Seminyak is not Bali

Many of you will know that I am enamoured with Balinese culture and its people. This love affair grows stronger with each visit, despite the fact that, like many others, I find some aspects of foreign tourism in Bali very disturbing. The best way to avoid seeing the ugly side of tourism is to by- pass particular districts, as well as becoming more receptive to the local culture, religion, ritual, history and the country’s social economic issues.

Here’s my current list of gripes:

  • the prevalence of plastic in a country that lacks regular rubbish collection and where, traditionally, rubbish is burnt. And, the holier- than -thou tourist attack on Bali’s plastic problem while continuing to shop, collecting plastic bags along the way, and drinking water from plastic bottles.
  • large foreign-owned resorts built along the shores of major tourist areas effectively blocking local access to their own beach. These resorts are favoured by tourists who have little interaction with the Balinese people or culture, beyond the obvious daily contact where Balinese serve their needs as waiters, cleaners, door openers, masseurs and drivers. Fake palaces dedicated to water wastage and energy consumption, built by cheap Javanese labour, charging a daily rate that would feed a Balinese family for years.
  • overrated districts devoted to consumerism, in particular the area around Kuta/Legian/Seminyak/ Kerobokan – now one continuous strip of consumer ugliness- with streets choked with traffic, offering tourists a Disneyland version of Bali, where foreign fashion designers and celebrity chefs (often Australian) open branches enabling foreigners to eat the same food that they might when visiting Melbourne or Sydney.
  • the barbarian dress code of some young Europeans, and others not so young, who turn up in restaurants or holy shrines wearing very little, displaying a cultural arrogance and ignorance beyond belief.
I need to find out more about this magic statue’s big thumb. He greets many a visitor to the local Pura ( Hindu  temple).

Don’t get me wrong. Tourism, on the whole, has been good for the Balinese. Over the 37 years or so of visiting Bali, I’ve noticed huge improvements, with access to electricity, education and clean water providing the Balinese with a much improved lifestyle. In my chats with some of the locals recently, they have told me that they have more skills now and no longer want to work in industries such as fishing and building, these jobs being carried out by low paid migrants from Java and Madura. The tourist industry is now central to the Balinese economy ( 3.7 million visitors in 2014) as it is to other countries such as Italy ( 48.6 million in 2014 ) and Greece ( 22 million in 2014). Take tourism away and the Balinese economy would collapse.

Pink hat for another big thumbed temple guardian. Pura Dalem Segara, Desa Adat, Jimbaran

After a twenty-one year absence from the commercial and congested strip of tourism that gives Bali a bad name, with Seminyak at its epicentre, I visited the area two days ago, in the interests of research and in the hope that things may have improved in that district. My notes from that journey are not worth repeating and no photos were taken. Enough said.

Temple gaurdian's big thumb
Temple guardian’s big thumb.

For Bali lovers, see also my posts from 2015.


23 thoughts on “Seminyak is not Bali”

  1. Bali is not alone in ugly “disneyesque” tourism. There are huge resorts along Greek beaches that cater to package tourism who come here for sun, sea and sex. They din’t interact with locals. They eat at westernised takeout joints that serve the food they are used to at home. Many clubs and bars encourage binge drinking. Over the years I have seen quiet fishing villages turn into these monstrosities. Even the tourist tat I blogged about recently is designed to flog cheap and shiny versions of culture by the masses. I am all in favour of heritage tourism which is catching on here, but it is generally geared to the high end market. We need a solution for the inexpensive end of the market that keeps them away from these horrendous places. Sadly not everyone is geared to be an independent traveller (a term I use in place of tourist – there is a difference).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sad to hear that things are bad in some of the Greek islands. I was prompted to write about this one district of Bali to warn others not to bother going there. There are still beautiful areas and small hotels and guest houses available to the independent traveller. Balinese culture is alive and well- to those who seek it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Relatives on Terry’s side go to Cyprus and say its fantastic with wonderful swimming beaches and quaint villages in the hills and bushland. It hasn’t been affected by the ugly tourist (yet). Such a shame Bali had to be spoilt just where the planes and ships offload you. The laws for littering should be much stricter and people should become better educated about how to act in Bali.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is really only one area of Bali and I offer this post as a warning to those who want a better holiday. Bali has many lovely unspoilt areas. It is a short run from the airport in a taxi to some lovely spots. Tourists put all their plastic bags and bottles into the hotel bins, and from there, the problem begins. Maybe they should remember to take along a nice shopping bag like they do at home.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It didn’t surprise me so I was not disappointed. I though we should drive over there to check it out, so that I can feel more justified in bagging that area. Nice Bali still lives on- just not on that strip.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. For the 30th and last time I visited Bali I promised myself never to return – you have affirmed my decision. I loathe that certain Aussie subculture in Bali who for decades have been using the country as a dumping ground for their hideous anti-social behaviour which would not be tolerated at home.
    It’s Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar for me and those choosing to learn from and enjoy Asian tradition, religion and culture.


