My knee dislocated for the second time while I was staying in Pemuteran, on the north coast of Bali, Indonesia. I was staying alone in a small, family run guesthouse, and my phone was on the opposite side of the room. I had to scream for five minutes at the top of my lungs before the guesthouse owner came running in. He took one look at my leg, gnarled and at a strange angle, with the knee cap protruding off to one side, and went running back out again to retrieve the local healer. His teenage son, while speaking limited English, held my hand and tried to comfort me in the meantime. The owner returned with a wizened Balinese man, whose specialty was fixing all the dislocations in the village. I spent the next ten minutes in excruciating pain, as the healer popped my joint back into place and then massaged the swollen flesh. He promised me that this would stop it from happening again.
Situated four hours away from the main tourist hub of Kuta, Pemuteran is dry and punishingly hot. Dusty streets lined with restaurants and the odd scuba diving school stretch down to black sandy beaches that encircle sparkling azure waters. The majority of tourists visit there for snorkelling or diving the abundant reefs that surround nearby Menjangan Island. The remoteness of Pemuteran is appealing compared to the chaotic urban jungle of Kuta, but inconvenient when you need to get to the latter to have your recently dislocated knee x-rayed at the international hospital.
I tried not to hate Kuta. I really did. But the dusty streets choked with traffic, the abundance of Western restaurants and tourist-trap shops, coupled with the crowds of other Australians, did little to endear me. Choked to death by its own tourism, this part of Bali has changed its identity completely to cater to a Western, mostly Australian, market.
Guidebooks promised that Ubud would be better, but it too was bursting at the seams with a popularity that it can’t sustain. Ubud is undoubtedly situated in a gorgeous natural setting, with crisp green rice fields as far as the eye can see, but the town itself still feels crowded and over-touristed. Once upon a time, it may have been a respite from the busyness of Kuta that it promised, but that day has passed.
I found some peace in Pemuteran and the chilly mountain town of Munduk in central Bali, but I left the island feeling a little disappointed. These are the main reasons that I could never see myself returning to Bali.
Bali is culturally compromised by tourism.
As I have described, Bali is bursting at the seams with tourism. The majority are Australians seeking a cheap holiday in the sunshine, full of booze and partying. The alcohol in Bali is so much cheaper, but it can be deceptive, as many tourists have fallen ill from methanol poisoning that comes from homemade alcohol. The whole vibe of Bali seems to be one of extreme hedonism. While this in itself is not inherently bad, it does feel like it has compromised the Balinese culture in many ways. I saw this particularly in the swathes of restaurants serving only Western food, and majority of businesses catering to Western needs and desires. Many places in Southeast Asia have been over-touristed for sure, but I noticed that in Hanoi in Vietnam for example, the touristy and the local co-existed even in the most popular backpacker areas. In Bali, the tourist seems to have taken full priority.
Unsustainable tourism practices.
The proliferation of tourism in Bali has both environmental as well as cultural consequences. The rapidly expanding tourist infrastructure places great pressure on both water and land resources, and this issue is increasing every year. The amount of trash generated by tourism is also a huge issue, and it can be seen lining the streets of many Balinese towns. Bali is simply lacking in the resources needed to cope with the influx of tourism that it is constantly experiencing.
There are better places to visit in Indonesia.
Having experienced what Bali has to offer, I look outwards to other islands in Indonesia with less congested tourism and more cultural and environmental offerings. I would love to visit the sacred sites on the island of Java, the jungle interior of Sumatra, or the cultural and natural offerings of the beautiful island of Flores. Indonesia has so much to offer that many travellers are by-passing for popular Bali.
I enjoyed a couple of the places that I visited in Bali, but overall I felt the overcrowding and mass tourism pressing down on me while I was there. I hope that I can return to Indonesia for further exploration in the future, but Bali will not be on that itinerary.