We lived in Bali for a month, and while we did enjoy it there were several issues and niggles that stick in our memory about the place. Are you planning to visit Bali? Have you been before? See what you think about our opinions and message us your thoughts. Compare this with my previous blog post about Bali, and you’ll see that my opinion has changed over several things, and I consider this post to be more accurate of my overall thoughts.
A tourists’ paradise – but not a place to live
Bali is often pictured as beautiful beaches and dazzling sun, palm trees and cocktails and surfers and more beaches. The tourist areas of Seminyak and Ubud you’ll find branded shops and ice cream parlours, who cater to the pastiest white folk who walk the streets in the flippiest flip flips. The prices are hmm reasonable at best in these areas. The problem is that the locals have absolutely no shame and will attempt to rip you off at every opportunity. But more on that later.
The beaches are relatively quiet, mainly used by the tourists to get their selfies and uneven tans. You won’t see many locals at the beaches, until it’s prayer time and they congregate at the temple nearby. There is no struggle to find a place on the beach of your own, and whilst the waves are often a bit high and strong for a quick paddle, they’re good for just watching (and no doubt good if you want to try your hand at surfing!) whilst you lay there and soak up the sun.
Walk away from the tourist areas for a kilometre and your scenery will become a lot less pleasant. The paths are terrible, often just non-existent, or have massive holes (I’m talking like one square metre) that just drop down into the sewer below. Constant ups and downs and lack of sloping pavements mean this is NOT a place to walk around if you have bad legs, knees or hips. Got a wheelchair? Forget it, get a taxi, you won’t even be able to go 10 metres on a pavement. That’s if there’s not a scooter or car parked on the pavement that is, forcing you to step into the street and risk death by scooter to the face. The advantages of leaving the tourist area are multiple however and I would still highly encourage it, the local shops are cheaper and more eager to help you, you may still get ripped off, but the starting price will not be as high as it was the last time you were the victim of such highway robbery. Local food stalls, or Warungs, are well priced and offer good food that the locals eat at. A meal for 2 in a nice looking restaurant with a drink each may cost about 50-70 thousand RM, so about £3 or so, so pretty good value. I bought sunglasses in a shop for 25000RM, when at the tourist shops they were trying to sell them for 200,000RM so these are the price differences we are talking about. The food is generally pretty good, but boy be careful if you don’t like spice because you better TELL THEM, cause they splash spice all over that thing. Bali belly is a real thing that tourists get because they can’t handle how spicy the food is here so learn a few words in Indonesian and tell them “tidak pedas!” not spicy! Else you’re in for a rough night with the toilet as your new best friend.
The pricing issue – You’re one big walking wallet
Despite however much I hate it, a lot of tourist areas in the world increase their prices and try to sponge off tourists who came over with loaded wallets and space in their suitcases. From London to Tokyo, naff souvenirs and tat is flogged at you from stalls. In Bali though, they take the biscuit too much for my liking, and I’m a big fan of biscuits.
I understand that compared to a local, I’m a rich little boy. Despite having worked a minimum wage job for the last 7 months on a French campsite, I’ve still saved up enough to go travelling around Southeast Asia for 5 months and I understand not a lot of people in the world can do that, in Bali some locals will never even afford to earn enough to get off the island. My monthly wage in France is about 4-5 times what theirs is here. I get it, I’ve money, you want it, alright cool. However does this really give you fair warrant to charge me several times what you would the local populace? Obviously if you want cheap then you don’t go to the tourist heavy areas anyway, but even so if I walk into a market and inquire about a stalls prices, they will give me a different, higher price than they would have done the non-western person before or after me. We made a friend with a local there called Dila, a lovely lady who helped us figure things out and take us for various foods and was even there on my birthday. She explained that there is a local price, and a tourist price. And so for example if she went to a stall and bought some food, she would pay 10,000RM. If I then went after her and ordered the same food, I would be charged 20,000RM. This is perfectly common, and perfectly accepted.
Let’s just take a moment to flip the roles a minute. In London a British person walks into a shop and buys a meal, for £5. Then a Chinese tourist walks in after them and orders the same thing, and is charged £10. There would be an uproar, the shop-keep is called a racist, and much suing happens the shop closes down the owner kills himself etc etc. Is this an extreme comparison, meant to appeal to your sense of justice and victimisation? Or is it a fair comparison highlighting how Bali is frankly a little bit racist but it’s okay because we’re richer than them? Feel free to message me with your thoughts and opinions, but for me Bali is simply rude in the way they treat people, it’s not my fault your country and economy can’t pay you well enough. But hey ho.
