Let’s Go Exploring! Ubud, Bali: An Instagrammer’s Paradise

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Note: This post was written before the pandemic. We are still in Toronto and I put up this post for everyone who, like me, can’t wait to get out there and travel again

Some places leave footprints in our hearts, transform our minds, and we are better for having visited it. They are so breathtakingly beautiful; we never ever want to leave.

Bali…was not one of those places.

Sorry to disappoint you, but my description was actually about Chiang Mai. I was hoping Bali would be another such place. But sadly, Bali did not live up to my expectations.

So many expats told us Ubud, Bali was the next Chiang Mai, we expected a spiritual sanctuary and digital nomad paradise.

Lesson learned: Don’t have any preconceived notions of a place. You will inevitably be disappointed.

I suspect Bali, known as “the Island of the Gods”, was once an unspoiled paradise steeped with local culture and customs. Now, it’s an instagrammer-infested tourist trap, full of “woo-woo” people trying to sell you “rose water” and bragging about going to alcohol-free “conscious moon parties” where they can feel superior about their vegan lifestyles and pat each other on the back about being environmentally-conscious despite owning multiple gas-guzzling SUVs back in North America.

Ugh.

If I could describe Bali in two words, it would be “Fake LA”.

Here are a few things you should know before going to “Fake LA.”

Taxi Mafia

“Taxi? Taxi? Taxi?”

“TAXI! Hey Lady! TAXI! You want Taxi? Taxiiiiiiiiii???!!”

If you like being hassled every 5 mins, experience dangerous driving, and get charged whatever random fare the rigged taxi meter spits out, Ubud is for you.

And guess what? Unlike Chiang Mai, where you have the option of the local bus, Songthaews, and Grabs (the Asia version of Uber), in Ubud, you’re stuck with the Taxi mafia as your only option.

Even though ride-sharing services like Grab are allowed in other parts of Bali like Denpasar, Ubud Taxi drivers will literally beat up a Grab driver if they catch one coming to pick you up.

I’m fine with paying a higher fare if they do a good job, but not if they continuously get lost, drive dangerously and are rude to their customers, which is what we experienced with the local taxi mafia.

If you go to Ubud, do yourself a favour and get the number of a local driver and agree on a set price (you can use the Grab app to figure out the ballpark figure).

Photo credit: Daniel Zemans @ Flickr

Monkey Mafia

If you decide to go the Monkey Forest in Ubud, do not bring any food or drinks. Not even water.

I thought it was safe to haul around just an umbrella and bottle of water in a cloth shoulder bag. I left my wallet, camera, and phone back at the Airbnb since monkeys have been known to pickpocket you and then hold your stuff hostage until you exchange it back with treats.

Oh how naïve I was.

I was walking over a small bridge, minding my own business, when I felt something heavy slam into my shoulder.

Next thing I knew, the monkey that had just landed on my back, yanked the bag off my shoulder and took off with it into the forest.

“STOP! Bad Monkey! BAAAAAD Monkey” I yelled, giving it chase.

Suddenly, the thief’s companion, a small little monkey dropped onto the ground in front of me, baring its sharp teeth and hissed.

I backed away slowly. A $15 umbrella and $1 water bottle probably wasn’t worth getting rabies.

By the time I was back on the bridge, the monkey thief had dumped my bag out on the ground and started pawing through it. After opening the umbrella and twisting the bottle open with his teeth, he took a gulp. Realizing it was just tasteless water, he eventually got bored and ran off, leaving behind a mud-soaked umbrella and a crushed water bottle in his wake.

Monkeys are jerks.

Monkey: “Stupid humans. All your things are belong to me.”

Scams Galore

As a traveller in Ubud, you are a walking ATM. Rigged ATM machines, unscrupulous money changers, counterfeit SIM cards, shopper-keepers who try to short-change you. These are just some of the scams you’ll come across.

We should’ve been more vigilant since these are scams that we’ve been warned about the first time we came to South East Asia, but we’d gotten so comfortable and so trusting from being in Chiang Mai that we completely forgot.

I got a headache daily from all the mental gymnastics we had to do to find reputable ATMs with guards outside to avoid having our pin hacked and counting and recounting our money at foreign exchange counters to avoid being scammed. Since Indonesia Rupiahs are denoted in 10,000s, it’s easy for them to take advantage of travellers who get confused by the large denominations.

After the first day, I missed being in Chiang Mai where you could turn your brain off and just relax and be happy.

Pretentious Food

“High-vibrational.” “Raw-living.” “Soul-healing.”

