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When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong

(Note: I was planning to spend some time in Thailand over the next two months but my plans have suddenly changed for a few reasons that I won’t go into now. After making a quick stop in Bali, I’m now actually headed back to the US. More to come about this change soon.)

Warning: This post contains strong and potentially offensive language.


Negative tourism in BaliAppalling.

Appalling. Appalling. Appalling.

Never before in my life have I come across such a disgraceful scene of tourism gone wrong as what I encountered during my stay in the Kuta area of Bali this past week.

From the moment I arrived, I suspected that the Bali I had envisioned for so many years was not exactly the reality. Picture this: Drunken foreigners everywhere stumbling around half-naked while tossing trash on the ground and screaming out profanities to everyone they passed on the street. This is pretty much what I observed non-stop while staring out the taxi window during the 20 minute drive from the airport into Kuta. Combine this with a never-ending collection of western fast-food chains and clothing shops as well as tourist bars offering $1 tequila shots, and the beautiful, fantasy destination that is supposedly Bali was nowhere to be found.

And while I have nothing against tourism, or even the intense form of it that you find in many parts of the world, I have a problem with Kuta. To see the Balinese people, who are such friendly, gentle people by nature, become so corrupted by the influx of selfish, disrespectful tourists proved more than disturbing to me.

I can’t even describe what it was like to watch these kind, constantly smiling people be reduced to street vendors selling t-shirts that state “Do It Up the Bum, Avoid Kids” and “F**k You Bitch” and bumper stickers that read, “Mark is Gay”, “You’re a Homo” and “You’re Fat But I’ll F**k You Anyway”. This embarrassing byproduct of tourism was present everywhere I turned. Even the housekeeper in the hotel I stayed at pushed around a cart full of cleaning products that had a big sticker on it that read, “I Shit Fat People”.

And she had no idea what that even means, just as the t-shirt vendors had no idea what they were truly saying when they yelled out “Suck It Or Leave t-shirt for you, cheap price!” to every tourist that walked by. That’s the problem when tourism goes so terribly wrong. The local people are sometimes unknowingly forced to stoop down to the shockingly infantile level of a breed of tourists who should never be allowed to leave their home countries.

I firmly believe that the locals are not to blame at all. I blame each and every one of the oblivious tourists who show not an ounce of respect for Kuta, for Bali, for Indonesia or for any of the people they come into contact with. I have never seen such full-on disrespectful tourism in all of my years on the road, with such a concentration of people in one area who thought it perfectly acceptable to turn a foreign island into their own personal booze, drugs and sex playground.

And this leaves the local Balinese with no choice. If they want to earn some money to feed their children, their only option is to accept the nonsense and fill their shops with the “Damn Those Bitches Are Fine” t-shirts that the naked, constantly cursing tourists demand. After all, the locals wouldn’t be selling this crap if people weren’t buying it. The fact is, few visitors to Kuta are interested in buying traditional Balinese wood carvings. Actually, visitors seemed to be incredibly interested in buying wood carvings of penises instead (which were for sale in almost every shop). So you can’t blame a local for selling those penises in order to put food on the table.

Some might argue that similar transformations have taken place in other parts of the world such as Khao San Road in Bangkok or Cancun, Mexico. But I beg to differ. Having spent a good amount of time in both of these other locations, I find that, despite the heavy tourism, the corruption of the local people and way of life has been held in check in comparison to Kuta. Khao San Road, as unappealing as it may be to some travelers, retains a bit of Thai charm which seems to force western culture to adapt to Thai culture, not the other way around.

And as for Cancun, it is definitely an Americanized city, but it is also one that is quite pleasant to visit and if I may say, is full of tourists that show much more respect than what I found in Bali. And maybe I’ve just missed it but I have never seen anyone selling t-shirts and stickers that say “Want More Grunt, F**k Like A Pig” in Cancun.

The point is, while in Kuta, I felt absolutely ashamed to be a traveler. Ashamed is not even strong enough a word to describe what went through my head as I watched inebriated tourists bark out their demands for yet another bottle of Bintang beer while engaging in lewd conduct that simply has no place at all on Bali. Of course, each time, the young local waitress would simply take the order and smile, unable to react in any other way, even in the face of such blatant disrespect.

I know I’m not the only traveler to feel so strongly about this. In fact, my good friend Jodi from LegalNomads.com summed it up quite well when she wrote to me that during her time in Kuta, all she wanted to do was walk around with a big sign that said ‘cover your tits’ while tapping a few people on the shoulder and saying “I mean – you’re in the AIRPORT in a bikini…how is that ok?! (It’s not).

To me, so much of what I saw in Kuta is not ok.


THE REST OF BALI

One important thing I need to mention is that this was a rant only about the Kuta area of Bali. During the time I spent away from Kuta, exploring the temples, volcanoes, lakes and other regions of this island, I did in fact discover the Bali that I originally hoped to find. The rest of Bali really is a treasure of a destination, one that maintains its local culture and in turn, offers interested travelers a very real glimpse into the Balinese way of life.

Balinese Temple

But as for Kuta, never again. And as a result of this visit, I will forever be even more conscious about how I act and how I present myself when interacting with a foreign culture. I certainly challenge you to do the same as well.


Have you been to Kuta? Any thoughts to share?

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234 Responses to When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong

  1. Peter Shaw says:

    Really good points, I just found your post, I wrote a pretty similar article about bad tourists and long term travel actually about Bali also. There are a disgusting amount of Australian Bogans (i’m Australian and it’s disgusting) who head there to just drink and cause trouble. Bali is really a great destination but for people from Perth it’s cheaper to get there than fly anywhere else, even inside Australia so the dregs of Perth end up there more than anywhere else. I just feel sorry for the local people.

