Negative tourism in Bali

When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong

Derek Indonesia, Perspectives 273 Comments

(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 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.


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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Comments 273

  1. Pingback: Are these the most overrated places in the world?How Dubai, Venice and Los Angeles have left some tourists sorely disappointed | Discount Holidays

  2. Sydney

    Totally agree – I first went to Bali in 1983 (ouch feeling old!!) and even back then I knew enough to not even stop in Kuta – sadly it seems it has only deteriorated even further. I took a tuktuk straight from the airport and straight past Kuta – and have never regretted it. (I think I’m about the only person that has been to Bali more than once and never been to Kuta.) A perfect blog and a timely reminder to us all to respect and enjoy the local places and people, not inflict our worst selves on them!! Anyone thinking of going to Bali – go – but just dont go to Kuta – and yes do go to other islands as well. Indonesia is quite varied.

  3. Lea

    I have just finished 15 days in indonesia.
    As an experienced traveller i decided after my research that i would only spend 4 days in bali as i had other things i wanted to do like go to flores and see the komodo dragons and i know that i normally enjoy quieter places which are not so touristy. However i did want to go to Ubud and i needed to relax so i decided to get a nice hotel in Kuta. I wish i had researched more but in my ignorance i just thought Bali sounds too touristy so i will only stay 4 days and it wont matter where i am. The lonely planet said most people head to Kuta so i booked an expensive hotel for a few nights before i headed to lombok. Anyway Kuta is like Magaluf but with australians. Its dirty the beach is filthy and whomever is doing the PR for Bali deserves a promotion as it is not the white sand paradise i had envisaged. Its awful. The best thing about it is the Shopping centre. And that is not what i go 10000 miles around the world for.
    I arrived in the other kuta in Lombok. It is more a backpacker style place and i actually felt i was in asia. There are very nice beaches and activities to do. I climbed Rinjani and headed onto to Flores. I would say Indonesia needs to clean up its act its filthy. Its a shame as if it was clean it would be gorgeous. The clean parts are. Especially Flores. But the filth everywhere ruins it. Also indonesia has a large poplulation and if like me you dont like crowds you may find Flores the best island near to Bali. The food is good and i loved Flores and the islands of Rinca and komodo the boat cruise was fantastic. Just be aware of travel delays and also safety. Watch out for rough seas if you go out of season fly. I flew as im nervous on a boat and from lombok to flores it takes4 days. My advice dont go to Kuta but i wished id seen other parts of Bali.

  4. Carol

    I lived in Kuta for 5 yrs in the early 90’s…I was the only westerner living in a very local alley, & I LOVED it…
    When I returned to Bali in 2000, to see in the millenium, my heart broke to see what was happening to Kuta…it was being ruined by greedy developers, & boorish tourists….

    I have never returned!

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  6. Justina

    Hi Earl, I agree with everything you said!
    This is the reason why I wouldn’t waste a minute of my precious time for Kuta. I love beaches so I stayed in Sanur which is a lovely quiet little town (went early November) with fantastic people and great night food market (finally food which is as spicy as I want it!Which is super spicy) For temples and Monkey Forest (brilliant place where animals are free and happy) I moved on to Ubud. Next time I visit Bali (and I can’t wait to go, it is actually my favourite place on Earth) I will stay in Sanur again and then move up north to explore other temples. I am also thinking about Lombok, what are your thoughts on that place? I imagine it would be quite peaceful 🙂
    I understand why you felt ashamed to be a traveller over there. I actually had a really nice conversation with my driver on a way from the airport to my hotel and we discussed places I want to visit. I made a massive point to say I WILL NOT BE GOING TO KUTA, I’m not one of them 🙂 he seemed happy to hear that.