Being white – still somehow a big deal
I’ve spent a lot of time watching videos on people in Asia being treated special because they’re Caucasian but it’s still pretty surreal to have things happen in real life to us because of it. If you stay in the local areas you’ll go several days without seeing another white person, and this is in the city of Denpasar not some local village in the backend of nowhere. We were recognised at the local supermarket, locals would wave and yell hello at us from across the street. Little children would say “hello, how are you” and then giggle amongst themselves. Being gay it was pretty damn awkward when girls will call you sexy and handsome, looking at you and then giggling when you catch their eye. Maybe they want to be married and taken away from their country, or maybe we’re the sexiest men they’ve ever seen who knows, but it’s pretty weird I know that much. When the laundrette lady has you stand with her daughters and take photos with them, you feel a little bit special and unsure of yourself.
You absolutely will get looks and stares when you go into shops. The staff there will attach themselves to you (super annoying, makes me NOT want to buy something) because they know you have money and ooft they want in on it. If you go to a market there are staff there who follow you and try to direct you to certain stalls (I have video footage of the lady following us around the market). When we went into a clothes shop, the guy literally just got out his phone and started videoing us walking around the shop, chatting on presumably facetime with a big grin on his face. I filmed him back just for the sake of it. Taxis will constantly offer you a ride, don’t expect to walk more than 100 metres before being offered a ride by a rip off merchant in a crappy car.
So, how to avoid being ripped off
First things first just stay away from the local areas. Everything about them is terrible, but mainly the tourists. Go to a local area, learn a few words of the language and ask for prices in their language, they will actually respect you somewhat for it we found (again they will giggle at you and go wide eyed, guys it’s weird). Here is my quick list of the best ways to not get ripped off.
- Download Go-Jek or GRAB These taxi app can get you a car or a scooter for super good prices, and the price is set by the apps so you don’t have to haggle. Considering the state of the paths and the 30 degree plus weather, paying 50 pence to go 10-15 minutes on the back of a scooter is super good value. DO NOT get a taxi unless you agree the price beforehand and know it’s good value or not.
- Learn to haggle. The price they say is not the minimum but the max, and you’ll likely get it for half of that. They’ll start off high because you’re a tourist anyway, so whatever they say, halve it, and then work from there. Don’t be afraid to just walk away. There is ALWAYS another shop. Everyone wants to sell something to you.
- Buy a sim card and have data. Use google maps and the internet. The locals won’t help you with advice, they’ll try to help themselves. For example I wanted a specific food so I asked some scooter riders where they recommend for it. They say a place which just so happens to be about 3 miles away, so I should get on the scooter and they’ll give me a good price to get there. Yeah cheers guys thanks a lot. Just use the internet for help, the locals will try to sell you whatever it is you’re after, despite not having it or anything close to it.
- Shower in the evenings. If you’re like us, and super tasty to the bugs that bite you, then don’t go to bed without a shower. The sweat from the days excursions is what’s attractive to the little biters, so get rid of it and you’ll wake up with less bites.
- Don’t expect good internet. Just… don’t.
Bali is lovely. It’s dirty and the traffic is frankly terrible. It’s cheap, but you’ll always be ripped off. The foods great, but it might make you sick. The locals are so friendly they’ll never let you go. The beaches are beautiful, the tourists are not.
I can’t tell you to go to Bali or not guys. It has some cool stuff to do, but certain issues about it really put me off. I wouldn’t be able to live there, because I’d always be treated as a tourist and never like a local. If you’ve cash to splash then you’ll have a typically lovely time, overpaying for everything everywhere. If like me you’re more frugal, unwilling to pay what the person before me paid, then you may find the place rude and pushy, more capitalist than New York city. For hot weather and nice scenery, hit it up. A place to chill for a few weeks and live cheap? Yeah sure, if you know your stuff it’ll be good. A place to just live as a local and experience their culture? Nope. You’re always treated a little different, and whether you consider than different to be good or bad is totally up to you.
If you do fancy heading to Bali or other destinations in Southeast Asia, and wish to support us in our travels, check out our affiliate Etihad airlines (Non UK readers click here) for the best prices to fly there and get planning your adventures! I look forward to any messages from you, and have fun out there!