Bali – Tranquil Escape or Just Another Tourist Trap?
After our crazy transportation day from Singapore to Bali, Amanda and I had three nights booked in Ubud, Bali, which is supposed to be the most tranquil, relaxing, and lush towns on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Our room at Nick’s Pension was basic but clean and inexpensive, and the property was a gorgeous setting of rice fields, palm trees and lotus flowers. Small lizards and frogs were constant companions on our walk to and from our bungalow. The pool was surrounded by more palm trees and flowers, and the sound of the fountain trickling into the pool completed the relaxing atmosphere.
Exploring Ubud, Bali
After having our complimentary breakfast, we set out to wander through town on our first full day in Ubud. We passed many upscale restaurants, convenience stores, and shops selling “typical” Balinese items such as sarongs, wood carvings, and bags along with T-shirts, shoes and key chains. We inquired at several restaurants before finding a cooking class that was available for the next day at a place called Bumi Bali.
We tried chili chocolate ice cream, which was so delicious we had more the next day. However, the olive oil and rosemary ice cream was not good. Amanda also enjoyed a scoop of avocado chocolate chip while I had a scoop of caramel to compliment my chili chocolate. For lunch and dinner, we had amazing meals at restaurants set in elaborate gardens and the prices were incredibly cheap.
Is Ubud a tourist trap?
Among all of the beauty were loads of souvenir shops, taxi drivers touting their services every 10 yards, and enough tourists to overshadow any sense of real everyday Balinese life. It felt a bit contrived, though it does help to know how to avoid the crowds in Bali.
The tranquility we’d been told to expect seemed to only exist in the artificial settings of the restaurants we dined in and the spa where we got $10 (not so great) pedicures. We even went to a traditional Balinese dance performance that was so bad we walked out halfway through.
The majority of the town seemed to be set up specifically with tourists in mind, which was kind of disappointing. I understand the appeal of shopping when you travel, whether it’s because of better prices or you want something as a souvenir to remember the trip, but buying things has never been my motivation for traveling.
Rice terraces and coffee
On our last day in Ubud, we decided to try one of the many taxi drivers standing on the side of the street. We told him we wanted to see some rice terraces that were north of town, and then we wanted to go to the port to catch a ferry to Lombok. His charge was 250,000 Rupiah, which is about US$28.
The first set of rice terraces he took us to were really pretty. But then he told us about an agro-tourism place nearby that produces Kopi Luwak. The coffee beans are produced when an animal called a civet eats coffee berries, and the beans work their way through the animal’s digestive tract and come out at the other end. It’s said to be the most expensive coffee in the world.
So our driver took us there, where we tried this rare coffee (I wasn’t a fan, but Amanda liked it) along with several other types of coffee, tea and hot chocolate. As a bonus, there was an absolutely gorgeous view of more rice terraces. It was probably the highlight of our stay in Ubud.
I think if I had gone to Ubud expecting to stay at a luxurious resort and be pampered for a few days, I would’ve enjoyed my time there a lot more. But I also think that’s something you can do almost anywhere and doesn’t necessarily show you much of the local culture. I can definitely understand the appeal of all the luxury at a fraction of the cost, so for a different type of trip, this is somewhere I would seriously consider returning.
Have you been to Bali? What did you think of it?
You might also enjoy:
- How Much I Spent in Indonesia
- Giving Bali a Second Chance in Seminyak
- The Gili Islands – An Unexpected Paradise
- How Much We Spent Traveling in Southeast Asia for Two Months
October 26, 2011 @ 9:16 PM
I’ve been to Bali recently, and yes Ubud is a bit of a tourist trap. Just like a lot of other amazing places in the world (Cusco is my spot and in tourist season they constantly harass you.)
Ubud does have some beauty, and culture. Not sure which show you saw but I am sorry you didn’t like it, that truly sucks.
When you get out of Ubud, and I don’t mean to Kuta…but to places along the coast, Sanur, Candidasa, you escape some of the crowds and really get to see the beauty of the island. We did a climb to the highest peak, the volcano Mount Agung, and it almost made me cry to see the clouds below us at sunrise. One of the highlights of my short life so far.
I’m glad you want to go back, we had a lovely time there and yes, the transportation costs are a bit steep, but once you get to where you want to be renting a motorbike is cheap and the best way to see the views.
We are planning to go back and spend New Year’s there close to Seminyak and I really can’t wait. I loved it.
October 27, 2011 @ 1:28 PM
We actually ended up coming back to Bali and stayed a couple nights in Seminyak and had a good time. The volcano climbing sounds amazing, unfortunately I know my limits and I’m not in good enough shape for even “easy” climbs. But if I ever make it back to Bali, hopefully I’ll be in better shape and I’ll do stuff like that.
October 27, 2011 @ 12:59 PM
Oh nooo now Im scared to visit Bali. I have always thought of it as a very tranquil place as well, but I guess I will find out when I get there that it’s not all that. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it like you wanted to. I hate when we have images of a place and then it just doesn’t live up to it…
PS I hate your security question…lol I always forget to answer it!
October 27, 2011 @ 1:30 PM
No! You should totally still go. I think we just went to a very touristy area thinking it was going to be relaxing and not touristy, probably because we didn’t do enough research. Bali is a HUGE island and you’ll have lots of time to explore several parts of it, you’ll be fine.
Sorry about the security question, I still need to play around with that.
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
October 27, 2011 @ 3:44 PM
I’m sure it’s a tourist trap, but probably for a good reason…it’s Paradise! I’m dying to surf there!!!