  7. Silvia

    As a 20-something traveller going to be in Bali in a week, I thank you for this very interesting read.
    In my travels across Europe, Australia and now Asia I always tend to avoid this kind of places. I think this kind of tourism makes beautiful places all look the same: I haven’t been to Khao San Road or Cancun, but it’s not very hard to tell Kuta from Ibiza, or Magaluf in Spain, or any other location raped by ignorant tourists.
    Most of my peers are happy with the availability of western lifestyle, McDonalds, and “cheap shots” everywhere but when I travel I like to find some authenticity and something unique for each country.
    At the same time, I am a traveller on a budget just like my peers, and it’s not fair when the only cheap and affordable areas are the trashy, noisy ones.
    I would love to find accomodation in Bali somewhere convenient for transport and not expensive, and I really hope my only option is not limited to Kuta.
    Since the author and many commenters seem to know Bali in a whole pretty well: is there any area that would allow to spend as little as in Kuta, but maintaining Bali’s dignity and character?
    I thank you all very much in advance.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Silvia – If you head to the NE corner of the island, around the village of Amed, you’ll find a completely different destination…it’s inexpensive, beautiful and a great place to spend some time.

    2. Justina

      Hi Silvia,
      Stay in Sanur if you want the beach, it is very quiet and relaxed, they have a wide range of accomodation, maybe not as cheap as Kuta but still cheap. And if you have your dinners at the night market, you can feed yourself for couple of quid 🙂
      Also it’s very easy to reach Ubud from Sanur and that is the place to be for cheap accomodation and it has the best food on the island!
      Don’t even think about going to Kuta, it is a waste of time. I went to both Sanur and Ubud in November last year, had lovely weather and didn’t get dengue!! So happy about that, I’m not as tough as Earl 🙂

    3. Expat in Bali

      Hi Silvia,
      If you get out of Kuta and go north up towards Candidasa and up towards Amed, you will find peace, tranquility and very affordable accommodation. Take a fast boat to the Gillis – same thing. Kuta is for hoons.

  8. George Sassons

    I am an older Australian, (very old) and on a whim I booked a Christmas holiday(for one) in Bali staying at Kuta Central Park Hotel and flying Jetstar (18th to 28th Dec 2014) because the flight and the hotel were on special there is no cancellation refund, having read your and other blogs with regards to Kuta I am forgoing the holiday and I will be staying at home. It turned out to be a very expensive Christmas, no more whims but more research. Thanks for the blog, Regards George Sassons

  9. Marie

    My friend is indonesian and doesn’t recommend visiting Bali at all because of the negative effects of tourism. She told me Lombok was how Bali used to be and to go there instead when I planned to visit.

    1. Justina

      Hi, you should definitely visit Bali, it has tge most beautiful temples, and the atmosphere everywhere apart from Kuta is fantastic. There are many little towns along the eastern and northern coastline which I’m planning to explore next time I’m there but I can tell you from my experience that if you go to Ubud you will not regret it. Plus the shopping in Ubud is just on another level – all handmade, gorgeous things, it’s a shame I didn’t have an extra suitcase for all thiose stunning items! And I’m not a souvenir lover at all. Lombok is also great if you want a beach holiday and I would like to go there too, but for culture that is one of a kind – go to Bali 🙂

    2. Dave B

      It is really worth a visit. My wife and I have been several times. There are some trashy places (as there are in every country) but Bali offers a wide variety of options. Go and decide for yourself. Thanks to the internet you can research so easily these days.

  10. Sandy

    I just spent 5 weeks in Bali this summer. My friend and I took a cab to Kuta one night out of curiosity. It just so happened that there was a power outage that night. We walked around briefly, staying away from bars and such, but that was it. That was enough. The rest of my 5 weeks there was amazing. There are so many places to see that are beautiful and magical. We stayed in Balangan, Canggu, Pemuteran, Nusa Lembongan, Sanur, and Ubud. The Balinese were incredibly kind and welcoming to me and I made friends everywhere I went. I would go back in a heartbeat!

    1. Dave B

      Book and go. Bali is a wonderful destination. We spend 5 nights in Kuta. It was really great. Did not frequent the discos and the hell hole called Legian Street. Some wonderful places to eat and just nice people. Have also stayed in Ubud ,Sanur, Nusa Dua and Legian. If you can try and visit Lombok or Lembongan islands. They are Faaaantastic.

