THE OLD & THE NEW
(and sadly, how some westerners are ruining it)
I have been putting off writing this post for a couple of months. I originally wanted it to be my first destination post- because quite frankly, Bali is a big love of mine. But then another hyped up television show “WHAT REALLY HAPPENS IN BALI ” came on TV --- journalism at its finest--- and honestly….. I just opted out.
I’ve been visiting Bali since I was 8 years old- when there were only dirt roads and I proudly wore "hang ten" bumbags and freshly braided hair. Attractive. That’s a whopping 28 years of travel memories. Memories with my family, my best girlfriends, with my then boyfriend & now husband. Bali for me, is a more than a destination- which may sound cliché and soppy- but it's true. It holds a very special place in my heart. It makes me happy as soon as I step off the plane and makes me happy when I think back on all of my time spent there. It just makes me HAPPY.
Now, I could just skim over the negatives of Bali and tell you JUST HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS PLACE. I think you have probably picked up on that by now. But I wont.
Unfortunately Bali has been severely tarnished by westerners- specifically some Australians. Feral Australians to be exact. As much as I realize we are a very important part of Indonesia’s tourism revenue- we have really done the Balinese no favours in fueling the need for the “YOU WANT JIGGY JIG?” t-shirts and carved wooden male reproductive organs (yes, I tried to make that sound a bit classier). Drunk Aussies in Kuta falling out of bars, belittling locals or hooning up and down the streets yelling out obscenities is becoming the norm. Believe me, I've seen it all. And this isn't the real Bali- and hopefully this isn't the majority of Australians either. But my gosh there are a LOT of them who behave really badly (and this is coming from someone who likes to have a good time & isn't too straight laced). I cringe every time we make a quick visit to Kuta and hear Aussie bogans aggressively bargain a $5 t-shirt down to $3. Really really cringe.
Rewind 15 years ago when a good friend and I spent a couple of months in Bali. We rented a 2 storey open-air house, in the middle of rice paddies in Seminyak. No hot water--- I'm not even sure we had electricity. This was before Seminyak was "trendy"- before the cool shops, funky little bars and restaurants had even been thought of. We rented this house based on a handshake with a local man and a small amount of money- no contracts, no credit card bonds. Just through broken English, a smile, a few stray chickens at our feet and a couple of awkward silences. We used to joke that the beautiful old Balinese woman planting rice in the field next door, was in fact our “security”. Little did we know she didn’t do a very good job as security- but that’s a whole other story. We used to wander down the street, through the overgrown foliage until we hit Seminyak beach- and that's where we would spend our days in the sun- our hardest decision being: where to have dinner?
Fast forward 15 years- that house has been replaced with a large "Deus Ex Machina" shop, selling t-shirts with pricetags that would have covered our weekly rent. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, a lot of the time change is good- but sometimes places don’t need change. I get nostalgic thinking back to the days that it wasn’t a big built up tourist destination, when Seminyak still had fields of rice paddies and was full of locals going about their daily business, without having to cater so much to the tourists. As much as I love Seminyak, it's just on the cusp of becoming too westernized and built up- they need press “pause” and take stock of things.
Now, If I had travel advice for people traveling to Bali- I would steer clear of Kuta. Don’t go unless you want a quick shop or just to see what it's like. Sure, some people might love it- but it's not my cup of tea and I guess I can only give you my opinion. We often stay in Seminyak, which does still have a lot of tourists, restaurants, bars and shops, but this is where some of the most beautiful hotels are situated- along the long stretch of Seminyak beach, with sunsets that will take your breath away. It's full of really good quality restaurants and gorgeous little boutique shops. More importantly, it does still feel like it has some traditional culture- after all, that's why we travel . We LOVE this area- but do some research to see if it will suit the type of holiday you are wanting. After all, it's not for everyone.
Probably the most important piece of advice I have for first timers to Bali would be- go to Ubud in the mountains- whether it be for a day trip, or for a few nights. It's stunning and peaceful and you will get a real feel for the old school Bali. Take a cooking class, a bike tour through local villages, visit Balinese artists, see wood carvers in action, watch a traditional Balinese dance. This is similar to how Bali was 20+ years ago. And you will love it, trust me.
Just one last thing- please keep in mind to be respectful when bargaining down locals. Balinese are beautiful, gentle and proud people. I know everyone expects to bargain in Bali- it’s a given- but when you are already getting something dirt cheap, try to just swallow your pride and realise the extra $2 could probably go a long way with a local and they definitely need it more than you do.
If you have any questions on Bali, I would be more than happy to help where I can!
For more information on Bali- http://www.balitourismboard.org/
All photos by Belinda- www.outoftheofffice.com.au