Bali: Expectation vs Reality and the Effects of Tourism
With a big birthday coming up I had been dreaming of spending it in Bali for a long time and I was so lucky to be able to make that possible this year! I had read and seen so many travel blogs, YouTube videos and Instagram posts of the beautiful green jungles, stunning beaches, infinity pools, vibrant cultures, street food and waterfalls surrounded by towering volcanoes and hidden temples. It was a hidden gem so far away from home and so desperate to be explored. However, this expectation was very quickly struck by reality as I came to realise that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Maybe it was our fault. Maybe we hadn’t done enough research, or were so wrapped up in our own imagination of a place that when faced with the reality we were so shocked and madly hurt by the truth. The truth being, that it was all one big tourist trap.
Bali Expectations vs Reality: Jungle Swings
Our second day and my birthday, we were picked up by our tour guide who a friend had recommended. I asked that he took us to see the authentic beautiful Bali. Little did I know that this barely exists.
Our first stop was the jungle swing. This sounded like a thrilling activity. I had expected it to be a huge swing that we would be clipped on to and swing over the trees like I had seen online or like the zipwires that we get at home. But no, it was countless pretty little swings and basinets with vines and flowers woven around the ropes over looking some very scenic rice fields. It even had beds placed in such a way that you could pretend you were staying at a jungle treehouse.
We did, of course, have to pay to go on these swings. You could hire dresses, butterfly wings and photographers, and it was filled with tourists trying to get that perfect Instagram photo. Needless to say we did not go on them and cringed as we watched fellow tourists posing. This was not us and not at all what we are looking for on our travels. We were then swept away to a coffee tasting section where they offered free tasters and pretended that they had made the coffee themselves and then at the end you are expected to buy bags of coffee from them.
Tegallalang Rice Terrace in Ubud
We then went to visit the rice terrace in Ubud, which was so muddy you could hardly walk anywhere safely because it it had been trampled on so much by tourists. You were only allowed to walk on certain sections before being expected to pay more money to the farmers. The terrace was surrounded by more jungle swings and girls in long dresses and heels while the two of us were dressed in shorts and hiking trainers. It all felt very strange to say the least and we were happy to take a couple of photos and leave swiftly.
Bali Expectations vs Reality: Chasing Waterfalls
Our next stop was a waterfall – this surely was going to be better? But sadly, this was where reality really hit us. All we could hear was music pumping from a bar / club that was plonked right at the top of the fall, playing the cheesiest music (I remember YMCA at one point). As you looked down there were hordes of people, and locals desperately trying to get you on more swings for that “perfect photo”.
With the shock and reality finally hitting us, we sat at the bar at the bottom of the fall (yes, another bar) and as my boyfriend passed me a beer I broke down in to tears. This was not the Bali I had dreamt of and certainly not how I planned on celebrating my birthday.
The beautiful Indonesian region has been so spoiled by tourism that has overwhelmed the island so quickly, even the local people are beginning to feel like their home has become lost. The streets are filled with endless gift shops and vendors trying to entice you in to buying something from them or use their taxi service or rent a bike or have a massage. You can’t turn a corner without being instantly targeted for being a tourist.
Taxi Scams and Tourist Traps
One taxi driver almost caused an accident trying to get my attention as he was driving past me. On another occasion, we got locked in a taxi one time because we wouldn’t pay him more than had already been agreed for a ten minute taxi ride. Luckily my boyfriend managed to reach over the front passenger seat to unlock the door through the open window. This was especially frightening and we’ve since only ever used the taxi apps since!
When it comes to the beaches and towns for example, you are constantly approached by local people so desperate to get you to buy bracelets, paintings or sarongs from them. Yes they are trying to earn a living, and you get this at most holiday destinations, but it’s especially uncomfortable when they have taught their children to guilt trip you into buying bracelets from them to help fund them going to school. How can you say no to that?
The nightlife can be great depending on what you are looking for. We could only describe it as the Australian’s answer to Benidorm or Magaluf, with cheesy bands playing back-to-back Bob Marley. Overpriced cocktails were made with the cheapest ingredients and little to no thought put in to the making of them. Thank goodness for TripAdvisor, where we could at least use it to find the best food in town.
All in all, our first experience of Bali was disappointing. But we did learn some lessons from this and have since (during our extended stay in Indonesia as a whole) been back twice to the island and have enjoyed it much more. This is purely down to the fact that we now really know what to expect!
Some of the Lessons We Learnt
1. Don’t believe everything you see on social media.
2. Do your thorough research.
3. If you feel comfortable enough, try and hire a scooter. This will open up the island for you, instead of using the driver tour guides. They often overcharge and get commission to take you to certain tourist spots. Otherwise, figure out where exactly you want to go and use the taxi apps to take you there – we mostly used GoJek.
4. Only use the taxi apps or if you must, ONLY use a taxi that has a meter.
5. Try not get swept up in the tourism and go to places only you want to go!
6. Don’t go to the elephant parks unless they have been given the thumbs up by animal rights groups and never ride them.
7. Go with an open mind and expect to be treated like a western tourist who has money to burn. Even if, like us, you are meant to be travelling on a budget. The locals unfortunately refer to us as “walking wallets”.
8. Use review sites and recommendations for places to eat instead of going to a place that looks good / pretty from the side of a road.
9. Try and fit in a trip to the Gili Islands and Lombok. Lombok especially is much more authentic and “untouched” and is still beautiful with rice terraces, waterfalls, volcanoes and stunning beaches.
10. BEWARE OF THE MONKEYS
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