  4. Tourism is double edged, it gives and takes but there’s a delicate economy of scale that has to be respected for it to work but unfortunately isn’t being. Everywhere it seems.
    To those benefiting from employment and often seasonal only prosperity it’s a boon but there’s often a cost that is ignored. Too many of those costs add up. We’re seeing that in our travels locally via some of the business of tourism practices.
    Prices in many touristy places must be prohibitive to locals because they are to us.
    Except for we inadvertently stumbled on a free fish feeding session we’ve avoided attractions, tours etc that utilise animals.
    So many backpackers are employed, from reading noticeboards and chatting about remuneration we question the fairness, and it doesn’t do much to support long term locals.
    The amount of fast/junk food litter we’ve seen is appalling.
    Some tourists have an annoying and often dangerous sense of entitlement. During the only tour -supposedly cultural- we did -and will ever do- to Arnhem Land, there were places we were requested not take photos, one location was a safety issue and the other out of respect but some of our group would not be dissuaded, and also completely ignored instructions to keep more than 5 metres from billabongs and invisible crocs.
    What we’ve encountered of the tourism business has been the downside for us. Like you we love our travels, feel privileged to be able to do them, try to tread lightly, respect the people & places we visit and support local economies but not impinge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You sum up the dilemma so well Dale. Entitlement- now that’s the word I was looking for as I wrote about some tourist’s view of Bali and their approach to the locals. If there’s one thing that really makes me cross ( that’s my polite word for it) it’s that foreign attitude and ignorance of local culture. Do people go around with their eyes closed?
      respecting the people, being polite, smiling, treading lightly and always being aware of the local culture is the only way to travel. I hope your journey this year is fulfilling and enjoyable.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I often wonder what the Balinese think of Australia when I’ve seen pictures of Aussies behaving with complete disregard for the local culture – displaying their sense of entitlement – that’s a good description. They must think we are such an ignorant lot.


    1. The Australians only behave in this way in one area of Bali- from Kuta to Seminyak. In the rest of Bali, they are fine. Now, I think its time we got off the backs of Aussies and reserved judgment for young Euros who are a particularly ignorant lot when it comes to local culture In Bali, and In asia generally.


  6. You put it well. So it goes in many beautiful places. We travel often. I can lift your list, from trash to inappropriate clothing, and lay it on a similar list I have for a point-by-point match.

    I can’t say ugly tourism, with all the money it brings is “better” or even “worse” for local. It’s efficient, crowding the least sensitive visitors into small, ugly areas. It does bring money, but the money is unevenly distributed, and is cut off suddenly by economic downturn, storms, earthquakes, leaving the people who live in newly crowded city ghettos high and dry. It does expose people to consumer culture, which is how western society works and western society must be dealt with.

    Best scenarios are educated local people who fiercely protect their culture and environmental treasures, working with guests and businesses who think along the same lines. Also people like you who refuse to pretend these problems don’t exist!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankyou for this comment. You have no doubt seen it all. It is true- these tourist ghettos get left in awful situations, especially after economic downturns, bombings, or natural disasters. Also the bulk of the money from the large hotels tends to go elsewhere, which means, in the case of Bali, wealthy Jakartans.
      I have read quite a lot about traditional Balinese culture and often it seems that pre- western life sounds idyllic. But then there comes the problem of looking at trad culture in a romaticised way- ‘the noble savage’ and all that. I do believe the Balinese have a much improved lot, despite the massive development and western tourism.
      There seems to be a much better consciousness around plastic these days and cleanliness is improving at Sanur ( where I prefer to stay). The culture is as strong as ever- thanks to an education system that teaches three languages- Balinese, which is quite different to Bahasa Indonesian, Bahasa and English: through the Banjar, or local community government, and the Hindu religion’s strength, where every village has three temples, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
      In spite of that ugly strip, Balinese culture is alive and well- elsewhere.


  7. This could have been written about far too many of the world’s treasured spots, Francesca. Something as simple as bringing your own shopping bag, as you mentioned above, is step one in making a difference. I wish people would spend as much time learning about the culture that they are about to visit as they did searching for cheap airfare.


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