Despite Bali only opening its borders to international travel in March this year, thousands of tourists have already packed their bags and flown on over to the land of cold Bintangs, floating breakfasts and cheap massages.
In fact, according to Bali Discovery, international arrivals into Bali in March 2022 were around 40,000, a “203.94% increase compared to March 2021”.
This number is still way below the figures observed pre-COVID, but what is clear is that Bali tourism is returning. If you’ve got a Bali holiday booked, or plan to book one in the near future, check out these rules to follow once you land on the island.
And while there may now be calls for Australians to be banned from Bali (for the next few months, at least) the reality is our Instagram feeds are now becoming inundated with #islandlife content.
But for all the paddy fields, beach clubs and ‘Grammable breakfasts, there is a side to Bali that you don’t get to see through a filtered lens on social media, and it’s one I recently experienced when I visited the island for the first time in May.
Like anyone who plans anything these days, I jumped onto Instagram to look up a range of bars, restaurants and clubs that my group had mentioned going to, to get an idea of what to expect. And, it must be said, I liked what I saw and I finally understood the appeal of Bali to Australians.
Up until the time I moved to Australia from England in 2018, the furthest I’d ever been for a holiday was the east coast of America and, considering the culture is basically the same (more or less), I never really saw it as much of a ‘foreign’ holiday. To me, then, Bali was the first time I’d ever visited a foreign country; one with an entirely different culture to anything I’m used to.
And, while I did indeed get to see the ‘social media’ side of Bali, I also noticed plenty of other things that I wasn’t quite prepared for.
This is what I believe Instagram doesn’t show you about Bali…
The roads are ridiculous.
Coming from a country that has a Highway Code, I immediately felt a combination of terror and bemusement as soon as I got in my cab at the Ngurah Rai International Airport airport and headed to my villa in Canggu – unfortunately, I didn’t get to say in the ridiculous AirBnb perched on a cliff edge.
I was aware Bali isn’t a big place, and so expected there to be a fair number of scooters compared to cars. What I didn’t expect was how reckless scooter riders were. If there was tarmac and some space, they were going for it.
But it works for them. I never witnessed any crashes of any kind. Compare this to Australia or the UK, countries that have rules for the road and clearly marked lines to keep us in separate lanes, yet we still have crashes on a daily basis, and you instantly have to wonder if there is a method to Bali’s madness.
Riders have no fear.
Continuing with the road theme, but this time, focusing on the scooter riders themselves. The majority of bikes that zoomed past me had just a single rider. Some had two people on, which I saw no issue with at all. After all, scooters do provide ample seating for two.
What I didn’t expect to see were scooters with three or, in some cases, four people on. I quickly became desensitised to it, although I couldn’t not be startled at the sight of a pregnant mother on her bike with three children, and it was only the mother who had a helmet on. Clearly, she had faith in both her own riding skill and that of everyone else on the road.
The beaches aren’t that pretty.
This may be common knowledge to some of you, but for myself visiting Bali for the first time, I had some expectations as to the quality of the beaches. I’d always been led to believe Bali is a tropical island paradise (and in many senses, it is) but during my 10-day trip I only had the chance to see two beaches: Canggu and Keramas, and both, in my opinion, were rubbish.
The sand was either dark or quite literally black – hardly Instagram-worthy in my opinion – and so it wasn’t exactly welcoming to lay a towel down. Then there is the crazy amount of rubbish and debris washed up on the sand. I think I’d heard stories relating to Bali’s cleanliness (or lack thereof) but to see if with my own eyes was rather startling.
Of course, it also speaks volumes of the genuine issues relating to climate change, and how polluted our oceans really are.
The Isle of Dogs.
I quickly lost count of the number of stray dogs I saw wondering the streets, and that’s just in the small area of Canggu close to my villa. They were everywhere and, for the most part, stayed out of our way. As The Bali Bible says, “‘Bali dog’ is the politically correct term for the stray dogs of Bali, and they often get a pretty bad rap – That they are sexually promiscuous rabies carriers who take to the streets at night to brawl.”
But why so many? The Bali Bible continues: “born into poverty, dog owners often can’t afford sterilisation, resulting in the rapidly growing Bali Dog population which means more and more dogs are taking to the streets, often getting caught up with the wrong pack.”
As with the sheer number of daredevil scooter riders, I quickly became desensitised to the number of dogs patrolling the streets. They may have let out the odd bark when I walked past them at night – they’re just making sure I understand I’m the tourist – but other than that, they actually seemed quite tame, and I wish there was something I could’ve done to get them a more rewarding life.
Bali Belly is real.
Admittedly, I wouldn’t expect to see photo evidence of the effects of Bali belly littering my Instagram feed. But considering the number of super-tanned bodies with bright white smiles that appear when you search ‘Bali’ on the photo-sharing platform, I was under the impression that these people couldn’t have possibly experienced anything so tortuous.
And, truth be told, they may not have done. However, considering at least 50% of my group of 15 had to sit out at some stage during the holiday because of tummy troubles, I can’t possibly believe that the influencers selling you the ultimate lifestyle haven’t also had to get acquainted with their villa toilet.
I can’t be sure exactly how I contracted Bali Belly. I was told to avoid drinking the tap water and have ice in my drinks, and I’m adamant I stuck to these rules (I may have had ice in a drink on my first day, but I can’t remember). What could have been my downfall was simply rinsing my toothbrush under the tap before brushing my teeth.
Regardless, it got me. The only way I can describe it is by comparing it to the scene in Bridesmaids when Maya Rudolph’s character attempts to cross the street in her wedding dress. That was me, just swap out the wedding dressing for some swimmers.
The locals are incredible.
Yep, it’s not all doom and gloom.
If you’ve been to Bali before then you immediately know what I’m talking about, but for myself, I’d seen no evidence on Instagram to suggest how lovely the locals were. Staff in the various cafes, bars and restaurants I went to always had a smile on their face and were more than happy to cater to every whim. There were even a couple of occasions where staff offered to give us scooter rides back to our villas.
It also has to be said just how good their English is. It’s always nice for native English speakers to at least try and learn a couple of phrases: hello, thank you and please, for example, but the chances of any of us becoming fluent in another language just to serve the purposes of a holiday are very slim. So, for the Balinese to become fluent in English to help serve us tourists better, I found to be very admirable.