Dear Bali…..

RIce paddies in Bali

I love you.

We first met 38 years ago and I instantly fell in love. You were in fact my first international love; the first place I travelled to outside Australia.

I was immediately captivated by your natural beauty, the warmth of your people and (at that time) your innocence.


My love for you has endured all these years. A friend recently commented that we travel to Bali so often that we must nearly own a piece of the Island. My response was “No, but Bali owns a piece of my heart.” And you do.

But dear Bali, as in all long term relationships, there are some things we need to talk about. Why, you ask? Well because there has been so much change over those years and it hasn’t all been good. There are some things about you that cause me to now question my relationship with you. Can I continue to hold a special place for you in my heart? Do I wish to continue visiting you?

Partly those questions arise because bits of my heart are now owned by other locations – Paris, Athens, Hong Kong – but they also arise because I am worried about you. I am worried that the quality of our relationship is under pressure. You see sadly, increasingly there are aspects of you that I don’t like much at all.

[Dear reader, I need to warn you that the next image may offend you, it certainly offended me].

Please understand dear Bali that many of the things I don’t like have occurred because you are trying too hard to appeal to all the different tourists who visit you. I feel that you are being pressured to meet the demands of both the lowest common denominator tourists and the luxury seeking tourist. I suspect for both of these cohorts there is little or no appreciation of your culture and your people.

At the lower end I witness this and it disgusts me and it embarrasses me because my suspicion is that it is my own countrymen who tell your people this is funny. It isn’t funny, it is abhorrent.

At the top end you have visitors who I suspect never leave their 5 star resorts and never experience real Balinese food, never have the privilege of getting to know your people.

You see, for many tourists (Australians in particular) Bali is just a cheap destination to visit. The fact that there are Balinese people there is almost totally irrelevant. Your food, your culture, your sacred spaces don’t come into their awareness.

I wish that I could blame all the problems on your tourist industry but sadly I can’t because you have created your own problems; problems that you must address. On our most recent visit, I was delighted to see multiple garbage bins in the village of Sidemen and plastic bag free signage in your major supermarkets.


But as delighted as I was to see these outward signs of change, the reality was very different. Your supermarkets were still, without question, handing out plastic bags (and I suspect charging for them) and just close by those garbage bins were piles of rubbish. Indeed, your waterways were clogged with rubbish, even the crystal clear water from your sacred Mount Agung was catching plastic bags and rushing them towards the sea.

Please lovely Bali, don’t get me wrong here, we have problems aplenty with rubbish in Australia and we too are still coming to grips with reducing our use of plastic. I fear though, that culturally you have a very long way to travel and that the practice of dumping rubbish ‘out of sight’ is deeply ingrained in your people.

So dear Bali, perhaps the easiest thing for me to do would be to walk away from you, to end our relationship. But that is not in my nature, I am far more determined than that and despite my criticisms and disappointments I will never lose my love for your people.

And, when a road is closed and a taxi ride is annoyingly cut short in the middle of a hot day, I walk around the corner and I witness this…..…… my annoyance turns to delight and I remember why I love you so much.

So let’s keep talking and working together to get our relationship back to the firm foundation it started on.

Have you been to Bali? When did you first visit? How do you feel about Bali now? Am I just being difficult or are you too seeing things that bother you?


Older and Wiser