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  12. Sheila

    I’m an Indonesian living in the States over the past decade now and I’d say that fortunately I’ve never gone to Bali. I actually have no desire to even go there partly because of some of the things I’ve learned for years that you already mentioned here. My husband is American and he went there already for a mission trip. He didn’t enjoy Bali as much of the things you mentioned here. I personally think that Bali local government need to take more efforts to create a culturally clean island by not compromising certain things that will pollute the local cultures. They have to be able to stand up for the cultural values they have for centuries. I think good cultural education to face these shock cultures that others have brought from other countries need to be screened properly and those inappropriate ones need to eliminated. I feel terrible for the local Balinese people for their lack of understanding of cultural corruption that can later diminish their cultural values and for compromising on some of the inappropriate foreign cultures for the sake of tourism industry and in order for them to put food on the table. I will see what I can do. I know one of Indonesian consulate generals here and I’ll see if I can bring up these issues you have experienced in Bali and propose to this idea to have a more clean and healthy atmosphere for foreigners to visit Bali. I think this way, people especially those who bring their young ones will have a good piece of mind about visiting Bali or any other parts of Indonesia. Thank you Earl or Derek for bringing up these important issues and I’m sorry for your unfortunate experience visiting Bali. Thank you for sharing your great journeys with the world and take care!

    1. Justina

      Hi Sheila,
      I hope you realize Kuta is a very small part of Bali and majority of this gorgeous island is perfecly flooding with culture, tradition and everything you might possibly want. I think it would be great for you to go and see it – it is probably quite different from the rest of Indonesia as it is buddist while majority of the country is muslim. So you might benefit from experiencing different architecture, different customs,perhaps different food you would get on other islands. I’m looking forward to going to Java and Flores Islands one day but Bali will always be a special place for me. I don’t think anyone wants a ”culturally clean” island, this sounds a bit staged and sterile to me. Avoid Kuta (which is very easy to do) and enjoy 🙂

  13. Nina

    my god i heard its a horrible place but this seriously is insane! i just want to leave this place.. what a bad way to finish a journey!

  14. Anna

    I’ve been in Kuta for one day and it’s too much already. I totally agree with you and I’m gld it’s not just me. After Ubud and Sanur, Kuta is a big horrible shock, getting out of here as soon as I can. It’s a shame that Kuta is ‘Bali’ to some people – I feel like I’m in a different country from the wonderful Balinese culture I’ve discovered already!

  15. Vicki

    Max do go to Bali, you fly into the Kuta area as this is where the airport is. Take a cab to Sanur which is a very nice area as far as tourist areas go. Then go to Ubud, look on Airbnb for a place to stay and choose one a little out of the town centre and enjoy a true Balinese Village Life experience. Yes unfortunately tourism is damaging parts of Bali and maybe one-day if it keeps up it will damage the culture but after living in Bali for 3 years I can tell you the culture will remain strong for many generations to come, thank goodness I can say that. Visiting Bali is truly one of the most amazing things one can do, if you have the chance dont miss it. The real Bali is fascinating and the people are wonderfully kind and understanding and they make do with what they have and are grateful and they smile and treat you with respect BUT you must get out of Kuta, KUTA is not the real Bali it is something that the tourist drive has created. Every city has its seedy area and Kuta is Bali’s as Kings Cross is Sydney etc etc. Try not to judge Bali by what goes on in Kuta. Then there are all the wonderfully scenic beaches and dive spots around the island. The beautiful arts and crafts and the temples. Mother most holy temple Besakih Mt Agung, an active volcano which is popular to climb. Visit the temple on the lake, the lake at which the level never changes regardless of how much water is used from it! A very mystical place. Do your self a favour and visit this charming destination in a world were we can all learn a little something from the Hindu Religion that they practice and how to get along as community of 4 million people, it truly is amazing. Thank You Earl for providing a forum for us to be able to express our view and experience. 🙂

  16. Fahmi

    hi, i live in indonesia, and been living in bali for two years. is it true that bali is alittle bit mess today, but i think thats only around kuta (i’ve been exploring bali during my two year stay in bali). there are still many good place in bali you can enjoy,. I personally not too like kuta very much, it’s just to crowded. Try move to the center (ubud, bedugul) or east (amed) even north (singaraja). Youl find peaceful and calm bali atmosphere 🙂

