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Stingy Tourists? Or Stingy Government?

April 29, 2012

The Chairman of Bali’s Tourism Board,  Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, opened his mouth wide last Wednesday, and firmly inserted his foot. Annoyed that, despite the rise in total tourist numbers to Bali, visitors are now staying for only an average of three or four days instead of the seven days which was the norm ten years ago, and spend only $100 per day instead of $300, he blamed the tourists.

“Stingy tourists” are overcrowding Bali, he whinged. “When they come we have serious problems of traffic and waste. The island becomes dirty”, he said – falling headlong into the time-honoured local practice of blaming everyone else except yourself. It’s a little shocking to see officials – whose job it is to attract tourists – turn on their target market and accuse them of not being good little visitors by staying longer and spending more. It’s more than a little disconcerting to see a high-profile public official actually exhibit the same cargo-cult mentality that pervades many less sophisticated villagers here. In effect, he is saying: “You have it. We want it. Give it to us. If you don’t, you are a stingy bule.”

Well, Ngurah, you might think that, but as the voice of Bali tourism, you are not supposed to say it, because the backlash from tourists as a result of your rudeness will only result in a wider public discussion as to the real reasons that people are deserting Bali. I too was a tourist for twelve years before coming here to live. Now, as a resident for over three years, I have constant contact with ‘stingy’ tourists, and as a result of their feedback,  I am happy to summarise for you just why this trend is developing.

Look around you, Ngurah – not with the rose-coloured glasses of a local, but through the eyes of someone arriving in Bali after a long, tiring flight. What do you see?

You will see tourists paying $25 USD each for a 30-day visa-on-arrival to enter the country, and then another $16 USD each to leave. Family of four coming for only 5 days? That’s $164 USD out of the spending budget already, and no way to save money on a one-week visa, because officialdom has withdrawn the short-stay visa facility. Visiting Bali on a cruise lay-over for 6 hours? That’s $25 USD per person thanks.

You will see chaos, delays and inefficiency in a hot, overcrowded arrivals hall, with insufficient staff to handle the passenger load and a confusing queuing system.

You will see tired visitors being pounced on by “porters” at the baggage carousel and cajoled into letting them wheel their bags twenty metres to the customs desk, then stridently demanding $10 for each bag before running off to scam their next victim, as airport ‘security’ personnel stand by and grin.

You will see the monopolistic taxi counter ‘mistakenly’ ask for a rate higher than the official published rates displayed, then see their drivers try to con their passengers out of another 40,000 on arrival at their hotels and villas with a pathetic sob story, or an insistence that “this is the rule!” You will see arriving visitors quail as they face the long, long, crowded walk to their car during the chaotic and visitor-unfriendly airport reconstruction.

You will see tourists arrive at what are now grossly-overpriced and over-starred hotels, which no longer offer the ‘book 7, get 10″ incentive packages of past years, only to be told, “Sorry, your room is not ready.” Even Singapore hotels are now cheaper than those in Bali, which is no longer competitive.

You will see a proliferation of Mini-Marts in garish colours selling monstrously-overpriced items to the hapless tourist. Buy a local magazine there, published in Bahasa Indonesia, with a printed price of 25,000 rupiah on the cover, and you will be charged 55,000 when it is scanned. Shrug from the cashier. “Boss’s rules”.

You will see tourists being accosted by rude touts, women being physically man-handled by sellers who refuse to accept a polite refusal to buy their wares, stall-holders muttering thinly-veiled abuse at tourists who won’t pay four times the going rate in Bali (and twice the price in their home country) for their shoddy goods. You will see criminal money-changers short-changing gullible tourists every day, and the arrogant taxi mafia (the non-Bluebird companies) over-charging customers and threatening real taxi drivers with violence.

You will see tourists stuck in traffic for hours on Bali’s poorly-maintained roads, because no-one even considers the grid-locking consequences of allowing local drivers to park wherever they feel like. You will see suicidal motorbike riders come close to killing pedestrians with their brainless antics and causing accidents with cars, after which they shrilly demand compensation for their own stupidity.

You will see visitors to Bali try to negotiate the open drains with lids which masquerade as  ‘footpaths’ here, and injure themselves when brittle manholes collapse beneath them. You will see tourists with infants in strollers being forced to risk death by having to share the narrow roads with texting drivers and motorcyclists.

