Lessons Learned from Staying in Touristy Bali

August 23, 2018

(Nusa Lembongan, but close enough)

When I booked this trip a few months ago, I was already hesitant. The ONLY – and I do mean only – reason I decided to return to Bali was knowing I would spend the majority of my time away from the crowds of Seminyak and Kuta, and on less traveled islands like Nusa Lembongan and Gili Air. If I remembered anything from my three weeks exploring two years ago, it was that tourists roamed freely in Ubud and Seminyak, and the business followed: an endless stream of taxis slowing down and honking at you for a ride, sellers urging you to visit their shops, and let’s not forget “MASSAGE??” Naturally, I’m a little cynical at overly touristy places in Southeast Asia like Bali, Siem Reap, and Phuket.

When the earthquake hit nearby Lombok, I had already departed for the first leg on my trip; I saw the news come in that morning in Hong Kong and was monitoring every source, mainly Instagram stories from people on the ground. International media had a field day lumping Lombok in with Bali as a point of reference, and I’m sure it hurt tourism. The bottom line was traveling to Lombok and the three Gili Islands was not a good idea, and Nusa Lembongan was a bit of a grey area since the same boat companies that served the Gilis took travelers from Bali to them. Nevertheless, I decided not to cancel my trip after speaking with people on the ground and knowing Bali was relatively unaffected.

Sanur Beach is quieter, but still trashy

The last time I was in Bali, I stuck to budget accommodation: capsule hotels, shared rooms, and rarely anything over $20/night. This time I had the opportunity to splurge on mid-range hotels for more peace and quiet. As I result, I booked the best place I could find in Sanur, the Grand Inna Bali Beach Hotel. In its heyday (60s and 70s), this was clearly the most luxurious hotel in the area; in 2018, not much has been updated, and it shows: the location is still nice, the grounds acceptable, but the rooms are slightly dilapidated. At least the wifi was fast.

I honestly don’t recall paying attention to the amount of trash around Bali the first time I visited, but I don’t remember it standing out. This time, as I enjoyed morning beach runs along a stretch relatively unused by street hawkers and masseuses, I could see just how much plastic washed ashore, and how much it obscured snorkeling in shallow waters. If I had just one wish to start the Earth on the path to restoration, it would be to remove every piece of trash from the ocean.

Staying in Nusa Dua is the best choice… for Bali

I mean strictly Bali and not the other islands. I say this because getting to and exploring nearly every other area is a hassle: Ubud and Kuta are overcrowded and leave you no peace, and smaller towns along the coast, while quieter, lack the amenities and comfort you want in a beach vacation.

Nusa Dua, if you can afford it – no denying every hotel there is expensive – bypasses all these problems. By booking in advance, you can almost ensure you never have to change money: the hotel handles airport transfers, and can book excursions through their on-site tour operators. Of course, if you want to see a famous site like Uluwatu or go diving in a particular area, you might have to leave the relative comfort of your five-star hotel. Still, it only took me a few seconds of walking along Seminyak Beach to realize this was not normal for a holiday.

I should have started diving sooner

This year, at age 36, was the first time I ever strapped a tank to my back and slithered underwater. I had the chance to get certified in Kou Tao back in 2008, but passed. Since then, diving was something I just figured I’d get around to someday. The truth is, by not having training and a few dives under my belt, I’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities: Amami Oshima, whale sharks in Oslob, Malapascua (granted, everything was in disarray from the typhoon).

However, I am glad my first experience underwater was exploring the USAT Liberty near Tulamben. I booked with Dive Concepts and couldn’t have been happier – my lungs didn’t explode, after all.

The Gili Islands are probably the best place to stay

Once reports had come in saying the Gili Islands were evacuating and unlikely to be reopened – tentatively scheduled for August 31st – I had to scramble to get a refund for my hotel and freediving course. This trip was centered about having the most time on the Gilis, and I was disappointed… of course, circumstances like repeated earthquakes didn’t make me want to visit for a while.

There’s a reason I chose Gili Air, though looking back, I probably would go with Gili Meno. No vehicles are allowed on these islands, and nothing more advanced than a bicycle or horse-drawn carriage is permitted. This isn’t a problem as all three are incredibly small and can be circumnavigated in under an hour or two. Though all three lack the most luxurious accommodations one can find in Nusa Dua, the hotels are smaller, quainter, and still offer a welcome respite at a more affordable price.

Because of this, Gili Meno will be my destination when I return to Bali. Peace, quiet, diving, beaches, and parasailing.

What about the earthquakes?

The truth is: I really don’t care. Oh, I care about the loss of life by those affected in Lombok, and did donate to an organization on the ground over there, but I can’t base my travels on unpredictable natural disasters. At the time I heard about the 6.8-7.0 quake in Lombok, the major aftershocks seemed to have passed, and even then, Bali was hardly touched with no fatalities – as far as I’ve heard – and minimal property damage.

There was one aftershock during my first few days on Bali, and I didn’t even feel it. My last night staying in Seminyak, I didn’t feel anything when I saw the hotel swaying for 30-40 seconds; I just waited for it to pass, and hoped for the best. There was no fear. Maybe there should have been.

I could have stayed in Japan and been just as likely to have been affected by a massive earthquake in my own house, or decided to leave for good, move to San Francisco, buy a house, and have that destroyed by the quake of the century. No one can know.

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