  17. David W.

    Absolutely do not go to Kuta. I myself have flown halfway around the world for no other reason than to not go there. Whenever I feel in danger of going to Kuta, I curl into a fetal ball and remember Anna Basis. Anna lived in mortal fear of being kidnapped and taken by force to Kuta. As a result she never stayed long in any one place. As another result, she was an alcoholic. To keep from going to Kuta, the two of us fell into a ravenous cycle of co-enablement. Our insouciant sharing of found bottles, needles, frequent-flyer points, etc., whilst crawling and groveling through the crapulent haze of seaside bars over five continents and numberless Not-Kutas, was all that kept us going. Finally, after a year-long bender of boozing, juicing, freight train-hopping, levanting from rented basement boiler rooms through the dumbwaiter without our luggage, my vision cleared enough to notice that we had been living for weeks in Kuta. As I pondered how best to nudge Anna into knowledge of this, Anna or something closely attached to Anna nudged me into knowledge of something else, namely that we now had a large family: somewhere in the Kuta-fraught meth-haze of the past month she had had quintuplets on the beach. All were, upon birth, citizens of Kuta, and could not leave without expensive visas. I remember chuckling, a bit, when I saw her: she looked kind of like Gulliver, all of those flailing little bodies pinning her down to the sand. Except Gulliver knew better than to go to Kuta. As I said, I still think of her sometimes. Don’t. Go. To. Kuta.

  18. fenty asnath

    I’m from Indonesia, first I wanna say thanks to wrote this. actually as indonesian, I’m really proud that people arould the world knows about Bali, Indonesia. but the point that you mention in this post is trully my concern. I hope people who travel to bali, knows how to treat my country, knows to act, and respect the locals culture. I know locals in bali doesnt have any choice except deal with bad behaving from worst people. beside that, there are so many recomended place in Bali to visit many recommended places to visit in Bali and Indonesia which did not present the “sex” as an attraction but the beautiful scenery and local cultural wisdom. Happy traveling and please come to Indonesia again..

    1. Dave B

      Good comments. There are some ”not so nice” places in every country. For my my cap is always half full in Bali (never half empty). Have been four times. We will be there again. Wonderful people, wonderful weather and affordable holidays.

  19. Alexei

    I stayed in Kuta for 3 days in 2012, that was more than enough! Fortunately, one of my Indonesian friends from uni, invited me to stay at her family’s home in a tiny beautiful Balinese village called Payangan. What a totally different experience that was!
    Talking about drugs&sex playgrounds, Pattaya in Thailand makes Kuta look like a primary school ! 😉

  20. Anja

    good post. exactly what I ve noticed and experienced. I am enjoying my last day here (not in Kuta) and I have to say that I am shocked and upset seeing ppl behaving like that….Glad that there are still nice places in Bali or Lombok. Only very few Australians go To Lombok. Hope that ll stay like that:-)

  21. Tom

    I am an Australian so I am all too familiar with the kind of ignorant bogans (yes we refer to them as bogans) who go to Kuta to spend a week getting plastered. They are an absolute embarrassment to our country and unfortunately give us all a bad name around the world. To anyone reading this however please understand WE ARE NOT ALL LIKE THAT!

    Luckily they tend to stick to one city and you can easily escape them by jumping on a bus and heading out of town.

    I enjoy partying it up around the world as much as the next guy but you need to understand and respect the customs of where you are.

    Great post, it really needed to be said!

  22. Cody

    Sounds terrible. However, I think that most SE Asian countries have a place like Kuta somewhere in their country. In that sense, it serves a certain type of tourist and the good thing is that that kind of scene and those type of people are usually only found in that certain place and they, for the most part, leave the rest of the country alone. So let them have their place, and just don’t go there.

  23. Dodoydoni

    As Acehness who is still be part of indonesian, i just wanna say i feel ashamed by what your thought about my country. Even i think your traveling stories is true and honestly, i still recomended you to take a trip for other Indonesian tourism place.s There’re several attracted places that could be your destination, such as wakatobi, Toba Lake, Samosir, and specially Sabang island which is nearest to my place, Banda Aceh.