You will see tourists now being expected to pay the same prices as at home for mediocre western-style meals, and absolutely exorbitant rates for imported wine, spirits and food. Spirits in bars are frequently counterfeit local replacements and deliberate half-shots in mixed drinks are common. Despite smokers being banned in all restaurants, bars and clubs from the first of June this year, tourists can expect no relief from the constant burning of toxic plastic waste all over Bali, the carcinogenic mosquito fogging smoke and noise, or from the stinking emissions of the ubiquitous buses, trucks and illegal 2-stroke motorbikes.

You will see tourists give up on visiting the ‘cultural epicentre’ of Ubud because of traffic jams and the hundreds of huge buses clogging the town. You will see them give up on visiting far-flung temples and seeing the ‘real’ Bali, because it’s all too hard, and now too expensive. Eventually, you will see them avoiding the immense, noisy, polluted construction zone that is South Bali altogether.

You will see tourists recoil from the stinking piles of garbage on the beaches, on the streets and in the ‘rivers’. Where garbage is collected, it ends up in make-shift tips anywhere the collectors choose to dump it. Just have a look at the huge rat and snake-infested mountain of refuse dumped opposite villa developments in Legian, just off Jalan Nakula; have a look at the environmentally-disastrous heap of rubbish at the entrance to the Mangrove Park.

You will see tourists cautious of potentially rabies-infected dogs, scared of contracting Dengue fever from the incessant mosquitoes, wary of getting Legionnaires disease from poorly-maintained air-conditioners, and amazed that nothing is being done about electricity outages and Bali’s looming water shortage. They are worried about increasing crime and a police force that does nothing without money up-front.

And what does the Tourism Board do to make Bali a more attractive destination for visitors? Nothing. It blames the “stingy tourists”. Wow. What diplomacy, what amazing sensitivity. What a truly stupid, irresponsible thing to say.

Well, Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, I have news for you. Tourists have been coming to Bali for decades because it has a special sort of magic. The magic is still there, but it is now being countered by a not-so-special sort of opportunism and greed, over-development, collapsing infrastructure, and an arrogant belief that tourists will keep coming, no matter what.

They won’t. They have already stopped coming; and those who do still come, are spending less. Tourists are changing the Bali paradigm, not because they are “stingy”, but because they are driven by the concept of value for money. And frankly, Bali simply does not provide value for money any more.

The question for you, sir, is what will you and your cohorts in government do to change this?

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27 comments

  1. Hmmm, personally I don’t think your three years on Bali has given you quite the perspective that most longer term residents have regarding tourism in Bali.

    For example, you say, “They (the tourists) have already stopped coming” yet year by year we see a consistently growing number of foreign tourists arrivals on Bali. The statistics are out there on the internet and easily searched…2.76 million in 2011, 2.49 million in 2010, 2.23 million in 2009, 1.97 million in 2008…and on and on representing an average annual growth of over 10% per year! When I first moved to Bali in 1998 the foreign tourist arrivals were 1.2 million. Even then Bali seemed to be occasionally overrun by tourists.

    While you might rightfully argue that Pak Wijaya’s comments are at best not very sensitive, I for one totally agree with him in that we have to curb this annual increase before our water runs out, our roads become impassable and Bali’s fragile ecology is irreversibly damaged.

    I totally agree with the latest tourism concept taking hold in Bali among many key government officials, that being quality, not quantity. It is far better in all respects to have one tourist on Bali spending $300 a day than it is having three tourists each spending a $100 a day. Malaysia and Singapore have long understood that, and their tourism targeted TV commercials clearly reflect their understanding of that reality.


    • Maybe my perspective, with only 12 years of twice-yearly visits and 3 years of full-time residency, is not as broad as some – but I can still see the trends over that time.

      The gross numbers of arrivals was not the issue in Pak Wijaya’s unfortunate response to the latest figures. His whole point was that tourists who previously stayed for a week are not only staying for half that time, but their daily spend is a third of what it was. That is presumably why he unwisely called current tourists “pelit“.

      But I agree with both you and Pak Wijaya that the population of Bali is way too high for its existing resources and infrastructure. However, strategic solutions need to go a lot further than simply complaining that current tourists are moving to a short-stay model. The reasons for this also include economic conditions in the countries of origin as well as negative drivers of tourist in Bali itself. Long-term strategic planning (notably absent in Indonesia) is needed to reduce arrival numbers without sacrificing the livelihoods of the local inhabitants. Bali’s environment and infrastructure management, especially in the Deep South, needs to be such that tourists are actually encouraged to come for longer periods and spend more per day.

