Tag Archives: Indonesia

Adventures to Have in the ‘Paris of Java’ – Bandung, Indonesia

Adventures in Bandung, Indonesia - Asia Travel

Last time I visited Indonesia it was 3 years ago and I was left with mixed feelings. I only went to Bali and came away with a dejected impression about the negative tourism that existed there. Ubud was the place that restored my faith in the small portion of Indonesia I visited. I vowed to come back to Indonesia for a second time around next time I was in Asia to give it a second chance and an open mind.

Well, I’m officially back in Asia and I’m looking forward to traveling to Indonesia in the next few months to dive deeper into Indonesian culture. I want to explore the many other wonderful places I’ve heard about in Indonesia, and to get away from the touristy side that I didn’t like so much in Bali.

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A Year to Remember

After many technical difficulties, I’ve finally been successful in uploading my video celebrating my one year travelversary!!

In the last year, I visited 8 countries, moved to 3 new cities, volunteered at 3 music festivals, and went to an outdoor short film festival. I rode an elephant, learned how to cook Thai food, went to my first footy game, got my scuba certification, and kayaked in the beautiful Halong Bay. I tried more new flavors than my taste buds had ever known before, including the likes of kangaroo, snake blood, emu, and crocodile. I’ve had the most challenging and best time of my life. It’s hard to convey in words what this year has meant to me, so I thought instead I’d say it in pictures. Thank you to all of the people, places, and experiences that have had an impact on my year abroad. It has been one hell of a ride, may the journey continue… 😉

 

[vimeo 92379042 w=500 h=281]

 

Besakih Temple, the worst side of Bali tourism

Never have I had as horrible of an experience with tourist exploitation as I did at the Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia. Although it is considered one of the top sites to see just outside of Ubud, also known as the “Mother Temple”, I’m telling you right now, it is not worth the hassle you will find there. I’m not one to dismiss tourist attractions simply because they may be a bit more difficult or prone to scams than others, but this place should sadly be passed up, it displays the worst side of Bali tourism.

For a place that’s supposed to be one of the largest and holiest temples in Bali, it doesn’t feel like anything more than a place to exploit tourists out of their money every step of the way, it is out of control.

We went to the Besakih Temple as one of the many stops on a tour we booked in Ubud. Other stops included the Goa Gajah (more popularly known as the Elephant Cave), the active volcano Mt. Batur, and a lookout over the rice paddies, all of which I would recommend. However, when we arrived at the Besakih Temple, we realized that we probably should have kept going. I had read in my guidebook to watch out for the numerous amount of scams at the Besakih Temple, our tour guide, a local Balinese man, even warned us that you shouldn’t pay anything extra than the entrance fee, and yet we were still not prepared for what we would encounter; one of my most frustrating days on the road that I have ever had.

After paying the entrance fee, we walked to the main entrance. There was a booth set up with men in uniforms, supposedly to check your tickets. However, when we approached they grabbed our tickets, and started aggressively telling us that we had to make a mandatory donation, something around 150,000 IDR (about $13), which is a lot in Bali and more than the entrance fee itself. When we told them we didn’t have that kind of money and that we were told there was no mandatory donation, they told us to just give them whatever was in our wallet. I refused and asked for my ticket back. They reluctantly agreed, and that’s when I realized this wasn’t a stop to check your ticket, it was just one of the many scams that the temple had to offer us that day.

After I told them there was no way I was going to make a donation, they told us we needed a “temple guardian”, someone to show us around the temples because there was a special ceremony that day and we couldn’t go into certain parts of the temple. They tell the same lie to tourists every day. I knew from reading up ahead of time that there wasn’t such a thing as “temple guardians”, it was just another scam. The other couple we were with paid them some Indonesian Rupiah to rent a sarong they didn’t need, and to rent a “guardian” simply to appease them. Even still, there was no guardian assigned to them, so we just started walking up the long hill towards the temple.

When we made it to the foot of the temple, there were three sets of stairs, one main one that led to a gate. There were “guardians” everywhere dressed in white. We walked up to the gate and there were children blocking our way telling us we needed a guardian. Already irritated with how many times they had attempted to trick us, I walked through quickly before they could say anything else. Unfortunately, the other three people in my group hung back, unsure of what the correct protocol was when we knew we were being scammed, but at the same time not wanting to offend the local Balinese. I walked back to the other side of the gate, not wanting to continue without my group, and that’s when the leader of the guardians, an older brother I would assume, came over to make his presence known.

Wearing a Harley Davidson shirt and smoking a cigarette on the entrance to the temple with a bandana around his head, he tried to claim that he was in charge and we weren’t getting past without paying an extortinate amount for a “guardian”. We argued with him for what seemed like ages, telling him he couldn’t legally block our way because we knew the “guardians” were just a scam, and we had already paid the entrance fee. At one point, looking into his eyes I could feel his hatred towards us exuding out of his whole body. When my friend told him that all we wanted was to see their beautiful temple, he made a racist slur about not wanting us white people in his country anyway. Ironic being that he makes his money off extorting tourists.