    And talking about Kuta, i’ve never been there. This stories, i also heard from many friends who complaining to australian tourist. They said that Australian always take some bad habbits at Kuta all the time.

    If you want to go sabang, just email me : or skype right after your email got me.

  24. Max Reddin

    As a regular (2 or 3 times a year) visitor to Bali it disgusts me to see Australians acting and reacting in the way you describe.My wife and I never venture into Kuta.As far south as we go is Seminyak and even then we isolate ourselves behind the walls of a private villa and venture out only to eat or walk on the beach.
    However our love for Bali and its people will continue.We have discovered the real Bali in a village 10 minutes south of Ubud. NO tourists,NO shops,NO clubs.The place is quaint,realistic,amazingly cheap AND so peaceful.So much so that I almost regret telling you this.
    Anyone contemplating a real holiday in Bali should think about areas away from Kuta and you will be guaranteed a wonderful time

  25. Richard Crest

    I think sometimes we need to get to used to it that tourism could be worst. However o agree that there are parts of Bali that are amazingly wonderful. You can check out their top tourism spots.

  26. Barbara

    I was really saddened reading this. It makes me ashamed to be a traveler at times. Your post is a wake up call to all of us. Not that we are guilty of such behavior but that we as travelers need to be sensitive to others at all times!

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  28. Stephanie

    Hi Earl,
    A friend just shared with me your site and what you said about Bali. I am so sad for your experience. This makes me want to cry. I love Bali with all of my heart. I went there in Dec of 2002 and fell in love with it immediately. My husband and I traveled all over, only going to Kuta for one day, which most of it we spent on the beach. But, it was nowhere as bad as you made it seem. I am sure a lot has changed though since 2002. But, please do not take this as a reference to Bali as a whole. Bali is such an amazing and wonderful place. Never have I encountered such warm, giving, and loving people. For, anyone reading this trying to decide to go to Bali or not, GO! Just avoid Kuta. Go to the small towns and villages, this is where you can see the real Bali.

  29. Doz

    I can identify with your observations, Earl. However, I can also add that the impact of disrespectful tourists on the Balinese (and Indonesians in general) includes an unhealthy disrespect FOR foreigners in Bali. I’ve been associated with Indonesia for many years. I remember my first visit – I’d been traveling for 6 weeks through the islands east of Bali, and upon arriving in Bali, I was taken aback by the masses of oblivious tourists, but I was shocked more than anything by the cold attitude of the locals towards me, particularly in Kuta – it was so alien to what I’d experienced in other parts of Indonesia.
    Since then I’ve lived in Java and made frequent visits to Bali, again to be shocked by the attitude of locals towards me.
    I completely understand that the cold attitude I’ve experienced in Bali is a reaction to bad behaviour by so many tourists. I’ve also noted though, that since marrying an Indonesian and having a family, the attitude towards me has somewhat warmed.
    My point here is that the bad behaviour of tourists in Bali is not lost on the locals. They know what’s going on, and have passed judgement. Most still go home at the end of the day to their Balinese lives and many of them harbour their own prejudices too. I often observe interactions between tourists and locals and note how both view each other condescendingly.

    1. Justina

      Hi Doz,
      Balinese people cold? That is about the last thing I would call them. I travel a lot and met many fantastic people along the way but I must say the balinese are my absolute favourite! I have never been to Kuta and kind of understand why locals would not like people who stay there. But everywhere I have been all I got were smiles, friendly greetings and a lot of help. I felt like I’m not just someone to extort money from (that’s the way I felt in some places, for example Egypt), people really wanted to talk to me and treated me like a proper person. I sometimes feel a bit harrased and bothered in some countries, whether I was with my boyfriend or on my own, but in Bali I felt like everyone had nothing but positive feelings towards me.

