It’s been three months since we returned from our three week adventure in Bali. Three months of reflecting on Bali. Three months of wondering if Bali was worth it.
I am deeply grateful for our time in Bali. Grateful that I had the opportunity to bring my family to this far off place. However, Bali showed me a side of international travel that left me feeling both guilty and gutted. My eyes were opened to the impact of tourism on places that lack the infrastructure to stop hoards of people from gobbling up resources and leaving a trail of destruction behind.
Problems with Bali
Many people want to go to Bali; however, it was never on my travel bucket list. Maybe because Bali is over 13,000 km (8,000 miles) from home or because I have never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular book Eat, Pray, Love. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t on my radar until an opportunity came our way that allowed us to travel to Bali with friends, relatively inexpensively – yes please!
Most travel websites and blogs about are filled with pictures of a Bali’s beautiful paradise. However, Bali has a dark side that not many people talk about. Pictures of trash and crowds don’t gain many likes on social media.
Bali has a serious trash problem. Many locals burn their trash morning and evening filling the air with a heavy haze of toxic smoke. Whatever trash that isn’t burned is tossed into fields, rivers or the ocean. Bali is suffocating under plastic.
It would be such a pretty place if it wasn’t so covered in trash.
Daughter, 9 years old
We stayed in a beautiful villa on the outskirts of Ubud. In one direction our villa overlooked beautiful lush green rice fields, but only a few steps in the opposite direction cattle and chickens live in a small area filled with plastic trash. This is the norm.
Bali is a small island. It is one-sixth the size of Vancouver Island (located off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada) but it has five times the population and it sees almost six million tourists a year. So, it should be no surprise that overcrowding is an issue.
Overcrowding, combined with locals wanting a piece-of-the-tourism-pie, means many tourist sites (but not all) are often poorly managed, trampled and very busy. I found this reality difficult to swallow especially when my own country is so expansive and filled with beautiful pristine nature.
Loss of Culture
The people in Bali are welcoming and laid-back, and while tourism is helping local economies it also causing loss of Balinese culture. The older generations mourn the fact that rice fields are disappearing. Villas and hotels, catering to tourists, are taking over rice fields, and the younger Balinese are shirking the backbreaking work of planting and harvesting rice because easier money can be made in the tourism industry.
Lack of Public Transportation
Bali is not an easy place to explore independently as a family of five. There are no public buses. Many sidewalks (at least in Ubud) are riddled with huge holes and used by scooters as extra lanes. There are very few trails and walking paths. In fact, the only ways to get around are to rent a car (which is not recommended) or hire a driver and this gets expensive very quickly.
Being a family that likes to explore independently, not having an easy way to get around was a huge challenge for us.
Wonders of Bali
It’s not for no reason that Bali draws millions of tourists each year. It is a truly unique Indonesian island. Here are some of the things that we loved about Bali.
The people of Bali are friendly, family oriented and most are devout Hindus. Observing their daily canang sari (Balinese flower offering), sacred dances and temple practices was beautiful and intriguing. We also enjoyed learning about their food culture. One of our family highlights was taking part in a Balinese cooking class.
The rice fields in and around Bali are truly beautiful and well worth the visit. The locals take pride in their fields, and despite there being plastic everywhere the rice fields were surprisingly pristine.
Balinese Art and Craftsmanship
The Balinese people take their art and craftsmanship seriously. Different villages of Bali have different art specialties such as wood carving, gold and silver smithing, weaving, painting and stone carving.
Getting Off the Beaten Track
One of our favourite days in Bali was splurging on a local photographer/ tour guide that took us to places that were off the beaten track. We saw things that I’d never head of online and there wasn’t a single tourist there. It was amazing.
Fun Stuff with Kids
There are a few tourist stops that are worth going to with kids. One of our favourite adventures was a HUGE waterpark in Depensar called Waterbom. It was absolutely incredible! We also really enjoyed the Bali Bird Park and the Ubud Monkey Forest.
Is Bali Worth It?
I am so grateful that we had the chance to experience Bali, but there is definitely a dark side to Bali that isn’t often shared. I found it difficult to turn a blind eye to the negative impacts of tourism on this small island especially knowing that I was inadvertently contributing to the problem.
However, Bali taught our family many important lessons about community, family and ethical travel that will stay with us forever.
In the end “worth” has so many different meanings. When I carefully consider how this adventure impacted our family, the environment and the people of Bali (both positively and negatively) my answer is a tentative maybe not. (⭠ it’s so difficult for me to admit and write that).
Bali will forever remain in my heart as a place of growth and learning. For some it might be the paradise they seek but I will follow the call of the forests and mountains that whisper my name.