When we asked him if he had a boss or someone in charge we could talk to, he suddenly pretended that he didn’t understand us, even though he had been speaking in perfect english to us this whole time. He was getting angrier and he slammed the gate on us, not letting us past. We went to one of the other staircases and walked up no problem, but there were still “guardians” everywhere inside leading tourists around. We were stopped more than once by these “guardians” telling us we couldn’t go into certain areas, and then watched as they proceeded to bring a group of people into the very area they just told us we couldn’t go.

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We were so infuriated at this point, that we just decided to leave, not even having the chance to walk into the main sanctuary yet, we realized it wasn’t worth it anymore.

I try and understand the perspective of the Balinese who run this scam, that they do this out of desperation and need, that they feel validated because the tourists who come to their temple are so much more well off. Still, I couldn’t believe the disrespect they showed to one of their most sacred monuments, a place meant for reflection, prayer, and spirituality. I couldn’t believe they would treat other human beings with such disdain, making preconceived judgments and practicing reverse racism because of the color of our skin. I couldn’t believe how horrible of an experience the Besakih Temple was, and how  unregulated the scams are.

Similar to not supporting the young children in Cambodia selling souvenirs to tourists because you don’t want to encourage the bad side effects of tourism, the Besakih Temple isn’t worth going to because it’s supporting the worst side of Bali tourism. I’d like to believe that Bali is better place than that.

Travel Budgeting for Bali

I think I’ve finally recovered from the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan island and I have the energy once again to blog!  My second installation for Southeast Asia budgeting is Indonesia! Or more specifically, Bali. Here’s the run down of my expenses:

Note: All prices are in US dollars, and I rounded when necessary to keep things nice and easy. 

The currency in Indonesia is the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR for short) and the conversion is about 11,350 IDR to US$1. I already converted all the prices to approximate US dollars.

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Time spent = 7 nights, 8 days

Accommodation

North Kuta (4 nights) = $13.25/night ($53 total)

Ubud = (3 nights) = $9/night ($27 total)

My accommodation in North Kuta was extremely far from the main part of Bali’s beaches, it was about a 2 hour walk to the beach or a $5 taxi ride, which gets expensive fast. The only benefit was the free breakfast and having our own bungalow, but I don’t know if it was worth it for it was the most expensive place we’ve stayed at besides Singapore. Seminyak is a bit more upscale, so I work recommend checking out Legian or Kuta for cheaper accommodation that’s close to all the action, and make sure to double check the location!

In Ubud, I stayed at a guesthouse called Nyuh Gading on Monkey Forest Road, which I would recommend simply for the location and free breakfast, and $9-$10 seems about standard for Ubud accommodation. For breakfast you had the choice of a banana pancake or toast, both came with a fresh platter of fruit. The only issue I had was that it was right across from the football field, which meant hearing the local school’s gym class at 7am with a teacher that had a megaphone.

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Transport = $3.50/day ($28 total)

Most of our transportation costs were around North Kuta for taxi rides to and from the beach, and keep in mind that was sharing a taxi between two people, so if you’re traveling by yourself it’ll be twice as much. Other transportation costs included a shuttle from Kuta to Ubud ($8) and one from Ubud to the airport ($5.50).

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Food = $8.25/day ($66 total)

Luckily free breakfast is included in most accommodations in Bali, so we saved a bit on food in that capacity. You could find pretty cheap meals away from the touristy beach areas and/or in Ubud for around $2. If you are near the beach resorts in Seminyak, it’s hard to find meals under $4.

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Smoothies/juices = $6.00 total

Bali had some of the best smoothies.

Water (1500ml) = Around $0.50 each/$4.50 total for 9 bottles

Alcohol = $1.75 (for 1 Bintang)

Misc = $55.00

Breakdown of my miscellaneous purchases:

  • Massage on the beach = $4.50
  • Bintang sticker = $0.50
  • Stamps and postcards = $5.50
  • Day tour around Ubud sites and temple entry fees = $21
  • Yoga class = $10
  • Bracelet = $0.50
  • Departure tax at airport = $13

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Including everything, I spent about $30 a day, or $237 total.

Overall, Bali turned out to be one of the most expensive places we went to in Southeast Asia, besides Singapore which is as expensive as Australia. We did the bare minimum in terms of sightseeing and nice meals to stay within budget, and we still went over budget because literally everything costs money in Bali. So, even though cheaper than say Europe or Australia, be prepared to spend more than you would normally expect for Southeast Asia since Bali has become much more touristy in the past decade.

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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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