  2. Elena Robertson says:

    This post reminds me exactly of Koh Phangan, Thailand during the Full Moon Party. Hedonism at its finest. For a lot of the tourists (I purposely say tourists instead of travelers) I met in Thailand, the beach party, buckets full of alcohol, over the counter xanax and ritalin is what had brought them half way around the world. I was in complete shock the first time a guy told me he was just there to party–I mean, why bother the 18.5 hours of hellish plane rides just to black out for two weeks? Baffling.

    While I loved Thailand, I always recommend it with a warning that a lot of what I saw and did makes me cringe, even now. Not because I regret it, but because I regret the newly-constructed social norms that make those things ok when, in reality, they go against so many “traditional” Thai norms.
    It’s always easy to talk about the morality of this behavior from an ivory tower, but living it and actively choosing to go against what you see everyone else doing is hard and, at times, dangerous.

    Anyways, another great post.

    • Andy says:

      Hey Elena,
      a friend told me that those zombie tourists in Ko Phangan don’t even leave the party area much. That there are still tons of secluded beaches and tranquil neighboorhoods on the island not spoiled by the boozers.

      The good thing about this “special demographic” is that they like staying among
      themselves and in only one place.

      As for Kuta, wow, I didn’t know that it was THAT bad! Truly disgusting. But we don’t have to go there if we don’t like it and we can be better cultural ambassadors everywhere else.

  3. Great article. I’ve never been to Bali but I can imagine what you’re saying, I’ve started to noticing that 10 years ago all around the world. At first I was sad that tourists discovered some of hidden heavens on Earth, some cool beach in Croatia or a distant little Thai island. Then I realized that I must accept that, other people have right to visit that too. But this, and what are they creating from our world. Some people are too stupid to be allowed to leave their countries and should be forced by law not to do it. :)

  4. Tanned says:

    Bali kuta is as you told, a party place and a lot of drunk people! and also who get stolen when they go out from the nightclub and when there is some ladyboy ou girl who pick pocket!

    What terrible is it! but i think is still a nice place but if you want calm don’t go there!

  5. Eisya says:

    this post shocked me and I am an Indonesian. I live in Jakarta. I’ve never been to Bali but always wanted to since all I heard from it was fascinating stories and wonderful experiences. This is such a wake up call for us because we’ve been dwelling with culture crisis for the past 5 years and the cause is none other than us. I mean, we can always choose to nurture our indigenous culture and offer that as tourism (traditional foods, batiks and such) but we choose to ‘modernize’ our offer like you say in your post.

    I remember back in 2008 when the government has agreed on the laws against pornography and it was very controversial. Pornography here is everything that show sexual exploitation that violate the moral norms of society; and the biggest rejection came from Balinese people. They were concern about foreign tourists that, compared to the locals, are accustomed in wearing minimum clothing. They feared this restriction would set the tourism business back, and in that case Bali was untouched by this law. Other than doing that, I think it’s okay to draw some lines here. It would be okay to be half-naked in the beach area but not in the streets, markets, temples or other open spaces area. As host of your holiday/visit I think we’re allowed to demand some respects. So, we could have done something about it and we should.

    best regards from Indonesia :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Eisya – Thank you for sharing your thoughts as it’s always great to have someone commenting who is more familiar with the culture/laws/way of life, etc. Clearly, this is just another situation of money holding the power as the best interests of the tourism industry becomes more important than the best interests of the people. But like you said, the people still could do something about the current situation and demand some respects. Unfortunately, the people are probably afraid to do that because any loss in tourism would have a major impact on the local economy.

      Thank you again for commenting!

  6. mee says:

    Funny that. The two times I went to Bali I didn’t go around Kuta area much at all. So I’m a bit surprised to hear how bad it has been :(

    I came back to find your posts on Indonesia but seems that there’s only this one post.

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  8. Amy says:

    Hi Earl,
    This is a sad thing to read, but is so true in every way, it’s sad to see how modern culture can ruin such wonderful places, I was in Bali only 2 years ago and it was bad then.
    I admire your site, it’s a very informative site, and I to hope to travel one day. You bring up important and not so important topics but are all worth a read, as they are also very helpful. The layout is so easy to use and navigate throughout the site.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Amy – I appreciate the comment and I’m happy to hear you have found the site to be useful so far. Please do let me know if you ever have any questions as you begin to hopefully create your own life of travel!

  9. Caitlin says:

    Sadly, what you have published is a very accurate summary of what Bali is today. Ten years ago the cultural vibe in Bali was alot more traditional with very little western characteristics. You had no choice but to eat the local food. In regard to the travellers wearing very little clothing, travelling to a country who has strong Hindu beliefs you would think that people would be a little more respectful. Yes it is a hot, muggy country, but is it really neccessary to so drunk at 10am in the morning you are stumbling along the street with clothing that leaves nothing to the imagination?

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  11. Sam says:

    Hi Earl,

    It’s tragic when people you are a part of create such an awful mess.

    I’ve quoted you on your experience in Kuta (and linked!) on my latest article (http://samsplayground.com/getting-the-most-from-a-travel-destination/). Please check it out, I’d love to hear your comments.

  12. Erin says:

    There seems to be a lot of “the Indonesian people are too poor to turn away the money” feeling.

    But this isn’t just a developing world issue – right here at home in Canada the Brewster tourism company has overcome a local petition to build a giant walkway through Banff national park near the Columbia Icefields. This would of course harm the local ecosystem which our national parks are supposed to protect from man-made development. Not to mention the tourists I see leaving their trash lying around and feeding the WILD animals as if they were pets. And if anyone knows anything about the oilsands in Alberta we definitely don’t need the money that the tourism brings.

