(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.
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.
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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Yes Kuta is trashy. Yes Kuta is full of drunken partiers. 75% of the tourists there are from Australia and they go there to get loose and party. They drive the industry there. Yes I do agree that some of the things that go on are in poor taste but the locals pander to that specific element there. Who can blame them for making a buck. Kuta is a place of debauchery and hedionism. There are many pockets like this around the backpacking trail. Pattaya? What Vang Vieng used to be? If you don’t like it. Don’t go. its like going to the red light district in Amsterdam and complaining about the prostitutes or Las Vegas and complaining about the gambling. Do your research before you head to a destination. If you went to the afore mentioned Pattaya and were expecting a family friendly city and still complained I would say bully for you.
Kuta accepts what it is. 10 km down the road in Seminyak and it is all class and expensive restaurants. There are certain destinations that pander to certain clientele. Don’t let Kuta be the distinguishing part of Bali, just accept it for what it is and move on.
Just my two cents.
[…] When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong […]
[…] Kuta is the primary resort town in Bali. However, this is a far different vibe than anywhere else on the island. It’s not for those looking for peace, serenity, or zen by any means. This is the “turn up” area, which reminded me of a cheap island version of Las Vegas or the “Cancun” for Aussies. Basically, it’s all about partying, drinking, and nightlife. It is really the only part of Bali that can be a little shady and seedy, especially Legian Street at night. We did go out to a big club here one night and had a lot of fun, but overall, I was shocked at the very contrasting tackiness found here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s said to be a great place for beaches, surfing, and dining. But it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I will not go as far as other bloggers who have called Kuta “trash” and “disgraceful” but it’s certainly a spectacle. An interesting post on Kuta by Wandering Earl can be found here. […]
Heading to Bali this September and our hotel will be in Kuta. We will keep in mind your thoughts and advise. Thanks!
We (my 13yr old son) and I are looking at our first trip to Bali in Jan 17. Thanks for your write up it has helped me make the decision to spend longer in Ubud (and dive sights) rather than the Kuta area. Having travelled all over SE Asia (as well as other international destinations) the last thing we want is obnoxious and drunk Australians everywhere we turn – (and we are Australian)!!!
Ubud is beautiful!! You could easily spend a ton of time there. If you’re looking for the ocean Canggu is a nice spot too.
[…] When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong […]
[…] This thought-provoking post from Earl of Wandering Earl both grieved me and pissed me off. In “When Tourism Goes Horribly Wrong,” Earl talks about a recent experience in Kuta, Bali where years of sleazy tourism have transformed the landscape of that city to the point where the local culture has practically disappeared. While I’ve never been to Kuta, I’ve seen this happen in so many other places that I know exactly what he’s talking about and agree wholeheartedly. I’ve always felt that travel was about allowing a destination to leave its imprint on you, not the other way around. However, there are much, much larger issues at play. I may have to blog about this soon, but for now read more on Earl’s blog. […]
My wife and 18 month old son just returned from a week in Bali and had a fantastic time. The one main difference is we stayed FAR away from Kuta as we were instructed by my colleagues in Singapore. We stayed at a quiet beach villa in Gianyar (about 1 hour northeast of the airport). We had a great day tour of some local spots in Ubud and spent most of the time relaxing and listening to waves in this local fishing village. The staff at the villa was excellent and all the locals we encountered in Ubud were very pleasant. We have been to Cancun, Costa Rica and Jamaica as well and they all have different levels of tourism negatives. However, we found the influence in this part of the island was very minimal. I’m glad I found your blog because it further verified the decision to stay away from Kuta especially with a wife and small child. This is not a sales pitch for the villa where we stayed, so I’ll keep that private. However, please message me if you would like specifics. Cheers!
[…] Kuta has been ruined by tourism, as Wandering Earl aptly wrote about. It is mostly dirty, and you get dodgy locals offering to sell you magic mushrooms or drugs, openly […]
I am currently travelling across Indonesia and just spent about 8 days in Bali (just 1 day in Kuta). I disagree that the Balinese are such “gentle, friendly, welcoming, smiling people”. Greedy, greedy, greedy, moraly corrupt to such as digree as I have rarely witnessed anywhere else. Google about Mt. Batur mafia, police corruption etc. I was not impressed by their cullture at all. They have the tourist price and the local price, they charge you for breathing their air. Never going there back again.
I agree with what you say but it is a 2 way street Many of the Balinese are very very greedy people and will do anything they can to Make a buck out of tourists. The fact is they don’t care as long as they are making the money And its not some poor Balinese person who owns that shop they are very rich people and they pay their staff peanuts to run those shops. Whilst i don’t agree with selling this awful stuff its definitely come from westerners but its the Locals who know exactly what it means and they are raking in the bucks. At the end of the day Its the Balinese responsibility to stop selling this profanity and also their responsibility to clean up Kuta. But they are raking in the bucks and they don’t have a long term business vision its all about today and what we can make today. I live here and have done so since 2002 and just watch it get worse and worse.
And now for something completely different.
Thanks for the comments Earl so much of what you say I agree with.
My wife and I have just returned home (to Cape Town South Africa) after spending a month in Bali.
This is our fourth visit in as many years.
On each occasion we have spent time in Kuta. Thank heavens we have also experienced the delights of other less commercial spots offered.
People have personal likes and dislikes and there are many of your Kuta comments that we endorse fully . Top of our hate list (possibly too strong a word …possibly frustration is better used) is the bad mannered noisy (often inebriated) Aussies with tattoos covering the majority of their anatomy who believe they can do what they like. They ofter take over (be it the hotel pool, restaurant, beach) and feel that they own the area and make it uncomfortable for our more sedate requirements.
Here are some interesting stats
An average of 120 international flights arrive daily.
An average of 176 domestic flights arrive daily.
Bali has a domestic population of $4.4 million
There are 2.5 million scooters in Bali.
They have in excess of 15 million visitors per year.
Many of these people stream to Kuta (and hey different strokes for different folks) they all cannot be wrong so we try to cut them some slack. We stay in Kuta on Poppies 1 for example. We have found a couple of Balinese style hotels which offer what we are looking for just a chip and a putt away from the madness of Poppies. Yes there are the commercial eateries in the area but there are also some gems serving a mix of local and western food at affordable prices. We stay away from the disco’s and night life of Legian Street but when passing it look extremely hectic. Again each to his or her own.
The bottom line for us is that Kuta is not top of our list but the 5 days of the month spent there was just what we needed .
Nice quiet(sedate and far less commercial) spot compared to Kuta with some very comfortable hotels. There are some fine eateries to choose from. Unfortunately the beaches leave much to be desired . Just flat water, no waves and at low tide an absolute waste of time.
