The Real Bali: Ugly Truth And What to Love

When I first arrived in Bali I was surprised by what I saw. I have always imagined that this would be the greenest, most relaxing, quiet place on earth. At least that’s what most of the photos on Google search appear. But that wasn’t my first impression at all. Busy traffic, polluted air and crowded, loud streets would be more like it. But despite the first impression I fell in love with it later. In this article I want to tell you about the real Bali – the good and the bad. Things that people don’t post on their IG profiles or Facebook walls and also what made me love Bali after all.

Real Bali is its people, culture and religion. Photo by Lūcija Rošāne

Garbage Everywhere

Garbage pile in Bali. Photo by Lūcija Rošāne

One of the biggest bad surprises is garbage on the streets. As a taxi driver Katut explained to us it goes back in history. People used to eat from banana leaves, throw them away after a meal and not worry about making garbage. Now when we have plastic bottles and packages people are still throwing them in ditches. It’s a lack of environmental education that causes this. If nothing changes any time soon it looks like this island could drawn in garbage one day. The scenery is the worst during rain season when you can see rivers full of garbage flowing into the ocean. Surfing with garbage – that is the reality.  Fortunately Balinese are starting to educate children on this matter and hopefully this would soon make a difference.

Crazy Traffic

Crazy traffic in Bali Indonesia

Streets of Bali. Photo by Enrique Blasco, edited by me

One of the main disappointments of Bali was its unsorted traffic issue. As the island is overpopulated and there are a lot of vehicles (mostly scooters and cars) and traffic is badly organized there are always traffic jams especially in the evenings. Therefore you have to spend at least couple of hours (often more) in car even if you need to go somewhere only 50 km away. That can be quite frustrating especially if you are traveling with children. Especially if there are more than one infant in the car. Especially if they are crusty at the same time. Ok, I’ll stop here. I think I’ve made my point.

Polluted Air

Since traffic is so intense and there are so many scooters and cars driving at the same time the air is far from fresh in Bali. That’s why many people are wearing face masks. And I don’t mean the time during volcano eruption.

Mainstream Rice Terraces

Tegallalang rice terraces. Photo by Lūcija Rošāne

One of the first thing you think of when someone mentions Bali are rice terraces. And when you ask the taxi driver to take you to the rice terraces he will take you to the most popular ones – Tegallalang rice terraces. Unfortunately it wasn’t the experience we were looking for. It’s too mainstream for our taste. First of all they are located right next to the main road. That means road and houses by the road will ruin your drone picture of green terraces. Secondly there is someone asking for additional money by every corner. And I don’t mean souvenir sellers. When you take picture on the swings, when you go for a hundred meters and want to continue – donation is asked on several corners..even though it is nothing special further on – just the continuation of terraces. So why would you need to pay extra for that? My advice for you would be to go to other rice terraces and avoid the most popular ones. Later we found out about Jatiluwih. These are rice terraces worth visiting!

Overrated Swings

The Bali Swing. Not so wild as it seems on IG photos. Photo from Travelog

Let’s talk about other Bali highlight – swings. At least that is what IG photos from Bali are full of. Huge rope swings that hang across a valley of palm trees and waterfall – you definitely have seen them if you have looked for Bali on Instagram. We also went there to experience the thrilling swing and have some amazing photos. But when we arrived the best spot where you can see waterfall from called Zen Hideaway was closed so we went for The Bali Swing (close to Ubud). It definitely wasn’t worth 35$ – wasn’t thrilling at all. And the atmosphere is nothing like IG pictures where it looks so wild and natural and you can’t see the staff and other tourists standing in line. Probably the rope around the waist is often photoshopped because in reality it doesn’t look so pretty at all. Later on we found out that there are other swings on the island, not so crowded and some for free. My advice to you is to look for them and avoid The Bali Swing.

Crowded Waterfalls

Real Bali. Crowded waterfalls in Bali indonesia.

Busy waterfalls in Bali. Photo by Enrique Blasco, edited by me

Bali is filled with waterfalls. However most of the sights are full of tourists too. So in the reality they are not so intimate and peaceful as you have probably seen in the pictures. It’s very likely that a lot of them have been photoshopped, taking the tourists out from the background. In reality the most popular and biggest waterfall areas can be filled with even hundred of people at the same time when the weather is good. Again my advice is to find waterfalls unknown to the masses – ask locals, they are not advertised. I promise, they do exist. We got married by one of them. But I will keep it for a secret a little longer to prolong its pristine beauty and wilderness. Go explore! You could stumble upon a secret waterfall like we did on Mauritius. There are plenty of them in Bali.

Picturesque Views of Greenery and Infinity Pools

Bali Indonesia

“Bubble” with concrete walls. Photo by Lūcija Rošāne

Yes, they do exist. However if you stay in one of them it is like living in a bubble. It’s a fiction created for luxury tourism, but it’s not the real Bali. This was the biggest surprise for me, since I have always seen those photos when searching for Bali online and scrolling IG. I thought all Bali is like that – lots of greens, calm, relaxing atmosphere, spas, yoga classes, infinity pools and beautiful views of ocean and greenery everywhere. Now I know it actually isn’t. Yes, you can book one of those places surrounded by big concrete walls so that you don’t see or hear the real Bali – its people, culture, religion, streets, pollution, poverty – everything. Anyway, when you will arrive to Bali, beautiful views and relaxing atmosphere is not what you will first notice. Crazy traffic, pollution, strong smell of street food and crowds everywhere will appear first until a driver will escort you to your “bubble”. I don’t say it to judge you, trust me I have been there, done that. And it was boring – nice and relaxing for a few days but boring after that. And when you finally do go outside it really seems like you have been living in a bubble. The real Bali is outside. I want to encourage you to go explore and meet the real people of Bali. They are actually kind and it’s worth getting to know them and meet the rich and beautiful culture of Bali along with them.

