How Ubud restored my faith in Bali

I’ve been reluctant to write about my time in Bali because, besides Ubud, I have to admit that I didn’t really enjoy it all the much. It’s shocking, I know, it was shocking to me. I thought Bali would be my favorite place in my travels through Southeast Asia.

I find it difficult to write about my feelings toward places I travel if they harbor any negativity. Mainly, I don’t want to influence others to not go to a place simply because I didn’t have the best time there, because everyone’s experiences are going to be different, and it’s always good to check out that experience for yourself. In retrospect, I saw very little of what Bali, and for that matter, what Indonesia had to offer. I only spent time in Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, and Ubud. Other travelers I’ve talked to who have traveled more off the beaten path, have come back with great stories of their time in Bali and other parts of Indonesia.

For me, no matter how hard I tried to make it work, Bali and I were not meant to be best buds. 

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If I had a more flexible budget there is a better chance that I would’ve enjoyed Bali. I didn’t see that many backpackers to begin with, it was mainly couples and families. With the initial demographic, I shouldn’t have been that surprised, but I found the famous beaches of Bali to be based around resorts and upscale pool clubs that were reminiscent of something out of Las Vegas, not the bohemian beachy paradise I was hoping for.

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If I had the money to afford one of the all inclusive resorts overlooking the beach, I would’ve had a completely different trip. Alas, I’ve been on a tight backpacker’s budget from the beginning, and I was astounded with how much Bali broke the bank compared to everywhere else that I’ve traveled in Southeast Asia, besides maybe Singapore. I continuously underestimated how much things would cost in the week I was there that I had to take out money three different times, not the best situation for the accruing amount of international ATM fees my bank account has already been bombarded with.

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Another aspect that took me completely by surprise was the beaches themselves. I hope this doesn’t come off as too pretentious, but compared to the beaches I’ve seen in California, Australia, and now even Cambodia and Thailand, the beaches of Kuta, Seminyak, and Legian, paled greatly in comparison. Not only were the beaches not quite as spectacular or as clean as I was expecting, but you couldn’t lie on the beach, or walk anywhere for that matter without constantly being harassed.

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I get harassed by hawkers no matter where I’ve traveled in Asia, but in Bali you can’t lie on the beach for more than 5 minutes without being asked if you want to buy something. There was no escaping the constant stream of hawkers when all I wanted was to be left alone to my book or my music and lay in the sand. I tried sitting in the sun, in the shade, behind a tree, but without fail I wouldn’t have more than a few minutes to myself. My solitary activities are one of my favorite things about going to the beach, besides maybe a game of beach volleyball. I try to understand the point of view from the hawkers, needing to make a living and always coming up short, but even still, with the excessiveness of it all, it just ended up rubbing me the wrong way.

The taxi drivers were another story all together. It was our fault that we had booked a bungalow so far away from the beach, a two hour walk from Seminyak. This left us no choice but to deal with the Blue Bird Group taxi drivers every day. Even though our guesthouse was off a main street, we got lost with a different cabbie every single night, and almost had more than a few mental breakdowns and unnecessarily inflated prices that they would add on to our initial agreed (and haggled) price. In none of the cabs we rode in did the driver know the street names, and this is when we would write them out in Balinese as well. They pretty much just knew the touristy bits of the main beaches but not anywhere in town.

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The one place that made me reevaluate my initial perception of Bali was Ubud. Ubud is what I was expecting Bali to be: a bit more laid back, hippie, healthy, yoga-centered, with a slower (and kinder) pace to life. I admit, I’m one of those fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, and maybe that built up my perceptions in the wrong way, but at least Ubud was what I had imagined when I read Gilbert’s memoir way back when in high school, and multiple times since. It overflowed with the feeling of happiness and connectivity, it reminded me a lot of my hometown of Santa Cruz, California.

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I love Ubud. It’s easy to maneuver, the market is alive and colorful yet not too pushy, the people friendlier. You can find the most delicious (and affordable) traditional Balinese dishes around town, or indulge in one of the many healthy cafe menu items, such as wheatgrass shots or tempeh, depending on your mood. It showed me that there are other sides to Bali besides the in-your-face tourism-centered side that I experienced in the Kuta area.

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Still, after being to every country on my travel list in Southeast Asia, I can say that even though beautiful, Indonesia was not my favorite country, but I look forward to exploring more sides that may suit my personality in a better way – perhaps Lombok and the Gili Islands for my next trip?

Have you ever been to Bali? Was it what you expected?

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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