From our first visit to the last stay there have been a massive upswing in numbers and the commercialisation of the town itself. Still some fine (our style) Balinese style hotels (B & B’s) at affordable prices.
A really great destination. Far less commercial and a good vibe. The one and a half hour fast boat trip from Padang Bai can be as bumpy as hell and if you return in the afternoon rough seas it becomes ”not at all nice”. Worth a visit with a wide range of hotels from 6 star to home stays.
GILLI T ….(Trawangan)
If you do not like Kuta you will not enjoy Gili T. Filthy, dirty and just overrun with people of the unsavoury kind. I guess there are some resorts that offer peace and quiet
but the main area is (for us) to be avoided.
A small island a short 30 minute fast boat trip from Sanur is interesting. Very very basic, unspoilt with tracks rather than roads makes it a welcoming attraction. Great sunsets, cold Bintang’s but forget about nightlife if that is what you are looking for. Accommodation from the basic to the opulent. A really good place to visit (well for us it was)
Coming from South Africa our currency is one to one so we do not have the luxury that the Aussies do ……. with ten to one so we are careful on our budget. In Bali generally we can do that. My wife and I work for 11 months and take a month off just to chill and unwind and get ready for the next eleven months.
We love the local people, polite friendly and understanding. Bali is to us a paradise destination.
Kuta is part of it and we will always spend part of our holiday there.
The downside is that because of it affordability and location to Australia (sorry for the …but it is not a generalisation but a fact) many of the visitors that frequent Kuta in particular cannot afford to holiday in Australia because of the price so we have to bear the brunt of their brashness in Bali. There is something for everyone in Bali. You just have to find what suits you. Look and you will find it.
Any opinions on Jimbaran or Seminyak? Those were the places i was looking at for our 1 year anniversary before I read all this awfulness about bali. It is a long flight and big investment from Canada. I was afraid to be disappointed so we may go somewhere else now. I was so looking forward to the culture though. The elephants, the temples, the flower markets. Im very disappointed.
I also think Gili T main street it’s a smaller version of Kuta minus the traffic (and that’s a huge advantage). With the difference that once you go inland (there’s not that much inland, but still), everything changes a lot. No drunks, no loud people, mostly locals who barely speak English and the odd yoga place, schools, etc. It’s a whole different world.
The main street tho… I think I risked my life everytime I ventured there between drunk and obnoxious pedestrians, drank and obnoxious cyclists, and the donkey carts.
I still met some of the nicest Indonesians there and became and stayed friends with them.
[…] that culture has been destroyed on the islands by increased tourism. Earl, who pens a blog called wanderingearl.com5, wrote: ‘Never before in my life have I come across such a disgraceful scene of tourism gone […]
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.
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.
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!
[…] gets a bad rap from most travel bloggers for being “the most vile place on earth” and a “disgraceful scene of tourism gone wrong”. With that being said, I agree with Kuta not being the place you should go if you’re looking […]
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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
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.
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 🙂
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.
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!
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.
[…] Kuta is an example of tourism gone horribly wrong but escape Kuta and Bali is once again beautiful where the enchanting culture is remarkably resilient considering the 2.5 million tourists Bali receives each year. […]
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!
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 🙂
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!
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!
Agree with you Fahmi, nicely said 🙂
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. 🙂
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 🙂
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.
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..
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.
It’s so sad how tourism can sometimes bring out the worst in people and places and ignorance in tourists can add to problems
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 ! 😉
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:-)
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!
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.
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 : [email protected] or skype right after your email got me.
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
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.
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!
[…] 1. Treat another person’s country as you would treat their home. To travel is to be an unofficial ambassador of one’s home country, and therefore a shaper of that society’s reputation. We play this role inevitably, whether we like it or not; there is no element of choice in the matter. Nearly everything we do will have at least a small effect on the locals’ perception of our country and its people. Whether or not they view our homeland in a positive light depends largely on the level of respect we show for theirs. Sadly, this reality is often lost on a certain brand of tourist, and the results can be shameful. […]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
@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.
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!
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!
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?)
I second that, Patong was disgusting.
[…] The majority of our time spent in Thailand was on the island of Koh Chang, about 6 hours bus ride south of Bangkok and a 40 minute ferry ride across the bay. My overall impression of the island itself is sort of mixed. Much like most exceedingly beautiful places in the world the disease of mass tourism has struck complete with massive, all-inclusive (code word for no reason to leave) resorts to some degree. That being said we were able to find nice spots outside of that part of the island and place ourselves as close as we could to the ground and the people who call the island home. I mean it’s nowhere near this bad. […]
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.
Thanks so much for your comment Putu and I will keep on writing for sure!
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.
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.
It’s horrible to know that :/ , but as I know u can find great people in Kuta and amazing traditional ceremonies !
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!
[…] 1. Treat another person’s country as you would treat their home. To travel is to be an unofficial ambassador of one’s home country, and therefore a shaper of that society’s reputation. We play this role inevitably, whether we like it or not; there is no element of choice in the matter. Nearly everything we do will have at least a small effect on the locals’ perception of our country and its people. Whether or not they view our homeland in a positive light depends largely on the level of respect we show for theirs. Sadly, this reality is often lost on a certain brand of tourist, and the results can be shameful. […]
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!
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!”
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.
Come to Gili Air!
I’ve been on the road 4 years.
Only place I came back to…
Let me know if u r here, I’ll show u all its secrets. 🙂
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
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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!
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 🙂
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!
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.
[…] If you ever go to Bali, DO NOT miss the north of Gili T … unless of course you’re reading this in 2025 and Gili T has become a new Kuta. […]
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.
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!
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?
[…] “appalling” – Wandering 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 (https://samsplayground.com/getting-the-most-from-a-travel-destination/). Please check it out, I’d love to hear your comments.
Hey Sam – Thanks for the mention in your post!
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?
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.
[…] I can’t even put into words how I feel about that place now after reading about it on Wandering Earl’s site, “When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong.” […]
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.
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.
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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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.
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!
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.
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!!
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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?!
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.
[…] 3. Most Controversial Post When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong […]
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!
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…
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!
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 🙂
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! 🙂
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!
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.
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.
[…] travel bloggers are really disappointed by Kuta. I was really taken aback to read these accounts. I love these blogs but I […]
What I don’t get is why does anyone buy those shirts??!
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
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 🙂
[…] island of Bali, has morphed into a serious tourist ghetto. The topic has recently been broached by Wandering Earl, as well as Adventurous Kate, which reminded me of this photo I took during my stay in […]
[…] island of Bali, has morphed into a serious tourist ghetto. The topic has recently been broached by Wandering Earl, as well as Adventurous Kate, which reminded me of this photo I took during my stay in 2008.When […]
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.