      Then there is the total population load on the environment and infrastructure to consider. 2.76 million tourists over one year looks big, but it represents an equivalent weekly permanent population of 50,000 on the island, out of a total population of approximately 3.99 million as of April 2012 (extrapolated from census figures). That’s 1.25% of the total population in terms of numbers, but, of course a disproportionately powerful influence on incoming revenue. Kick the tourists out altogether, and you still have the same creaking, inadequate infrastructure – at least until all tourism providers, their staff and ancillary personnel depart when the island’s tourism economy collapses completely. At least there would be a welcome dearth of Bintang singlets if that ever happened.

      And it would be interesting to see just how much of a load transmigration is placing on Bali’s resources, because I very much doubt that all of Bali’s 3.99 million population consist of Orang Bali. That may be something the authorities have to look at more closely when Bali finally becomes a Special Autonomous Region …


  2. As a seven year resident here I agree with you , boribagus. While Bali’s officials may want to attract a “high quality” tourist, they do nothing to control the scamming, greed and road & traffic issues, not to mention the really dangerous health & safety concerns.


  3. I laugh when people say a place needs “quality” tourists who will spend big. Hullo? Bali is not a “quality” destination. It’d dirty, (quite) dangerous, polluted, noisy. Nothing like a 5 star hotel with the smell of shit burping through the bathroom piping….I love Asia for all this but “quality” tourists demand quality treatment. They will continue to go to Singapore and Hawaii.Thailand attempted the same negative attitude 10 yrs ago. Nothings changed there. As far as the stats, I would hazard a guess that flyflos from the mining boom in WA inflate the figures, as I have never seen Bali with so few tourists as now and as a regular visitor, am getting tired of the aggressive touts who have crawled out of Kuta and are infecting more and more of the South. Word is spreading about Bali’s poor treatment of tourists I assure you….


    • So true Andy. I’ve not recommended Bali to any of my mates who would spend more than a few hundred a day. To be honest, it is not the sort of place they would go to and enjoy. My parents and also my brother have asked about it and I told them you get more relaxation and value for money from the islands along the great barrier reef than Bali. I’ve suggested Bali is fine for a football team wanting a week away after the finals. But, they are likely to spend less than 100 dollars a day. This is now the reality of the tourism situation in Bali.


      • Great Barrier Reef ,mmm . No thanks
        Are you talking about Kuta and the footy tours , surely Ubud isn’t in that category
        We re planning on spending a considerable amount , have done my research and plan on having a lovely holiday , having never been before I’m not comparing it or have preconceived ideas . With respect , You sound like a bottle half full person .


      • Ha I meant half empty 🙂 I’m the half full 🙂


      • Both you and Andy need to get out of the South of Bali and discover the real Bali.

        As for top 5 star resorts on Bali, have either of you ever heard of the Aman Resorts…there are three on Bali, or how about the Four Seasons Resorts…there are two on Bali, and there are a whole host of other world class resorts on Bali as well…none of them very anxious to book a football squad however!


  4. well, all cool, but I actually have been living in Bali 22 years, full time, as a bule, dislike that word to the max, but ok, so be it.

    I presume living in the past we can’t, so lets not dwell to much about how good it was then because it definitely is not anymore….

    all the above is so totally true!!.The reasons why we came here all those years ago, have been replaced by the realization that if we want to pack up and leave, the rest of the world is either going through a depression, recession or war, best to stay here in paradise hell Bali because none of those three mentioned are anywhere to be seen on this island…

    people keep on building villas, buying villas, mushrooming restaurants, hotels, spa, salons, you name it, it either has been tried here or is being tried as we are writing this…bottom line, it doesn’t stop….and money buys anything here…..

    many of us tried to set up NGO’s for cleaning up Bali in many different ways, and fallen on their noses because of government non cooperation, bureaucratic paper shuffling, dis-organization and greed..trust me, many of have tried and many are still trying….

    I think it actually all boils down to simply greed..and this characteristic being part of human nature, we all try to ride that wave, the urge of making money right?

    what happened to:

    spirituality….wasn’t that what Bali was all about and one of the tourism sectors wanting to increase by the government? (note, hotel name changes to ….resort and SPA, implying plenty of yoga, meditation and healthy eating..)

    or has this been replace by the cruise liners now? are the spiritual ones not spending so much? just have a second look at the prices of juices, cakes, nasi champur in Ubud to reconsider this statement right…or is it the surfer? the hippie, the middle class family coming on their ones a year holiday to Bali with their two kids?

    and find this?
    the list you mentioned above and the beer colored foaming waves crashing on Double Six Beach last Sunday……oh my God, what was that? what is this? pesticides dumped at night in the ocean? or the fact that not many homes have a septic tank that does not connect to the road side gutters running to the sea with its fellow floating shit, dead dogs, plastic crap…

    Maybe put in a few ‘real’ building regulations Mr. Governor when one applies for his IMB….such BS. but yes, as mentioned, their is a price tag for anything and anything can be bought..including the IMB’s.

