“Where is the best place you’ve ever been to?” is a common question among travellers. Names such as Thailand, Australia and the Maldives make regular appearances, and there’s little question as to why. Yet there’s one dreaded name that tends to elicit an eye-rolling groan from many – Bali.
This tiny island in the distant corner of Southeast Asia is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The mere mention of its name casts images of white sand beaches, infinity pools and cocktails on deck – the ultimate paradise. However, that couldn’t be further from the case.
Bali has to be considered one of the most overrated travel destinations in the entire world, and I’m going to tell you why.
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Table of Contents
Where Is Bali?
Bali is only one of 17,000 islands that make up the nation of Indonesia. The country is placed right between the colliding streams of the Indian and Pacific oceans, leaving behind turquoise oceans and vibrant coral reefs in their wake.
Indonesia also finds itself standing precariously along the formidable Ring of Fire. At the heart of many of these islands burns the same volcanoes that they originated from. The resulting ashfalls from these megalithic beasts ensure that Indonesia has some of the most fertile lands on Earth and that each island flourishes as a lush tropical paradise.
Despite being one of many thousands, Bali has been able to transcend its national identity with many outsiders even mistaking it as its own country, and there’s a very good reason for that. While its sheer popularity makes it so recognisable, there’s more than lies beneath the surface.
Bali is the only predominantly Hindu island in an otherwise Muslim nation. While the rest of the country holds a stricter stance towards religion, morality and intoxication, Bali has always had more of a relaxed attitude towards foreign ideals and behaviours. That’s one reason it got so popular in the first place.
Why Do People Love Bali?
It’s not that difficult to understand why Bali is loved by many. In every sense of the word, the island has the making of the ultimate paradise.
It’s a small tropical island lined with breathtaking beaches and crystal blue oceans. The dramatic landscapes extend from the pristine rice terraces and staggering waterfalls to the sputtering of active volcanoes. It’s an island of intoxicating spirituality amplified by its numerous breathtaking temples and undeniable natural beauty.
Better yet, it happens to be in one of the cheapest nations on Earth to travel, where the bare minimum can get you the pinnacle of luxury. Though most importantly of all for the loud minority, it’s the perfect place to get absolutely shit-faced… and therein lies the problem.
The Problem With Bali
Much like how Bangkok has become a crucible of foreign debauchery and inebriation, so too has Bali. Every beautiful feature of this once-great island has been tarnished by the influence of drunken parasites and weekend travellers that suck out any form of culture or decorum with their mere presence.
The beachfront streets have been massacred with high-rise hotels, copy-and-paste souvenir stands and fast food chains. Visitors are hounded with offers of tattoos and magic mushrooms while being aggressively propositioned by the dreaded chorus of “massaaaaaaage?”
The once pristine beaches and the oceans before them are now overflowing with trash and jetski rentals. Culture has been replaced with convenience and everything that once made it so appealing has been completely bled dry.
It’s Not Just Bali
The UK has Ibiza and Zakynthos. The US has Cancun. Australia has Bali.
Being just a short international flight away for Aussie families, fashion influencers and fuckboys, it’s the perfect excuse for a quick getaway. For the rest of the world, Bali is seen as that exotic bucket list destination that holds promises of cocktails and sunsets. Or more accurately, it’s the favoured spot for those who lack any real imagination or desire to travel.
These types of visitors don’t wish to come to Bali, they want to visit a place that has nice weather and a complimentary breakfast. Or worse, they come to be in the heart of one of Asia’s biggest party scenes with cheap booze, tampered narcotics and battered prostitutes on tap. EDM clubs and casual STD exchanges are sadly the real motivators for coming to this island of spirituality.
Despite these issues being rampant, it’s not a problem unique to Bali. There are plenty of spots throughout the world that have been ravaged by the travelling community. The problem is that it’s only that part of the travelling community.
Is It All Of Bali?
Many who will have been to Bali will argue that my blanket perspective of Bali is highly inaccurate, and they’d be right. The vast majority of Bali’s toxicity is segregated to Denpasar, or more specifically, the region of Kuta.