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: https://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2062604,00.html
And thanks for your comment!
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!
[…] If you’ve researched Bali tourism, you may have heard that – but for me, I found that guidebooks mostly glossed over this fact. However, many travel bloggers wrote eloquently about this, none of them better than Wandering Earl. […]
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.
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.
[…] This thought-provoking post from Earl of Wandering Earl both grieved me and pissed me off. In “When Tourism Goes Horribly Wrong,” Earl talks about a recent experience in Kuta, Bali where years of sleazy tourism have transformed the landscape of that city to the point where the local culture has practically disappeared. While I’ve never been to Kuta, I’ve seen this happen in so many other places that I know exactly what he’s talking about and agree wholeheartedly. I’ve always felt that travel was about allowing a destination to leave its imprint on you, not the other way around. However, there are much, much larger issues at play. I may have to blog about this soon, but for now read more on Earl’s blog. […]
[…] This thought-provoking post from Earl of Wandering Earl both grieved me and pissed me off. In “When Tourism Goes Horribly Wrong,” Earl talks about a recent experience in Kuta, Bali where years of sleazy tourism have transformed the landscape of that city to the point where the local culture being has practically disappeared. While I’ve never been to Kuta, I’ve seen this happen in so many other places that I know exactly what he’s talking about and agree wholeheartedly. I’ve always felt that travel was about allowing a destination to leave its imprint on you, not the other way around. However, there are much, much larger issues at play. I may have to blog about this soon, but for now read more on Earl’s blog. […]
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.
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.
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!
@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.
[…] Am I?ArchivesPhotosLinksWander FundContact MeWorld Travel Guides When Tourism Goes Terribly Wrong »Let’s Get To Know Each Other BetterBy Earl, on March 17th, 2011 | 0 commentsMy route […]
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 🙁
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.
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…;)
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.
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.
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!
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 =).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hey Rachel – Unfortunately, you are correct. When it comes to tourism, the dollar usually wins.
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.
I would like to know at Kuta in Bali if their is any police rounding up people who are disorderly? I would never wear such shirts with offensive messages as described. Besides, I don’t like being a walking bill board for any kind of messages. One more thing is behave yourself in public and pull up your pants. I would think that any parent would want to be a good role model for their kids.
Hey Jack – I didn’t really see any police during my stay in Kuta. And I certainly didn’t see anyone rounding up disorderly tourists. For the most part, they were just left alone to continue stumbling down the road…
A heartbreaking post about the dark side of tourism. Considered Kuta a few weeks ago but went to KL – Cameron Highlands – Langkawi instead, glad I didn’t go! Think your post is a great reminder for that we all have a responsibility to show respect when visiting other cultures. Travel is about learning and experiencing new cultures not to forcefeed them our own. Thank you for a great post, a good reminder and hope your trip back to the US isn’t because of something too serious
Hey Olov – I appreciate the comment and hopefully your trip to Malaysia was well worth it in the end? Those places you visited are thankfully much different than Kuta 🙂
And things for me will be alright, just need to take care of some personal stuff over the next couple of months. Thank you for concern.
[…] otherwise a very good one), but something I read this week jarred. Wandering Earl wrote about the horrors of Kuta in Bali, a place that has been disgracefully ravaged by the sort of Australians who find Two And A […]
I visited Bali a few months ago and completely avoided Kuta for fear that I would be too uncomfortable for the very reasons you described. While I don’t have a problem with people walking around shirtless and in bikinis in Miami, I found it disgusting the way visitors would present themselves to such a gentle, kind, and reserved people. I was really upset that the Balinese viewed me only as someone who wants to be sold to and doesn’t want to engage on a human-to-human level. It’s as if they’ve been convinced to act only as servants to visitors. Even in Sanur, it just made me feel awful that it was visitors that originally got the Balinese to act this way and now I was doing my best to avoid anyone that even gave a hint that they might try to sell something to me. I did manage to have a good conversation with a guy on Gili Trawangan about his janitorial job and how he’s saving money for a house.
Hey Erin – Luckily, all it takes is one conversation like the one you head on Gili Trawangan to make a trip worthwhile! It is difficult to spend time in a place where the tourist/local relationship has been reduced to nothing but buyer/seller as every conversation, no matter how genuine it may appear to be at first, tends to lead right back to money at some point. I think that it was a good idea to give Kuta a skip during your trip to Bali!
i was in kuta for few days last year, in the beginning it felt good until i got fed up with those young restless travelers. i moved to ubud and felt totally different. i think kuta is good for 1-2 days, not more than that
I’ve heard of this disgusting part of Bali for many years as an Australian (making me ashamed of my people), but I naively thought that it had evolved/changed since then, with the onset of more ‘serious’ travellers, wanting to cycle around Bali to meet the locals, learn about Balinese culture and also ‘have a spiritual experience’/meditate (especially since the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ phenomenon). But this clearly hasn’t changed the distasteful nature of Kuta and the kinds of people who still go there for the same reasons, the Aussies of whom almost treating Kuta as an outer suburb of Darwin…which is devastating.
But I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed yourself and had a more authentic experience when you travelled around Bali to meet its people and see its landscapes, and it’s especially wonderful that you said the Balinese were friendly and kind to you (you’d think they’d have licence to be very curt/angry with foreigners, considering the disrespectful tourists who come there in droves)…it’s heartening that this Bali still exists!
By the way, Earl, I wish you a hassle-free entry into the US…I’m worried about your chances of having another crazy interrogation session, what with Lebanese, Syrian and Iraqi stamps in your passport! Best of luck, man! (But even if they do give you a hard time at the airport, I’m sure you’ll have a riveting story to post about it! 🙂
Hey Sharni – I’ll admit, it was surprising that the local Balinese people still kept their smiles and were still so friendly and kind despite the lack of respect shown to them on a daily basis. They are just such warm people and the ones I met seemed especially happy to speak with a sober traveler who wasn’t simply demanding things from them.
As for my re-entry back into the US, it could be an interesting experience….again. Let’s hope not but either way, there will be a post about it I’m sure 🙂
Interesting post.I now know what to avoid when I visit Bali.
How would you compare Kutu to Pattaya? Is it much worse?
Why were you considering going to Chiang Mai in March? This is the time of the year when there is smog because of burning. In addition, it is starting to get real warm and humid at that time of the year.
Hey Richard – I’ve never been to Pattaya so I’m unable to compare the two. As for Chiang Mai, I personally love warm and humid weather so that was something I was actually looking forward to. But I also wanted to go in March because of the great group of other travelers currently living there and because I was planning on spending another Songkran up there as well. There is nothing like Songkran in Chiang Mai!
