Bali: why it’s not the island paradise you dream of

Posted on 19 June 2012

In the lead up to my Bali holiday, people had only good things to say about the small Indonesian island. “Amazing food, friendly people, cheap clothes and great beaches!”

After ten days exploring its bottom half, I came away unsure as to whether I’d visit Bali again. Of course it’s wonderful – most subtropical islands are – but is it worth the 24-hour slog halfway around the world? You decide. Here’s my roundup of Bali’s pros and cons.



1. Warm water

For Capetonians this is a huge pro, surfers in particular. Bali is renowned for its great surfing spots with easy-to-reach breaks, long clean lines and predictable sets. There are plenty of board-hiring options and if you take your own, there are scooters for hire with a surf-board attachments. Padang Padang in Uluwatu is an awesome little cove, popular with wave riders and sun loungers alike.  The beers are cheap and you can drink them on the beach.

2. Great weather

Bali is always warm and humid. For some this could be a con but coming from the misery of winter, the heat – albeit sticky – is a welcomed change. I would suggest planning your trip for the dry season (May to October), as the rainy season (November – April), although warm, can dampen the fun.

3. It’s eastern

 Bali was my first taste of the east and I found its different-ness truly spectacular. The intricately carved temples alongside the humblest of homes; the Hindu custom of proffering small woven baskets of flowers, biscuits and rice to the deities; old men in conical hats hunched over rice paddies; orchids growing wild. There was never a time when my senses went unoccupied.

4. Delicious food

Balinese food is scrumptious! Don’t make the mistake of going to Italian restaurants, of which there are surprisingly many. Even traditionally prepared seafood – grilled prawns and calamari – fell short. Opt instead for fish baked in banana leaves with more spices than I know to name, spicy soups with boiled egg, rice dishes galore and lots of chili. Yum!

5. Kind people

 Kind, honest and sincere. I didn’t feel like a dumb tourist.

6. Cheap transportation

Once you’re in Bali, getting around is cheap-cheap. We had a driver who charged out at the equivalent of R25 an hour and fuel costs a third of what it does in South Africa (about R3,50 a litre). Scooters are the preferred mode of transport in Bali and can be hired cheaply from anywhere on the island, including the airport.



1. The beaches aren’t visually impressive

 Bali’s beaches are more for surfing and swimming than aesthetic enjoyment. There are no white stretches of pristine shoreline – the sand ranges from yellow to black – and the water isn’t that exotic turquoise that one might expect. Better than Brighton but a far call from the Maldives.

2. The clothes aren’t cheap

I was advised to visit Seminyak for the ultimate, and cheap, shopping experience. I was not disappointed by what was on offer – an endless street of clothing boutiques, shoes and silver shops but the prices mirrored what you’d pay in South Africa. If you want a bargain, stick to sarongs.

3. It takes 24hours to get there

Bali is a schlep for South Africans. Twenty-four hours of schlep and a six-hour jetlag. This translates into expensive flights (I paid R12 000 return on Singapore Airlines) and broken sleep for the first few nights. Take sleeping tablets. You’ll need them!

4. Expensive drink

 Thankfully Bali’s local and much-loved beer Bintang is delicious because unless you’re made of money, it’s all you’re going to drink. Spirits average R140 a shot and a watery bottle of wine will set you back about R350.  Each visitor is allowed a litre of liquor onto the island. Grab a bottle at duty free and choose wisely.

5. Plenty of tourists

If you want an authentic Balinese experience without the Australian crowds, avoid staying in package tourist towns like Kuta and Seminyak. Go inland or opt for rurally situated self-catering villas and backpackers instead of beachfront hotels and resorts.

6. Lots of traffic

I wouldn’t advise timid drivers to hire scooters. The roads are always packed and Balinese drivers don’t leave much space to breathe. On the upside no one drives particularly fast and because there are far more scooters than cars, the overall style of driving – although seemingly erratic – is somewhat accommodating.


So is Bali worthwhile? If you’ve got money to blow and you want to holiday as opposed to travel, Bali is great. Relaxed, warm and easygoing with a wide array of accommodation options that offer great value for money (we stayed at Villa the Shore in Seseh and Villa Sunset in Nusa Dua).

If you’re choosing your one travel experience for the next couple of years, I’d suggest cheaper-to-reach, more-to-explore Malaysia. Or opt for somewhere closer to South Africa – Mauritius, Reunion and Mozambique tick many of the same boxes as Bali at a fraction of the cost.


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