I landed in Bali alone, Sara was back in Italy to spend some time with her family and I did not want to go all the way back and then again head for East. Being by myself could already have been one reason not to like Bali, but it is not what I will be talking about in this post.
I decided for a hotel in an area that could allow me to explore both South and North of the island and I opted for the area of Kuta towards Seminyak.
After landing, I paid the Visa On Arrival fee as I wanted to extend my stay for more than 30 days and then made my way out of the airport
Discover why I did not like Bali, at first
Indonesia – Bali
Watch our Vlog on Indonesia: Episode 3
That is when the first reality shock came in. Bali had horrendous traffic from Denpasar (the airport).
We got stuck out of the airport for a good 15 minutes.
Cars and motorbikes were swarming around me and I was looking at the show as if I was a spectator and not really part of it.
But that was just the beginning.
Kuta is a renowned young Australians party mecca and Seminyak is considered more “adult” with nice restaurants.
I thought that being in the middle of the 2 areas would have helped meet some fellow travellers.
I was not wrong, however, I underestimated the extent of how bad the party scene in Kuta is. Once arrived at the hostel in the afternoon at 5 pm after the ride in the traffic, I made my way out of the hostel almost straightaway as the room was a little bit dark and did not give me the feeling that I was looking for.
Soon the light started fading away, leaving space for the night while I was walking towards the beach, that is when I made my second realisation.
2. Sleazy nightlife in Kuta
While the young and beautiful were making their way to the party, plenty of other creatures of the night started appearing, from sex workers to drug dealers.
I can not recall how many times local women grabbed me by my arm, or shady characters whispered in my ear names of drugs I could buy from them.
Look, I do not believe to be a boring person and I like a good party, however, this is not the kind of party I am into.
If you are, consider that having drugs, in Indonesia, can lead you to jail, so pay attention to what you are doing.
I decided to call it a day and go back sleeping.
3. Kuta is a small city, not a remote paradise
The following day I had my third realisation: Kuta looked more like a small city rather than an exotic paradise.
And it was totally my fault not to have expected it.
Walking around with the sun, I realised that the traffic was always intense and, at every corner, there were places trying to sell you anything with random pitches used over and over again.
Vendors were aiming at anyone walking on the side of their stall with overused slogans like: “hey boss!” “mate” “bloody cheap” “good price”
I make a point to always smile and politely say no and thank you but it became soon too apparent that it was going to be a continuous denial.
Once I got to the beach side, the fourth realisation:
4. Hunger for tourists money
Nothing wrong with it, however there is a sustainable way of dealing with tourism and a bad one.
The area in Kuta is, unfortunately, an example of the latter, in my opinion.
Just a few examples:
if you were trying to park a scooter, there was almost always going to be a 2000 IDR charge to leave it anywhere other than places you were going for shopping.
If you tried to park it somewhere for free, a local would call you out to park it somewhere where he or his friends can collect the fee.
It was not about the cost (we are talking of less than 0.50$) but it was more about the fact that none of the people asking for that money were in the right to ask for it. They did not own the land nor worked for the government or an employer.
Let’s park it (pun intended) for a second and let’s go back to the beach.
VENDORS ON THE BEACH
As soon as I put my feet on the sand, I was asked if I wanted a sun-bed, a surfboard, a coconut, some food.. great proactive attitude, but it goes back to the previous point, it becomes tiring if the only thing I want is having a walk on the beach.
At night, in the Seminyak area, there are plenty of places where you can sit down on bean bags and enjoy the sunset, they all have live music and every place tries to be louder than the next one.
The end result is that you hear music coming from 3 different places (yours and the 2 on the side) and you are not enjoying 100% the place you chose.
The sunsets are spectacular, though. Refreshed in the soul from a majestic sunset, I decided that it was time to explore the rest of the island. And this leads us to my 4th point.
5. Bali is a big island
Nothing wrong with this point per se, however, if you decide to make a base anywhere and explore the island on a scooter, the result will be that you will spend hours in traffic and end up the day covered in dust and smog.
Especially if you are going towards the South passing by the airport to reach places like Uluwatu. To go all the way from Kuta to Uluwatu, it is at least 1h and 30 minutes on a scooter, where you have got to pay attention to plenty of other scooters and cars.
So, is it all bad and I did not really like Bali? Are all the people describing Bali as a paradise wrong?
Definitely no. Let’s come to the actual suggestions to make the most of your time in Bali and not being a rookie and making the mistakes that I made.
WHEN I STARTED LIKING BALI
After these days, I made the conscious decision to move towards Canggu, and this is when everything started making more sense.
The area in Canggu around Batu Bolong is lovely and filled up with nice places to have a meal, less traffic and a beach that is not stunning but is giving you the option to chill in front of the seaside and try surfing if you wish.
Nights at Old Man’s bar and at the Deus are definitely a better place to party for my concept of a party. For 3 days I just walked around without driving anymore, enjoying the chilled atmosphere.
On the 4th day, I got back a proper motorcycle (but you can do it with a scooter as well) and went towards the North visiting places like Ubud, the Tegallalang and Jatiluwih rice terraces, some waterfalls and Joshua District.
That is when the real beauty of Bali exploded in front of my eyes: beautiful temples, rice terraces, small streets, women carrying on their heads food or grass for their animals, men driving scooters with long ladders, big markets with plenty of locals in it, the offerings on every side of the street and on temples.
The spiritual side of Bali that people are loving, was finally with me.
And what about the beaches? To be honest, I would not recommend going to Bali for the beaches, you can find better places in Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, Gili Meno or in Lombok.
However, my favourite beaches in Bali are all in the South of the island. I recommend visiting Uluwatu (and staying there for the night), Bingin Beach, Jatiluwih and Green Bowl beach, all of them more for surfing than for enjoying a good swim (perhaps the best for swimming was Jatiluwih).
MY RECOMMENDATION TO LIKE BALI
So, what is my recommendation to like Bali from day 1?
First and foremost: if you are a confident driver, you need a scooter or a motorbike to understand the real beauty of Bali.
You have to get lost in it to understand it.
Second: plan for 3 or 4 different bases in the course of your exploration
a. South of the island
(d. Amed or Lovina)
Go South and sleep either around Bingin beach or in Jatiluwih for 3 nights.
Then move towards the North in Canggu from a Wednesday to a Sunday and enjoy great parties at the Old Man’s bar, Pretty Poison (with skateboarders offering shows in an empty swimming pool) and at the Deus.
After that, move to Ubud and stay there to explore rice terraces, temples, the North of the island and be part of the spiritual side of the Balinese people.
If you still have some days available, go to Amed or Lovina.
These are 2 quiet cities where you can do snorkelling or see dolphins in the morning.
The best way to move around, if you do not drive or rent a driver, is to use services like GoJek, Grab or Uber. Pay attention, in some places the local community does not see with good eye these services. You might want to download as well the My Bluebird app (local taxi at a cheap price) in case you can not get a ride with the other apps.
What are you waiting for, are you ready to buy a flight ticket and fall in love from day 1 with Bali?