I highly recommend Chris Taylor’s, (former Lonely Planet guidebook writer), new novel “Harvest Season” about just such a situation, but in an imagined Yunnan village. Just heard him talk at the Beijing Bookworm Intl Literary Festival and he mentioned Kuta, saying that it was a completely ravaged town that will never recover.
Gross, gross, gross! What a shame. I’m pretty sure most of those people wouldn’t behave like that (or wear a t-shirt like that) in their own country.
Hey Rebecca – I’d hope they wouldn’t wear it at home but sadly, I don’t think those buying this stuff in Kuta cared how offensive the words were. These were not your normal tourists at all!
I can’t imagine such a scene. How can foreigners think it’s all right to just knock the locals out of the way, take over their town and then crap all over it? That’s horrible. I’ve never heard of Kuta before this post. I hope some day these type of tourists get kicked out.
Hey Sabina – That’s the thing. I spent most of my time in Kuta wondering exactly how those around me could possibly think it was acceptable to behave in such a manner. Everywhere I looked I was left shaking my head in disbelief. Unfortunately, as long as they keep spending money, nobody is going to kick them out.
I have to agree with you. One of the biggest turn offs for me in terms of travel is arriving somewhere and having it overrun with obnoxious drunks running around like it’s Spring Break in Las Vegas. In fact, that’s enough for me to turn right around and go somewhere else. I’m here on holiday, whether to relax, learn local culture or explore on my own. I don’t need some red-faced guy yelling into my face “Show me your tits!” If I wanted that, I would have headed to Las Vegas.
Hey Connie – That’s the thing, it’s perfectly acceptable to travel somewhere simply to relax or enjoy yourself, but deciding to be drunk every day all day while showing nothing but disrespect to everyone around you, is never acceptable. The good news with Kuta is that it is only a short distance to get away from this terrible scene and find yourself in a much more peaceful and enjoyable part of the island.
I was in Kuta for a week or so in Feb, and I agree with your points, so I don’t have anything negative to say about it – you covered it well.
There’s one positive I can think of, though. If you’re looking to learn to surf, Kuta Beach is really good. I had a great time *trying* to surf there!
Earl, thanks for posting this, and it’s really difficult for me to read, since I’m an Indonesian. My memory of Kuta goes back to my childhood, before 1990, when I and my big family (9 families!) went to Kuta together. I only remember happiness, gorgeous and clean white sand beaches, playing in the big waves with my cousins, and watching sunsets with my mom and aunts.
It’s heartbreaking to hear about the ways that Bali has been corrupted, at least around Kuta. But please keep in mind that it’s not just foreign tourists at fault. Many people involved in the tourist businesses are from other parts of Indonesia, like from Java for example. Or maybe some expats are involved too here?
In many ways, these people are just as responsible for the exploitation of Bali as foreign tourists. They flock there to make a quick buck, and pander to the basest tourists they can attract.
As you have pointed out as well, seems like many of the locals don’t even understand what those phrases on the t-shirts mean. I suspect they can do the literal translation, however yes, you are correct, they probably don’t understand the actual meaning and the cultural references behind it. They probably have no idea how harsh/crude/insulting it is. Even though shorts are not accepted in temples, but they tolerate bikinis, or even toplessness in beaches. They are trying to be welcoming of people with different values and standards who they don’t fully understand. How far this does freedom of expression go for Westerners? How do Balinese people know where the limit is?
Most of the people selling these ugly souvenirs think that they are appropriate in Western countries – and this leaves them with a very low opinion of the standards and people who live there.
Thanks for the great, thought-provoking post.
Thank you Dina for your valuable input, although I can imagine how difficult it would be for you to read this. I didn’t even mention the beaches but let’s just say that I stood on the sand once and that was more than enough given the amount of trash everywhere.
And you do make a valid point that the tourists are not the only ones to blame as clearly, there are plenty of local and expat ‘business people’ who have also flocked to Kuta in order to take their share of the tourist dollars. It’s a vicious cycle, especially when there are so many people who are willing to help destroy a culture simply to put money in their own pockets.
As for the freedom of expression, I think that it is the complete responsibility of every traveler to adhere to the customs and standards of the destinations they visit. If they are unable to offer that much respect then they shouldn’t be traveling at all. The local Balinese really should not have to put up with bikinis or public drunkenness at all.
Sorry about the change in Kuta but at least you are one of the lucky ones to have some wonderful memories of a Kuta that seemed so perfect!
Similar observation I have about the trash, Earl. It was clean and gorgeous when I was a small kid. Beautiful memory about the place, so I was so enthusiastic to show this beach to Ryan during our honeymoon. Poor Ryan, he only saw garbage everywhere. The amount of thin plastic bags were saddening. We didn’t stay long at all around there.
Hey Dina – As I walked around Kuta I kept thinking how the area could use a few dozen large garbage bins along with some signs that encourage people to throw their trash away properly. Something as easy as that would probably make a huge difference and make the beach a lot more attractive once again.
I’m sorry you had to go through that mate. I lived in Germany for 5 months in 2002 and completely loved it BUT when tourism got ugly it got REALLY ugly.
If I had to be completely honest-most of it was because of my fellow Natives (British). This saddens me still to this day. I hope everything is alright in the US Earl, safe travels and take care.
Thanks for the comment and concern Anthony. Everything will be alright, but I just need to spend some time back home at the moment.
And I do think it’s much worse when we find ourselves surrounded by ‘ugly tourists’ from our own countries. I’m not sure there’s anything more embarrassing than that!
I never been there myself, but I heard many mixed things about Bali. I don’t really understand those people that do nothing else but being drunk the whole day, just stay home if thats the only thing you are interested in… Kuta sounds like place to avoid at all costs.
Hey Tijmen – I don’t understand that kind of travel either and agree that such people would be much better off (as would the places they visit) if they simply remained at home!
Reading this post made me almost not wanting to go to Bali anymore – thanks for putting in the last paragraph and not ruining it completely for me. I hope the rest of Bali stays as it is and doesn’t become what Kuta has become.
I hate when beautiful places are run over by tourists who just want to get drunk every day for their 2-week vacation and think bumper stickers & t-shirts like the ones you mentioned are funny. There are so many places in the world where this happened, and during our travels through Central America we’ve come across quite a few places where we were thinking ‘hopefully this won’t turn into a tourist destination’… but once a place makes it into the Lonely Planet, chances are good that it goes down that exact road…
Hey Dani – It is indeed difficult for any place to be left untouched for long but the effect of being discovered varies widely depending on how travelers interact with the local culture. Many touristy places are full of respectful travelers who are interested in more than getting trashed every night. The problem is when those visiting are interested in nothing else at all apart from getting trashed.
With that said, and knowing the two of you, your time in Bali will be wonderful 🙂 Just avoid Kuta and you won’t even believe that what I described in this post is even possible!