      1. Jan

        Justina, I felt exactly in the opposite way. I felt like a walking ATM in Bali. I did not meet a single Balinese who was not trying to extort money from me. None of them was genuinely friendly. I felt the same way in Thailand. The Thai are said to have 99 different smiles, I just felt that 98 of those were fake.
        I met the friendliest people in eastern Turkey, Jordan, Georgia (country, not the US state), Romania (Carpathian mountains), Usambara mountains (Tanzania). Sometimes I was invited to their homes and they never wanted any money. In Indonesia, I met just 3 people who helped me and did not want any money. All of them were in Java, none in Bali. Bali became a place for white trash tourists from Australia and the local were completely corrupted by the tourism and the money. The culture and the religion might have been interesting and unique at some point in the past, but not anymore.

  30. Observer

    Yes Earl, it’s over the top Kuta, but we figured (in 2001) at least it kept those particular Aussies coralled there, meaning less despoilation of the rest of the island. Of course mass tourism always has side effects………
    Mmmmh, maybe you haven’t been to Australia, or don’t have many Australian friends. I suggest you google the Australianism word ‘bogan’; should enlighten you somewhat.
    If it offends, no need to go there, stay in a Balinese village as a local recommended or rent an upmarket villa (with several friends to defray the cost) in the mountains… or visit Lombok…. etc etc
    We loved Indonesia, of course it has it’s problems as a developing country, – but anyway what country doesn’t have problems?

    1. Wandering Earl

      @Observer – I’ve actually spent over 2 years in Australia and most of my friends live in Melbourne, so I’m quite familiar with the term ‘bogan’. And I agree that it’s better to have them all in one place but that still doesn’t mean that it’s not a sad sight to see. And yes, there are problems in every country but it doesn’t hurt discussing those that we come across during our travels…which is what this post is all about. I also love Indonesia, with Sumatra being one of my top places I’ve ever been, but this post isn’t a reflection on Indonesia, just on Kuta.

      1. Justina

        Hi Earl,

        Would you say Sumatra is better than Java? I’m thinking of visiting one of these islands but won’t have the time to see both in one go!

        1. Wandering Earl

          Hey Justina – They are both different and I can’t say if one is better than the other…you just have to go and find out which you prefer!

  31. Sam D

    I completely agree with you Earl! It is disgusting, a similar thing is starting in Thailand, mainly Patong (Phuket) and a little in Koh Samui. Westerners find it so funny but i find it is just embarrassing! Hopefully this trend doesn’t escalate any further, hopefully it so fades (wishful thinking?)

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  33. Putu

    Hi Earl,
    I am a Balinese, currently studying in Australia. I love reading your blog and knowing your thought about Bali (tourism). I also enjoy reading comments form others.

    From my point of view as a Balinese, tourism in my place has a great influence on many aspects of our life; socially, economically, etc. Some influences are positives, unfortunately some are negatives.

    Please keep updating your blog and if possible share your experience (more) about Bali. I hope more people are able to learn from your experience. As a Balinese who will return to Bali in 3 months, I definitely learn a lot. I am not working in the field of tourism, but I will be glad in the future, if you decide to come again to Bali, if I can arrange my time, to give you a free tour to the other sides of Bali that so many foreigners do not know.

    Best regards,

  34. Chris

    Bali is a bubble of so much that is wrong in Australia. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in this country, but for many (especially those less educated and from lower socio-economic backgrounds) Bali is a place to exploit the Balinese people and indulge in many vices people would not dare do at home.

    Many Australians are not even aware that Bali is within Indonesia, thinking it a country unto itself (our government travel warning website has to re-direct them) and it will probably come as no surprise that the 2nd most popular destination is Thailand, more specifically Phuket or Kho Phangan were they also drink to excess and show no appreciation for local culture or local people.

    Sorry for the tirade, but your observations, oh so true, remind me of one of the things I loathe about many tourists from my own country.

    1. James

      I think Australians are a bit too hard on Kuta, and more than a bit travel snobbish. I was there recently staying in the famous Poppies area and didn’t find drunken orgies or rude bogans. Sure there are many tattoo parlours and knockoff shops, but the thing that’s ruining it is not the Australians. It’s the traffic (too many Indonesians with cars), bland shopping malls and poor garbage facilities. When it turns into any other middleclass Asian city, then it will be ruined.