    As such, I think there may be more to accepting harmful tourism practices beyond just the need of money. As mentioned in the post, even in other poor places the tourism hasn’t seemed to reach the level of Kuta. There has to be another factor at play. Corrupt local government perhaps?

    • Earl says:

      Hey Erin – That’s a good point and I tend to believe that corruption does play a major role. So in terms of money, it is most likely the higher-ups who are trying to satisfy their greed without caring about how their decisions affect the communities they govern/live in. And of course, as long as tourists are coming and money is flowing, the local population won’t complain too much about how things are going.

      It will be interesting to see how things turn out with the walkway through Banff. Seems like a bad idea and hopefully the project will be halted in the end.

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  14. David says:

    If I were playing devils advocate I’d note how when foreigners come to Australia we are told to respect their customs, and yet when Australians go to Bali it seems you do not respect theirs.

  15. Samantha Mitchell says:

    Oh my goodness gracious, reading this post and getting to the end of it made me worry that you perhaps hadn’t been able to travel to another part of Bali besides Kuta. How terrifying that would have been if that’s all you could see. I met a friend from Australia a little later on that told us Bali is like Cancun but for Australians (which is funny to think about, it’s a world away from the US and a hop, skip and jump away from Aus), but I definitely think as well that there is no more crude place of earth than the Kuta nightlife. Thankfully we only stayed one night before our flight in that part of Kuta I am sure you are referring to, but still stayed more nights than necessary on the South side of Kuta.. Which wasn’t too bad. After Kuta, we went to Ubud, and that was simply magical. Where else did you go in Bali? There are so many things I would still like to go see there, but I wouldn’t trade experiences like the Kecak dance at Ulu Watu for anything.

  16. Emily says:

    My concern regarding my planned holiday to Bali (Ubud only) is how people, both locals and tourists, are going to view/treat my very overweight mother. After experiencing the sometimes horrible treatment of my overweight mother in India, I’m worried she will again be judged. Does anyone have any advice or can share their own experience?

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  18. Connor says:

    Before i get angry BS replies, I am Australian, and I will say it’s Australians who do this to Bali. In Australia, Bali is by far regarded as the most affordable place for a holiday of that kind. So affordable it magnetizes “Bogans”… The lower income Australians who wear T-Shirts like that, drink too much, and generally behave disgracefully and extremely disrepectfully.

    On the 19th of December I’m starting my own nomadic journey, leaving Australia and landing in Munich, Germany. I hope I have such a long and wondrous journey as yours Earl. If your still in Europe any time after that date, I’d love to meet you, you’ve inspired me greatly.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Connor – I certainly appreciate you sharing your input. In a way it makes sense that it is a cheap and easy holiday destinations for Australians, just as parts of Mexico can be for Americans, but it’s just difficult for me to understand why anyone would travel to such a place and be so blatantly disrespectful.

      On another note, that’s excellent that you’re starting your own adventure in a couple of months! And I really do believe that determination and creativity are the most important factors in being able to keep your journey going. If I do happen to be in Europe at the same time as you, I will certainly let you know!

      • Connor says:

        They act like that in Bali because here in Australian they’re on the “lowest rung of the ladder” so to speak, so when they go to Bali and the people are so polite and unimposing they treat them like crap because they get away with it there when they wouldn’t at home.

        To put it in perspective as best I can… Some people I know are on holidays there at the moment. When they were planning their trip, they asked if I wanted to tag along. Their selling points were “The drinks are super cheap, you can get shots for like a dollar”, “You can get 10 T-Shirts for like 10 bucks” and my personal favorite “The prostitutes are super cheap”.

        In Australia, among the “class” that frequent Bali, a Man’s worth is measured by how much he can drink before vomiting, and how loud his Car is.

        I love my country, but I don’t lie to myself about its problems the way a lot of Australians like to do.

  19. gaurav says:

    hey…it comes as a shock!
    something similar is wat u can c in goa, india. u must have seen the state of drugs, prostitution and people conning..young locals selling drugs…..not good. sex n drugs is wat most of the travelers go there for…it has got young locals to get into drugs…selling them and even dying of ‘em….i was there for two months and have seen three of my 20yr old friends caught terribly in the “system”….one of them was lucky enough to have parents and sent to a rehab..hes finally recovered….but all of this because they rely on “tourism”…they’ll be dead otherwise…..and….is there anything that can be done through blogs…? think about it…there should be!!

  20. Grace says:

    So glad you posted this! I went to Bali last April– stayed in a very remote place called Medewi for one week after my husband’s parents payed for a very nice resort for us to stay in. The country that we drove by was beautiful, and the people we met were all friendly and happy. I’m so glad we got to see THAT Bali before we stayed two nights in Kuta. We chose to stay there because we only had a week in the resort, but we had two nights left in Bali before our flight, and without doing much research we just booked those nights in Kuta because it was close to the airport. We NEVER expected Kuta to be such a horrible mess! I just feel so sorry for the Balinese people who live there and have to put up with such awful behavior. Like you, I felt ashamed to be a foreigner. After being around such lovely Balinese people for a whole week, it felt strange to then be cast among a throng of them trying to push mushrooms or wooden penises on me. But they’re excuseable– they’re only trying to make a living. The tourists we saw, on the other hand, all looked like spoiled rich kids whose only design in traveling was to get drunk in as many places as possible. I truly wish that we’d booked our last two nights ANYWHERE else. Kuta left a horrible taste in my mouth, and it’s sad that that’s where our vacation ended.