[…] event, Ayngelina’s post fits into a current theme in the travel blog community highlighting travel issues, and sort of reminiscent of Jon’s old post. If you are a backpacker, or interested […]
I haven’t been to Bali, but you sum up really well what I’ve been struggling to put into words about Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and several other places in SE Asia that seem to act solely as a playground for drunken westerners. I try really hard not to judge other people’s travel styles (and lord knows I love wild night on occasion myself) but at some point these places no long represent travel, just a cheap and permanent spring break. It’s degrading to the locals, to travelers, to the environment, to everyone involved.
Hey Stephanie – I’ve always wondered what it was truly like on those Thai islands as, despite 9 visits to Thailand, I’ve always avoided those places. Of course, what you described is generally what I expected. And I also don’t want to judge anyone’s travel style, but sometimes the damage done as a result is simply too much. Just because people decide to travel doesn’t mean they are entitled to behave so selfishly. I simply can’t imagine how some people find it acceptable to take on that ‘playground’ mentality when overseas.
I will never be able to understand the people who travel outside of their country just to feel like they never left at all. Westernized restaurants, t-shirts in English, tacky souvenirs…it’s all so sad to see. Add lewd people into the mix and you’re more than right to not want to contribute another cent to this ugly side of traveling.
Hey Christine – I’ve never understood it either. While I do understand wanting to get away for a week or two to relax, it often seems that some tourists would be much better off if they chose a destination within their own country. This would prevent them from ruining it all for other tourists who are actually interested in learning!
I know before the bombings a few years ago it was like this in Kuta, but it seemed to have disappeared in the years following as a lot of the offending individuals stayed away due to fear of further terrorist attacks. It’s such a shame it’s returned to this, but as you say it’s not the locals fault – they must adapt to survive.
I’m glad to hear the rest of the country is ‘unspoilt’ so look forward to visiting there sometime soon.
@WomanSeeksWorld: The offending individuals are definitely back and in full force unfortunately. Let’s just hope it remains in that one area and doesn’t begin to spread to other parts of the island!
i havent been to bali yet and im planning to visit this year.. i agree with you that we should all be consciously aware in presenting ourselves to other cultures…
Hey Flip – I’m sure your visit will be wonderful, as long as you spend your time in other parts of the island!
I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult this post was for me to read. The tears are pricking at my eyes and I am absolutely mortified and ashamed.
I went to Kuta for my first trip overseas in 1996 and then again in 97. It was nothing like that then. Although a party place, there still seemed to be a lot of respect for Balinese people who are absolutely beautiful.
My devastation in reading this comes from knowing that this is my culture who has destroyed Kuta in this way. The way they are behaving is utterly appalling. I don’t know what to say. I wish I could defend my culture but I can’t.
Craig and I have really struggled since returning to Australia as we see this kind of behaviour everywhere. I watch the children in schools have total disrespect for anyone, the youth on the streets, and the way adults will scream out in rages to anyone who will listen- yet no one wants to. The drunken louts that are in force on our streets are dangerous and embarrassing. You cannot go out to a club or bar in Australia without a fight breaking out. Craig and I always comment how we lived in the US for four years, in a college town, where lots of people were getting drunk, and we never once saw a fight.
I don’t know what is wrong with my culture but it is full of angry young men and women who have no respect for themselves- they get rolling drunk, swear their heads off, are really loud and disrespectful and fight with one another.
Craig and I recently decided that our future does not lie in Australia. We cannot raise our daughter here. Reading this further confirmed this for me. It is devastating. Why we think disgusting statements such as these printed on T-shirts and stickers is acceptable or funny I have no idea.
What must the rest of the world think of us?
I am embarrassed. My heart aches for Kuta and the people of Bali, and for anywhere else in the world we have destroyed in this way. It is sad to hear of the comments about Vang Vieng as well, as we loved it when we were there and never experienced any behaviour like this.
What on earth can we do to raise the moral standard of our youth and our society?
Hey Caz – I wish I had an answer to that question. It was very interesting for me to read your comment because I actually commented to my friends in Australia on several occasions during my recent visit that I was shocked at how much things had changed. Walking through the streets of Melbourne at night was actually quite frightening because of all the aggressive drunks that seemed to be everywhere, shouting out to everyone. I really felt scared and wondered why everyone did seem so angry. For such a multi-cultural destination, I noticed a lot more intolerance this time around than during previous visits unfortunately.
So I can perfectly understand your reasoning for not wanting to raise children there given this shift in youth culture.
As for Bali, just as is the case with many spring break destination that Americans flock to, it is quite troubling to think of how we (foreigners) represent ourselves. How others perceive our countries is often a direct reflection of how we act as tourists and even those travelers who don’t partake in such disrespectful behavior are affected. And I too wonder what local people think of the foreigners they see stumbling around and cursing all day long. We must seem like wild animals at times.
This is a most difficult aspect of tourism. At least I can say that this is the first time in my life I have seen negative tourism on such a disturbing scale.
That is really interesting to hear you say that Earl. Sometimes I think I feel this way because I have been away so long and I’ve just forgotten what its like, but if you can see a big change too then it is obvious something is going wrong.
I, too have noticed the intolerance. It has been quite shocking to me as for some reason I thought we were really accepting. Again- I think I have been a foreign traveller for too long. When you develop tolerance and compassion for others, I think it becomes even more glaringly obvious and more shocking when you see others who aren’t.
I was only thinking a couple of weeks ago how I’ve travelled through countries that might be considered dangerous, like Africa, yet the only place I’ve every felt afraid is in my own country. The anger people hold here is frightening and unpredictable. Gone are the days when we could claim to be the laid back country.
I guess all we can do is continue to do our bit, no matter how small to somehow make a difference and raise people’s standards to a higher level and code of behaviour. What an overwhelming task.
I hope everything is okay with you. Take some time out to do what you need to do, we’ll hold the fort down. :)Thinking of you.
Yikes, glad I avoided Kuta when I was there. The only upside is that you can avoid it by going to other parts of the island. There are some of the most beautiful daily ceremonies and the people are just wonderful. Next time you go to Bali, try Ubud and then motorbike around the island a bit. Totally different experience.
Hey Christine – I had actually read your post about your first night in Bali just before I went, so I knew that such peaceful areas existed. Unfortunately this was a very quick visit for me but you can bet that next time around, I’ll be heading far, far away from Kuta. Thanks for the comment!
You weren’t kidding when you asked if you could quote me, eh? 🙂 I stand by it 100% – I was only in Kuta for a few days and it was absolutely appalling, especially in light of the kindness and gentleness of spirit so integral to Balinese culture.
