“If you want to see what the real Bali was like, go to Lombok”
If you didn’t think a place could change much in three years, you’re wrong.
Oh, how tourism has bloomed in Bali! In some ways, it’s great. More people are exploring the island, the locals financially benefit from tourism, and the infrastructure is definitely improving. However, it was also sad to see the some of the essence that had made me fall in love with Bali the first time, had faded a little. Ubud had become stressfully busy, with swarms of tourists and market vendors trying to pull you in every direction, desperate and sometimes aggressive with their tactics as they fought for competition between each other. This wasn’t the Ubud I remembered, I thought. But then again, maybe I saw my first visit through rose-tinted glasses. It was hard to tell.
I was really excited to be visiting Bali for the second time. My friend, Hannah was travelling for a few months, so another friend, Vicky and I decided to go out and see her. Bali had been one of my favourite places I’d ever been, so I was eager to get back. Admittedly, the second time would be different, I’d be hitting the full tourist trail, compared to the first time where I was volunteering and staying in a small village.
We started our trip with a relaxed few days in Seminyak, where Vicky and I caught up with Hannah and heard about her travels. We went to the beach and lounged by the pool. We visited Potato Head Beach Club for dinner and drinks to admire the views. I remember being surprised at the extent the security guard checked our taxi before clearing it to go ahead. Our taxi driver told us it was due to the Bali Bombings which happened in Kuta 15 years before. Due to the rising terror threats in Europe at the time, this really hit home, especially as Bali an anomaly of an island within a largely muslim country. 202 unsuspecting people had been killed in the Bali bombings, and this was still remembered with a memorial at the site in Kuta which listed the name and nationality of every victim of the attack.
Kuta itself was hectic. Perfect for browsing the markets and an excellent place to practice your haggling skills. They were probably the best markets I came across and there was just so much choice. Around every corner, you’d find a new set of shops selling all kinds of things from fake Kyle Jenner lip kits, to carved wooden penises. South East Asia really does have a thing for these…supposedly a symbol for good luck, but they’ve just turned into a bit of a novelty.
We parted ways with Hannah and headed to Ubud. I still enjoyed Ubud and the general feel of the place, it had just changed a lot. We visited the monkey forest, where I realised that I had a fear of monkeys after one jumped on me and slightly scratched me. I panicked and jumped to the logical conclusion that I obviously had rabies, despite the fact the medical office at the monkey forest, a random pharmacist, and the hotel receptionist assuring me that I was fine. I was fine. I just momentarily turned into a hypochondriac and googled, which as every google medical search does, ended in death. Note: all monkeys in the Ubud monkey forest are clean and disease free. There was no way I had rabies.
While in Ubud, I re-visited Pura Tirta Empul and the coffee plantation, which had beautiful views. We explored the Tegalalang rice fields which were stunning. Bali at its best, is exploring its nature. I loved the descending rows of rice fields and the sheer greenness of the whole area. Although it was arguably one of the most beautiful places, it was also filled with people who also wanted to see its beauty. It’s difficult, because in one sense, you were annoyed that there were so many tourists that it was hard to get a photo with no one in, but in another sense, you knew you were also contributing to this.
We also visited the Elephant cave (which doesn’t contain, nor did ever contain any elephants). The primary figure on the cave was thought to be an elephant, which is how it got its name. I really enjoyed exploring the temples and learning about the culture surrounding them.
After Ubud, we caught a boat to Gili Trawangan to spend a few days. Unfortunately, as we were slightly out of season, the main bar had been knocked down (I’m assuming to be re-built). This didn’t deter us too much as there were still plenty of other bar options. The island was a great size and perfect to cycle around. No cars are allowed, so your main option for transport is bike.
They do have horse & carts too, but they are notoriously known to be mistreated and malnourished, so guide books advise you from using them. We also attempted to cycle through the island, which in theory sounded like a great idea. In practice, the roads had actually flooded and this involved an interesting cycle, knee deep through enormous puddles. It made us feel adventurous and we did make it to the west side of the island in time to see the sunset, which was the aim! In my opinion the sunsets on Gili T are the best I’ve ever seen. The colours are so strong, and there’s a part of the island where the water is still, so you get a perfect reflection of the sky. It really is incredible.
While in the Gilis, we also did a snorkelling trip in hope to see turtles. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any on that occasion, but it was still a fun trip.
Our last destination was Uluwatu, where we visited Uluwatu Temple which is situated on a cliff on the very southern tip of Bali. I had been before, but it was lovely to watch the sun set over the temple….although there were loads of monkeys and it was incredibly busy! We also had a surf lesson in Padang Padang. I felt as though I really began to get the hang of surfing and actually managed to catch and ride waves by myself, which I found an accomplishment!
While surfing, our instructor asked us how we liked Bali, and said “If you want to see what the real Bali was like, go to Lombok.” I remember finding it quite a strange thing to hear, almost admission that the unique essence that Bali was known for had gone, and partially because of people like us. That quote really stuck with me. I left Bali really enjoying my second visit, but I also couldn’t shake off the feeling of how it felt different.
I think we can all agree that we all benefit from tourism to an extent, but this visit really did make me think of the issues of tourism, and namely, overtourism. Have we, as people who want to explore the world and learn about other cultures, ended up actually ruining the places we were enamoured by because we wanted to sing high praises about them to the rest of the world? We wanted everyone to visit, to see for themselves. You hear of places like Venice and Barcelona now suffering from the vast amounts of tourists. Beaches in the Philippines have become overcrowded and destroyed because people want to visit the paradise they’ve heard of. And although it is boosting their economy, you do wonder what the price is.
I want to travel, I want to explore, but I want to find a way of doing this more consciously.