    • Katia says:

      I live in Rio de Janeiro and Ican´t agree with Rachel. Rio is not a zoo. I know many americans come here to see indians and snakes – yes, Brazil has indians in treir land – not in guetos – and yes, Rio has snakes in the Zoo Park…
      Ok. It hurted me. We are a 3th world country, yes we have a lot of problems, we have safety issues that can´t be solved that easily, but we are friendly, we try to make you feel at home, we are helpfull. Many, many americans I know love Rio. Please, be so kind not to offend people, ok?? My hometown is far from being a zoo. And you all will be very welcome here!!

  21. Rod Orgeron says:

    Hey Earl,

    I notice that you use the terms “traveler” and “tourist” interchangeably in your posts. If all tourists were travelers, we probably wouldn’t have situations such as the one you described in Kuta.

    I, too, decry the current environment in Kuta. However, short of some litmus test for every visitor, as mentioned by another poster, I don’t see any way to prevent its continuation. After all, most of these people are just acting the way they act at home (also mentioned by another poster). Travel (tourism) has become economical enough to be “enjoyed” by almost everyone, with predictable results. In my opinion, the best thing that can be done is for each of us to act properly wherever we go. Perhaps, by doing so, we can offset some of the rude behavior displayed by others.

    I thoroughly enjoy your essays. Keep them coming.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rod – I’ve always found the tourist vs traveler debate a tough one. I use the words interchangeably because I’ve met people whose travel experiences consist only of a Caribbean cruise once per year but who are more respectful and interested in learning about the places they visit than many of the ‘travelers’ I’ve met who have been on the road for years. So I just prefer to say that we are all tourists and travelers and as is the case with any group, some will be good and some not so much.

      I agree with you that a solution is almost impossible for the situation in Kuta. And I agree even more than it is up to each of us as individual travelers/tourists to act respectfully during our travels. And I must say that the overwhelming majority of people I do meet on the road are not people who would fall into the category of those I observed in Kuta.

  22. Renata says:

    I went to a friends party the other night and she was giving out fortune cookies to people as they walked in the door. My fortune cookie read: “When morality and profit compete, profit will always win.” How sad and depressing is that?!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Renata – That’s quite depressing. And sadly, there are endless examples of that happening. I can only think that at some point in the future, the equation will have to chance once we realize the negative effects of focusing so strongly on money.

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  24. I totally agree with you on this post. I have visited many places in SE Asia but Kuta is by far the most shameful representative of travellers. It seems to cater more to the Bachelor party crowd rather than travellers, I feel.

    There is nothing I hate to see more than locals being forced to accept the liberalism of the West when it comes to such explicit notions about sex. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a prude but some of those slogans that you mentioned above are so derogatory and crude that many open-minded Westerners find it hard to walk past them so I can only imagine the embarrassment faced by people not used to talking about sex so explicitly.

    Like you, I loved the rest of Bali and I thought that the Indonesian people were the most humble, polite and friendly people I have encountered while travelling. Such a shame that their poverty forces them to the low-levels of people who should know better!

  25. rangitoto says:

    Hey Earl

    You’re right! Many times I’m ashamed of foreigners in asia and elswhere…
    No respect for local custom and laws… just drinking – mostly half naked.
    Travel means respect!
    In Cambodia I was shocked when I’ve seen all the rubish. Many foreigners just laugh and point with they’re fingers on them.
    But without street cleaning Europe would be the same – maybe worse…
    So, the real “pigs” are we self! Why? We have dust bins all around and still rubbish everywhere….
    Regards and many good experiences…
    rangi

  26. Nova Bennett says:

    Hi Earl,

    it such a great joy to stumble to your website! I love traveling too but due to medical school I postpone it. I’m Indonesian btw and it’s saddened me to see how Bali becoming trashy like that. I don’t like to go there personally, to crowded and over rated. But nevertheless it’s a great island if you know where to go. I hope you can cover most of Indonesia ( it’s not only Bali you know :P) If you love to dive like me, go to Banda Island, or anywhere besides Bali!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Nova – You’ll have plenty of time to get some traveling in I’m sure! And I have been to other places in Indonesia as well. In fact, the month I spent on the island of Sumatra was a highlight of all my travels. I really did not want to leave at all and found myself wanting to stick around Sumatra for many months!

      And thank you for the diving recommendation :)

  27. Hey Earl,

    I read the title of this post, and while I’m not the most travelled in the world, before I read it I had a funny feeling it would be about Bali that you’re writing.

    I spent 2 months there for a wedding and for a volunteer work and I know the very scenes to which you’re referring. It’s a horrible place, but I have a few comments.

    I don’t agree that this is solely down to the foreigners that visit, and frankly, this isn’t the greatest atrocity perpetrated in Bali… there are much worse ecological and humanitarian disasters.

    Sure, the foreigners that go there to party in Kuta aren’t the finest tourists in the world, but the ones that you’re describing are, I believe, in the minority on the most part. I spent a good deal of time in Kuta, Seminyak and Denpasar, and most people I actually met were decent.

    Much of the problems are perpetrated by the more wealthy Balinese/Indonesians/foreigners. They know full well the extent of their greed and corruption, but it’s all down to money. The treatment of the everyday Balinese – the working class is as terrible by their own people, as the foreigners who visit. If anything, the foreigners help by bringing money. Sure they’re crass, but rude t-shirts and penis-shaped wood carving aren’t hardly the worst thing in the world.

    Forcing young people into practical slave-labour to serve them IS bad. I met a guy randomly (and I wrote about him in one of my posts) and he brought me to his “house”. This guy worked for a rich business man who got fat off the profits while his “staff” bust the gut 12hrs+ a day for a measly cut.

    Anyhow, I don’t want to dis your post, that’s not my point, but I want to round out the criticism and remind us all that it’s isn’t necessarily the foreigners, but often the corrupt/greedy locals that are the problem.