To Dave (Mr. Kiwi that Drifts) – so much of the island remains quiet and away from the Kuta hordes. I’m happy to send you some more info about where to go that is off tourist trail, because the Balinese way of living and the ceremonies that go into it, is a fascinating thing to experience.
Glad you posted this and also that many of your commenters agree.
Thanks Jodi – I’ll probably take you up on that offer. Thanks! I’d heard from Christine and others that there were still lovely spots in Bali that hadn’t been ruined as yet, so I’d love to hear more about them. I’ll drop you a line, or just have a chat to you in June! 😉
Definitely! Feel free to email questions any time.
Hey Jodi – Seeing this ugly behavior contrasted with that kindness of the Balinese people made the situation even more appalling to me. They deserve much better than to be treated like this by visitors to this island. Luckily, as you mentioned to Dave, much of the island has not been affected in this manner and remains a rewarding destination to spend some time.
And thanks for the quote!
I’ve seen fellow Brits abroad acting in such a way, although not as bad as the tourists you see. And…it’s infuriating. They’re relinquishing their right to even be there.
Frankly, I really hate the way tourism and alcohol are so intertwined. I really do. For some people, “going abroad” equates to “sense of moderation, out the window”. The ultimate hellraising bender. The ultimate selfish act for a visitor to another country – get so plastered you’re not yourself, then wreak havoc without being aware or (arguably) fully culpable.
Makes me angry. Angry enough to intervene, frankly. I hope I don’t do that, because I’d lose my temper and that would be just as disruptive. Eeesh.
Hey Mike – I feel the exact same way and have always found it disturbing as well that alcohol seems to play such an important role when traveling. I guess it’s that whole idea that many people only have a couple of weeks vacation per year and sadly, they feel the best use of their time is to get drunk 24 hours a day and forget about their life back home. Of course, when people have that frame of mind, they sure aren’t going to give a damn about the people or places where they are spending their vacation.
If you think you’d lose your temper in such a place, I don’t recommend visiting Kuta any time soon!
Thanks for the comment Mike.
Horrifying. We were in Kuta 12 years ago as part of our RTW trip. Even then, it was bad, and we couldn’t wait to get out, but it was nothing like you describe.
I’m not sure I’d be able to hold my tongue for long when confronted with offensive t-shirts like that.
Hey Kristina – It was definitely tough not to walk up to some people and say something. If it was a couple of people acting inappropriately then maybe I would have said something but since I was the minority, it wasn’t so easy!
I was in Bali a couple years ago. I had heard similar stories about Kuta, so I showed up intent on staying away. Instead I spent half a week in sleepy Sanur and half a week in Ubud. I had a perfectly pleasant time hanging out with lots of Dutch retirees — definitely no one in body paint and “Mark is Gay” t-shirts (Like, really? People are still using the word “gay” as an insult? REALLY? Come on.)
You have to admit that these places do have a purpose — not just for the annoying drunken party travelers but also for those of us who actually travel to foreign countries to experience a foreign country (and not, say, to experience an episode of “Girls Gone Wild.”) You see, we can’t prevent these people from leaving their home countries. But these places seem to do a good job of corralling them into one location and then serving them enough beer/drugs/mushroom shakes to make them incapable of leaving. That way, hopefully, they won’t get to the rest of the country and start demanding vendors sell more “Mark is Gay” t-shirts (Like, seriously? I don’t even GET that.) So, ummm, silver lining?
Hey Sally – You are right, such places do have a purpose in a weird way. I know that in 11+ years of traveling I’ve never seen anything like it so all of these kind of tourists clearly aren’t spreading all over the world (luckily). If there’s just a couple of places to avoid (the worst of the worst), then I can handle that, although it still is a shame for the local people of Kuta.
As for the “___ is Gay” t-shirts, I saw tourists holding them up in shops and yelling out to their friends, “You’re gay, man. I wish they had one with your name on it.” I don’t get it either but in Kuta, in sort of fit in with all of the other acts of infantile behavior I witnessed.
Firstly, I hope that everything is ok. Secondly, this story breaks my heart. I am disgusted by the behavior of those westerners. I can see why you felt ashamed.
Hey Elle – Thank you for your concern! Everything is ok. I just need some time to re-organize 🙂
I’ve avoided Bali like the plague so far precisely because of the reputation it has in this part of the world of being a playground for drunken Australian idiots who should never have been granted the privilege of a passport. The proliferation of cheap flights there in recent years has just made things worse – it’s often cheaper to get to Bali than to take a domestic flight to somewhere else in Australia, and obviously it’s much cheaper once you’re there.
Quite honestly, your post makes me feel sick. I still intend to go to Indonesia in the next few years, and possibly even Bali, but I’ll be spending less than no time in Kuta or anywhere else that the dribbling hordes have taken over by then.
Hey Dave – It is much cheaper in fact to fly to Bali than to fly within Australia. When I was looking at flights to all destinations in Southeast Asia from Oz, I came across flights as cheap as $75 AUD to Bali. That’s as cheap as it gets.
I’m sure your experience will be much different when you make it to Indonesia though and I’m not surprised you’re the kind of guy that will give Kuta a miss! My trip to Sumatra several years ago still ranks as one of my favorite trips over the past 11 years, mainly because there were practically no tourists and a rich, completely uncorrupted culture. I’ve always found it surprising that everyone flocks to Bali when such a magical place as Sumatra gets completely left behind. No drunken idiots on that island!
This pretty much sums up my feelings for Vang Vieng in Laos! Talk about backpackers acting stupid! Wandering half naked at all hours being totally wasted. And, much like here, there was pretty much none of the town left that didn’t cater to tourism with their shops and those incessant TV-blaring restaurants!
It’s always a real big shame when tourism causes places to cater strictly to them. Thanks for the heads up on Kuta!
Hey Aaron – Oh no, not Vang Vieng! I visited that town back in 2001 and there were only a handful of guesthouses and a maybe two tourist cafes. When I strolled around the local market, people would talk to me for a long time, surprised to have foreigners visiting their sleepy town.
And the half-naked, wearing no shirt thing drives me crazy. Unless a person is on a beach, there is no good reason (being hot is not a good reason) to walk around with no shirt on. It completely baffles me as to what goes through travelers’ heads when they stroll around shirtless in places like Vang Vieng!
I completely agree – Kuta is a hell hole. We spent far too long there as it’s a good place to get surf lessons. I remember seeing far too many people having beer at breakfast.
Curious about why your plans have changed and hope everything is OK.
Hey Erin – ‘Hell hole’ pretty much sums it up! And funny you mentioned the beer for breakfast thing as one morning as I sat in a small restaurant, I noticed that at the tourist cafe across the street, almost every tourist inside was downing beer. And it was 9am.