Adam @ SitDownDisco
October 27, 2011 @ 5:16 PM
I think when you go to a place and it’s not like you imagined, it can be a big let down. I love Ubud, but not because it is tranquil – it generally isn’t. I like it for other reasons such as great food, relaxed atmosphere, ability to walk straight into the ricefields etc. Of course, in other parts of Bali there is a more authentic experience to be had, but of course you have to shed some of the Western comforts that are also nice.
October 28, 2011 @ 8:33 AM
We just felt like it was set up for tourists instead of a town that just is itself and happens to have tourists. If that makes sense at all! We did really love the rice fields, absolutely gorgeous!
October 27, 2011 @ 9:50 PM
This sounds like a lovely trip, Indonesia is strongly on my travel list, definitely next time I go to East Asia.
October 28, 2011 @ 8:29 AM
Just make sure you do more research than we did about where in Bali to go depending on what you’re looking for. Indonesia is a great country.
October 27, 2011 @ 10:30 PM
I absolutely loved Bali but of course I never stepped foot in Kuta. I did go to Ubud and then I went to Pemuteran and Amed. It was off-season so Amed was extremely quiet and we got a fantastic hotel room for next to nothing. I loved Ubud, but I’ve never heard of this rare coffee you tried. Sounds cool!
October 28, 2011 @ 8:31 AM
We definitely knew to stay away from Kuta. We did end up going back and staying in Seminyak, which we liked, but we should’ve done a little more research about which towns to visit if we wanted less touristy than Ubud. The coffee place was interesting!
October 28, 2011 @ 12:32 PM
I actually loved Bali and stayed in Ubud for nearly 2 weeks! Far too long I know but I really liked it. I met an America girl there who was teaching English in Ubud so I guess I was lucky and got to see some of the things that you usually wouldn’t know about.
I found it weirdly tranquil despite the crowds and loved the fact that it is so easy to escape it all and wander through a rice paddy.
October 28, 2011 @ 5:54 PM
I’m sure it helped that you had someone who could show you stuff outside of the normal touristy stuff. The rice fields were amazing, I did enjoy that. I probably just didn’t do the right research. Next time!
October 28, 2011 @ 3:48 PM
Thanks for sharing and sorry you didn’t enjoy Ubud. I liked it better than most other places I saw but it certainly is touristy – more since “that book” came out… I was in Bali in April and couldn’t stand the place. I thought I’d be able to find some of that tranquility of which you speak, but it was surprisingly hard. I also found it very expensive for the quality – especially for accommodation – and difficult to get to know any locals. Everybody I met just wanted to sell me something. I get the impression you had to be in Bali 15 years ago to see the pre-tourism Bali 🙁
October 28, 2011 @ 5:57 PM
It was more expensive than I expected but still cheap compared to the States and Europe. I agree, it did seem like too many people trying to sell us stuff which kind of ruins it. If I ever go back to Bali, I’ll check out a completely different part of the island.
November 3, 2011 @ 6:36 PM
I almost went to Bali for a long weekend while I was working in South Korea, but I heard that it can be pretty touristy. I’m sad to hear that that was a correct assessment.
November 4, 2011 @ 6:11 AM
I think if we had gone to another part of the island it might’ve been better. Ubud is seeing so much tourism but I’ve since heard that other parts of the island still maintain their tranquility.
November 16, 2011 @ 9:44 PM
Never been to Bali, but always kind of wanted to go. I had no idea it was so touristy though… we’re right now thinking about spending New Year’s in Asia somewhere since probably will be in South China early January anyways. What’s the word on the street for good places to celebrate “our” New Year in SE Asia? Given that you’re there right now, I thought I’d least ask for the inside scoop 🙂
November 17, 2011 @ 8:00 AM
It’s probably no more touristy than most other places but we went into it with unrealistic expectations I think. I was really gorgeous & I’d still recommend going. As for New Years in Asia…maybe Hong Kong? I haven’t heard anyone talking about it yet. Andy & I will be in New Zealand. I always think big cities are good for a holiday like New Years. Let me know what you decide!
November 17, 2011 @ 6:00 PM
I think Hong Konk is our backup plan 🙂 When we go to China, we always stay in Guangzhou which is really close to Hong Kong. We’ve been there before, but never long enough to actually see much of it. We kind of wanna see more, but we also would love to see something completely different this time around. I feel like I’m in need of a vacation! We’ll keep Hong Kong in mind, but will also consider other options. You’re right, big cities are great for these big holidays. On the other hand, a beach would be amazing too 🙂 I’ll let you know! New Zealand sounds amazing!!
November 17, 2011 @ 6:56 PM
Beach would be nice for NYE! Whatever you decide, enjoy!
July 14, 2012 @ 9:22 PM
I so appreciate this article! My fiance and I are trying to plan our honeymoon visit to Bali (from California) toward the end of September. I completely understand your point of view, and the idea of the town being built a little more “for” tourists, rather than just a Balinese town that has a bunch of tourists in it. This was so helpful, as it seems overwhelming to try and pick where to explore and what to do to really get a feel for the culture in the two weeks we will be there. We feel the exact same way about shopping while on vacation, and there are plenty of places in the states where you can go to luxurious hotels and spas, so that’s not what we are looking for from Bali.
If you have extra time I would LOVE to hear your recommendations of where to go and what to see while in Bali.
Really enjoying your blog!
July 14, 2012 @ 9:54 PM
Thanks Brittany! Bali really is a beautiful island, and I think there are plenty of places that aren’t quite so touristy. A lot of seasoned travelers I know actually did like Ubud (the town I refer to in this post) and enjoyed it, so I guess everyone is different. I’ll send you an email in the next few days!