    What’s interesting to see though, the clientele , the tourist, the type of tourist, the type of investor, the type of wanna bees, has been changing, for a while now.

    The cocky new comer wanting so splash his money telling the rest of the world, ‘I have a villa, hotel, restaurant, salon, spa, in Bali ‘.
    Thinking that as soon they part with their money , for a product, a service what ever, they seem to think with a colonial touch of ‘and now I own you’,’ because I have given you my money’.

    Its absolutely mind boggling the ‘type’ of people who used to come and tried to make Bali their homes and who managed to live here…..and the ones who are coming now!
    With this ‘change’, the locals have changed as well, more violence , robberies, road rage and basic brain dead rude attitudes….. the have and the have nots are creating some interesting ‘greed explosions’ between each other, the bad ones we are talking about then. Sure, there are exceptions on the rule there…there are..trust me…

    And then we have the rich who just buy a ‘estate’ God forbid using the word ‘villa’ here; stay at home and train their staff to serve mini pancakes with smoked salmon, sour cream and a dash of dill…
    and to rent out their villa for a cool $2000 per night…and getting it!!!

    and then we have the super ooper duper rich, low and behold, they are locals from Jakarta including their bought food chains as well..flapjacks? My God, how sad and how we all profit from it..because if you don’t, or can’t, you just have to leave..duh…you can’t afford to live in Paradise anymore, simple.

    BUT,

    We actually think we figured it out.

    The Indonesian market doesn’t really give a frigging crap about the bules coming to visit Indonesian…lets just as well refer to the Bule word…the white skin person..sorry….
    because lets face it they love the Japanese come to Bali, as well, rich Indian investors, not forgetting the Malay and the Singapore market high end rollers as well.

    Katanya, (don’t we love this word) 35mil Indonesians earn more than US$5,000 per month, we noticed in our business that the real rich are the Local Rich and Bali is becoming their Ibizza of Europe…..not of Australia, like it used to be, or thought to be, maybe it was… just now, with a tat bit higher price tag.

    did you read this well? 35million…that of 80million people living in Jakarta with sub burbs……they are flogging to Bali..to invest, to ride the wave of prosperity..because they can wait for ther ROI for ten years..lol. but the magic is gone, we have to drive miles away to find the real Bali…mind you, lovina is a bit like Seminyak 20 years ago…..

    I think, deep down, they don’t want us really here, they don’t like a lot the norms and values the bule tourists brings, they like to keep it in ‘the family’….and indeed get rid of the low life bules….but this will nip them in their buts eventually, lets not forget the Karma they so love talking about…

    front page news, Kelly Slater, slamming Bali’s image of pristine beaches…


  5. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of overestimating the population growth and its impact on Bali. The facts clearly show that aside from Badung Regency, (home to Kuta, Seminyak, Legian, Jimbaran, etc.), and Denpasar, the annual growth of population for most of Bali, or what some would call “the real Bali” is a modest 1.2% average per year over the past ten years. For the vast majority of Bali, there is no population explosion, and population increase is not an issue of real concern.

    It’s also too easy to overestimate the role of tourism on the overall economy of Bali. Agriculture is still the number one source of jobs in Bali. While the greatest percentage of Bali’s GDP is from tourism, once again that is skewed to one particular regency, that being Badung. It should also be noted that tourism as the main source of Bali’s GDP is only a recent development, and that gap is closing, not widening as Bali increases its agricultural exports year after year. The Balinese are fully aware that the percentage of retained revenue generated from agriculture is far greater than from tourism, so they are well aware and tuned into where to put their emphasis in economic development. I guess you could call that long term strategic planning?

    Too many westerners here are under the false impression that if tourism collapsed on Bali, then Bali’s entire economy would also collapse, and we’d see starving Balinese on the streets. That wouldn’t happen, as the vast majority of Balinese would be perfectly able to survive on their agricultural resources, just as they always have.