My plans have changed due to a couple of personal situations that suddenly came up but basically I now need to return home and spend a couple of months getting re-organized. All will be well in the end I’m sure 🙂
Ugh, that’s the worst. Your top photo was incredibly jarring but set the mood for the rest of your post.
Anyway, those people there, they aren’t really representatives of North Americans, are they? I hope not. So embarrassing. There’s a difference being travel and taking a vacation; that crew you saw are definitely in the latter camp.
Hey Jennifer – Thank you for the comment! And no, those tourists are not great representatives of their home countries, however, their behavior affects us all unfortunately. From what they see, it would be easy to think that everyone from Australia or America or Europe walks around drunk all day and without any manners or respect for other people. Hopefully they don’t think this way but I can’t blame them if they do.
I make a concerted effort not to judge other people for how they live their lives, even if I don’t always understand or agree with their choices.
But this is such a horrendous display of classless behavior, I’m appalled. I’m not a fan of it when it’s a product of locals and when it’s brought in and encouraged by travelers, it’s really awful.
To some extent, this is the same way I felt about Patong Beach. There was virtually nothing left that was Thai.
Hey Joel – I know what you’re saying because it is hard for me to actually talk negatively about how other people choose to travel as well. But I think it would be hard to argue that such behavior as what I witnessed in Kuta is beneficial in any way. If people want to spend their holidays completely drunk, that’s fine with me, but to show such blatant disrespect is simply unacceptable.
I’ve never been to Patong Beach but I’m sure it’s quite similar. At least now I know to stay away from there and you know to stay away from Kuta 🙂
There are always going to be those places in the world that turn us off. One place for example is Cairo, the Egyptians are one of the most fascinating cultures in history and tourism to Egypt is massive. But it is a shet hole.. I will be sure to be on the lookout when traveling there
Hey Marcello – Kuta definitely isn’t the only place affected in this manner, that’s for sure. As for Cairo, luckily it is a big enough city so it’s not too difficult for a traveler to find a part of it they enjoy. If not, I could easily spend three days just inside the Egyptian Museum and away from the chaos outside!
Wow. Never been there and you certainly dont make me want to go. The thing that comes to mind for me tho is that we, as travellers, have an effect on the places we go. We dont just dip in and out. Just by being there we change these places permanently. Sadly, we create places like this in some way. All the more reason to chose wisely when traveling and spending money.
Hey Jim – Very true. We do leave a lasting impression each time we visit somewhere. Hopefully, however, most of the travelers to a particular destination respect the local people and culture and so the changes happen much more slowly than if we all showed up naked, drunk and cursing all day long such as the scene in Kuta.
Omg, this is heartbreaking 🙁 We just went to Bali 3 years ago and even though we spent the majority of our time in Ubud and the northern par to the island, we did make a trip to Kuta and even though they weren’t yet any of those tshirts (or we didn’t notice them – I wonder if they’re recent phenomenon) I remember thinking, ‘ Can’t believe this is the same island. Take me out of here.’
Hey Jill – I’m not sure how recently those shirts arrived but I do know that almost every shop was selling them. And “take me out of here” is exactly what went through my head as well and it’s probably the same thing that goes through the head of any traveler who travels with respect for the places they visit. Glad you spent most of your time in Ubud 🙂
Wow. Appalling doesn’t even really being to cover it. What a shame!
Insightful post Earl. We haven’t been to Kuta but you are certainly not the first person to have such a negative impression. It’s a shame really.
Challenge accepted! 😉
Hey Cam – I’d heard others negative views of Kuta before as well but I still was not even close to being prepared for the reality. And thank you for accepting the challenge, although I’m quite sure you guys are quite conscious of how you travel already 🙂
Kuta was my first time being in a completely different country, and at that time I wasn’t so aware of this aspect of tourism. I loved Kuta actually, not because of the westernization but because I found it really easy to meet local people, and made a lot of friends there. The aspect of Kuta that bothered me the most is the high level of prostitution. To me, this is even uglier than profane t-shirts…
The behavior of the visitors there is what really appalls me. I studied my phrasebook beforehand and on the plane, without realizing the proliferation of English. Still, I was interested in learning the language and after a month in Indonesia I knew the basics and a bit more. Then I met an expat who had been living there 2 years and couldn’t even tell me how to say thank you.
The truth is, tourism ruins a lot of places. I’m not sure what the solution is, but on my part I know that I can be respectful of the local culture and avoid those who do whatever they want without thinking of the home country and its residents.
Hey Jasmine – I will say that it was easy to meet locals in Kuta. That is definitely true. On the other hand, I didn’t even notice the prostitution, probably because I didn’t really go out too much at night. Had I seen that as well I would have been even more disturbed so perhaps it was a good thing I missed that.
Tourism does have it’s negative effects and I think that the best way for us to solve, or at least slow down those effects, is to do exactly what you said, to make sure that we are respectful. We can control our behavior when overseas and the more conscious we are about how we interact with a culture, the more positive the experience for everyone.
This post absolutely breaks my heart, this is definitely the ugly side of traveling that rarely gets talked about. I’m anxious to find out why you’re coming back to the US. Hope everything is ok?
Hey Andi – Things are ok, just a couple of personal situations going on at the moment. Everything will be alright in the end once I get re-organized. Thank you for asking 🙂
I stayed in Kuta for 4 days about two years ago and I didn’t notice these shirts and stickers. I didn’t spend too much time in town though. I just used it as a place to sleep and traveled around the rest of the time. I’m a little shocked. I agree that Kuta is not the best place to visit in Bali. I was a little confused when I arrived there and felt like this wasn’t the Bali I had imagined. It wasn’t until I went exploring and found a hotel in the Bukit Peninsula that I saw the Bali that people rave about.
Hey Christy – Perhaps the t-shirts are a new thing as a couple of people have mentioned that they didn’t see them on their visits. But they are now being sold in the majority of shops on every street. And I agree with you that once you leave the Kuta area, it’s quite easy to discover that Bali that everyone speaks so highly about. When Kuta is the first stop upon arrival, it sure can be a disappointment.
We have some of the same behaviour in Turkey but from the sounds of it not as bad as that. I am sorry but I do believe the problem lies with the governor of that town. Promoting yourself as a tourist town involves a lot of planning and careful thinking as to what kind of tourist you want to attract. Spain in the 90’s should be a perfect example for everyone.
The authorities have to take a stance and send the message out. Last year there was one tourist here in Turkey who urinated on the statue of a very important person. He was arrested and deported. It was in the papers world wide and the message was there for all to see.
Hey Natalie – I think that Indonesia simply doesn’t have the structure in place to deal with such a problem. Due to corruption, government officials are willing to turn the other way in order to pocket money themselves. It is a third-world country in the end and one with a long list of issues.