    It’s my first post, but from what I’ve read, I like your site so far. Keep it up! :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Paul – Thanks so much for your comment and welcome to the site :)

      There are definitely many angles to approach this topic and in the end, I’d have to say that most of them play some sort of role in the problems that I mentioned in the post. I agree that there are worse disasters taking place in Bali, but for this post I was just focusing on tourism as in my 11 years of traveling, I honestly had never been as disturbed as by what I witnessed in Kuta.

      I also agree that locals deserve much of the blame as well but I still think that no matter what, locals are going to build their tourism market, corrupt or not, around what the tourists want. And while rude t-shirts might not be too big of a deal at the end of the day, it does say a lot about the travel motivations of the people who are visiting Kuta and, in my eyes as a traveler who strongly believes that travel should help facilitate positive change in the world, it was troubling to me.

      Like I said, I absolutely realize that this is only a small part of the situation and I recognize that these are just my views from my short stay in Bali, so it’s always good to read the accounts and views of others (such as yours) in order to gather more information.

      Again, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and joining in the conversation!

      • Hey Derek,

        I agree absolutely on your core principle – “that travel should help facilitate positive change in the world.”

        The alternative is bleak, but sadly far too popular. Kuta represents a concentrated and unsubtle manifestation of the destructive type of tourism circa 2011.
        Cheer!
        P.

  28. Tom says:

    This has been coming a long time to be honest, I visited Kuta a number of years back and after the first 3 days was loath to leave the hotel swimming pool, even whilst laying there local hawkers would push t shirts through the hedges and beg you to buy them. Tourists have ruined Kuta and this was probably the worst holiday of my life. I agree with Earls assessment of the outlying areas however, we visited a village in the outlying areas and the local chief explained their customs and even showed us where he hid his private possessions to keep them safe.

    I think the main point is that Kuta is NOT Bali, it is a bastardised version of it, created by the Dollar Bill, I am mindful of my journey to Africa, where in the areas with tourists prostitution, commercialism and crime was rife, I refuse to believe that in the more rural areas the situation was the same. Who is to blame, we are of course, we enter a community where the average wage is 2 dollars a day and wave our dollars around looking down on the locals and expecting them to kowtow. It is our one chance to feel superior in life, before going back to the office where we get shouted at the boss for not meeting his deadlines.

    Slightly cynical perhaps but I have spent too many years in countries where the farangs, gweiloes or whatever you wish to call them wander around acting as the British Raj still exists and treats every other culture as inferior.

    Some of the most beautiful people I have met in my life have been the poorest, they will smile at you and share their meagre belongings, they do not judge you on your possessions or monetary worth as is the case in the ‘first world’ countries.

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  30. What I don’t get is why does anyone buy those shirts??!

  31. We had a similar experience in Belize City. They have set up a “tourist village” where you are literally accousted by tourists/sport-drinkers that never get past the nearest bar. Happily, the “village” is separate from the city, so we were able to quickly meet the real – wonderfully friendly – people of Belize. Your post opened our eyes to learning by example – of what NOT to do, rather than simply having distain for those who travel poorly. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – they were very valuable to us. -David and Veronica

    • Earl says:

      Hey David & Veronica – Such tourist villages seem to be popping up in quite a lot of places lately, clearly catering to a different type of traveler. Luckily, like the one you mentioned and even Kuta, it’s not too difficult to stay away from them and enjoy a completely different experience. I understand the reasons why these places exist but I want no part of such travel! Glad to hear you feel the same way :)

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  34. Jenna says:

    It makes me sad to read your post and see those insanely stupid stickers in your picture. My father lives on Bali, and I have been there twice, the first time in 2002 and the second time in 2009. The first time we spent a couple days there (just during the day for the shopping and food, not overnight in Kuta). It was definitely filled with foreign tourists and I saw a bit of the sleazy side, but nothing at all like you mentioned. Last time we stopped there just to visit a musical instrument store we liked the first time we were there. I guess it has changed a lot just since 2002. I hope that Seminyak and other places on the island don’t become like the new Kuta.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Jenna – I don’t think the rest of Bali will become like Kuta as, given it’s proximity to the airport and the fact that most of the Kuta tourists are not interested in cultural interaction, Kuta will remain the main attraction. In one sense, this isn’t great for Kuta but on the other hand, hopefully it will save the rest of the island.

      Here’s an interesting Time.com article that talks about the situation as well: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2062604,00.html

      And thanks for your comment!

      • Jenna says:

        I see what you’re saying about the rest of Bali not becoming like Kuta. I agree and hope you are right since plenty of people who go to Bali are interested in genuine cultural interaction and are quite respectful of the nature, people, culture, etc. Thanks for the link to the article– I will check it out!

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  36. Angela says:

    I completely understand your disgust, I would have felt the same, and I would have probably shouted at some of those tourists. I hate when tourists show disrespect for their host countries, and I think locals shouldn’t allow this.
    Bali is a truly beautiful destination, if they don’t sell that kind of stuff, I think tourists will go there anyway, just a different type of tourists.
    I’m not referring much to the local population, but rather to local authorities, they definitely should work for the sake of their own people and set the standard rules every person traveling to that place should respect.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Angela – That seems to be the issue…the authorities often don’t take time to properly plan the growth of tourism and instead allow it to develop quite haphazardly. And this is of course a great shame when this occurs to such a culturally-rich place as Bali. Luckily, it has so far only affected one small area and the rest of the island offers a completely different experience.