Forget traditional, authentic home-cooked Balinese food. When you’re a trend-whore who prefers dishes with “Instagram-worthy” names like “hemp fig shakes” or “buckwheat granola” but don’t want to shell out L.A prices, why not come to Bali and have everything catered to you at half the price?

If you’re Asian, be prepared to be the only Asian person in the restaurant. None of the locals can afford to eat there, and nor will they want to as none of the food there will be recognizable as authentic food from home.

What we love most about Southeast Asia are the night markets and food hawker stalls. This is where culture shines. You can literally taste the culture and history in the food, and it’s the best feeling because in Asian cultures, Food = Love, so it’s like getting a hug from your grandma with every bite. Also, you’ll see all kinds of people eating at night markets—from the most ostentatious banker to the humble rice farmer. Hawker stalls are the great equalizer.

In Ubud, the food is highly stylized, trendy, and only affordable to those who are privileged enough to afford it. It’s all style, no substance, and not down to earth at all.

It was so exhausting trying to find some normal, authentic Babi Buling (Balinese Roast pig), I wanted to leave after 2 days. If I wanted to eat food from L.A, I’d just go to L.A. This is Bali, where the hell is my Balinese food, damn it?

Wow, so authentic and Balinese. Balinese people like granola in everything, right?

General “Woo-woo-ness”

Are you into “crystal healing”? “Breath work?”, “Alcohol-free full moon conscious parties?”

If not, forget about going to Ubud.

If you’re spiritual and emotional and this is your thing, great. But for a logical, scientific-minded person like me, handing over large sums of money to learn about how to “manifest energy from the cosmos” made me roll my eyes so hard I could see the back of my skull.

I wanted to go there to learn about Balinese culture but once again their spiritual traditions took a backseat to overpriced western “woo-woo” bullshit.

This is why Ubud felt more like “Woo”-bud to me.

All is Not Lost

Now, it might sound like I really hated Bali and never want to go back, but there was one experience there that made up for all the scams and superficial-ness.

It came to us in the form of a soft-spoken, smiling Balineses rice farmer named “Gusti”.

We ran into Gusti, unexpectedly, while coming back from one of the most touristy, crowded places called “Campuhan Ridge”.

I’d read countless traveller posts about how “unmissable” and photogenic it was. But in reality, just like the rest of the hyped attractions in Bali, it was crowded and not all that interesting.

What was interesting, however, was the undiscovered paradise across the river, practically right next to it.

Sari Organic Walk is a walking path shaded by palm trees, winding right through the rice fields in the northern part of the city. This was the first time we could actually be in Ubud without our thoughts being drowned out by the noise of a thousand  mopeds whizzing by.

A man in tattered cotton shorts and bare feet, sitting on the rice field called out to us.

“Welcome to Bali,” he said smiling. He then pointed to a row of yellow coconuts by his feet, “You want to buy some coconut? Very cheap. Only 10,000 Rupiah”.

(FYI 10,000 Rupiah is about $1 USD).

I’d completely drench my t-shirt by that time from walking around and avoiding the Taxi Mafia, so I gladly handed over the money and took the coconut. I downed most of it in one gulp.

“I,” he pointed to his chest. “Gusti”.

“Hi Gusti!” I said, his hand felt rough as sandpaper and I could feel the callouses on his thumb as I shook it.

“I show you secret waterfall near my house. You come with me.” He said, beckoning us to follow him as he deftly made his way down a muddy path and towards to the river. We were both wearing running shoes and still couldn’t keep up with him.

We arrived at a serene little spot along with river, with a canopy of trees giving us the amount of perfect shade on a hot day. The best part? We were the only ones there.

Gusti showed us the little waterfall, and then found us a spot to sit, which was a natural pool surrounded by rocks right by the edge of the river.

He then performed a beautiful water blessing ritual, with us holding hands and standing in a circle, while chanting a poem he wrote about what he wishes we would get out of our experience in Bali.

I took a deep breath and felt completely at peace and zen.

“You, a happy person,” he said, to Wanderer, looking directly in his eyes.

Then he turned and stared directly at me and said, “I can see, sometimes you think too much.”

He was right, of course, because at that moment I was worrying about how we were going to get back up the muddy trail with all our stuff.

Turns out, I didn’t have to worry, because Gusti lead the way, holding our hand any time we slipped.

He even took us to his farm house, were we met his mom, who was sitting topless on the floor and weaving a basket with bamboo leaves, smiling a toothless smile at us.

And finally, Gusti performed his most daring feat, which is climbing up a coconut tree, with nothing but a grass wreath wrapped around his feet, to get us some more coconuts.

I’ll never forget that day, because it was not only the best experience we had in Bali, but one of the best experiences we’ve ever had travelling the world.