It’s a tricky situation. I don’t think that Turkey will lose tourists after arresting that guy who urinated on the statue because that’s generally not the type of tourist that Turkey attracts. But when Kuta relies solely on the money brought in from drunken tourists, the government doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that income. And so the situation sadly continues unchecked.
earl, mate, i couldn’t agree more – this place is the gutter of the backpacking world. Khao San has it’s flaws (https://onestep4ward.com/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-of-khao-san-road-bangkok/) which i won’t deny but this is a different level. I planned to stay for a week, made it 36 hours and headed to Lombok – much less brash.
Hope you made it out safely and if u make it to KL or BKK hit me up 🙂 take it easy mate and safe travels…
Hey Johnny – I just read your post and it is spot on. There still seems to be some charm, some appeal to Khao San Road, no matter what type of traveler we happen to be. But in Kuta, to most of us, there is nothing but that ‘ugly’ side of things.
Given my change in plans I now need to head back to the US for awhile so it looks like I won’t be passing through KL or Bangkok. Hopefully we’ll have a chance to meet up again at some point but in the meantime, enjoy your studies and life in Thailand!
Wow Earl. I had a really tough time in Cancun. I can’t imagine how it would get much worse and yet it does.
I have so much to say and yet I’m not sure why to say.
I’m about at a year of traveling and I feel like I’ve become hyper sensitive to this. The idea of people using a country as their playground really bothers me. I find it most often happens in beach towns and for that reason I’ve been avoiding them.
In fact the only reason I went to Mollendo in Peru last week was that I was told no tourists would be there. It’s not because I hate other tourists but I need to protect myself from being so negative toward others.
Hey Ayngelina – As I was walking around Kuta, I kept thinking, “I will never say a bad word about Cancun ever again!” What I saw in Kuta put Cancun into perspective for me and made me realize that there is a huge difference between the two. Cancun has adjusted to tourism much better than Kuta.
And I think what you are going through is bound to happen every now and then, especially for travelers who make it a point to be conscious of the impression they leave on the places they visit. Over the years I have found myself running off to isolated, completely non-touristy places every couple of years simply because I need a break from being around other travelers. And like you, I don’t dislike them, it’s just exhausting sometimes being around other tourists while trying to process all of the thoughts and questions that enter our minds.
I went to Bali in 2009 and I loved it. However I was in Kuta for only one day and I felt that icky-gross feeling of being surrounded by completely trashy, nasty people without morals. I’m pretty tuned in because I had my 2 small kids with me, they were 4 and 1 at the time. I agree that Kuta is a sad sad part of Bali.
Nusa Dua was a beautiful beach and we rented a car and had a great time in Ubud.
As an expat in Laos, I feel the same kind of “kuta feelings” when I am in Vang Vieng, Laos. It is a beautiful place but being corrupted by trashy tourists who just want cheap beer and weed. And who knows what other substances.
Hey CanCan – That seems to be the general feeling….people love Bali but only spent a day in Kuta (which makes perfect sense). Every other place on the island was well worth a visit as you already experienced 🙂 And I can’t imagine being in Kuta with children. No wonder why you got out of there so quickly.
And you’re now the second person to mention this happening to Vang Vieng, which is quite disturbing to hear. Once it begins it’s a hard process to reverse, especially given all of the money that tourists must now be pouring into the town. Hopefully, like Bali, the rest of Laos still remains it’s charm and avoids the same fate.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
Lucky for you you feel ashamed to be a tourist, I’m Australian and it’s no secret we make up a strong portion of visitors to Bali and the bogans who travel there are the ones responsible for the proliferation of these things.
Sadly Bali was my first place I ever visited overseas, I never saw Bali beyond Kuta and Legian, I was so disgusted by it I took the first flight I could to Yogyakarta where I had a fantastic time. I promise myself I will go back to Bali and skip Kuta althogether.
Hey Dan – Yeah, I can understand how it feels to have your fellow countrymen and women representing your country in such a negative way. It reminded me of some spots in the Caribbean where Americans tend to visit with the sole purpose of embarrassing themselves.
Bali itself is definitely worth another visit but it seems like your quick departure last time was a wise decision. It’s amazing how many people have said they left Kuta after only a day or two and then as soon as they did leave, ended up enjoying the rest of their time in Indonesia!
This is so sad. Your anger and frustration comes through, and I can appreciate that. Thanks for reminding the rest of us sane people to be responsible, considerate travelers and not ruin it for everyone else (especially the locals.)
Thanks for the comment Grace! I’m not sure I’ve ever been as frustrated about a particular destination as I am about Kuta. On one hand, I guess that’s a good thing because it means that such negative tourism is not too common around the world…
I think that kind of behavior is abysmal anywhere in the world but, yes, even worse in a foreign country. As travelers, or holidayers, or vacationers, or anyone outside of their homeland, we are ambassadors for our countries and have a responsibility to respect the land we visit. I was just as saddened in Vang Vieng, Laos as I watched ‘tubers’ wander around in drug and alcohol induced hazes in bikinis…or less. It is undignified; for those that do it, for those of us who cringe at it, and for those who live there and must tolerate it.
Hey Gillian – I can’t believe that’s another mention of Vang Vieng following the same route of Kuta. I really had no idea the situation was so bad over there these days. The lack of respect that some of these tourists show just blows my mind. How can anyone think it’s acceptable to walk around half-naked as if they have a right to behave however they want. Do they not see the culture around them? Sadly they don’t, leaving the rest of us to continue cringing.
I was there in 2010– two unhappy nights tolerating Kuta, then two weeks based in and around Ubud with a rented scooter taking us around the island for day trips (which was marvellous). Kuta was…noisy and frustrating, sleepless due to an all night dance party on the beach, so close to our hotel that our bed shook. We had come in by public bus from the ferry terminal from east Java (forget the town) after a week hiking around Bromo and Ijen and so the culture shock was huge. Couldn’t wait to get out.
Hey MaryAnne – That seems to be the general consensus here. Kuta offers little more than an un-enjoyable night or two before moving on to more rewarding areas of the island. I will say that my hotel in Kuta was quite decent and surprisingly quiet, but the moment I stepped outside, I immediately tensed up.
I’m happy to hear the rest of your stay on Bali was marvelous!
What a shame to see this. Kuta/what you saw there sounds awful.
I’m strongly considering a trip to Bali/Indonesia, so I’ll keep what you’ve written about in mind. I’ll definitely check out the other areas. Glad to hear that the rest of Bali is still wonderful!
Hey Lisa – Trust me, avoid Kuta and your trip to Bali will be perfect! I also highly recommend Sumatra as my trip there a few years ago was one of the most rewarding I’ve ever had. It’s such a beautiful, fascinating island where you can dive right into Indonesian culture without having to watch out for stumbling foreigners everywhere you go!