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  39. This is happening the world over. I now hold an American passport, but when I see tourist in the country of my birth behaving in a way in which people stereotype tourists, I am embarrassed for them and myself. I was at the airport coming back from visiting my family and I swear to you, more than a few people look like that had JUST stepped off the beach. I men in bikinis with a wrap or cover up. My dad asked me if Americans were all like this and I had to tell him no, just the one with no sense of decorum.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Sandy – I know what you’re saying and it does seem at times that such a form of tourism is spreading all over the place. It can be very difficult to try and understand what some of these tourists must be thinking (or not thinking) when they behave with such disregard for local customs or even general human decency. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue to spread, although I’m not sure that’s realistic.

  40. That does sound horrid! Were many of the travelers you saw performing lewd acts college-aged student? I wonder if some of those tourists were on Spring Break and thought they could act as ridiculous as they do in America. I’m not sure what’s going on with those offensive t-shirts, but it sounds like someone or company is getting away with some disrespectful advertising!

    • Earl says:

      @LittleHouse: Actually, most of the tourists in Bali are from Australia and surprisingly, a good portion of those behaving so unfortunately were middle-aged tourists. Bali does offer a cheap and easy-to-reach destination for Australians so it is almost similar to Cancun for Americans in that respect. But of course, it wasn’t only Australians in Kuta, there were plenty of other nationalities present as well.

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  42. Stuart says:

    I dunno, I mean, what did you expect? I’ve had the unfortunate misfortune to spend a fair amount of time around both Khao San and Kuta and idiots behaving badly and offensive tshirts are not in short supply in either location. Both places are an aberration in their own way and certainly are not to my taste (and I guess not yours either) but a lot of people, locals and foreigners do enjoy it — whom am I to tell people what they should do with their downtime?

    If you spend most of your time trolling up and down Poppies 1 & 2 sure you’ll see lots of westerners behaving badly, but Kuta is a big place and there’s all manner of nationalities (it’s a very popular spot with Indonesians actually) behaving very badly — Balinese included.

    Sure some locals (and foreigners like ourselves) feel offended about what is going on, but many others are making a good living out of it and I’d venture if the govt stepped in and banned the tshirts, there would be a bigger hue and cry from the vendors than their customers!

    While I agree that Kuta isn’t for everyone, what you seem to be suggesting is that there should be some kind of litmus test before the punters are allowed on an international flight — and I don’t agree with that at all. Kuta didn’t become how it is overnight, rather it’s the product of 20 years development that has had a very capable and informed Balinese helping hand pushing it in the direction it has gone.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Stuart – I appreciate the comment.

      I’m not suggesting that there be a litmus test but what I am suggesting is that all travelers owe it to the country they are visiting to show more respect than what I witnessed in Kuta. And just as it may seem that I, as a foreigner, naively claim to know how Bali should develop it’s tourism, I find it equallly naive for a foreigner to claim that earning more money automatically equals progress and a positive step for the local Balinese, especially when that money is being earned in a manner that has virtually destroyed a once beautiful, culturally rich location. Just because some people are ‘making a good a living out of it’ or ‘enjoying it’ doesn’t mean that it is a positive step forward at all.

      My point isn’t to ban the t-shirts. My point is simply that the lack of respect shown by the tourists in Kuta to the Balinese was appalling to me. Call me naive or an idealist but after 11+ years on the road, I’ve come to the conclusion that respect for other people is needed more than ever these days in order to deal with most of the world’s major issues. And so, after witnessing such disrespectful behavior in Kuta and talking to locals and Balinese friends who clearly are not enjoying what Kuta has become, I thought it important to write this post.

      • Stuart says:

        Tks for the reply. I think we are on the same page, I just don’t see the Balinese as being faultless in the situation you describe. Certainly wasn’t suggesting people making a living out of it equates to progress, but rather that there are a lot of Balinese with a very vested in interest in keeping Kuta exactly how it is — perhaps just not the people you met.

        Totally agree on the importance of respect — the Balines can often learn a lot in that regard too ;-).

        Glad to hear you enjoyed the rest of the island!

  43. Jillian says:

    Earl,
    Thanks for speaking out about your experiences. We didn’t make it to Kuta, but it sounds disgraceful. The silver lining of all of this is that it will always be a (strong, I’m sure) memory of how important it is to be culturally responsible. Also a good example. Do us all a favor and publicize your experience as much as you can. Especially loud, and in a hostel!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Jillian – Thank you for commenting! And I do agree that at the very least my experience acted as an always useful wake up call. We can never be reminded too many times of the need to be respectful as visitors to a foreign land. Although it is quite shocking how many travelers don’t find this to be important at all.

  44. Shane says:

    We were in Kuta soon after the bombs in 2002. The vibe then was very different from the scene you descibe. The Up Your Bum crowd were absent and the Balinese had the time to treat us as people rather than walking wallets.

    I’m glad we saw the Balinese at their defiant best and had a great deal of sympathy for them then. Still do, but I’m sure they are far happier shifting piles of “You’re Fat But I’ll F**k You Anyway” t-shirts than having the streets empty of tourists, no matter how obnoxious they are.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Shane – I’m sure they are happier in terms of the money they are earning, but I just think that this type of tourism is not too sustainable overall. And unfortunately, the Balinese are apparently changing their own behavior and attitudes under the influence of these tourists, which, while quite possibly something that is unavoidable, is definitely unfortunate. Sounds like your experience back in 2002 was about as opposite to mine as possible!

  45. Gray says:

    I cannot tell you how reading this both appalled and saddened me. I wish the Balinese people had the financial resources outside of tourism that they could just throw these jerks out of their country the minute they land. You’re right. Tourists like this shouldn’t be allowed outside their home countries. Or outside their homes, period. They’re not just treating the Balinese people with disrespect, they’re treating all of humanity with disrespect.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Gray – I share the exact same frustration and that is the problem with tourism. The appeal of tourism dollars often becomes too strong for a place to resist and so they put all of their resources into that one industry, eventually leaving them with no other source of income. As for the tourists, I will forever believe that the least we can do when traveling abroad is to show a reasonable level of respect to the country we are visiting. It’s quite disturbing that some people can’t even do that.