For that reason, we’d go back to Bali in a heartbeat, if only just to visit Gusti. Next time though, I’ll skip the pretentious restaurants and get a rabies shot in case I get attacked by the Monkey Mafia again.

Here’s how much we spent in Ubud, Bali:

Category Cost in USD/couple Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $16.78 USD $22.15 CAD We found a nice 1 bedroom apartment in a 4-villa compound with pool for just $500/month. We took advantage of shoulder season pricing by going during rainy season in February. Since Ubud is touristy, you'll likely spend way more than this.
Food: $36 USD $47 CAD ($28 for eating out, $19 for groceries) We tried our best to find local authentic Balinese restaurants to eat in (they're called Warungs) but it wasn't easy.
Transportation: $6.50 USD/day $8.62 CAD/day Transportation includes the $210 CAD we spent flying there from Singapore on Scoot Airlines, spread out over the month. Other than that, we mostly walked around Ubud, or called a local driver who charged us reasonable Grab prices to get around.
Entertainment: $7.40/day $9.80 CAD/day We spent most of our entertainment budget on massages, which are comparable and sometimes even better than Chiang Mai (one of the few things that was better). You can pay as a little as $5 USD per hour for a Balinese massage or as much as $200 in the fancy hotels.
Total: $67 USD/couple/day $88 CAD/couple/day If you try to live eat authentic local food and walk instead of taking the taxi, and to go local attractions, Bali won't break the bank. But if you do the fancy hotels and packages, it won't be much less than just having a fancy vacation in North America. Overall I would say Bali is less developed than Thailand, more developed than Cambodia, but more expensive than both.

What do think? Would you go to Bali?


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63 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Ubud, Bali: An Instagrammer’s Paradise”

  1. I was thinking of visiting Ubud due to the workspaces and digital nomads, but I am definitely going to hate it after reading your review (I tend to hate the things you hated as well.)

    I’ve never been to Bali (Thailand only so far). Is there any part of Bali that is worth it and that interesting enough with many things to do that someone could spend a month there (i.e. Bangkok)?

    1. To be fair, I didn’t interact with the digital nomad group in Ubud, like I did in Chiang Mai. So you could give it a try and see for yourself whether you like it or not. I’ve heard from other travellers that Amed is a nice place to stay in Bali and not touristy, but since we ran out of time before the pandemic hit, didn’t get a chance to visit.

  2. I would have to say, you guys were either pretty gutsy or stupid to have followed
    Gusti into the jungle. You might never have came out and nobody would have found you.

    1. Ha ha, you sound like my Dad 🙂 In our experience travelling for the past 5 years, people are mostly kind and we haven’t encountered any bad apples who want to kill you for no reason. But thanks for your concern.

  3. Wow, this makes me sad. I went to Bali in 2016 and LOVED it. I’m not sure if things have changed that much since then, or if it was just a matter of expectations. I went in bracing to be disappointed by Bali because I had heard mixed things and was pleasantly surprised that it was one of my favorite trips of all time. (I was just reminiscing about it by reading back on old journal entries from my trip, funny timing!) Did you only stay in Ubud during your trip? I last went to Chiang Mai in 2002 so it has probably changed a lot since then; I probably should go back if you like it so much more than Bali!

    1. “I went in bracing to be disappointed by Bali because I had heard mixed things and was pleasantly surprised that it was one of my favorite trips of all time.”

      This could be it. I had low expectations for Vietnam because of Nomadic Matt’s post about it but was pleasantly surprised.

      So you could be right and it’s a unmet expectations thing. If I’d been told that Ubud was like Phuket and not like Chiang Mai, that would’ve been better. I also think it’s changed a lot overtime and the experiences people were describing likely happened before “Eat Pray Love” made it all touristy.

      We stayed in Ubud and Canggu. I didn’t like Canggu that much better either.

      As for Chiang Mai, there are also touristy places there too, so the key to stay away from the Old City and stay with the digital nomads in Nimmanhaemin or the up and coming area, Santitham.

      It’s possible I would’ve been happier if I found the Nimman or Santitham of Ubud, but it was so inconvenient to get around and the lack of public transport made it hard to explore the outlying areas.

  4. I have the same experience/views on Bali from a recent trip…the harassment from locals in the tourism business was suffocating and made me wary of interacting with locals generally, I am curious if you can clarify whether your interaction with Gusti was “free” or you compensated him for his time/energy in some way whether that’s money or buying goods (in addition to a coconut) from him, and did you feel any awkwardness/pressure to compensate him? Thanks!

      1. We had be planning on booking a trip to Lombok and Nusa Penida but with the pandemic starting to trap travellers on certain islands after ferries shut down we didn’t want to take that risk. I suspect Lombok would’ve been better.

