Why Bali is Overrated, and Where to Go Instead

Why Bali is Overrated, and Where to Go Instead

Why Bali is Overrated, and Where to Go Instead

Bali is not paradise

Get rid of any preconceived ideas of what Bali is because chances are it’s not. Bali is not a small tropical Indonesian paradise; it’s a massive island to which 4 million people call home, and it has all the complications inherent to a population of that size.


Sidewalks don't exist in Bali

Sidewalks don’t exist in Bali


My favorite part of Bali

My favorite part of Bali was the night I spent in the small fishing village of Tulamben in the northeast. I liked Tulamben because it was removed from much of the chaos and commercialization that is present day Bali (at least when I was there in late 2009.)

To be clear, Tulamben is just as trashed as the rest of the island and I’d hardly call it nice. But at least Tulamben didn’t have motorcars revving their engines at all hours of the night, at least in Tulamben I wasn’t grabbed on the street by solicitors advertising their services, and at least in Tulamben I didn’t feel like I was going to get hit by a car every time I set foot outside.


Trash in Tulamben

Trash in relatively clean Tulamben, my favorite part of Bali


Get ready for the hard sale

Solicitors are everywhere. You can’t leave your accommodation without being asked if you want transport, massages, or drugs. Eye contact of any kind is an express invitation for your solicitor to continue their hard sell. One masseuse grabbed me and held on as I walked passed her – I had made the mistake of acknowledging her existence. I feel no sense of elitism toward solicitors, and ignoring them goes against my very nature. But it’s simply what you have to do in Bali.


The noise rivals that of India

Bali was the loudest place I went until I visited India, and I don’t mean the pleasant sound of waves crashing against the shoreline. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if it doesn’t make noise, it’s not roadworthy. Expect to hear horns and engines revving at all hours of the day and night.


Even the monkeys suck

I don’t mind monkeys, I really don’t. Hell, most of ’em are kind of cute. Not the ones in Bali, though. They’ll walk right up to you and grab you in hopes of food and drink. Not cool.

This fat monkey stole my water right out of my hand:

Monkey stole my water

The monkey that stole my water


Is there anything good about Bali?

Sure! The Balinese people primarily practice Hinduism, a stark difference from Indonesia’s overwhelming Muslim majority. As a result the island is home to some fascinating cultural intricacies, not least among them is some of the best suckling pig on earth. You’ll also find the impromptu dances on the streets, the burning of incense, and the deeply moving, carefully choreographed performances of the local people.

Also, Tanah Lot:

Tanah Lot


Where to go instead

My trip to Indonesia was short, but with 10,000 islands in the archipelago there’s bound to be a better alternative. I greatly preferred oft-maligned Jakarta to Bali. Maybe the problem is one of misguided expectations. I had ZERO hopes for Jakarta, and while I tried to keep my Bali expectations in check, I couldn’t help but feel excited on arrival.

If it’s a beach paradise you’re after, might I suggest the gorgeous islands dotting Thailand’s Andaman Sea?

Along with Buenos Aires, Bali ranks among my most overrated destinations.


What are your most overrated destinations?

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Comments ( 11 )

  • ExpatExplorers

    Great to hear that it wasn’t just my water bottle that got stolen by those monkeys! Make great photos but not very well behaved. We’ve just got back from Bali, and while I’d like to discover more, I think I preferred Java, even with two small children in tow. I’ve attached a link to our trip and photos. http://www.expatexplorers.org/2/category/indonesia/1.html

    • Ed Graham

      Nice photos. I’d love to go back to Indonesia and will certainly be looking at other options next time around. Sorry to hear about your water bottle as well!

  • Peter Shaw - Long Term travel

    Hmmm disagree with the premise of the post. You’re right Bali is not a tiny tropical paradise with just you, an island and a palm tree and yes there are too many annoying Australians there (i’m Australian, and they drive me nuts). But if you miss the good parts of Bali for the bad then your missing the point of travel, there are crap parts of every destination. Currently i’m in Amsterdam, maybe the coolest city on the planet yet there are parts of it that still annoy me, (tourists mostly) there are still endless cool things to do here outside of the annoying tourist areas. Like in Bali there are some crap places to visit (Kuta..) and some truly fantastic and simply stunning places off the beaten tourist trail to visit too. It’s a big island (takes hours to drive across..) why not get out of town and see the real Bali, it’s far more rewarding and fun.

    • Ed Graham

      Thanks for the comment. I totally agree that there’s good and bad to every destination. I’m sure parts of Bali are far nicer than where I was – mostly the south and the northeast. However with 10,000 islands in Indonesia I doubt you’d have to look hard to find an island that’s more relaxing than Bali. Besides, wouldn’t going to another island be the ultimate way to get off the beaten path, as you suggest?

      I would return to Bali but would leave the beaches behind and instead head instead in search of culture.

  • Joshua Dils

    Bali definitely has its ups and downs. We happened to go there during an Australian holiday, similar to America’s spring break in Mexico … quite the show. The surf was great, but overcrowded. Trash everywhere and a consumers paradise in the Kuta area. We did find some relief on other parts of the island when we gave up on the traditional surf-cation. We escaped to the Gili’s to relax, which was a nice change of pace, but still rather “touristy.” The island is still a beautiful place, we found the population pretty warm and generous, and some of the best coastal sunsets I have ever seen. I swore I would make repeat trips there, but after visiting, I think once is enough for us. I agree with you that there are many more authentic destinations to choose from.

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  • Neil

    Go to Bali and meet Australia’s worst, not a place I have ever enjoy, have had to go there for family functions, there as so many lovely countries in Asia that deserve our tourist dollars Bali is not one of them.
    Send our Boguns not our real tourists.

  • Neil

    I’ve travelled through many countries in my 65 years, Bali comes close to the worst, they love the Australian Dollar not the Australian tourist. Australians are becoming the ugly tourist if you want to see the worst you should definitely go to Bali and join you friends.

  • sharna

    I couldn’t agree more. I explored the circumference of the island hoping for a Thailand like paradise which we never found! Dirty beaches for the most part and just not much to see and do. Even Ubud underwhelmed me 🙁 The locals are so friendly though and the gili islands (lombok) are brilliant so this made up for it i guess

  • Zoe

    I can’t agree more that Bali is way overrated! My mum always wanted to visit Bali because she is a big beach lover but hell I was so disappointed the moment I arrived the airport.

    Every single places are extremely dirty and over commercialized. The monkeys sucks, when I was at the temple I heard numorous people screaming because the monkey stole something from them.

    The hard sale was horrible, the sarung seller basically hop on my tour van and forcing me to buy from her just because she saw I’m using one.

    My goodness, I will never return to that place again!

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