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Home » Bali Hotels & Villas, Environment & Nature, Miscellaneous

Can the “Real Bali” be Saved?  

by on Thursday, 26 October 200611 Comments | 4,488 views

For those of you visiting Bali for the first time, welcome and enjoy yourselves to the absolute maximum! Bali is a marvelous place to have a holiday and I certainly don’t want to scare you off. We need more visitors to come and enjoy the beauty of this magical island. And you will!

But, and there always is a ‘but’ isn’t there, Bali ain’t what it used to be, and is in danger of changing from the “Bali we want it to be” if we are not very, very careful.

Bali, in the minds of millions of tourists and armchair tourists around the world, is the epitome of tropical, exotic travel, where beautiful native girls dance to the hypnotic pounding of gongs in temples and palaces surrounded by lush terraces of paddy fields, and palm trees wave in the gentle breezes as the sunset cocktails are sipped. Idyllic indeed!

The reality is that while that aspect is still (just) available, an absolute army of developers, traders, retailers, restauranters and industrialists are doing everything they can to dig up pristine Bali while still using the exotic Bali image they are destroying to sell their wares! And it’s happening quickly.

Just 25 years ago Bali was still the green, lush island that we (or at least I) want it to be. Now it’s disappearing behind a mass of billboards, shop houses, high rise malls, villa developments (with 20m high walls), and it seems we are powerless to stop it. Why?

It appears that even at the highest levels there is no connection between the preservation (never mind protection, enhancement, and improvement) of the tourism product and the every day unplanned development that continues unabated.

Bali, after two sad and meaningless bombings, has lost much of its appeal in the tourist markets of the world and arrivals are at a very low ebb. Does that mean the authorities take a long hard look at what the island has become and start to put things right? It seems not. The building of ‘rukos’ (shop houses) continues unabated, the proliferation of incredibly unsightly billboards accelerates, the destruction of beautiful farmland for ‘un-necessary’ housing rockets forward, and roads are pushed into fields and immediately lined with low quality buildings (which should be zoned off into industrial estates).

Until now, from Canggu to Jimbaran, from Sanur to Nusa Dua, there is hardly a visible trace of ‘Bali’: only buildings, workshops, showrooms, factories, billboards, and offices. All of them ‘businesses’ that depend on having a dynamic, desired tourism product called Bali

Yet there are regulations, which I believe still exist, that say every building must reflect Balinese culture and tradition, that no building should be higher than a coconut tree, and that all buildings and developments should respect Balinese traditions and community needs first. This simply is not being enforced at all and in my opinion presents more danger to the future of Bali tourism than the threat of terrorism ever will.

There are millions of sea, sand and sun, fun, food, and frolic destinations around the world, cheaper and closer to main markets and with little to distinguish them except the price and the temperature. This is not what Bali should be, but as we watch and do nothing that’s what it is turning into—quickly.

Bali is, and must always be, a place where tradition should take precedence over development, where culture must take the nod over shopping, where nature must win over malls, where gamelan gets the license not discos, where not one more square meter of productive, beautiful paddy field is turned into villas.

If not, we’ll be sitting here in 10 years time with a million villas, all of them bought by people “looking for Bali” and finding nothing but fast food, malls, traffic jams, discos, restaurants, more shops, more offices and more motorbikes than they left behind in the ‘industrialized’ west.

Does anyone care? I hope so, and that as millions of dollars are being spent to lure people back to Bali, equal amounts of money –or at least energy– can be spent preserving the beauty, tradition, culture and heritage of this marvelous and irreplaceable island. Because once it’s gone, we won’t get it back.

by Alistair Speirs [Managing Director, Indo Multi Media, Indonesia]

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    • Stormfever said:

      I so agree with the sentiments in this posting. Even in the ten years we have been coming to Bali, we have seen so much change.

      I hear on the grapevine that one developer (who is, needless to say, NOT Balinese) has been buying land from Canggu to the North Coast, waiting for the value to appreciate so that are after are can be concreted over profitably. This will all have been done legally of course.

      The development of the villa epidemic will lead to tourists’ funds being syphoned out of the country and being spent in ways that will fail to improve the lives of the ordinary Balinese person. This is not what the Bali visitor wants, but it is rapidly becoming the norm. And when it is the only accommodation on offer, if we still want to visit the island, then that is where we will eventually need to stay – or move to Lombok.

