The Truth About Bali

Before I went to Bali, my expectations were admittedly very high. Perfectly edited Instagram photos posted by my favourite influencers and Eat, Pray, Love had led me to anticipate a zen paradise with stunning beaches, lush forests, palm trees and sunshine. I’d been told there was barely any plastic used on the island and you’d struggle to find any restaurants offering a plastic straw. It was an island of yoga-retreats and delicious vegan food. After years of wanting to go, I finally had my chance last summer. So were my expectations too high?


The reality I discovered was very different to what I’d seen on Instagram. Bali is incredibly busy. The roads are full of scooters, sometimes piled with 4 or 5 people, cars, street vendors trying to sell you things, people trying to attract you into their stores and restaurants. Turning taxi drivers away became exhausting as they’d beep and stop by us walking down the street. The picturesque rice paddies I’d seen on Instagram were beside a main road and there was a queue of tourists waiting to take photos. My expectations were shattered.


There is also an enormous problem with waste disposal, and this is something that locals told us they were concerned about as tourism has boomed in recent years. The truth is - the beaches were full of rubbish. As much as we tried to pick up plastic from the ocean, it was impossible to make a tangible difference to the sheer volume of rubbish. There were bottles, straws, food wrappers lining even the areas with exclusive resorts. We were told by a local about a particular spot where waste is dumped in the ocean. We were totally overwhelmed. It was so different to the plastic-free, vegan, serene island we wanted.


The Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud was sold to us an open and sacred forest with monkeys freely roaming around. What I discovered made me feel very uncomfortable. There were staff inside the forest there to ensure that the monkeys were safe and tourists were not doing anything to harm them. However, some of the staff purposely antagonised the monkeys until they were showing their fangs to show off to tourists. I also witnessed another monkey eating a packet of cigarettes that a tourist had left behind.


There are also so many stray animals. Stray dogs and cats are everywhere, and some we came across were badly injured or malnourished. A beach in Sanur, which was by far the worst one we visited, was full of stray dogs.


So, did Bali have any redeeming features?


I would be lying if I said Bali was completely awful. We spent our second week in the Gili Islands and they were absolutely dreamy - far closer to the paradise we were looking for! The food in Bali was also incredible, some of the best I’d ever had in my life. Some of the locals we met were incredibly generous and some of the temples and palaces we got to visit were mesmerising.


The ugly truth about Bali is over-tourism. But don’t discount it entirely from your travel bucket-list!