  46. Forest says:

    Earl, I 100% agree, that is disgraceful. This is one of the main reasons I tend to avoid any tourist hotspot (yes I know I live in Egypt!).

    Poor Bali people :(

    • Earl says:

      Hey Forest – Well, I think whenever we live somewhere, as opposed to just visiting, we often live a life separate from that of the tourists that pass through. And Egypt is a large place so it’s a bit more difficult for foreigners to come and take over the place!

      Good to hear from you by the way! I hope you’ve been well and even more importantly, safe during the recent changes in Egypt.

  47. What you described sounds like the island in the Pinocchio where all the bad little boys turned into asses.

    However, if this place, as shameful lewd and wrong as it may be, has helped you in your conscious journey, if its ugliness has helped you and other travelers turn inward, observe your actions more closely and make a pact with yourself on how you will present yourself in your travels then I would say Kuta has served some higher purpose.

    Or this could be high-minded drivel…;)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Joshy – I don’t think it’s high-minded drivel at all. I really try hard to avoid judging the way people travel but this time the situation exceeded my limit of tolerance. And I also think it is important to take something positive away from this so just like you said, the best I can do is to use this experience to make sure I don’t partake in such behavior myself during my own adventures.

    • Chais says:

      Great post and a very motivating blog!

      My wife and I just spent one month in Bali and we really enjoyed our time there. We had a similar negative experience with tourism while we were in Kuta…we also said that it reminded us of Pinocchio’s Land of Toys.

      I have to admit, even though we weren’t wearing our swimming suits in the airport, we did have our own ‘when in Rome’ experience, that probably wouldn’t have happened without the craziness that is Kuta. We had our first shroom experience (being that they’re legal and all) and it was a fabulous time locked away in our hotel room!

      Kuta was a love/hate experience for us.
      Being budget backpackers on this trip, we didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on alcohol, so we played in the ocean, tanned and cruised around on our motorbikes.

      The only things we were disgusted with by the time we left, were the constant calls of “Massaaage?”, “Motorbike?”, “Transport?” and the awful t-shirts, stickers and penis bottle openers.

      The locals were incredible, we will go back just to spend some time with them!

      Thanks again for the post and for giving us a way to share our experiences about Bali.
      ~Chais

      • Earl says:

        Thanks for the comment Chais! I completely understand that love/hate relationships with Kuta, especially considering that every traveler has their own travel style. It is good to see that the one consistent comment about Bali seems to be that the locals were incredible. Few people will disagree that!

  48. Blair Marett says:

    Hi there,

    I went to Bali in Nov of 2009 in the middle of Schoolies (the Australian Spring Break). We stayed the majority of our time at a hotel on the edge of Legian/ Kuta. We were all young kiwi travelers (18-19) however we never went to Bali for a piss trip, we went to see all Bali has to offer. I completely agree that such behavior is appalling and I too find it heartbreaking to watch such friendly people selling such crap. We did spend a lot of time seeing the temples and culture and it was amazing. However we did spend time in kuta, shopping (not for the items listed above =), eating and at the beach. The one night we did go into town, the drunken behavior was obvious as expected. However, we never noticed it during the day and staying on the edge of Kuta (only 10 min to heart) we never had our sleep interrupted. Yes, well shops do sell trashy tourist “souvenirs”, I found most shops don’t or offer other items and Kuta does offer some wonderful spas, restaurants and real souvenirs. This may have changed since I was there, but I say don’t rule out Kuta and staying a little out and you will have a great sleep but i wouldn’t recommend more than 3 days =).

    • Earl says:

      Hey Blair – Thank you so much for your sharing your experiences! And I’m quite glad that you brought up some of the positive aspects of Kuta as well. I think that since I was completely caught off-guard, all I could think about was turning around and getting as far away from Kuta as possible. But had I known what to expect ahead of time and knew what positive aspects to look out for, I’m certain my experience would have been much different, just as your experience was. Staying on the edge of Kuta seems like a wise idea to me and as long as one visits other parts of the island as well, I’m sure it would actually be quite pleasant.

  49. Adam @ SitDownDisco says:

    Ok, I’m going to call it… Many of the comments here smack of elitism. I don’t love kuta, but then again I don’t hate it. It serves a purpose as a cheap party destination for hundreds of thousands of people and I spent almost 3 weeks there recently and appreciated it for what it was. I’d prefer almost any other place in Bali to kuta, but different people go on vacation for different reasons… Most people there love to drink, party and have sex. Good on them.

    I don’t pity the Balinese. Without tourism, that place is bankrupt and everyone works in the ricefields… This is progress and it’s not for wealthy westerners to dictate to them how their progress works…

    I actually found it fun to eat cheap food, drink cheap beer and watch the masses go about their business. :)

    Having said all of that, I do understand the alternative point of view because I shared it up until very recently.

    • Dave says:

      Anything can be justified in the name of ‘progress’.

      I don’t personally believe that Kuta would be bankrupt without the kind of tourism that has destroyed anything nice about the place – other places on the island apparently manage without such ‘progress’ just fine – but each to their own. I haven’t been there, so can’t comment with any real authority either way.

      • Of course anything can be justified in the name of progress. But the alternative for the Balinese is to live like the other 200 million Indonesians that have absolutely no hope of breaking the cycle of poverty. At least enterprising young Balinese can have a crack at the tourism market and some do just fine. The rest have jobs which in Indonesia is something that most don’t have. People travel all across Bali and Java to land a job in Kuta because the thought of having to toil in the ricefields all day is awful.

