Bali, the fabled isle, it certainly carries a lot or preconceptions both good and bad: tropical paradise, land of the gods, Australian Torremolinos. As usual, some of these preconceptions are true, some not.
It would be fair to say that I didn’t warm to Bali when I first arrived – see this post – I found it too busy and strangely isolating at the same time, the roads are narrow and not pleasant to use (whether by car, bike or foot), and development is ad hoc, cramped and messy. I was told this was due to high land prices and no one wanted to lose space to roads or infrastructure; but this is true of anywhere and we have managed to build adequate roads in London, Paris, New York etc. You can’t develop areas properly without infrastructure, this is what happens when no one is in charge and there is no adequate planning…
Inadequate planning extends to drainage as well; all over Bali there are drainage culverts running beside almost every road, these are used for washing (up in the hills) and also for waste removal. This might have been fine when waste was organic and could rot, but these days waste contains a high proportion of plastic in the form of bottles, sachets, disposable cutlery etc and it all ends up here – on the beach.
This is Seminyak beach – its a health hazard and the sea is worse. Locals say this is because ‘its the rainy season’, true: that’s the reason its all being washed down, but its not the base reason for all the trash in the system, and its not an adequate excuse…
Some beaches are better, the Nusa Dua ‘enclave’ in the southern section of the island is spotless – but this is where the big resort hotels are, and the inland section here is much smaller and has a lot of upscale developments. Its almost like a separate island with the airport as a cut off.
Kuta, to the north of the airport, is the ‘Australian Torremolinos’, but I found it OK – it is what it is… no pretentions. Its a busy resort town with lots of hotels, shopping centres, restaurants and a well managed, safe beach; and its nowhere near as built up as Torremolinos or Benidorm (the two main Spanish mass tourist resorts). Its certainly close to the airport, and the attraction to an Australian market is obvious (some parts of Australia being less than 4 hours away). There is apparently a more raunchy late night drinking part of town which I didn’t venture to, but that’s OK too, if its what you want.
North of Kuta lies Seminyak, and this is often touted as being a more upmarket option – I honestly can’t see why… There are some more ‘arty’ shops around, but this is where the roads start to get long, twisty, rambling, overcrowded and frankly dangerous. There are some nice restaurants here, but there are in Kuta too. The centre of Seminyak (if there is such a thing) sells the same stuff as everywhere else.
Another ‘upmarket option’ to the alleged horrors of Kuta is Ubud – often described as being ‘up in the mountains’. In reality its almost a suburb of Denpasar, on the journey to Ubud – from the south – you will be hard pressed to notice any gap in the urbanisation. It is higher and so can be a little less humid, but don’t be under any illusion, this is no hilltop retreat; its just as touristy as Kuta – but with more art galleries. There is a monkey forest at one end of the high street and at the other, its a busy shopping town, plagued by the same problem as in all parts of Bali, but even worse here – parking. There is just no where to park, so the traffic is horrendous as people circle, hoping to eventually find a place to stop, the traffic problems extend way beyond the towns borders and even getting in to Ubud can be an issue. Once there, its a pleasant enough place (traffic excepted) and there are some good restaurant options – but as I said: this is no hilltop retreat.
So, the rest of the island… how about that? I did manage a couple of trips out and both were in the central/ north section – this is where most of the temples, rice terraces etc are. Getting around takes a long time and you need to factor this in, roads outside the main area are well built, but narrow and busy.
There are some ‘must sees’ and I covered them here:
I also visited Tanah Lot – the temple in the sea, which should have been spectacular and lovely, but I’m sorry it just wasn’t… the mood and setting completely destroyed by the ‘retail park’ on the approach and the massive over exploitation of the site; I didn’t expect to be alone here, but it was just horrible. If you are going to do this to your tourist sites at least get the experts in – I’m not being facetious when I say they should approach someone like Disney; who know how to manage crowds and maintain the magic.
Overall I realise this ‘Postcard’ has been quite negative, but it is a reflection of what I felt on visiting the island – I had a good time and saw some nice parts, but sprawling over development is going to kill this place – it may already be too late…
There is quite a party scene in Bali – for detail check here Beatmag.com