The rest of the island is in complete contrast to the alcohol-fulled streets of the south. Ubud boasts picture-perfect rice terraces and notorious monkey forests, while the remaining landscape is carpeted with active volcanoes and exotic rainforests.
It’s more like what you imagined a lush equatorial haven to be, or to be more accurate, what many hoped Bali would be.
Why Blame It On Bali?
If the vast majority of the island really is in contrast to the depravity of Kuta, then why tarnish the island with the same brush? Because that’s exactly what the party-hungry, convenience-demanding travellers do.
What they claim to be Bali is nothing more than a collection of novelty streets designed to please the needs and desires of every foreigner – the definition of a tourist trap. For them, spending their entire vacation in alcohol-fuelled raves or poolside in a luxury resort is all the evidence they need that the entirety of Bali is amazing.
Thus, responses to the question, “What is Bali like?” should be met with a substantial amount of scepticism as it’s this loud majority that’s painted the narrative. If these individuals are to be believed, Kuta is the Shangri-la you’ve always wanted. Their Bali is overrated, while the rest of the island is criminally overlooked.
Snobbery In Travelling
Undoubtedly there’s a bit of an elitist attitude when it comes to travelling. A great proportion of the travelling community wants to immersive themselves in local culture and to gleefully experience a different way of life. Others travel in search of sandy beaches, cheap beer and venereal diseases. While some are travellers, others are simply tourists.
It’s the latter that ruins the fun for the rest of us. Any sense of authenticity a place holds quickly vanishes with the arrival of tour buses and Bermuda shorts. Curious fascination is replaced by resentful anger toward those who lack respect or common courtesy to where they stand. We pay the price for your convenience.
Much like Dicaprio in The Beach, there’s a good reason for wanting a place to remain a hidden gem. Once it’s found, it will be lost once and for all to the toxic tourist horde, and you’ll never get it back.
Which are you, a tourist or a traveller? What’s the difference between the two? And why does one have animosity towards the other?
Did You Try Anywhere Else?
The problem with Bali lovers is that they give the impression that it’s the only place they’ve ever really been to. For travellers who prioritise comfort and copious amounts of Bintang, Bali is often the only time they’ve travelled outside of the “first world.”
Naturally, such a place would be a significant upgrade to the Brit-filled beaches of Spain or a piss-up in Prague. But what is it they really love about Bali? Is it the food? The awe-inspiring landscapes? The undeniable spirituality and fascinating culture? Of course, it isn’t.
If that was the case, why not choose any of the other 17,000 islands Indonesia has to offer? You’ll find plenty of breathtaking beaches, vibrant oceans and luxury hotels for next to nothing. Yet that would require people to have some sense of originality and a genuine desire to actually travel.
What these people truly want is cheap booze, tropical climates and the convenience that comes with a herd mentality. Why bother going anywhere else while Bali has all the overrated 5-star resorts and Western restaurants you’ll ever need? Minimal effort, maximum satisfaction.
Delaying the Inevitable
Bali is surrounded on all sides by magnificent islands, each more unique than the last. They even share many of the features that make Bali so appealing. Immaculate white-sand beaches, lush rainforests and prices even cheaper than Bali’s. Yet, there’s one noticeable thing missing – tourists.
For all its faults, Bali does have a redeeming quality – it’s the perfect honeypot. Tourists and weekend travellers are drawn like moths to a flame, ensuring that the rest of the country has remained relatively unscathed. Sadly, that can only last for so long.
Travelling is a tragic cycle of discovery and cultural pillaging. The once-hidden gem quickly becomes a poorly kept secret as the families and fuckboys follow in the wake of those trailblazing backpackers.
Locals see the dollar signs that come with tourism and take full advantage while they can, and who can blame them? High-rise hotels and tour agencies rake in far more money than a humble hostel and a roadside warung.
In the end, it isn’t Bali’s fault. It was once the pinnacle paradise that everyone wanted to experience. However, it’s that innate desire which has consumed everything that once made it so special, much like Lenny aggressively cuddling a rabbit until it lies dead and useless. We just can’t help ourselves. It’s what we’ve always done, and what we will continue to do. The question is, where next?
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