    1. Our interaction with Gusti was free. He was a very kind hearted person who wanted to show us his farm house because we were his customers and bought the coconut from him. Didn’t feel awkwardness or pressure at all and really enjoyed spending time talking about his family and culture. I think this is what Ubud used to be like before the “Eat Pray Love” craze and Instragram influencers caused it to get touristy.

      1. I love this post and how you give your honest, no-holds-barred assessment of a place, unswayed by hype and influencers. Authentic experience is what good travel is all about. And meeting a great local like Gusti who had no hidden agenda makes it memorable. Yes, one has to be cautious with strangers, especially in an unfamiliar place, but being able to trust your own instincts and judgement helps so that you don’t just sticked with the known and familiar.

    1. Yeah, I suspect back in 1999 it was an unspoiled paradise. Lucky that you got to experience it before it got touristy.

    1. Glad I could be of service. L.A’s not all bad, just the parts full of tourists. Wanderer’s cousin lives there and we have fun visiting her 🙂

  5. I have been wondering how it is now. There is a high likelihood that the annoying people you met are not Balinese, but people from other parts of Indonesia who come to Bali to earn their living and Balinese hate them. So the key is find a reference before going there, find a local Balinese as a guide, which will help you experience the real Bali. Avoid places that are too well known: Sanur, Nusa Dua, Ubud and Kuta.

    1. That could be true. I’m sure there are other parts in Bali, without the tourists, that are nice. I got too hung up on the “Ubud and Canggu are the Chiang Mai of Bali!” statements I kept hearing. It should actually be “Ubud and Canggu are the Phuket of Bali”.

  6. Hi,

    We were there in 2018 and have to say we too weren’t wowed by Bali either, although for some slightly different reasons. We actually quite enjoyed the food there – both Balinese and Western (but not granola!) – and found it to be quite inexpensive, pretty much on-par with food costs in Thailand. Some of the best meals we had in our 10 months in Asia were in Bali! However, we found it to be really dirty, with lots of garbage floating in the ocean and by the side of the roads. And it was NOISY (except on Nyepi, the quietest day of the year) from all the crazy scooters zipping around. My husband also felt that it seemed that the locals were often trying to rip us off, and we heard this from a few others who we met up with there. We had a guy on a scooter who could see us looking for the Tegalalang Rice Terraces motion us to follow him there, then he got really angry when we weren’t interested in visiting the civet coffee plantation where he worked. The beaches in Bali were also not all-that either, with the exception of Nusa Dua and on Nusa Penida (which I suppose is technically not Bali).

    TBH, we also weren’t impressed with Chiang Mai, where we spent over 2 months in 2019. We had visited the city about 20 years ago and after reading so many articles about how great it’s become, were eager to return. We found it that it wasn’t any cheaper than Phuket and really didn’t have much more to offer us that we couldn’t find elsewhere in Thailand. But that’s just our two-bits! We’d much rather return to Phuket where at least you have the option of swimming and snorkelling, along with great food and people.

    Thanks for continuing to share your experiences and your knowledge!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! It definitely goes to show that different things appeal to different people. I personally hated Phuket, but lots of other people love it, so just a difference of opinion.

  7. wow – sux it’s has gotten that bad! we went to Bali in 2010 & it was amazing! Ubud was more touristy than other areas but not as bad as what you describe – but i can see how it would easily turn into this!
    the balinese people stand out in our minds as the kindest in all our travels (over 40 countries) & the food was amazing too!
    conversely i spent 2 months in chiang mai in 2005 and found it to be completely mediocre, except the cheap prices. in 2005, i found Pai to be the star of northern (except issan area) thailand.
    now when we go to thailand we spend a few weeks in bangkok, which never gets old, then hop down to the beach! i would love to go back to Pai, but i fear it’s probably gone the way of Bali – super instagrammy & void of authenticity.

    1. LOL. We keep trying to get to Pai, but something always comes up and we never make it there. Ah well, maybe next time.

  8. I truly feel that Instagram or “Instagram culture”has ruined many places. I’m glad to hear you still think highly of Chiang Mai. Was supposed to be there earlier this year but corona had other plans. 😢

    1. Yeah, I guess when a place is good, people talk can’t help but talk about it and then it ends up being overcrowded.

      I can’t wait to go back to Chiang Mai. I’m worried that one day it’ll be ruined just like Ubud. But hopefully if we keep scoping out digital nomad areas like Nimman and Santitham it’ll be ok. *fingers crossed*. I’m pretty sure the reason why I see CM differently from most travellers who go there is the digital nomad community. So far, haven’t found any other place in SE Asia that has the same entrepreneurial vibe with like-minded people. Hope you get to go sometime!

