Why I’ve never bothered to see Bali


The title of this story was going to be different. It was going to be, “Why I’ve never been to Bali”. But then I remembered that I have actually been to Bali.

It was only for two days, for a hotel opening back in 2012, and I’d kind of forgotten that it ever happened. Clearly, Bali made a large impression on me. I’ve been there? Right.

So yes, technically, I have been to Bali. But I haven’t seen Bali. I haven’t properly experienced this insanely popular island. I haven’t witnessed the good and the bad there: the surf beaches, the spirituality, the great food and the hospitable people, contrasted with the deluge of Australians, the Bintang-singlet-wearing masses who arrive on the island’s shores day after day after day to live it up on the cheap.

I’m in the minority here, I realise, because most Australians have seen Bali, and most seem to have enjoyed it. This Indonesian island is one of the most popular destinations for Australian travellers, a perennial favourite that seems to have eased its way over speedbumps such as terror attacks and volcanic ash clouds and the tall poppy syndrome of the tourism cycle to remain incredibly popular.

Last year, 1.18 million Australians travelled to Indonesia, and most of those holidaying headed to Bali. Only New Zealand, with 1.42 million Australian visitors, could top that number. Clearly, there’s something going on here.

And yet, I’ve never felt the pull. I’ve been to some pretty out-there places around the world, 83 countries in total, and done some pretty out-there things – searched for gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo; bought black-market caviar in Azerbaijan; slept in a ger in Mongolia; sailed all the way to Antarctica – but I’ve never properly been to Bali, possibly one of the easiest and most enjoyable destinations of all.

So, what gives? You have to examine something like that, figure out what’s going on. Why, if I’m so curious about the world, and so keen to visit absolutely everywhere to see it with my own eyes and judge for myself, have I never really bothered to go to Bali?

I think there are a few reasons, though they can mostly be summed up by the idea that I’m just not that into all of the things that Bali is supposed to be about.

I’m not a particularly spiritual person. I don’t travel to look inwards at myself, or to question the greater universe, or the feel the energy of a devout people. That’s not really my thing. I don’t do yoga. I try to keep my temple and church visits to a minimum.

Bali, as far as I can tell, is a spiritual destination. That spirituality probably manifests itself in many different ways that have nothing to do with temples or white people doing yoga, but still, it’s not a reason I would travel somewhere. I need more than that to attract me.

I don’t surf, either. I really like the beach, I like swimming and hanging out near the ocean, but I also live right near a few of the world’s finest beaches, so it’s going to take more than that to lure me somewhere on holidays.

I don’t like big beach resorts. I get bored quickly just lying in the sun. Tropical destinations, for those reasons, are usually low on my hit-list – when I travel, I want something that’s different to home.

I’m also not much of a fan of Australian bogan-dom. I realise it’s a cliché to sum up all Australian visitors to Bali as bogans, and that there are travellers from all walks of life who go there for all sorts of reasons, but surely you can’t deny that a good chunk of Aussies who visit Bali sport southern cross tattoos and wear Ugg boots outside the house.

It’s not that I mind meeting other Australians when I’m travelling – I’m just not on the lookout for them. I don’t need other Aussies around me to feel comfortable. And Bali, it seems, already has more than its fair share of Australians without me adding to the mix.

I understand there’s a strong cultural element to Bali’s appeal for some people. I have no doubt the food is great if you go to the right places. The hospitality of the Balinese is pretty well known. And I’m sure you can get away from the madding crowds and find the “real” Bali if you try hard enough.

But I’ve never been willing to make that effort. It’s a big, exciting world out there, and Bali is a fair way down on my list of priorities. I can’t see that changing.

Though, given the number of Australians who are interested, and who do head over to the island for holiday after holiday, I doubt I’m being missed.

Have you been to Bali? What do you love about it? Or do you, like me, have no interest in visiting?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater 

See also: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to Bali

See also: The big, unexpected danger for travellers to south-east Asia

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