      If the government or the tourist board were to offer some inducement to the rice farmers to NOT sell off their lands, a halt could be put to this insidious march to Menjangan. Without it, we cannot blame the family who lets their harvest go to waste while waiting hopefully for the next speculator to come along and make them an offer that they can’t refuse.

      I was reading in Hello Bali (July edition?) the ideas of an official who said that Bali needed to go even further upmarket. I think this would be a serious error as the number of travellers who can afford to stay at places like the Amandari/Bulgari are extremely limited – there are only so many multi-millionaires in the world and not all of them will require a room in Bali at the same time.

      The way forward for the island is not to price itself out of the market, especially when it is trying to attract more, not fewer tourists. Nor is it to concrete over the terraced hills that brought visitors to Bali in the first place. Progress cannot be stopped, but it can be directed in an environmentally friendly and culturally sensitive way.

    • andersonite said:

      “Bali is, and must always be, a place where tradition should take precedence over development, where culture must take the nod over shopping, where nature must win over malls, where gamelan gets the license not discos, where not one more square meter of productive, beautiful paddy field is turned into villas.”

      You can expect plants and animals to be preserved but not people and their brain products. I agree that Balinese people is currently lacking direction in its progress as a society. However, I am definitely against preserving traditional lifestyle and culture just to fulfill the wishes of foreigners like you (or him – since this site is not his).


    • george wagner said:

      I sincerely hope that Bali remains what it was, a sleepy paradise, especially for those who involve themselves with the peaceful tranquility of her people and the abundant nature.

      I am an artist myself and have been coming to Bali since 1971. Little do I have to mention what the Island was then.

      But progress and the urge to get its people what the world has to offer, made Bali what it has become a busy and overcrowded noisy community, where money is the only important fector.

      I can’t see the island returning to what it was in the early days. The children of those who were then would not permit it.

      It was in 2001 that I was last in Ubud to witness the cremation ceremonies of my beloved mentor and painter, Han Snel.

      Perhaps in 2008 when his family will celebrate his memory, I might return.

      I hope that Arie Smit would still be alive then. I love to chat with him over those old days.


    • Troy said:

      A heartwarming pleed for the Bali we all know and we do not want to disappear. And allthough Bali has to go along with the flow of time and tourism is the main issue of getting the dollars rolling in, the island should not sell out to commerciality like it does now. The Balinese government should stick closely to the regulations to keep the island from becoming a place like for instance Torremolinos or Marbella in Spain. As westeners are getting richer by the year, the rich ones think they can buy the world. And they will not change their lifestyle dramaticly once settling in another country than their own. Therefore the Balinese government needs to keep the regulations of Bali thight and get the foreigener to give respect to the native people and the native laws.
      I saw a house in Jasi with a building style closer to the Sumatran Minangkabau design than the Balinese tradition. What regulations are we talking about then?
      Luckily most of the not so rich westerners staying on Bali live there to enjoy the peace, the beauty of flora and fauna, the culture and the kind Balinese people. And the rich ones will get bored once they find out that the sky is not the limit on Bali. They will find another playing ground somewhere else in the world.

    • Susi said:


      I am also extremely concerned about the state of Bali today.

      And that state is increasingly dire, desperate and downright ugly.

      The Government, the tourism industry, and developers have all been “hyping” the heck out of Bali. They have to. They need to promote the island, because their success and livelihood depends on doing so. Brochures, magazines, videos and advertisements all tell us the place is “idyllic”, a “paradise”, and they go on piling hyperbole on top of cliches to paint a picture of perfection.

      The words we see most in their outpourings are: lush, luxury, elite, exclusive, tranquil, pamper, indulge, verdant, bliss, spiritual, haven, serenity, prestigious, gorgeous, unique, solitude, nature, relax, refresh, escape, ultimate, exotic, Eden, oasis, stunning, charming, expansive, harmony and rejuvenate.

      I confess, I have been counting words in publications, brochures, real estate marketing materials and government-made Bali-promo materials. I am making an informal study of the frequency these and other marketing cliche words are used.

      Read those words again.