  9. Interesting observations! I’ve heard similar complaints about a lot of places in SE Asia and tend to agree to some extent. I even felt that way about Chiang Mai though we were only there for 2 weeks. The expat side felt like LA or Miami or any fancy pants city. $8 for a meal at a mediocre western restaurant or Americanized Thai restaurant in some parts of the city. We obviously skipped those 🙂

    The trick, as you discovered, is to find your Gusti experience. That makes up for all the lackluster tourist trail experiences everywhere else. Our best travel memories come from those Gusti moments and not the tourist trap places. FYI we found a similar relatively quiet waterfall/beach cove in Ocho Rios Jamaica that’s free and full of locals. The little kids even climbed all over me like those monkeys did to you in Bali (though they didn’t steal anything). Oh and Ocho Rios has a taxi mafia too 🙂 $20USD for a 1 mile taxi ride on the highway out of town in a shared bus. Nope – I can walk!! And the driver probably would have taken us to the expensive crowded waterfall instead of the free one!

    1. “$8 for a meal at a mediocre western restaurant or Americanized Thai restaurant in some parts of the city”

      Um..I think you guys may have been going to the wrong restaurants 🙂 I made a food list from recommendations from locals and digital nomads and none of the meals are more than $5 (the location of these places aren’t obvious ’cause many are just in someone’s backyard). Have tested this list out on family and Chautauquans and they seem to love it. There are some more expensive places that are worth the extra cost but you gotta avoid the touristy places. So yes, it’s true, Chiang Mai also has toursity places (stay away from the Old City!).

      I probably would’ve had a better experience in Ubud had I gotten a local guide to take me to the local places. My biggest problem was the transportation. Because you can’t get around conveniently like Chiang Mai, it was very hard to explore outlying areas. For people who rent scooters, they probaly have a way better time but looking at the stats of how many travellers die every month on scooters, it wasn’t for us.

      Interesting to know that the taxi mafia exists in Jamaica too! Guess it happens in all touristy areas.

      1. Ha ha – I think you sent us that Chiang Mai restaurant list too! We definitely didn’t spend $8/plate at any restaurants. More typical was 40 baht ($1.33 USD roughly) and sometimes we would get a few extra plates to share since portions are on the small side. I don’t think we ever spent more than $20 in CM for the five of us when dining out.

        Just saying that when looking at many restaurants loved by white tourists, it’s all the crap that you mentioned about Bali. Like why would I pay $8 for an omelet in Chiang Mai that I could make in my airbnb or back home in Raleigh for $0.50?? And why would I eat an omelet there instead of pad thai or khao soi??

        The trick is to find those good local places of course!

  10. I can see why you might want to bash Bali. It’s a pretty easy target.
    I’ve lived in Australia on and off for 12 years, and Bali (well more Kuta) is where all Aussies go for their 2 week drink fest, so I was never interested. And after all the eat pray love stuff, I had little interest in seeing Ubud either.

    But a while back, a friend was having a birthday celebration and splashed out on a fancy place in Seminyak, so I had no choice but to visit.
    I didn’t care for Seminyak, but on a day trip mountain biking down the volcano through villages north of Ubud, I decided that there might be more to Bali.
    A while later, I came back for a month to work remotely.

    The first place I stayed in was a few k north of the city. I stayed in a beautiful family compound, amid small temples and the family were amazingly welcoming. I also stayed in a more remote place with my own pool and rice terrace view for very little.
    I rented a moped to visit the cowork space in Ubud, but mostly I just wander around through amazing rice terrace fields without seeing anyone other than the local farmers. Kind of the bit you liked. But I did that every day. At night I waled the dark streets by flashlight or moonlight. I felt like I had travelled back in time. I loved it.

    I liked Campuhan, but I only went at dawn, for a run, when there was nobody there. It really isn’t hard to get off the tourist trap.

    And the food! As a vegetarian, I ate the best food Ive had in Bali. I love Thailand, Ive been 8 times, and I adore the food, but its so nice to be somewhere where you don’t have to try to explain that you don’t want meat in your dish all the time. You can actually eat anything from the menu in many places. Such a treat!
    And sure, some of the restaurants were overpriced by Indonesian standards, and several had a few too many of the travellers you described, but live and let live.
    And you can mix it up with 50c local coffee and a freshly chopped coconut from the local ‘gas store’.

    1. Yeah, I can see that if you’re a vegetarian you would love Bali. And if we’d rented a scooter, we probably could’ve reached the better, less touristy, outlying areas, but my track record of falling off a scooter in Koh Lanta after just trying to ride it in a parking lot doesn’t not bode well for us riding one 😛 If Grab was allowed in Ubud, we probably would’ve had a better time.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!

