Bali for Beginners or the Disenchanted, part 1.

My guide to Bali is based on 36 years of visiting this beautiful island. Naturally, it will reflect many prejudices that I hold. I feel compelled to put this list together to aid those who may be travelling to Bali for the first time, but also for those who may wish to return but feel ambivalent about the place based on a previous negative experience. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bali has many diverse districts and travel cultures. It is important to choose the district that suits your interests and lifestyle. If you get this wrong, your view of the island will be tainted and your holiday won’t be so pleasant. The main tourist areas can be grouped as follows:

  • The commercial district, hotel and nightclub area around Kuta/Legian/Seminyak. These beaches suit surfers: they are broad but lack natural shade. Commerce is ever-present and you may find it difficult to politely shrug off unwanted sellers. At times this will become extremely annoying but you must remain polite. Prices for restaurant food, nic nacs, and other services  including massage, pedicures, transport and so on will be higher and the level of negotiation will be more intense. Night revellers and other travellers may enjoy this area: if you don’t like loud night life or intense commerce, you may find this area really annoying. The very young gravitate towards Kuta and Legian. It’s a party town so beware! Accommodation options are diverse, from the super cheap to very expensive. The restaurant scene is lively here: many Australian restaurants have set up branches in this district. You can still eat local food but the style will be more Western, catering for a foreign palate. I stopped going to this district in the mid 1990s.
  • The beach area of Sanur. The oldest tourist district in Bali, Sanur still maintains a village feel in the back streets away from the beach.  The beach area in Sanur has deep shade along the five kilometre tourist promenade. The beach is not a surf beach, although intrepid surfers go out on the reef. At low tide the reef can be exposed and there are some safe swimming spots here and there. There is plenty of commerce in Sanur but it isn’t so intrusive. A polite ‘no thank you’ or tidak usually works. The prices are generally cheaper for most goods and services. Accommodation ranges from the very cheap to the hideously expensive. The restaurant scene is diverse also.There is a large expat community living in this district – Australian, Dutch, Scandinavian. This area is often favoured by older people, people with young families and young Europeans who flock here for the water sports provided (diving, snorkelling, surfing lessons, trips to the island of Nusa Lembongan, kite surfing). The night life winds up early. There are down sides to every district. Some of the grand hotel development along the water front is obscene. The water use in five-star hotels is around five times that of a whole Balinese family’s average of 200 litres a day. More about this issue in another post. I go here to relax but intersperse my stays with trips to other islands in Indonesia.

    Waiting for Customers - fancy a beach massage? Sanur.
    Surf school sets up on Sanur Beach
  • Northern beaches of Pemuteran and Lovina.Pemuteran is very quiet and dryer than the south. The sand is black and not so suitable for sun baking. This is classic old Bali. Tourist commerce is minimal but there are about 10 or so small resorts offering beautiful accommodation and food, a few good restaurants along the main street, and many diving operators. There are also some fabulous large private villas available for rent facing the sea. The area is known for diving and snorkelling as the reefs are intact or being restored and the local turtles are protected. The car trip from Denpasar area orSanur may take 5 hours, crossing a steep mountain range with stunning views of rice terraces. During our last stay, the town celebrated a mass Balinese funeral to which the tourists were invited.  Photos taken around Pemuteran below. Eating is on the agenda!
  • East coast beaches of Amed and Candidasa. I have visited both these places but never stayed long. The east coast looks very dry. There are many small backpacker places as well as newer flash- packer accommodation. Amed is the newest development in Bali and is too cool for school. The swimming and snorkelling are good and it is also a jumping off point to go to the Gili islands off Lombok. Candidasa seems to be in decline due to unscrupulous development. The once golden sandy beach (1980s) has been destroyed and concrete groynes have been installed in an attempt to reclaim some of the beach. The beach is impassable at high tide.
  • Ubud is the artistic and cultural centre of Bali. Away from the busy commercial centre, long walks through verdant green rice terraces can be wonderful. The restaurant scene in Ubud is quite innovative. It is also a place to see authentic versions of Balinese Dance and hear gamelan orchestras. The major art galleries in Ubud offer a good introduction to Balinese art through the ages. Again, the over development of this area is a worry and the commerce along Monkey Forest Road can be overwhelming. Each time I visit Jalan Bisma, I am shocked to see yet more rice paddies disappear.
  • Other areas. It is possible to rent a house in the middle of the rice paddies in central Bali. This is a great option if you enjoy isolation, speak a little Bahasa Indonesian and wish to learn more about Balinese life.

Below. the photos were taken in outer Ubud on walks around that district.

Have you been to Bali? What was your experience like? Do you plan to return? Join the discussion, your comments are valued.  Bali for Beginners and the Disenchanted, Part Two will deal with food, restaurants, transport, culture, problems and more so stay tuned.

15 thoughts on “Bali for Beginners or the Disenchanted, part 1.”

  1. An informative and useful post Mrs Italian! The age old balance between making a living and not destroying the beauty of the very thing that people go to visit. I only went to Bali once and absolutely loved it. But then I lost a friend whom I worked with in the bombings and I haven’t been able to get myself back there. I would like to think I will and I am normally a ‘go back and support the community kind of person’ but I haven’t quite got there yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my dear, this is very sad indeed. The experience must have been quite shocking and very disturbing for you and all those close to your friend. It was also very disturbing to the Balinese and they still feel disturbed by this, as well as many other things, and often talk about it. I hope you can get back one day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As you know, I have never visited Bali. Jo and Gabe went there in 2009. It was Jo’s 3rd visit and Gabe’s 1st. They loved it. You mentioned Nusa Lembogan; they travelled on day excursion to there it was a real highlight for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful overview Francesca. I’m another who has been put off going by my perceptions of many Australians going to Bali who I feel (perhaps unfairly) give Australian visitors a bad name and have led to the environment you describe in Kuta etc, so it’s good to hear there are areas with a very different atmosphere…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is true. Many Australians ( and other visitors) behave badly around Kuta. A good reason for not ever venturing over to that part of the island. But despite this, Balinese do love Australians, for many reasons other than bogan behaviour. Bali is a big and diverse island.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Francesca – I have been meaning to return to Bali this year but plans got shelved. Am hoping to explore more of Ubud and Sanur next time. Thanks for sharing this post – it will be helpful for my next trip 🙂



  5. I have never been to Bali but from what I’ve heard of Ubud, it appeals as do the less commercial coastal spots such as Sanur which you’ve introduced me to. When travelling I always prefer the older areas.
    Beautiful places are always at risk of losing their appeal and integrity if they get too popular and attract opportunistic developers. Yet the locals benefit from some patronage. Delicate economy of scale.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this, beautiful photos and really interesting commentary. I’d love to go to Bali one day so I’ll have to make sure I go to the right district!

    Liked by 1 person

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