    While it is understandable that the opinions of many westerners living on Bali are largely garnished from where they live, (mainly the south), those opinions are most often not accurate reflections of the reality in the rest of Bali…or, once again, “the real Bali.” I commonly hear comments akin to “Bali is losing its traditions” from “Yak dwellers”, but when you ask that person when was the last time they attended a temple ceremony, a tooth filing, a cremation, or have been inside a Balinese compound, all I get are blank stares. It’s a sad but true reality that the majority of westerners who call Bali home are essentially clueless as to how the Balinese really live, but yet free flow opinions are readily available anyway. And it’s the height of arrogance that many of these same bule actually believe that the Balinese need them to survive. They don’t, and they know it.

    I can’t think of a comment which better illustrates a growing ignorance of what Bali is about than a comment made earlier on this string… “when Bali finally becomes a Special Autonomous Region …” That simply is never going to happen. One would be very hard pressed to find any Balinese who would seriously desire, yet alone even entertain that idea. Bali’s ties to Java are deeply set in their traditions going back and beyond the Majapahit Dynasty. Indeed, aside from the few Bala Aga villages that remain on Bali, the Balinese consider themselves as descendents of the Hindu/Buddhist traditions as they originated on Java. Perhaps of greater importance though is the lack of any solid financial reason, or any possible benefit to Bali that would come from being declared a so called, Special Autonomous Region. The Balinese equally think of themselves as being Indonesian as they do being Balinese and national pride amongst the Balinese is as strong as it is anywhere else in Indonesia.


  6. Vyt, fascinating and terrifying story.
    Roy, I have appreciated your insights immensely.
    You’ve both given me a lot to think about.


  7. Why am I spending my hard earned money to make my first visit here , think I should ring my travel agent and book elsewhere


    • It is good to be cautious. But it may be best to make choices based on your own experience rather than second-hand opinions such as mine. Without a doubt, Bali has some problems in the South, but many areas away from the overcrowded tourist strips are wonderful. It really depends on what you are looking for in a holiday …


  8. But Roy, it’s the infrastructure. Can you really compare Bali’s airport to the “quality” destinations? The roads getting to these resorts? Agreed ther are some stunning resorts but once outside….Oh and don’t forget the corrupt police if you hazard driving. But yes, I take your advice on heading out of the South but I’m not sure what the “real Bali” is considering the place was hammered by the Dutch for centuries, the slaughtering of tens of thousands in the sixties in the communist purge and I was told by an old Dutchman that was here in 1946 that the expats were complaining that tourists had ruined the place way back then. I still see the Hindu culture running under the madness of the South and yes I do attend ceremonies. Actually at one two weeks ago right in Double Six Rd with oblivious tourists walking past what has been practiced for centuries…


    • If its infrastructure that is of greatest concern, then yes, one should probably should go elsewhere…Singapore perhaps? Funny, for me, I never think about the airport I just arrived through once I’m out of it. Interesting how that can be so important to some tourists. Roads? Bali is paved over quite enough IMHO. I actually like those narrow winding roads that snake through untouched villages in central, northern and eastern Bali…pot holes and all.

      You write, “but I’m not sure what the “real Bali” is considering the place was hammered by the Dutch for centuries.” That’s not the history of Bali at all. Actually the Dutch didn’t fully control Bali until after the great puputan of 1908…just over 100 years ago. After Houtman’s arrival in 1597 Bali was pretty much ignored by the Dutch with the exception of Singaraja. I’d love to take you on a one week road trip with my cousin, Professor Doctor I Wayan Dedick. On that trip, you’d be sure to see the real Bali which is out there for anyone to enjoy once they get off their butts and put their Bintangs down…not referring to you personally.

      As for the Balinese retaining their Hindu traditions…trust me, nobody knows more just how true that is than a foreign expat married to a Balinese and living in small Balinese village. There is no doubt in my mind, tourism or no tourism that will continue forever. Have you ever seen Miguel Covarrubias’ “La Isla de Bali” filmed in the 1930’s? Colorize the film, dub in a few motorbikes and some telephone polls, cover up a few of the women, and you’d be convinced the film was made yesterday. It’s like that in my village most every day.


  9. I agree generally with most of the comments above. They point to the fact that Bali has changed in in the last two decades in ways that are not always pleasant. Change is inevitable, of course, and it’s not always for the better.

    However, I do NOT agree with roy’s depiction of Bali. I respect that he’s been living here for many years, in a “traditional” village. That’s great for him. That’s his experience. Some of us have lived in Bali even longer than him. His frequent assertions that only those who embrace the whole of Balinese culture, (whatever that is), can begin to understand Bali are flawed.

    For example. Would I have to become a Roman Catholic if I moved to Italy to understand the “real Italy”. Would I have to marry an Italian? I don’t think so.