      Then look around the Bukit, Tuban, Jimbaran, Kuta, Legian, Seminyak and Kerobokan. The words do not match the reality. They simply do not.

      So, the story is a lie, but those involved in promulgating it need desperately to keep it alive, or they will fail.

      They have been listening to each other’s rhetoric, too. If one developer begins to lose conviction that his hype is true, he only need listen to the words of his competition to be reassured.

      If we allow ourselves to believe the lie that we find most comforting, or most wish to be true, to the extent that we fail to see what is really happening here, we do so at our own peril.

      We are all responsible, we are all to blame, and pointing fingers is just another way to delay taking responsibility.

      Time for change, or we’re on a highway to hell, it seems.

      I feel it is time for all of us to look objectively at the reality of the tourism and development focused areas of this island, without the hype.

      What do we see?

      Filthy beaches, broken roads with enormous holes, surf awash with floating garbage, no parks or public spaces of beauty, sex tourism, rivers of raw sewage, birds dying of avian flu, traffic jams, noise pollution, another annual onslaught of dengue fever, appallingly ugly buildings, construction sites everywhere to build more appaling ugly buildings, overcrowding, noise pollution, broken traffic lights, more cars and less parking for them, flooding in Kerobokan and Seminyak after one day of rain, empty shopfronts, empty villas, almost empty hotels, for rent signs everywhere, hoardings and banners and signs littering the intersections, speeding trucks and bikes spewing black smoke, greed, rampant prostitution, drug dealing in broad daylight, mountains of trash dredged up from the ditches, more trash in every nook and cranny, batako walls galore, businesses failing and new ones starting willy nilly without any logic or planning, increasing crime, inflation, pollution, short-termism, desperation . . .

      That is only a short list. Take a walk or drive, and make your own list.

      Add to this the insane fallacy that foreigners can own a home in Bali. This is not true, and not likely to become true anytime soon.

      Let’s all stop deluding ourselves and see what we can do, starting with Things As They Really Are.

      As they say in 12-step programs, the first step to addressing a problem is to admit that you have one.

      We haven’t actually done that yet, here in Bali.

      We certainly have a long way to go.

      But that is no reason to give up before even starting.

      We must start somehow. But how?

      Can we?

      Or will our addiction to self-delusion, apathy and self-interest above common interests, send us all to hell in a handbasket (and quickly)?

      What do you think??????

    • Bagus said:

      Alarm!!!!! Warnign!!!!

      I have the same feeling as I was born on this island, grew up at the same island… Went away for a while for a job and could see the changes… We need to have a person like (late) Mr Ida Bagus Mantra, the former Governor of Bali, to save Bali.

      It is so sad to see Bali has changed to more on the negative side rather than to the positive side.

      People come to Bali to see the “BALI” not the discos, buildings, billboards or night life.
      We should learn from other countries who can “protect” their herritage without loosing the interest of the tourist to come and visit. Tourist can still taste the local delicacies, culture, life style and tradition beside the beauty of the island itself.. while teh modern and up to date hi tech hotels are still available for the comfort of their stay..

      with love and light

    • Awan said:

      Bali has an harmonious philosophy called Tri Hita Karana. It is about our relationship to the God, between human being and our relationship with the environtment.

      So then…our job to make Bali according to our expectation…

      We can start from ourselves, to do it…NOW

    • Bali Tour Guide said:

      For me as a Balinese the government too much exposing the culture of Balinese. They open every thing for public. Sacred dances is one of them. Bali should look for other type of tourist attractions. There so much things can be done in Bali but instead the government just use Balinese culture as a weapon to attract tourist…ashame on you…

    • Troy said:

      Bali has always exposed it’s culture widely. And that’s why people come to Bali, because Balinese culture is unique. Nothing to be ashamed of, as you wrote.
      Offcourse tourists come to Bali for the weather or the sea as well. These people are hardly interested in Balinese culture, that’s their choice. As a Bali tour guide you should be aware of that!

    • Jo said:

      I come for the waves and the party! I respect the culture but for me its the surf and the night life that keeps me coming!

    • Troy said:

      When you respect the culture of a country or in this case Bali, there can be thousands of personal reasons why you want to be there as well. Nothing wrong with that. Bali offers a lot!

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