09 Jan The Good and the Bad Sides of Living in Bali
I’m in England at the moment, taking frequent trips to Europe to ‘spice’ things up a bit. Quite enjoying it, although I’ll be off and away soon to explore more of the globe. I recently got to thinking about when I lived in Bali, was it worth leaving a tropical, hot, sunny island? For many people who email me, it’s their dream life…an island lifestyle living as a beach bum in a hot, tropical country.
So why did I leave? For me I think deep down I was always aware that I needed to move on, there was far more I wanted to achieve career-wise that I didn’t have the energy to get done in Bali, plus there are just so many more countries and places that I want to explore. You can sometimes have too much of a good thing…paradise islands are amazing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the perfect place to have a balanced lifestyle. I had a scooter accident too, which meant I was really sick, thin and feeling a bit fed up.
The good sides
Hot, sunny weather and tropical beaches- Unless you’re one of those pale people who hate the sun and get a rash when they’re exposed to the heat, then you probably appreciate a nice sandy beach with a few palm trees. Bali, being an island, has a hot tropical climate- in the ‘summer’ it’s hot but not too humid and it’s generally sunny every day. In winter it’s really hot, sticky and humid but there’s also quite a lot of rainfall. There are beaches everywhere- long, flat, sandy beaches with rolling waves in Kuta and Seminyak, black sand beaches with unruly waves in Canggu, sheltered coves with cliffs and rocks in Uluwatu, Bingin and Balangan or white paradise beaches in Padangbai.
It’s a great place to surf- If you love to surf then Bali is a dream come true. With some of the best waves in the world, the main dilemma for a surfer every day is, which break shall I surf? For a beginner it’s a great place to start without the need for a wetsuit.
The people are really helpful and friendly- The Balinese people are some of the friendliest and most helpful people I have ever met. I covered in my blog before why Indonesia is so efifcient and the fact that if there’s anything you want- whether it’s renting an apartment, or getting your bike fixed- someone will be there to do it for you.
It’s a cheap place to live- Rent for a nice villa- $500 USD per month. Bike- $50 USD per month, three course meal- $10. If you’re travelling and trying to make your money stretch further, then Bali is definitely a place you can do that. Whilst it’s not as cheap as places in Thailand and other Aisan countries, Bali is still cheap as chips.
The food is great- Standard food in Bali is stuff like Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng, Chicken Satay, Babi Guling and Bakso Soup. If you get sick or rice and noodles though, there’s great seafood in Jimbaran, and every kind of international food in Seminyak. On Jalan Oberoi you could eat Moroccan, Greek, Japanese, Mexican and Italian food all in one night. The breakfast cafes such as Tuck Shop and Zucchini do great smoothies, salads, yoghurt, fruit, paninis and omelettes.
You’re exposed to new cultures and sights- This is the main thing that you definitely can’t get at home. In England I don’t look out on ride fields or wake up to the sound of geckos and cockerels. I can’t visit a monkey temple or a Balinese medicine man. I don’t see Canang Sari flower baskets covering the streets or get offered a massage, transport or DVD whilst I’m eating my breakfast. I don’t see people carrying a family of four on a motorbike whilst trying to negotiate the chaotic mess of traffic on the roads. I can’t go snorkelling, or surfing, bask in the sun or hike a volcano over in England.
There’s opportunity and a positive attitude- When I was looking for work in Bali, I found the people living there, whether expats or Indonesians, were really friendly, helpful and had a positive attitude. People don’t focus on the negative in Bali, everyone smiles and tries to make conversation with you and tries to help you out. Maybe it’s all that Vitamin D from the sunshine, but if I walk through a street in London, I don’t get a hello from anyone. If you want to start a business in Bali, there’s plenty of opportunity to be creative.
The bad sides
Food in the supermarket in Bali is not cheap because most of the stuff is imported. Yep if you want to buy a year’s worth of rice in a bag it’s ridiculously cheap, but if you want to buy something as simple as a tin of baked beans you’re looking at twice what you would pay in the UK. If you want to cook at home, there are generally no ovens either…just portable gas stoves.
There’s no public transport in Bali. Over here I take it for granted, my car is currently sat on the drive because it costs around £1,200 to insure it and I can’t really justify the expense at the moment, especially when I’ll be travelling come Easter. But I’ve got so many options- if my wonderful friends and family don’t offer me a ride somewhere, I’ve got the tram here in Manchester, the bus, the megabus, the national express, the train…it just took me two hours to get to London. In Bali, however, there is no public transport, so you’re stuck with the scooters (which after my accident I’ll never be riding again), or taxis, or renting a car.
Living by the beach is a distraction– yep we all love being a beach bum…who wouldn’t want to sit on a nice tropical beach? But when you’ve got work to do and you have to fund your living, there’s one dilemma….do i sit in an air conditioned room all day working, where essentially I could be anywhere? Or do I go to the beach, get a tan and play in the waves? When I returned to England after a stint in Portugal, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of relief at not having to choose between the beach and working on my laptop.
Some things are more difficult. It’s an obvious thing to say, and I know most people travel around the world because they don’t want to be in a country where everything is made easy for them. But when I lived in Bali I had to think about my visa renewal every couple of months, if I needed something in particular like computer equipment, a book, or a particular food I had to make a big expedition to Denpasar or Carrefour to go and get it. The traffic was chaotic and stressful, and sometimes sitting in the heat in a pile of traffic on the way back from the beach somehow made the memories of my relaxing sunbathing session fade away. I couldn’t just drink the tap water without thinking, and my ex-boyfriend was driven insane by the mosquitoes, resulting in a nightly ritual massacre of mozzies (I funnily have never been bitten by a mosquito, but he got bitten constantly). There wasn’t always hot water in my house so I would often have to take a lightning fast shower, and finding a house with internet was the most difficult task of all. I regularly lost electricity, internet, or both and had to make trips to Seminyak to find someone with wireless.
I missed the cosmopolitan city vibe- I’m not trying to say there aren’t loads of things to do in Bali, because there are, particularly outdoor activities such as hiking, snorkelling and surfing. But I guess I got a little bored of island life…I missed the bright lights of a big city…getting dressed up and going to the theatre or stopping by a busy bar full of city workers.
The healthcare isn’t so great- Yes the medicines are cheap in Bali and I was thankful for that…antibiotics were readily available and cost cents. But when I returned to the UK after my bike accident, I was told if I had just had my wounds cleaned and scrubbed properly under anaesthetic, I wouldn’t have the scars I have today and all the hospital appointments that come with it. In the beginning I went to the local hospital, where they dabbed my wounds with iodine and put dressings on. Then I got frustrated that they weren’t healing properly, so I paid for the private BIMC hospital, who basically did exactly the same thing but put a price tag on it.
Everyday, someone is trying to sell you something- The people in Bali don’t hassle very much compared to some of the other countries I’ve been to. A simple ‘no thank you’ and they’ll go away. However, when you live somewhere and every day of the year you are asked if you would like to buy a DVD or a sarong, it can get a bit overbearing.
There are tourists, but not a huge number of young expats- I realised when I was living and working in Bali that I missed young people. Whilst there is a large community of English-speaking expats with businesses in Bali, I missed the company of young people. There are lots of Aussie tourists and people there for a few weeks, but trying to meet people of my age group wasn’t that easy. I did have some friends, but I missed talking to people who have known me for more than 5 minutes.