      1. You know, I had forgotten how annoyed I was with the one (and only!) taxi I took on that trip! So I can sympathise with your annoyance about transport.
        I had to go to Denpasar and Kuta once, and to the airport at the end, and ended up using the bus service. That was far less frustrating for me than a Taxi (even if kinda inconvenient).

  11. Wow, now that you have lowered everyones expectations of going to this great country, i am sure most will have an amazing trip.

    We go to both Bali & Thailand regularly and have never had a bad day in either

    Hopefully your next trip over there will be awesome

    1. Just helping them by setting expectations so they don’t get disappointed 🙂 Maybe they will love it. I had super low expectations of Vietnam from Nomadic Matt’s post but ended up loving it. So maybe the same thing will happen here. As they say, Happiness = Expectations – Reality.

  12. I’ve been to Bali a dozen times over the past 20 years and have seen the negative impact of increased tourism like a lot of places (taxi mafia, tourist prices vs. local, the usual sidewalk scams). But I think you have been unfairly critical of Ubud. Yes it’s not perfect, and not as cheap as other parts of Asia and Bali (Ubud tends to cater to older, zen-crowd wealthier tourists with boutiques, high end cafes etc) but your blog post totally missed the cultural gems to be found near Ubud – night time Barong and Fire dance performances, more temples that you can count, spectacular waterfalls and rice fields, all conveniently located a short taxi ride away. And if you want to be adventurous rent a motorbike for less that $10/day and really explore.
    I hope your readers don’t get turned off of Bali / Ubud by your post. There is so much to discover, Here’s one hot tip tho, when you land in Denpasar, drive right thru tourist-trap sh*thole Kuta and head right to Ubud. A stint in beachfront Canggu is highly recommended, but do it soon before it gets too developed.
    One last comment, I don’t quite see your love of Chiang Mai. I guess it’s a personal choice, the walled town is pretty cool and the people and food are lovely. But after 4-5 days I was ready to go. I guess I am more of a “seaside” person. It felt a bit claustrophobic.
    Cheers

    1. “all conveniently located a short taxi ride away. And if you want to be adventurous rent a motorbike for less that $10/day and really explore.”

      That was the problem for me. You can’t get anywhere without a taxi or renting a scooter. More public transportation options would’ve helped in exploring the outlying areas. I did love the Sari Organic Walk area, which was away from all the traffic.

      But yes, I agree, different people like different things. This post is my point of view, doesn’t mean everyone will feel the same way.

  13. I lived in Bali for more than 5 years and have personally witnessed the gradual deterioration of the place. Your comments are spot on! What gets to me is the insane traffic, intense heat, woo woo people and over inflated prices. Also the short sighted attempts to control the market when it comes to transportation.
    Ubud is oh so “spiritual” and Canggu oh so “hipster” wannabe LA style…. what a shame!

    1. “gradual deterioration of the place”

      Those words are spot on. I think my expectations got messed up because all the positive feedback were from people who’d gone to Bali years ago, before all the traffic and crowds came and ruined it.

      Would’ve been amazing to see it as it once was. Oh well.

  14. I first went to SE Asia in 1985. Ubud had no sidewalks, gravel roads, very few cars, and street stalls were lit by candle light at night. It was magical. I’ve been back a total of 6 times. The last time I was in Ubud was 2018. In a way it sickened me. What was different was the influx of certain cultures that are new to travel and that don’t really find joy in something different. Balinese people adapt and bend under the strain. Some of them have returned what they have received, disingenuous attitudes. But as a whole, regardless of the changes, it’s the people I long to see and interact with. They are the most beautiful generous people. Those of them who seem otherwise, are just trying to survive. Try not to look at them through the eyes of first world privilege. See them for what they really are. A culture who has been exploited, forced to sell their rice paddies to make way for new hotels, while in doing so, have been left with nothing. Because they have been offered so little for their land, but to a rice farmer it seems like a fortune. Are there bad days while traveling there? Sure. What do you expect? There are bad days traveling anywhere. Then there are the great ones. This is called TRAVEL! I love all of SE Asia. My home away from home.

  15. Well written and thank you for telling the truth. I’m getting a little tired of other travel blogs and YouTube videos by digital nomads where everything is “Awesome”, “Must See”, “To Die For”, when I know for a fact they’re not. Good to see some honest truth being told. By the way, I love the humour in all your posts. Keep it up!

  16. I ran into the taxi mafia everywhere in Indonesia. Did my best not giving in. In Bali I would walked 30 minutes away from the toads to get Grab.