    The following is primarily for roy, although others might get something from it also.

    1. Bali is a very small island
    2. Current population 3.9 million (about 800,000 non-Balinese)
    3. 30% of Bali’s total income is generated by the hospitality sector alone (hotels, bars and restaurants). That doesn’t include income from visas, airport taxes, transportation, retailing, “souvenir shops”, petrol, theme parks, golf courses, tours, etc.
    4. Most Balinese now live in urban or semi-urban areas
    5. Water comes from either a few lakes/rivers or underground sources. Both are being challanged by over-use (mainly overpopulation and exploitation by hotels/resorts and golf courses). Heavily populated coastal areas are facing problems with salination and sinking water tables.
    6. Many traditional farmers are earning less these days than “professional beggars”. Young people in what’s left of rural areas are more inclined to seek employment in non-farming activites (if they can).
    7. Some government officials in Jakarta lately have been dreaming about 20 million tourists arriving in Bali annually by 2025. Even Bali’s governor has been quoted in recent times of wanting to increase tourist arrivals to ridiculously high levels, when it should be perfectly clear to any rational person that the current situation is already horrendous. With all due respect to Pak Pastika – he can’t have it both ways. I mean by that, trying to “preserve” what YOU would call the “real Bali”, whilst at the same time promoting even more assaults upon the current inadequate infrastructure.

    Of course, I could go on. The point is that the “real Bali” is NOT some kind of isolated Shangrila, somehow removed from the rest of Bali. Nor is it, by any means, magically immune to what’s happening around it. NO amount of special offerings, ceremonies, etc, will vaccinate it from what’s coming, (and is already here in many places).

    For me, the “real Bali” is the entire island. The threats to its integrity are many and have been obvious for many years. Sticking one’s head in the sand and pretending they’ll just go away of their own accord, is a very foolish way of dealing decisively with the problems. That’s a real tragedy!


    • “His frequent assertions that only those who embrace the whole of Balinese culture, (whatever that is), can begin to understand Bali are flawed.”

      Obviously, if you are not aware of what the Balinese culture is, (“whatever that is”), then I’m sorry to say, you have little, if any, understanding of it. And that is further evidenced by these additional words,

      “Would I have to become a Roman Catholic if I moved to Italy to understand the “real Italy”. Would I have to marry an Italian? I don’t think so.”

      Unlike organized Christian religions, Bali Hindu Agama is not a religion, but rather is the essential part of Balinese consciousness and way of life. Bali Hindu Agama is a way of living, a philosophy, as opposed to dogma or theology. There is nothing in common with organized Christian religions and Bali Hindu Agama.

      And yes, unless one puts in some effort into learning this philosophy and way of life, be that through their marriage to a Balinese or not, then one is not going to understand it on any level.

      Thank you for your list, albeit somewhat patronizing and highly flawed. One of several glaring flaws is your overstatement of the influence of Jakarta on Balinese tourism…or more to point, your lack of understanding that the future of Balinese tourism is far more in the hands of the Balinese than you realize.

      I willingly concede that the term “the real Bali” can be easily misinterpreted. For me the term “real Bali” is used to differentiate those areas of Bali like Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak, etc. from the rest of Bali. While those areas are indeed on the island of Bali, and thus a part of Bali, there is precious little about them that represents those aspects of Balinese culture that defines the rest of Bali.

      Aside from the attraction of shopping for specialized goods and certain entertaining amusements, there are few Balinese I know who spend much of there time in those westernized areas of southern Bali. There is also no doubt in my mind that the typical expat one finds living in those southern areas of Bali is generally a horse of a different color than the typical expat one finds living in other areas of Bali. I apologize for the odor of elitism in that statement, but it is as obvious as it is true.


  10. Oooh Roy – I have avoided getting into the comment wars on this part of the thread, especially as to the the cultural legitimacy of residents of South Bali as compared to the ‘Real Bali’. But I’m with Algis on this one – the whole island is the real Bali, in all its diversity. To say otherwise is to take a moral high ground that does not exist in reality.

    And it’s a bit rich to ‘apologise’ for the odour of elitism in your comment implying that Southern-dwelling expats are somehow inferior, then justify that elitism as being both ‘obvious’ and ‘true’. Expats such as myself live in our chosen locations for a variety of reasons, some logistical, some cultural, some financial. Our preferred living place and length of time living here does not diminish our intelligence and cultural awareness, or the validity of our comments about Bali.

