While volcano activity slows down the tourist industry and give nature some rest, still there are human exploitation in every corner. The paradise, where everything is wonderful and cheap — sure, things are super cheap if you make money in euros, dollars or pounds — is a wonderful place, but has its own limitations and I believe travellers must be aware of them.
If you are going to Bali with no worries about payments and cleanness, come back to usual Bali tourist guides!
If you are saving tons of money for the Bali dream and will cross the world to go there, better be aware of the following potential “adaptations” you might do:
Plastic rubbish is everywhere
No, they do not recycle; yes, locals throw away garbage on streets; yes, you will swim and snorkel with plastic wastes; no, they do not clean the beaches nor have a public policy for that. I visited only two islands in Indonesia, Bali and Gili, and in most of their beaches there were plastic in the sand and in the water. Actions: clean by yourself — or ignore it. I saw many coffee and yoga businesses that dedicate time to “beach clean open session” which is really a good opportunity to make friends.
Offers and left overs everywhere
Bali island is mainly hinduism — which is only 10% of population of Indonesia — and they have the ritual of offering everyday, usually brunch time. The offer is cute: inside a natural basket made of banana tree leaf, they put flowers, food and incense together and let in their local businesses, on bridges protections, inside their vehicles or simply on the road. The sad parte is that street animals, as dogs, ducks, birds, come to eat all offerings — and mess up a bit. The result is that you have to be careful when walking not to step on them — or their left overs — an make streets dirtier.
Too much animals everywhere
Well, Bali has a richest tropical diversity and all animals love to be there — not only humans. Everybody wants a space. All houses are rich of ants, insects and if you do not clean properly, the big ones will come too, as mouse or snake. In most of districts there are rice fields just besides houses or roads, which are great environments for animals. If you are not in a hotel but in a normal local house, you may need to use insecticides in your place or clean it everyday, especially during rain season — all animals looks for a non wet safe place. One good tip is to not eat anything in your room. The smell attracts animals and you probably do not want to sleep with them.
Too much noise everywhere
As any other religion, hinduism has ceremonies with singing, dancing and partying. The bad thing is that their temple are open walls and we can clearly hear their celebration — three times a day according to the period of the year. Temples are everywhere. Forget about a quiet neighbourhood. The thing you can do is make sure a community house, a palace, a temple and a mosque is not in your block. Also verify their religious activities calendar: they simply close the streets for ceremony or procession. The noise is such a reality that during the first day of Balinese calendar, March 17th, they practice “Silent Day” and literally nobody goes outside their home for 24h. It is a sacred holiday and everything is not allowed to be open — even airport or hospitals.
Too much smoke in the air
If you ride on scooter and needs to take main roads in the crazy traffic jam, please use a mask to protect yourself. All locals use masks. After a ride you will need a shower. They say the traffic in the capital, Jakarta, is even worst! But smoke also comes from the burnings they do constantly. The usual burn is from dried grass or plants. They also do that to scare animal in the surroundings. The worst is when they decide to burn trash and plastic…the smoke is black and has a terrible smelling. Be prepared to have neighbours that does this twice a week if you are not in resorts area.
No public means of transportation
No bus nor metro. You will have to find a private way to go to places: taxis or scooter/car rental. If you have never taken left-hand traffic, you can easily get used and learn. The real problem is that streets are narrow, there are no traffic lights — only in the mains 4-lines roads — and too many tourists with their scooters. Yes, it is chaotic — not so bad as India or Thailand — but still locals are used to it and it can be a safer options to always have a driver. If you are driving alone, always double your estimated arrival time and make sure to disinfect your skin if you have any “small accident”. In rain season, traffic is chaotic due to flood and streets closed; in sunny season, traffic jam doubles.
Everything is far
The island is big (6 million inhabitants) and it is impossible to make a complete round tour on the same day. It will take minimum 1h to reach a different area: by car, it is minimum 3h from north-south and minimum 4h to east-west. Bali has many different cities and districts — beach, jungle, downtown, zen — and better you choose the one you fit the most to stay a while. There are plenty of things to do inside of each city (ex: Ubud, Denpasar, Kuta) and I would say it is not worth it to go and come back on the same day, it will take lots of your time. And do not forget traffic jam will be waiting for you.
Few imported industrialised goods
As usual in all non-developed countries, it will be hard to find you beloved Nutella— only in specialised groceries and gourmet markets. All imported things are expensive even after you change to your currency — forget about cheese, they have absurd prices in Bali. If you have diet restrictions and need gluten free stuff for example, the cheapest and easy way is to go natural and local. For sure you can find your favourite european/american conditioner whatever there, you will just need to search longer — and pay extra.
Locals workers do not speak english
No, they do not understand everything you say, even though they always answer “yes” with a pleasant smile. I noticed it can be dangerous if you only do yes-no questions, you might receive back a “yes” as an answer and receive the opposite. Instead of asking “could you prepare a cappuccino with soya milk, please”, better ask “which milk options do you have?” and wait for the answer. Locals are really attentive and will find a way out to understand you — if you have patience and time. In a local massage studio once, after trying to explain the massage I didn’t wanted, I simply took a paper, drawn a human body and they finally understood the massage to be done. For sure, there is always the easier alternative of going to “western places” where people speak better english and you can pay more for convenience.
Pushing tourist industry
Yes, all stores and local markets will be full of those people who tries to sell you everything. They seem to speak better english and will insist a lot! Another thing is that locals know you are a tourist and they will make prices higher for any service you ask for. If you find local places and local services, prices can be 2/3 cheaper and lowly. I am not including luxury and “exclusive” services here. It may sound impolite, but a tip to survive is not to stop to listen to them — only if you really want to buy something, sure!
Western people who doesn’t fit
Europeans or americans who made Bali their new home does not fit in 1st world country. Sure, there are so many reason involved, but the most commons I noticed was money, career or spiritually related. They simply cannot afford living in Europe with their jobs or they are rethinking their careers or their lives. All yoga studios are full of completely lost people and that want to find a way to connect themselves with themselves. Of course, there are typical tourists too, who just travel for fun and see Bali as beach vacation! According to people I talked with, I could clearly see the difference of behaviour of western people who decided to stay from the ones who are in a 2-week fun mode.
Services “tricks or treat”
Bali business people are really smart in making money. One common strategy is to sell minimum 10-pass package for a cheaper price than single class or session. Nothing wrong in that, until you discover the package was 1-month valid only and non-transferable! Bali has such a variety of cool and unknown services, that probably the next week you will find a better yoga studio or a cooler co-working… so you will probably end up with many passes in your hands that you will not manage to use. My suggestion is always buy a single ticket and forget those commitments — specially if you are in the discovery mood. Another marketing trap they use a lot is “made from western to westerns”. Usually only the owner of the business is a western and all employees are locals. That is probably the best solution for local economy — but I admit I got nervous when I went to a doctor (which trial conversation was made by a german specialist someone recommended) but the next procedure itself was made by a local. Sorry, it may sound prejudice, but I didn’t like when I paid for a mango that tasted more like an avocado.