    I took a bus from Bali to Surabaya. The ticket seller assured that it was a ‘new’ bus. Turned out to be a newly painted bus that was marginal mechanically.

    1. “I would walked 30 minutes away from the roads to get Grab.”

      So the Taxi Mafia didn’t hassel you when the Grab driver got into town? Some of the Grab drivers we spoke to said the Taxi Mafia would fake order a Grab and when the driver showed up, they would beat them up and throw a brick through their car window.

      1. I was always able to get a ‘willing’ driver. In general there is always the possibility of ‘issues’ when foreigners use Grab in SE Asia.

        A group of us went outside Bangkok for an outing once. We decided to use Grab rather than public transportation on the return. The app definitely said it could accommodated 7 people but driver said Bangkok law allowed 6 only. We argued for 30 minutes and finally met half way with the additional charge. After we returned to the hostel, we wondered whether we should have stand our ground. The driver wanted an additional fee which converted to $1US.

  17. I went to Bali in 1982 and it was amazing.
    30 of us in teacher’s college went for 2 weeks in the summer holidays and had a fantastic time.
    In 2006 I took my 4 sons back for their first overseas holiday. Apart from my oldest son being creeped out by the monkeys, we also had a great time. Maybe I was shielded by the hucksters because I had 4 small boys with me?

    1. I don’t think all of Bali is bad. Just the touristy areas. I probably should’ve realized that and gone to Amed instead. If you want to go, don’t let my post stop you. Those are just things that I hope people are aware of to set their expectations.

  18. While in many ways it may be overwhelming to see the way an 800 percent spike in tourism has impacted Bali over the past eight years- the capitalist surface yoga studio phenomenon you describe has actually been sweeping the globe and Bali is not alone in facing the impact. But Speaking of Americans, I recently watched a tribute to Wayne Dyer, a man I met many years ago in the early rise of this contemporary new age culture. Wayne had a penchant for learning the Tao and applying his western filter. In the movie he was describing a woman who visited his home place and asked him”I’m thinking of moving here what are the people like?” He replied “what are they like where you live now?” Her response was that she found the people, rude, harassing but of little time and friendliness. Hearing this, he informed her she would probably find them the same where he lives. Another time a woman asked him an almost identical question while holidaying near his home. She replied how much she loved her neighbours and had such a great social life.”then you’ll easily find that here, he responded”. So yes this was his take on an ancient Buddhist story, but the message rings as clear as the bell of Tara. I have lived less than three kilometres from the heart of Ubud on that horrible champuhan ridge which is a Leyline of sacred power for the dragon rivers meeting. I could go many weeks without seeing westerners just hanging out in the village that translates “back of the ant”. I suggest visiting Bali with an open heart and peaceful tolerance and don’t rush, have time to meet and talk with the locals. Then you will find the Island of the Gods is truly an island of Gusti, who yes is a lovely man. But even Sari organic as you mentioned, was founded by a westerner decades ago to help the Balinese and many come to live with unity and support. It has always been so. When I spent significant time in Chang Mai, I loved it also, especially the hill tribe people and making music, night markets. But I also supported and worked with those who were rescuing children prostituted into brothels, the youngest I saw just three years old, kidnapped and sold to escape the Drug trafficking chains who were raiding the villages on the borders, or refugees. My point is, all our experiences in life are not about our personal comfort and ease, but the rewards we take from our journeys through light and dark which is ever present wherever we go. Om Swasti ast, Santi x3

  19. “GENERAL “WOO-WOO-NESS””

    Haha, well, that’s a pretty good summary of you felt on those spirtual topics! 😉

    But, did you find any sort of mental/psychological aspects of interest? Philosophy?

  20. We were in Ubud earlier this year and found it dirty, hot, muggy, overcrowded, and waaay too touristy for our tastes. It was even difficult walking around the streets because the sidewalks are either nonexistent or badly broken up. You are constantly having to watch where you are walking to keep from a) running into people walking in the opposite direction, b) twisting your ankle on the broken sidewalk pavement, or c) getting forced out into the roadway and being run over by a vehicle. After a couple hours of this, I had had enough. And then, it started raining. This was no ordinary rain, but rather, a torrential downpour. There was no room to navigate the sidewalks with an open umbrella, and we were drenched before we had a chance to don our cheap rainsuits. And it kept coming down like that for hours.

    You are right about the massages. Very reasonably priced, though we did not have time to indulge. But again, for our tastes, I cannot see why anyone would make the trip, quite frankly.

