaming at the men calling them all the names under the sun while Dale dragged our bags from the bemo. We were both so shocked at having seen something like this, it is without a doubt the worst thing we've seen in 15 months of travelling and worst still there was virtually nothing we could do except show our disgust at this act of cruelty. We are sure this kind of thing goes on every day (we've seen the remains of it elsewhere) but to do it in front of Western tourists really showed us what kind of people these are and their total lack of respect for people visiting their country and the animals who are unfortunate enough to live here.

Another driver had seen what had gone on and pulled up to take us away so we jumped in his Bemo keen to be as far away from these people and this island as we could but our ordeal wasn't over just yet!

The seemingly driver in the shining bemo was of course as bad as the rest of them and decided not to take us to Padangbai like he'd said and instead dropped us in a random town about 20km short of Padangbai lying that we were there to make us pay up and get out. By this point our patience with these drivers had worn though and we refused to get in another bemo to go the additional 20km to get where we wanted.. so we walked.. in the midday sun.. with all our bags.. not really knowing how far we had to go! We were so angry but kept ourselves amused on the way by stopping every bemo driver to ask the price and then laugh in his face as they gave us stupid prices of between 20,000 to 100,000Rp (we figured we should be paying about 5,000Rp).

At this point we'd like to advise any people unfortunate enough to get this type of transport of the best way to get the 'proper' price... the trick is not to ask how much before you get it but to just get in and try to find out how much the locals are paying. Then at the end of the ride give the driver this amount which leaves him with little opportunity to ask for more when it's obvious you know how much you are supposed to pay. The problem with this is that you can't always find out the price so have to end up asking at which point he'll ask you for some ridiculous amount way above what everyone else has paid, if you are at the end of your ride it's difficult to argue. Everyone tells you not to get too worked up about getting the 'local' price and we agree that we don't mind paying a little more than the locals but when they ask for 3 or 4 times the amount it's just plain greedy and really gets our backs up more and more every time it happens.

Anyway enough of our venting about transport and back to us being faced with walking 20km in the midday sun... We think we must have walked about 10km of the 20 when someone above us decided to give us a break and sent us one in the form of Thierry, Ida and their cute son Yuri, a lovely French/Indonesian family who currently lived in Bali and were on their way to Padangbai for the day. These were some of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet and not only gave us a lift but took us snorkelling, fed and watered us and then dropped us at the ferry port at the end of the day.

Right up to the end of our time in this island the people lied to us when a group of men told us the ferry ticket office was closed for us to walk 10m further to ... surprise surprise.. find it open! This was the straw that broke the camels back for Dale and he lost it with this group telling them in no uncertain terms what he thought of the people who lived here! It really does take a lot to push Dale this far so this was an indication that this day was probably the worst we'd had since leaving the UK. Like we said at the start we both felt a bit guilty on judging Bali so early on by the Kuta standard. It really is a beautiful island once you leave that area and we'd both talked of returning to spend more time here and really explore what there was on offer. Sadly this day completely spoilt our time here and we left feeling total let down by the selfish disgusting people who
Nice beach sceneNice beach sceneNice beach scene

Sums Kuta up really!
live here. Of course this is not everyone but when the people we have most contact with are the likes of the bemo drivers it leaves a really bad impression on the inhabitants of the island and we will never sing it's praises as a tropical paradise to retreat to.

We actually think that if you came on a 2 week package tour you would probably have an ok time because you would never have to come in contact with the likes of these people. Our advice for anyone coming here would be to stick to the tourist minibuses to avoid these kind of frustrations and situations.. they actually work out about the same money and at least you know you will arrive where you need to be and for the right money even if if is with a car full of other tourists!

Additional photos below
Photos: 107, Displayed: 33


24th September 2009

Same experience!!
Sorry your experience of Bali was ruined...we have had the exact same experience as you (we learnt to stick to the tourist transport!). But even with the tourist transport the Indonesians can be incredibly rude...Neil pinned one guy up against the bemo when he tried to trip me up (when I was wearing my big backpack) and had his hand around his neck - like Dale it takes a lot to get him riled but somehow the Indonesians in Bali (and some in Lombok) just know how to push it too far with the tourists there. Hope Lombok and the Gilis were better for you. We NEVER want to go back to Bali's such a (bad) contrast to the rest of Indonesia! Safe travels and keep smiling! xx
24th September 2009

You scared me... for a while
Good blog. Good pictures. I will be in Bali in the first week of October. Fortunately, I have my hotel booked. I have 2 days to spare and seek your advise on locations to capture landscapes and seascapes on my camera. Thanks in advance.
25th September 2009

Hi Sophie and Dale... I read your blog with great interest and agree completely with your thoughts on Bali. I left 24hrs ago and wont be returning in a hurry for much the same reasons... I didnt mention in my blog the state of the cats and dogs in Bali... it really is very sad and yes completely colours ones views of the Balinese... Enjoy your next destination... Nic
30th September 2009

hey i have had the same experience as you guys it is kinda boring and hard to live in i wud hate to go back but the only things i liked were the scenes i also like the blog and i just wanted to add thannks and bye bye
16th January 2010

Hey guys. I'm sorry that you had a not so ideal time in Bali. I am an American - Indonesian living in NYC and I even have to admit that the Balinese can be greedy at times and its always at the expense of their own people. And its not just foreigners that get the short end of the stick but also to their own people that they act this way too. I always have a good time in Bali and always manage to visit every time I'm in Indonesia. BUT really Indonesia is more than JUST Bali. I get so aggravated every time someone mentions Bali is the only island to visit but there are so much more to see. Bali wouldn't be Bali if it wasn't for the Javanese for example. I can speak fluent Indonesian and I basically blend in with my brown skin and asian face but even I still get harassed in Bali for more money than I should be putting out. But you know what I think led some Balinese that way? because I observe some of the foreign tourists esp Aussies that visit the island and they totally SUCK in bargaining. so it ruins any chance of bargaining for other people when they just give in so easily because *insert foreign accent here* "its so cheap!" I swear when I watch these tourist sometimes I just want to slap some sense in them and tell them get to know some local people and get some good tips, they could even save some money but I figure they might be pretty well off in their homeland. (rich parents) Bali is beautiful there culturally and naturally and it does balance out between modernity and the traditional- Basically it has something for everyone. I love Bali and I would advise not to stay in Kuta unless you like the idea of a overpopulated, drunken mess, touristy overrated area. :) Also if you can, rent out your own car or go on tours. Ubud is def a must and yes the shopping there is spectacular for shopaholics like myself.

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