Bali

The Bali experience has left me with a bit of a conundrum: where is going to be as good as that?! Travel is a personal thing, but you can perhaps relate at least in part to my take on an idyll: safe, friendly, rich in culture, beautiful nature, beautiful man-made, great climate, and a cheap cost of living for a bonus. Bali delivered on all fronts.

Bali is peculiar to Indonesia because it is Hindu, rather than Muslim, and the Bali form of Hinduism permeates everything here (95% of residents follow). Tiny offerings and statues of gods everywhere, at least three temples per village and in every building a shrine. 500 new shrines and temples are built every month – the religion is as current as it ever was, with the youth fully involved. A tremendous amount of rituals and ceremonies means the Balinese are often seen in traditional dress, with flowers a key part of the look and the offerings. The extension of Hindusim into Balinese behaviour is ‘ritualised self-control’, which in practice means modesty and restraint. In short, the religion is all-involving.

The religion merges into the culture as their religious devotion is echoed in their devotion to arts and crafts (on a large scale) and to architecture. The architectural themes of gated entrances, pavillions, water features, and of course shrines and statues have been studiously reflected in the hotels and villas on the island, giving the whole island a consistent feel, and beauty. The man-made beauty across the island is all the more impressive given that existence here is tough for many. Tourism now accounts for 80% of the island’s income, but 80% of Balinese still work in agriculture. Working in tourism pays little, working in agriculture less. Hence, it is not uncommon for parents to sell a rice field and send their kids to tourism school. Labour is cheap here – you could live here and have a maid, cook and driver all for $200 a month.

Despite the meagre earnings, the Balinese are a happy people and could not be more friendly. It’s not possible to be a faceless person on the island – all are involved, and this extends to tourists. Tourism has clearly had an impact on the island, but not in the kind of ruinous way whereby the original reasons for coming are slowly devoured. There is no problematic friction between locals and tourists (on which note, the Bali bombings were carried out by a Muslim terrorist group), and the Bali culture remains strong and dominant, rather than diluted and then packaged up for visitors in a less authentic way. To complete the picture, the nature is lush green, with tiers of paddy fields amongst the palms, and there are beautiful beaches, wild chickens and lizards galore.

Negatives? There are quite a lot of ill looking dogs around. The Balinese largely consider them scavengers in league with evil spirits, and as a result they have a difficult existence. There is a caste system, in line with Hinduism elsewhere, meaning not all are equal. You will see swastika symbols – but this is nothing sinister, in fact it means in harmony with the universe and precedes Nazism. And of course, as with anywhere that might be considered idyllic, greed naturally steps in, and some long-time visitors to Bali bemoan this. There are a few opportunists in the most touristy south (often coming over from neighbouring Java), big luxury hotel resorts have edged out old backpacker Bali, and Jakarta has taken its slice through shortening visas and applying a departure tax. As a first time visitor, I would say this: the mature Bali remains very attractive: crime remains very low, trust and friendliness reign, and the beauty and culture of the island rival anywhere I have been.

The majority of visitors to Indonesia go to Bali and Bali alone. On my current trip, that is also the limit of my dip into the 4th most populous nation on Earth too. So I will leave this post as a little Bali travel summary and not attempt a wider analysis of Indonesia and its markets. Some pics to finish then:

A Bali temple ceremony.

Ubud Temple

Rice field terracing.

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There is no limit to what a motorcycle can carry here.

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My wife gets a head massage.

Gabi Monkey 2My son relaxes at the beach.

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14 thoughts on “Bali

      1. Good stuff John, will keep following the blog, maybe I can buy you a lovely cool beer down here in the City of Sails! (we certainly need one at the moment, its very warm). A Merry Christmas to you and your family

  1. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, John. My scenario, as you know is bearish, at least from jan13 to feb-march13, the Cycle is lagging from last summer

  2. Merry Christmas everyone. Spectacular photos of Bali, John. It sounds wonderful. Found an article just now, on the subject of Bonds and Equities. Many people have been suggesting a major sign of the secular inversion will be the proper transfer of people from Bonds into Equities, just as they did from the 1950s until 1980.
    http://www.efinancialnews.com/story/2012-12-20/share-prices-are-set-to-leap

    The article I’ve provided has the impression that the main opposition to Equities is Bonds, and that what is termed as a trickle of money into Equities may turn into a flood by March 2013. With Bond yields having formed a base around July this year, people might think it isn’t worth investing in an inflated bond market, Equities seem like the cheaper alternative already, whilst Precious Metals are seen as risky, having made a loss over the whole of the last year, whilst PMs are being shoved in our faces by dye-in-the-wool Gold bugs who insist a new Gold standard is imminent.

  3. How is the weather like over there, John I heard yesterday some news about danger in Singapur and other countries of the region.

  4. Thanks, John, that´s not good for me, my scenario is appeased in the begining of jan13, but not in the rest. Is possible to see bigger your pictures as always?

    Have nice days.

  5. Not sure what Bali you visited, but I would like to go there.

    This is my first visit to Bali and will be my last.

    If I could sum up Bali in a few words:
    Strong coffee, delicious food, nice hospitality staff and GREED & Corruption.

    One hour in Kuta was more than enough time where I even had to tell pushy stall owners to let go of my arm as I tried to walk past.

    Seminyak could be any western town without the road quality & safety.

    I came to Ubud where I have spent just over a week because I thought it was closer to the ‘culture’ of Bali.

    You can’t walk 50m without being shouted at for a TAXI, even when you are clearly walking into your hotel entrance, a shop or a restaurant. Crossing the road doesnt help because they will just shout louder or cross the street.
    You can’t eat in peace without someone coming into the place or up to the window trying to sell you something. On the subject of eating.. The prices are ridiculous. For the tiny wages they pay staff, the small cost of produce, many places are charging close to what I would pay back in Aus. Just trying to exploit as much as they can from tourists.

    The only time people say ‘hello’ to you it is followed by a ‘taxi’ ‘massage’ you look/you buy’. I was conned into shaking a few people’s hands in the first few days as I thought they were genuine, but it just a ploy to be able to keep hold of you while they try to sell you something. It’s disgusting.

    Then there are the greedy westerners who open yoga studios and organic cafes and charge western prices while they no doubt pay the local wage.

    The whole place is a disgrace. The only positive is a bicycle tour where I got to visit some villages and see the innocent children who want to say hi to you and smile just because, not because they want something from you. And a two hour conversation I had with a young Balinese gentlemen about his life.

    Never again.

    1. We saw a lot of the island and stayed in 4 different places. Kuta is the one place we avoided because I had done enough reading to put me off. I concur that Ubud has an oversupply of taxi offers, but I found a polite decline and they didn’t ask again, so it didn’t bother me. I suspect you would have found things different had you got out of the main touristy areas of the south part of the island. In the north west, for example, hawking is prohibited, everyone says hello, the place is quiet, prices are cheap, and there is excellent snorkelling off Menjangan island. I found Bali beautiful all over and hiring a car and a driver very cheap, which means there is no need to just stick to the most well known places, in fact the opposite. Regarding prices, all budgets are catered for on Bali, from the mega resorts to the surfer shacks, and dining options to match. We certainly had some great but cheap meals – including locals’ recommendations on the outskirts of Ubud, rather than in the centre. Ultimately, travel is a personal thing, and circumstances, taste, choices and the odd incident can really colour it differently from one person to the next, so it was interesting to read your opposite experience.

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