      Stay in Kuta a couple of days, and remember even foreigners are worth people watching. Then go somewhere more cultural or relaxing.

  35. Billw

    Bali is to Aussies what Tenerife is to Europeans. I am an English guy living in OZ and have been to both. However you do not have to go far on the either island to find beauty and tranquility.

    I have been travelling around SE Asia for a year now and unfortunately there are places like Kuta everywhere. The only saving grace is the people who frequent these places tend to STAY in these places and rarely venture outside of their comfort zones.

    I feel for the people who work in these places but given the alternatives you cannot blame then. It is easy to judge.

    There are some fantastic islands around Bali where you can party and have fun without the louts and blaring music.

    Love the blog Earl!

  36. Pingback: The ten commandments of travel | The Nomad Diary. Photography and writing from an American vagabond.

  37. George Saunders

    Indonesia has thousands of islands, and I believe Bali is not the only one for travel destination. Come to Lombok or West Sumatra. They both have beautiful beaches and scenery that not many people know. Now, my next destination is Komodo island, and I’m still saving up for it!

  38. Robyn

    I was very sad to read this. I’m fortunate to have visited Bali in the late 1970s before tourism really took off. Even then Kuta was a bit tacky but nothing like it seems to have turned into now. We stayed at Sanur and found it absolutely beautiful and the people were so friendly and enjoyed joking with us even when they were trying to sell us stuff. It was a trip to remember but I’ve always been glad to remember that and have never wanted to go back and see how tourism has spoiled it.

    One of the worst tourist transgressions I have ever seen was in Bali, though. We went to a huge funeral – as was quite acceptable there. The body was in a huge bull-shaped coffin which was eventually burnt. As the priests and relatives placed precious possessions like fabrics, wrist watches and carvings into the open coffin, a European tourist climbed up on the platform, leaned over the coffin and started taking photos – YIK!!!

    It never ceases to amaze me how embarrassing and insensitive people can be when they travel overseas. Two of my fellow NZers embarrassed us all in Singapore by getting incredibly drunk, abusing waiters and throwing food around. In Australia at Uluru (Ayers Rock) a young German man protested loudly and abusively because you weren’t allowed to walk on the sacred areas, whilst an American couple at the sunset viewing complained that the sunset wasn’t as spectacular as they had been led to believe (it’s better in the wet season, not the dry when we were there) and wanted to know why they didn’t have artificial lighting to make it better!

    The worst ever, though, was a very loud American woman in my own beautiful New Zealand. On a boat trip on Doubtful Sound, the captain turned off the motor and told us to lean over the rail and we would see and hear the sounds as they had been for millions of years since there has been no human intervention. There was no wind and only the sound of myriads of birds – which we heard for all of ten seconds when this very loud, screeching voice started yelling at her children – “Why wont you eat your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – I made them in the motel this morning and now you wont eat them” on and on and on….. She didn’t even notice that her voice was actually echoing around the sound. It was horrendous – however after all these years it is such a family joke that if my sister and I are somewhere where someone acting inappropriately my sister and I just look at each other and say “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!”

  39. jonny

    Whilst I was in San Pedro, near Lago de Atitlán, I overheard a conversation between a drunken British man of about 40, and a friendly Guatemalan man of a similar age. It went as follows:

    Guatemalan: And where are you from?
    British Man: My mother’s c***
    Guatemalan: Oh, cool!

    I quickly searched for the nearest British embassy to renounce my citizenship.

  40. Alyson

    Kuta is vile, I totally agree, there is just nothing nice about it whatsoever. However, I love Bali, I’ve taken the kids and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back for a longer stay. I’ve heard Australians here talking about how horrible Bali was, well, why did you go to Kuta, or anywhere else to stay in a resort and not see what Bali is all about? I wish people would do some research before they go, Bali can be magic. I have a lot of fondness for the Khao San Rd, I love to just hang out there, I’d imagine it gets unpleasant late at night though, we’re in bed by then. Vang Vieng was lovely 11 years ago, very sad to hear it’s gone downhill so quickly

  41. Prajna

    Respect for the local culture is definitely important.. otherwise imagine the kind of stories u ll remember in your old age.. u ll be so ashamed of what u did on ur travels…
    Travels should be something u cherish and not be ashamed of later!