    Several of my Balinese friends here in the South found your comment: “…aside from the attraction of shopping for specialized goods and certain entertaining amusements, there are few Balinese I know who spend much of there (sic) time in those westernized areas of southern Bali …” to be quite offensive.

    These are people whose families are from customary villages in South Bali. They have adapted to the ‘westernisation’ of their ancestral homes, while steadfastly maintaining an unswerving connection to Bali Hindu Agama as their way of life and philosophy despite the realities of dealing with the realities of a tourism-dominated economy in the South. One said: “Is Roy suggesting we move to Ubud to become ‘real’ Balinese?”

    Obviously you are not. But I think that, despite your long-term resident status here and your obviously strong connection to one village (in what you define as the ‘real’ Bali), it would be helpful to take a more inclusive view of Bali as a whole – as the impression you give me is that you regard both South Bali’s pribumi and its expats to be somehow second-class citizens.

    Ultimately, all comments here (including mine) are opinions anyway. As such, all are valid. Thank the gods we live in a part on Indonesia where we will not be attacked by a mob for venturing to make them.


    • Hi Vyt,

      I can see no reason why any of your Balinese friends would take the comment you quoted from me as being offensive when it’s simply the truth that most Balinese in my neck of the woods avoid going down south except out of necessity, for specialized shopping or for the amusements to be found down there. The fact is, most Balinese in my neck of the woods are shocked by what has happened in many areas down south and would never want to see such extensive western development occur in their own areas.

      No, I’m not at all suggesting to your mentioned friend that he or she should move to Ubud to be more “real Balinese”, but for certain the Balinese in Badung Regency have to accept some responsibility for allowing the extensive westernization of so many areas of that Regency. Where I live, there is no acceptable level of “westernization of ancestral homes” and banjar adat as well as the royal family of Ubud support that to the fullest. Indeed, the recent comprehensive and Provincial wide revision of zoning and building laws were made with concern most in mind.

      I also have no doubt that your Balinese friend is very well aware of the differences in thinking and ideas that often exist between the Balinese of various regencies.

      That Ubud is considered the cultural heart of Bali is not to the credit of westerners…but rather full credit goes to the Balinese of the Ubud area themselves. I offer that not as opinion, but rather as fact.

      I’m sorry that you have concluded that I was implying that “southern-dwelling expats are somehow inferior” when all I wrote was that they are horses of different colors…and they are different. There is no moral high ground or low ground here to discuss, just simple recognition of the readily apparent differences that I’m sure you have noted yourself. Quite obviously that simple metaphor I used of “horses of a different color” struck a cord, albeit unintended, and your reaction seems to indicate that you are sensitive to these differences, which can only mean that you acknowledge them to some degree.

      Please also understand that I am no hobbit living 24/7 in my village. I do in fact spend a great deal of time in other areas of what I insist on calling the real Bali…and unquestionably will continue to call “the real Bali.” You might note however that I do at least avoid calling those southern areas of Bali, “the unreal Bali.”

      Perhaps further discussion would be best tabled for when we can have the opportunity to meet in person.

      Cheers, and enjoy your weekend.


      • “…the future of Balinese tourism is far more in the hands of the Balinese than you realize.”

        I guess that means it’s going to be more of the same, or probably worse. Your statement implies that what’s happened to Bali is largely the fault of the Balinese themselves.
        The way I see it, the “blame” is shared by both money-grubbing wealthy opportunists (from “Jakarta”), and similar “real” Balinese ones.

        I find it amazing that you happily insult those Balinese who don’t live in your version of the “real Bali”. And you wonder why they might be outraged by your elitist proclamations, especially since you are, like it or not, a bule. NOT a “Balinese” and never will be.

        Further, there are many expats who don’t live in your comfort zone who have serious concerns about Bali’s future. You seem to believe that expats in and around Ubud are somehow superior to those down south, the north, the west and the east. I wonder what gives you the right to make such indictments upon others?

        Those Balinese from your “neck of the woods” who only go to the south kicking and screaming might have other reasons for avoiding it. Traffic jams could be one, although why that would worry them, given the atrocious traffic situation in Ubud, beats me.

        Finally, I suggest you take off your blinkers and have a really good look around Ubud and its environs, and then tell us how “successful” the area has been in curbing western influences. Many of my Balinese friends around there are pretty disgusted by it all.


  11. I’ll start where you ended because there really isn’t much more to comment on without repeating myself.

    Ubud and its environs that make up Ubud can hardly be compared to Kuta, Legian or Seminyak. Ubud is easily distinguishable even by a blind man if just by smell and sounds alone. Tell me where down south one can still enjoy pristine views of sawahs and uncompromising Balinese architecture? Where are the museums and where are the villages that upon exploring is like taking steps back in time?