Beautiful Beaches Everywhere – Wrong

Dirty Bali beach, indonesia.

Quite common view in Bali beaches. Photo by Sam Sherratt, edited by me

It is common to imagine all beaches in Bali has turquoise blue water and white sand and they are picturesque and clean. First of all there are many volcanic black sand beaches in Bali as well. But that doesn’t mean they are not beautiful, they are different. It comes to what you prefer. Even if you do like black sand beaches I guess you don’t really enjoy garbage. The biggest issue many Bali beaches face is the pollution – dirty beaches filled with plastic bottles and bags. I talked about the pollution problem in Bali before so will not go into details again. Only thing I have to add is that it is not only the problem of unesusated locals about the environment matter.  A lot of tourists like the ones partying at the beaches of Kuta also aren’t hesitating to add something to the pile of garbage. And that is sad. I really hope it would change some day soon and we would all take better care of our mother nature.

Not That Peaceful

Bali also has crime and we found out about it the bad way. Photo by Alan Cleaver, edited by me

I got to confess first time when I went to Bali I lived in such peaceful luxury bubble I was talking about previously. I went there to attend a business incubator and accommodation, meals etc were included. So I didn’t get to know the real Bali. I thought it was all peaceful and crime was absent here. This trip proved my assumptions were wrong. We stayed in Canggu in hotel named Mamo Hotel Uluwatu. And one day we found out that some of our money was missing. At that time we thought maybe we have put it somewhere else, so we didn’t act on it. Then our friends said they also were missing money, and quite a lot. When a third room where our friends were staying claimed they were missing money, we knew for sure we had been robbed. We talked with the staff and later the manager but they just asked us the same questions all over again, laughed and talked in Balinese and even tried to blame our friends for taking the money. That was just useless to talk with them. Then we wanted to call the police to solve the situation. However according to Bali tourist forums it’s better not to. It seems that police there can be corrupted and stand on the side of the locals even if the tourists are clearly right. We were afraid we could even get in bigger trouble so we just paid for the rooms and left. Disappointed. Now I know that real Bali is not always peaceful. You have to be cautious as always when you are traveling.

Is It That Bad?

Secluded waterfalls in Bali

Go Explore. This way you can find secluded waterfalls and other beautiful places. Photo by Lūcija Rošāne

No, not really. It’s actually magical and wonderful. That is why we decided to get married there. You just have to go explore. Avoid Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu to see the real Bali.

To me I figured Bali is like life – not always beautiful, and you have to make some effort to find the best in it, but once you go out there and explore, more and more beauty reveals.

In this way we found those hidden spots, still clean and pristine – hidden waterfalls, secret beaches, swings on the top of the mountain etc.

Go North!

Real bali. Beautiful Jatiluwih rice terraces, underrated wonder.

Jatiluwih rice terraces. Photo by Lūcija Rošāne

When we first went there by car and some of us by motorbikes it was like new Bali had emerged in front of us. Totally different from what we have seen before. Beautiful nature – greens, mountains, cooler air and a lot less touristic places. That means more of the real Bali. We have to admit even though not so far away it’s a tough ride by motorbikes considering Bali traffic  – it’s hard physically, mentally – all together, including sunburns and trembling after a day in direct sunlight. Still it was totally worth it and we enjoyed every second of it. Maybe just better go there by car. Or better, find accomodation there because there is so much to explore. We tried to squeeze as many things as possible in one day since hiring a driver is not so cheap to go there everyday. But there were still so many places we didn’t go. And that’s why I would like to go back to Bali someday and explore the north side of the island. Some of the suggestions – Aling-Aling waterfall tour for the adventurous and a little bit extreme ones (lots of waterfalls to jump into and one with a natural slide, note: it has an entrance fee), Jatiluwih rice terraces (beautiful, green scenery) and Kebun Raya Bali (uncrowded, peaceful Bali Botanical Garden, a place to relax, breathe fresh air and enjoy the green scenery with a family; also has an entrance fee).

The Peaceful and Magical Bali

Real Bali. Bali has rich culture and beautiful hinduism ceremonies.

Ceremony of Hinduism. Photo by Lūcija Rošāne

Bali is still magical. It’s not perfect and yes there is crime like everywhere else. However there is something special in a spiritual way about this island. The main religion here is Hinduism. And as I have noticed it is one of the most peaceful religions out there. You can feel calm and positive energy flowing through local yards when passing by. When in Bali you have to see some  of the local rituals and ceremonies. They are wonderful. Some of them are open to public and some not but if they are happening in an open area you can sneak peak and have a glimpse. Just be sure to attend the real local ceremonies not the ones with actors created for tourist masses. Otherwise you won’t have the taste of real Bali.

To conclude..

What is the real Bali? Pristine nature, green scenery and infinity pools all over the place. Not exactly. It’s also garbage, air pollution, overpopulation and crowded tourist sights. However there other beautiful things that real Bali is made of just not the ones you might think of. Peaceful spiritual energy flowing from Balinese, rich cultural heritage, beautiful ceremonies and dance rituals, hidden beauty of the north of Bali etc. Go see for yourself! And let me know did you manage to get to know the real Bali.

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