  42. Leif

    O man, that’s really sad. I understand how it happens but I hate seeing it. There are so many shitty westerners who take advantage of the locals. I will never forget this old british guy who hired this kid in nepal to do his bidding. Sure he paid him well but all he did was yell at him.

  43. Dani

    Hi Earl,
    My mom is from Bali and our family used to spend the summer there. And guess where we stayed in 1980’s and even now ? The villages. You get fresh air, great people, front-seat at traditional ceremonies, great view, cool mornings (in some areas) and no tourists. Forget these big resorts where you cocoon yourself and stay in your comfort zone. Whenever I go home, I’ll make an effort to visit my mom’s house in the village and stay there the whole week without going anywhere. That’s a vacation for me. Great blog!

  44. Kevin L.

    Great post, and all too familiar. Insensitive tourism seems to be rising and is mostly instigated by young people (mainly from Britain and Australia, in my experience). An example that comes to mind is Vang Vieng, Laos. This beautiful village surrounded by stunning mountains and rice paddies is tarnished by hordes of youth who come to go “tubing” on the river and get drunk and stoned at the many riverside bars. I recall watching with disgust as an intoxicated couple dressed only in swim trunks and bikini groped one another in the middle of the street, much to the horrified dismay of Lao citizens and their children.

  45. Kieran

    Hi Earl

    I went to Kuta quite a long while back, in September 2002, shortly before the bombings.

    I had only just graduated from university and it was my first long-distance backpacking trip, but even then Kuta was already something of a blight on what was an otherwise beautiful island. I had travelled across Java and into Bali so it was even more of culture shock when I arrived.

    At that time I don’t recall any of those irritating bumper stickers or quite so many cocktails. However there were a very, very large number of ridiculously loud, absurdly drunken and offensive visitors, and a surprising number of Western chain restaurants.

    Rather fittingly, when I woke up in the taxi coming into Kuta the first building I saw was a McDonalds – with more Westerners outside it than I had seen in the previous three weeks combined.

    I was just 21, liked a drink and was keen to have fun. But despite that – and even with limited travel experience – Kuta just felt embarrassing. Or rather I felt embarassed being associated with a lot of the tourists around. I planned to stay a week but ended up leaving after two nights.

    Not much of a surprise that a decade on it is even worse.

    P.S. On a more upbeat tone – great site btw!

    1. Earl

      Thanks Kieran and the good news is that there is so many other places on Bali to visit, places that do offer the experiences that most of us imagine when we think of this island!

  46. Max Flynn

    Hello Earl,
    Sadly the type of Australians who visit Bali are the worst of the worst. We’ve tried feeding these people to sharks, lions, and mountain goats, but the animals just turn up their noses. Earl, may I ask your advice? I vowed I’d never, ever visit Bali, but others have told me that parts of it are incredible, and no-one should miss it. Is it really this perfect, or are other parts of Indonesia just as good? Is it a place for the bucket list? Thanks for all your advice. I’m now going to research your cruise ship book…-Max

    1. Earl

      Hey Max – It’s a tough call as there are indeed parts of Bali that are quite beautiful. With that said, I would personally choose to go somewhere else as, for example, when I compare Bali to my visit to Sumatra a few years earlier, Sumatra stands out as far more memorable. It might not have the beaches and ‘paradise’ feel, but it has incredible volcanic lakes and orangutan-filled forests, as well as a deep culture that visitors can interact with at a level beyond what is possible on Bali. Hope that helps!

      1. Max Flynn

        Thanks Earl, I can safely keep my dignity and avoid Bali. I’d begun to think I needed to get myself some sort of brilliant disguise because I’d feel so much guilt whenever a local looked at me…I’d just started gluing branches to my head when your post came in- I was going to visit disguised as an Australian Greygum. I’ll visit Sumatra instead, without the disguise- wood lice are so hard to get out of your clothes. Cheers- Max

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