    Sure, the main road of Ubud itself, Jalan Raya and several of the busier side roads off of Jalan Raya are very built up, and so are the main roads through many of the surrounding villages, but once off of them, it is another world. Ubud and its environs have inarguably been highly successful in keeping western development in balance with cultural traditions. As I say, there is no comparison between Ubud and Kuta, Legian or Seminyak. They are two different worlds.

    Ubud traffic is nothing like down south either, and when it is exceptionally congested it is largely due to visiting tour busses.

    Of course you are correct that I will never be a Balinese, having been born a bule, but I’m treated no differently than any Balinese in my village, including full membership and voting privileges in our banjar. I am never referred to as either bule or tamu.

    On those points that we don’t agree I guess we’ll both have to settle on agreeing to disagree, and leave it at that. Cheers, and have a nice weekend.


  12. Mate, I’ve just recently come across this blog and I must say it’s a good read. I lived in ID for a while (i.e. too long) and these problems aren’t just present on Bali. It seems that nearly everywhere you go it’s filthy, dilapidated, crumbling, corrupt and just not worth the effort. It’s sad really but I can’t find enough good things to even consider coming back. I don’t know how anyone can put up with day-to-day life there.


  13. I found it interesting to re-read the comments above (including my own) nearly a year later. (Thanks Bugil..your latest comment brought me back.)

    Most of the comments above still ring true to me (except for Roy’s never-ending hyperbole regarding the “pristine” Ubud and its surrounds). That’s OK – it looks like Roy’s picked up his marbles and doesn’t want to play with us anymore.

    One thing I notice about reported “tourist numbers” in discussions, is that they seldom mention “domestic tourist numbers” (those from Java, etc). They equal or even surpass all the foriegn arrivals.

    In my view, there is NO way that today’s Bali has anything like a sustainable future. The signs are already fairly obvious if one cares to look. Most of Bali’s economy these days depends upon tourism.

    The way things are going, tens of thousands of Balinese who currently work in tourist-related jobs (cafes, restaurants, hotels, etc), will never earn enough money to buy their own land (if there’s any left). Or if they do, it’ll take them a thousand years to pay it off.

    If modern Balinese are happy to work as “servants” forever, that’s their call. All of us “gotta serve somebody”.


    • Oh, Roy’s still popping off his usual trying-to-be-deliberately-offensive bile 😉
      Straight to the spam folder with the rest of the rubbish of course!


      • LOL!!


  14. Sad but so true
    No wonder I so rarely venture out of sanur
    Wake up Bali or it will be gone


  15. Thank you Darren for reminding me of this thread.

    Mr Roy moved on to his own website quite a while ago, where he is free to promulgate his version of what Bali is all bout to his adoring fans. Don’t get me wrong – Roy is very knowledgeable and much of what he writes is worth reading. It’s just a pity that he seems so blinded by the light of his personal experiences in his tiny village near Ubud.

    Roy’s past comments aside, much of the other comments still hold true today. Maybe even more so. Many of Ubud’s previously pristine areas have succumbed to villa-mania, even parts that were once difficult to get to, except on foot. The “old road is rapidly changing”.
    I
    used to live near Ubud. These days I can’t stand going to the place because of the traffic jams, the commercialisation of central Ubud, and the proliferation of faux “spiritual” businesses. The cancer is spreading fast to nearby areas, such as Tegallalang.

    I had to have another belly laugh when Roy was suggesting that Aman Resorts and The Four Seasons chain were what, exactly? Posh and expensive places, that’s for sure, but hardly anything to do with his “real Bali”.

    These days,about 60% of employed people in Bali work in some facet of the tourism/hospitality industry. If that fails, for whatever reasons, Bali doesn’t have a Plan B. The subak system is under threat, many young Balinese don’t want to work on farms or rice fields, Bali’s water crisis is imminent…it ain’t looking good.

    Bali’s population is now about 4 million, a quarter of which is made up of people from surrounding islands (mainly Java). On top of that, we have 3 million or so foreign tourists descending upon the fragile island every year, plus another 3 million “domestic tourists”.

    Many years ago, various prominent Balinese academics thought that the ideal, sustainable population of Bali was something like 1.5-2 million. Well, it’s far exceeded that and I guess that the writing’s on the wall, for all and sundry to read it, if they can be bothered.

    At least, Ubud still doesn’t have a McDonalds. Maybe soon.



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