  21. Wow – Chiang Mai was already on our list, but this post makes me want to go even more.

    We went to Bali in 2018 for two weeks, including 1 week in Ubud and loved it. Other than having taxi drivers frequently ask if you needed them, we didn’t experience any of the negatives you did. Enjoyed the Sacred Monkey Forest, although they are cheeky buggers. Rented a scooter for our week in Ubud and never needed a taxi. Rented a private driver for a couple days ($50 USD per day all in) to tour around. Loved the food and ate at inexpensive restaurants with authentic dishes (duck!). Somehow avoided the woo hoo people although there were plenty around (we mostly kept to ourselves).

    I know you guys are experienced travellers … it’s funny how your perception/enjoyment of a place comes down to individual experiences. For those turned off Bali by this article, I’d recommend you try it for yourselves – we can’t wait to go back! But maybe we’ll try Thailand first … 😉

  22. I was in Ubud in February this year as well, too bad our paths didn’t cross. Agreed with your general comments on the taxi mafia, monkey gangsters (wouldn’t recommend going to the Monkey Forrest either), and the instagrammer paradise, tourist galore…..etc. If I was just roaming around Ubud without any pre-set plans, I’d probably feel the same and be bored out of my mind within a day or 2.

    However Ubud is also a place where people come to reset their bodies and mind, be it physically or spiritually (yes i know it’s overhyped in Ubud…lol, but there’s still some truth in there). I was at the Yoga Barn doing a 7 day juice-detox retreat, and frankly it was one of the most uncomfortable but yet liberating and humbling experiences I’ve ever had. At the retreat we were shielded from most of the commercialized/over-populated touristy spots, since there weren’t too much we could do if we went out to the market (couldn’t eat as we were on a detox; and most things that normal people do involve food/drink..lol). The general Ubud scene that you mentioned aside, there are other aspects of Ubud that’s worth exploring, such as cooking classes, Mt Batur sunrise volcano hike (pretty crowded too at 3am), water temples, etc. Some of the locals that I got to meet, eg. the staff at the Yoga Barn, hired drivers to the airport (his name was also Gusti…there are 4 common names in Bali depending the order of your birth) were genuine and so open in sharing the Balinese culture and history. Just like your experience with Gusti, there are still amazing experiences to be had in Ubud. As horrible as Ubud may sound for some people, I wouldn’t discount it…just don’t stay too long there. lol.

  23. Bali has turned into an overhyped, overpriced pseudo experience that I will not wish even on my enemies !!. There are far better places around Asia. Just skip the place

  24. Wow, thanks for sharing this! I’ve never been, but can certainly relate to the impact of expectations on experience! I almost got a little teary-eyed reading about Gusti. And I had NO idea Monkey Mafias have up-leveled to bartering in exchange for the return of one’s stuff. Is it wrong that that’s a major Bali selling point to me? 😉

  25. Huh, I get the distinct impression you didn’t enjoy a lot of the experiences in Ubud. 😉

    Good to know it wasn’t all bad!

    Hope you guys are enjoying Toronto! Stay safe!

  26. I had to go to Ubud because I surfed for 9 days straight over in Lombok next door and burned my eyeballs. Yes, not my skin, just my eyeballs. I needed a place away from the ocean glare to recover. Everything was blurry for a few days. I was probably overcharged but couldn’t see a thing at the time. Darn.
    Lombok was inexpensive though.

  27. Try not to judge Bali by bad experiences in Ubud. I love Ubud. But traveling in Asia has always been hard. There are many places to go on the island that guarantee a good experience. And while in Ubud, book a couple of preformances in the small surrounding villages, through the tourist office, they could use the money. Monkey Forest can be a beautiful place. I walked through it everyday to get to my homestay. Trick is… monkeys are smart. If you carry no bag and DO NOT buy the snacks for them at the entrance, stuff your hat and glasses in a pocket, they leave you alone. I always showed them my out stretched empty hands when encountering them close up. Then they moved on. Those monkeys are the same all over Bali. And the taxi drivers….it may seem rude to westerners, but if your not interested in something, do not make eye contact and do not say anthing, just keep walking. This can be very effective in Asia. And they don’t regard it as rude. They just get the message faster than a response. Don’t even say “no” or shake your head. This is seen as an engagement. Anyway, last but not least. Balinese people dont meditate! They just jumped on the Guru bus to make money. Why not! If you ask a Balinese person if they meditate, their answer is “in a way, but in the way we think and act in everuday life”. And if you think the way of the Balinese life is fading, remember that it scares them also, more than you. So be kind and mindful. Its a place still worth traveling to.

  28. We too were very disappointed in Bali; maybe our expect ions were too high, but there were just far too many other tourists for our taste. My wife described it as Jamaica with temples!

  29. Thank you for your trip write-up. Your observation and candid opinion help provide realistic expectations. Please write more about places you visit.

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