        Kuta is the way it is because it serves the massive demands placed upon it by tourists. Tourists want the cheap food and beer, the parties and the Indonesians serve it up perfectly. Speak to any Balinese person and they will say that Kuta is necessary and many love the jovial atmosphere there.

        I think it’s wrong to deny the Balinese the trappings of modernity through the injection of tourist cash just because we don’t like the way it looks.

        • Earl says:

          Hey Adam – I just think that it’s almost as elitist to claim that our version of modernity is the solution for poverty-stricken Bali. Is turning a once peaceful, beautiful location into a trash filled ‘sh*t hole’ (using the words of several others who have commented) a positive step forward? There is definitely more money coming in but surely there are more sustainable methods of integrating tourism that don’t have such negative effects on the people and their environment. Sadly (to me) the tourists that arrive in Kuta could care less about what Kuta becomes and that is where a good portion of the problem lies.

          • Yeah, I agree with you there. It’d be ideal to have a better form of tourism in Bali and the local authorities are constantly trying to attract a higher class of tourist who will inject more money into the local economy. But when they do that, they create places like Nusa Dua which is a disgrace of a totally different kind – a gated community of 5 star resorts with no culture. Worse than I can probably describe.

            I also agree about the attitudes of some of the people that don’t care about Indonesia, the people or the environment… I’m sure they’re the same back in their home towns.

            Despite the trashiness, I saw A LOT of backpackers in Kuta who stated they hated the place, but were lapping up all the trappings – cheap food, beer and surfing. I love to see how people react to the place!

          • Earl says:

            Hey Adam – I know what you’re saying and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if a lot of people who say they don’t like Kuta end up spending a week or more there partaking in the very same activities they condemn!

          • James says:

            Agree with Adam. I’d take Kuta over Nusa Dua any day.

            I’ve been to Bali many times. The problem in Kuta is not just bad tourists. It’s Indonesians (often from Java) who come to get rich quick by hassling and ripping off the tourists, who in turn react in an understandably hostile way.

            I’m a polite, respectful traveller, but I’ve felt quite resentful in Bali. I’ve had Indonesians spit at me for refusing a taxi ride. I’ve had hawkers grab my arm and shove things in my face. I’ve had many many vendors who won’t take no for an answer.

            But then I’ve had wonderful experiences there, and met lovely people. I guess the world is full of all sorts.

      • Sophia says:

        Also, I don’t this this is so much an argument about the ills of progress – as Earl pointed out there a host of other huge hots spots where the visitors still show some respect of local people and culture. This is about attitude and respect. And I don’t think it’s elitism in the way that Adam says at all – in fact – quite the reverse. It’s the arrogance and ignorance of particular tourists who think that THEY are superior to the local culture and therefore totally disregard and disrespect the local people. I am in total agreement with Earl, Dave and Rachel above…When I travel, I got to LEARN something, and I hold the culture that I am visiting in regard as my teacher… quite the opposite of elitism.
        Thanks

        • Sophia says:

          sorry – “go to” not got to…
          Oh and one aside comment – and this WILL sound elitist, but if I were to agree with Adam, I would have to say “well, I suppose the uneducated trash have to holiday somewhere!”

        • Yeah, but these people act the same way in their own country. They get on the booze, have sex and make fools of themselves. When they go on holiday, they just do it every night of the week and the local people make money off it. Fair play to them.

          As I said before, the attitudes you’re talking about are not for me so I understand the other point of view.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Adam – Thank you for sharing the alternative point of view. I was actually waiting for someone to take that stance :)

      I do see what you’re saying although I tend to believe that this is not exactly sustainable progress for the Balinese. Eventually, once it is stripped completely of any culture and visitors have had enough and decide to move on to the next destination, the Balinese will be left with nothing. I’ve seen this happen all too often in the Caribbean in regards to the cruise industry. Entire islands and countries throw all their marbles into the tourism game and then as soon as tourists get tired of one island, they move on to the next, leaving the first place with even less income than before tourism even arrived. Also, much of the ‘progress’ in Kuta is actually controlled by wealthy westerners (according to my Balinese friends), many of whom are the ones that are funding all of this development. They swoop in, spot an income opportunity, build their restaurants and hotels, take their share of the tourism revenue and then get out when the time is right. So in the end, I don’t think the locals are benefiting as much as it may seem.

      And I do understand that everyone goes on vacation for different reasons but I still have a difficult time accepting that it is ok for people to travel abroad without showing any respect for the country they are visiting. When tourists throw trash on the ground, treat locals as second class human beings and feel its their right to stumble around the streets drunk with complete disregard for local customs, that just doesn’t sit well with me.

      However, as you pointed out, Kuta does serve a purpose for some travelers. I’m just glad that the type of behavior I witnessed is confined to this one small area and has yet to spread to other parts of the island.

  50. Rachel says:

    Sadly, there are other places that are becoming tacky. Beaches in Baja California turn insane around Spring Break: full of half-naked drunken teenagers screaming and puking. Nepal – Kathmandu -was horrible for a few years when it was overtaken by “hippies” who did nothing but smoke dope, drink and make asses of themselves. Greek Islands turn into shrieking, insane parties that ruin everything Greek. Rio de Janiero is a zoo.
    It will continue as long as governments prefer the almighty dollar to preserving the integrity of their land. A few arrests is all it would take to bring it all to a halt.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rachel – Unfortunately, you are correct. When it comes to tourism, the dollar usually wins.

      • Sophia says:

        Thank you Earl and Rachel too. I am really relieved to hear that others have had the same thoughts and experiences as me. It’s heart breaking… and the part that get’s my hackles up the most is the treatment of locals as servants and sub-human.

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