Truth be told, I probably won’t rush back to Bali anytime soon.
My pictures might have said otherwise since I did so much stuff for three weeks. However, the act of Instagramming doesn’t mean I’m necessarily enjoying every minute. Bali was, in essence, a great life experience for me – but I learned that there are a lot of parts of me that won’t change.
I really wasn’t a fan of the country – despite how many people absolutely “love” it. I feel terrible saying this because Bali is a third-world country. It’s not comparable to all the other beautiful, westernized countries I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. However, there are numerous factors as to why I’m writing this – mainly to show that it’s okay to have your personal preferences and be honest about it in a (hopefully) tactful way.
- The people. Balinese people are extremely friendly and really helpful when it comes to asking for local recommendations. They just want you to love their country, and they always have a smile on their face. Our private driver in Amed, Koko, was probably one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my entire life – despite probably not having a lot in general.
- Widespread English. Signage is in English, mostly everyone understands and speaks English, and it’s a breeze to get around everywhere since Balinese people speak better English than Thai and Japanese (from what I experienced). If you’re thinking about traveling solo, Bali isn’t a hard country to navigate – it’s quite small.
- Safety. I was paranoid for nothing – I obviously didn’t need my bra money stasher that I splurged on at REI. Just have common sense and lock your stuff up, and you’ll be fine. Balinese people are generally really nice, so you’re not going to be abducted and driven off a cliff or anything.
- The food. While it doesn’t compare to Thailand, I simply couldn’t resist Nasi Campur, Nasi Goreng, and Mie Goreng. It was all pretty tasty, and I never had a bad meal (okay, one – but I did a good deed and gave the entire thing to a cute stray dog).
- Lush green scenery. Bali is known for its lush green backdrops – particularly Ubud. It literally does feel like you’re living in a jungle.
- Beaches everywhere. Not Hawaii status, but dude, they’re beaches – with warm water. What more can you ask for?
- All my firsts. First cooking class, first time parasailing, first time white-water rafting, first yoga class. For not being a huge fan of the country, I sure crammed a lot of firsts in.
- Haggling. I sucked at this from day one and by my 21st day in the country, I still sucked. I tried a couple times, but I was always taken advantage of since I’m just too nice. I just couldn’t walk away or give a solid, “NO.” This definitely made me appreciate growing up in the states, where everything is a set price – you don’t have to worry about haggling or getting ripped off. I could have saved a lot of money had I just stood my ground or simply walked away forcefully, but instead, I didn’t do that. It’s apparent that I’d get eaten alive in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and the rest of SE Asia. It was really difficult transitioning here from Japan, where you never speak up. It proved to be exhausting and anxiety-ridden to constantly be looking for better prices on things, even though I knew in my heart I’d be ripped off regardless.
- Begging. I never got used to people constantly coming up to me (and sometimes following) in attempts to make me buy things. In a sense, Bali is all a sales gimmick. Poverty is in front of your very eyes everywhere throughout the country. It was really difficult for me to see firsthand, and I honestly don’t think I’m the type of person cut out to ever live in a third-world country. I constantly felt depressed or worn out, even by walking around and seeing things out of my element.
- It was far too touristy. Seems like a direct contrast to the point above, but Bali is swarming with tourists. I really didn’t enjoy that, nor did I get much out of any of the places where I ran into drunk backpackers everywhere. Bali definitely rubbed me the wrong way. Ubud, everyone’s favorite city, ended up being the city I disliked the most. I even re-visited when friends came back to meet me there, and nope, my viewpoints on Ubud hadn’t changed. It just wasn’t for me, and I might be the only person on earth to not like Ubud.
- The humidity and bugs. It’s the same in Thailand. I just can’t deal – others adjust, but I’m certainly not a fan. I live for rain and cold weather. I screamed bloody murder so loud when a cockroach scuttled from my bathroom to the bedroom that the guesthouse owner felt sorry for me and upgraded me to a different (larger) room free of charge. Bless his heart.
- The food. Sure, I just raved about the food. BUT I got tired of the food by week 3. I think that’s a trend in my relationship with SE Asia so far. And fried noodles, fried rice, and fried everything will wreak havoc on your body no matter what.
- Massages. I got my first (and last) full body massage in Bali. I’ve never been interested in them, and after getting my arms pushed and pulled on while on the beach, I can honestly say I dislike them even more. I’m glad it wasn’t uncomfortable (heard horror stories about Thai massages), but it didn’t help my neck strain in the slightest – and that was the main reason I got it in the first place. In fact, I think it just worsened my stiff neck, which meant I beelined for food with a scowl on my face directly after it was finished.
- “Taxi, taxi?!” I was so sick of hearing this shouted at me every second while in cities that I almost want to admonish this word from the dictionary. And to think, I used to work for the Taxi Services Commission in Melbourne (one of the best jobs I’ve ever had with the best people)…
- Insane traffic. Related to the point above – I sadly had to take taxis everywhere since I was too scared to rent a motorbike (I tried, but then almost crushed my leg – and then went and crushed my leg in Thailand anyway). The traffic in Bali is the worst I’ve ever seen in the world. Even Bangkok and LA seemed acceptable in comparison. It wasn’t about the congestion – it was the fact that Balinese drivers will literally run you over even if you’re clearly crossing the street or trying to walk anywhere. Motorbikes swerve in and out of traffic almost as if they’re on a mission to kill someone – it’s incredibly scary. I got so much anxiety from being in Bali due to the traffic, and I think it’s one of the reasons why I never want to return.
- Having to explain my roots. I got tired of every Balinese man yelling, “Where you from?” after me just because I was a girl walking alone. I also got visibly frustrated that they’d always ask, “China?” and attempt to speak a semi-racist version of Cantonese and Japanese meshed together. They were completely confused when I said I was from America, and they always looked at me as if I was lying. In moments like these, I really appreciate the fact that I grew up in a country where, even though I’m still a minority, I’m not faced with barrages of these types of questions constantly.
There were a lot of things that surprised me as well, such as how much western stuff there was – McDonald’s, Harley Davidson, Nixon, Nissan, and even Holcim Australia (a company I worked for in Melbourne) was out there. Petrol is sold in vodka bottles on the side of the road (same in Thailand) if you’re ever stranded. The island seems to be separated by a fine line – luxurious, ritzy tourist hotels in certain areas, whereas local villages and dirt-paved roads were off the beaten path and the stark opposite of everything tourists see. I’m still a hypocrite since my favorite past time in Bali ended up being walking through the five-star resorts just for air con – and because it was hard in general for me to enjoy walking around in run-down conditions. I gravitated toward 5-star resorts mainly because it got me away from backpackers, and because they were obviously the nicest parts of the island.
Lombok, Borneo, and the other islands of Indonesia appear to be more genuine and much different from Bali. I’d consider going back to Indonesia for those types of places, but not Bali. The highlight of my entire trip was reuniting with my best friend in college and her boyfriend. Even though I played third wheel to them, it was the first time I actually traveled extensively with good friends, and I’m happy to say it was a success.
Overall, I was glad to say, “Bye, bye, Bali” and overjoyed to catch my flight to Bangkok. I haven’t looked back since.