Indonesia - Are there too many tourists?

It has been quite some time since my last visit to Southeast Asia - over a decade, to be precise. Given the ease of travel in this region, I intentionally saved these countries on this trip among the last remaining countries on my travel list. So, it was time to take a closer look there.

One of my biggest questions and concerns revolved around whether Indonesia, specifically Bali, was truly as overrun with tourists as my preconceptions had led me to believe. Over the course of 8 days, I explored Jakarta, Bali, and Nusa Penida—the latter two being the very places where those TikTok enthusiasts flock.

Is Bali overcrowded?

While Jakarta seemed completely devoid of tourists, Bali presented a different picture. Although I had expected more tourists, I can confidently say that it wasn’t as overwhelming as feared.

I learned that Australian tourists have dwindled in recent years, and even the numerous dive shops were vying for guests. Motorbikes were abundant, the streets and restaurants in Bali were the opposite of overcrowded. Most major attractions remained pleasantly accessible, with only a few exceptions. Perhaps I visited during an optimal time. There were some spots with too many people, but the specter of overtourism was, indeed, held at bay.

Arrival in Jakarta

Upon arriving in Jakarta in the afternoon, I found the immigration process surprisingly straightforward. There were no long queues or complications. The efficiency of the entry procedures was commendable. 

To reach central Jakarta, I opted for Grab, the local equivalent of Uber. The ride went smoothly, and I appreciated the convenience of this reliable service.

Given the inevitable jetlag, my initial priority was to recuperate and adjust to the new time zone.

Day 2 - Discovering Jakarta

It was December and I arrived from snow and winter temperatures. Stepping out of the hotel and facing the Jakarata humidity - nice.. not. Jakarta seemed modern, clean and not so chaotic as I expected. I thought I will see a small India, but no.

So there was the imposing National Monument. This iconic structure stands tall in Merdeka Square, symbolizing Indonesia’s struggle for independence. Its sheer height - a staggering 132 meters. 

The monument’s white marble and golden flame were visible from afar. The surrounding park was abuzz with locals enjoying leisurely strolls. There is an observation deck upstairs, but unfortunately closed these days.

Continuing my journey, I headed northward to the Jakarta History Museum.

Housed in a restored Dutch colonial building, this museum provides a glimpse into Jakarta’s past. 

The exhibits shows the city’s evolution - from its early days as a busy port to its role in the spice trade and the colonial era.

As I wandered through the halls, I encountered artifacts and all the typical museum stuff. Visiting on a Sunday however, meant sharing the experience with numerous visitors, adding a "lively" atmosphere. The enthusiastic chatter and occasional laughter echoed off the high ceilings.

As I exited the museum, I noticed the adjacent Fatahillah Square, a cobblestone plaza surrounded by historic buildings. Cafés on the sidewalks, offering respite to tired explorers.

Chinatown in Jakarta

Among the way back, a typical Chinatown as in many other asian countries. The "Glodok Chinatown Market".

A mix of the past and present. Appears messy and "complex" and the atmosphere is crowded. Also it smells bad.

Day 3 - Transfer to Bali

With a morning flight from Jakarta to Bali. The two-hour journey proceeded without any delays, ensuring a smooth transition. 

Upon landing in Bali, I found the airport procedures equally seamless. It feels like arriving in a real holiday destination as everything is full with souvenir shops, currency exchange and these things.

Boatride to Nusa Penida

My next destination was the Sanur Ferry Port, and a Grab taxi to take me there. By this time, it was already 2 PM. 

The speedboat ride from Bali to Nusa Penida lasted approximately 40 minutes. Despite the clear skies, the sea was restless, causing discomfort for several passengers. Fortunately, I managed to avoid any seasickness this time. 

"Tourist Fees" are collected everywhere! 

As I approached Nusa Penida, a small island tourist tax of 25'000 Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) was collected upon arrival. Interestingly, starting in February 2024, this fee will apply to all of Bali, amounting to a whopping 150'000 IDR per person.

But extremely cheap Motorbike Rental

Exiting the pier, I noticed the well-orchestrated system in place for tourists. Scooter rental providers lined up, offering their services at competitive rates. For just 15 USD I secured a large-category scooter for a two-day rental (yes only 15 USD for two days!). However, cash was the preferred mode of payment, as credit card options were limited. Fortunately, currency exchange booths were conveniently located nearby, ensuring a hassle-free transaction.

And so  I embarked on my scooter "adventure".

My initial perception and expectations for Bali had been overly negative. So far, the quieter tourist season, with fewer noisy Australian visitors and a general sense of tranquility, contributed to a pleasant experience. 

Perhaps the absence of crowds allows me to appreciate the island’s natural beauty more fully. 

As the sun dipped below the horizon, I pondered what other surprises awaited me on this enchanting island. Tomorrow promises an underwater adventure - I’m excited to dive into Bali’s marine world.

Day 4 -  Underwater visit and coastal Ride

It felt like there was a dive shop for every diver on this island. So many high-quality dive shops and many of them have no guests these days. Maybe I was here really perfectly within the shoulder season. 

Cheap diving in Bali

I embarked on two dives, each accompanied by a boat ride. Shared the boat with only one other diver - an individual undergoing their PADI certification. This fortunate circumstance meant that I had a dedicated guide to myself.

The cost for this circumstance, including equipment, totaled approximately only 85 USD - an incredibly reasonable price for two dives including the equipment.

The underwater world did not disappoint. Crystal-clear waters teemed with marine life - schools of colorful fish darting among intricate coral formations, and even a graceful turtle gliding effortlessly.

The entire experience, from 8 AM to noon, was meticulously managed, allowing me to maximize my time. Unfortunately, I did not bring the underwater camera as I only planned to do a few dives.

It takes a long time to drive around the island

In the afternoon: Motorbike Time along the coast, tracing the shoreline in a counterclockwise direction. Nusa Penida revealed a fantastic coast  - towering cliffs, hidden coves, and beaches. 

The island is bigger than it seems on Google Maps

I thought Nusa Penida was small and I easily drive around the island in a day or so, at least that is what it looked like on Google Maps. But I was wrong, the island is huge and it takes a long time to drive these narrow roads.

However, one aspect that irked: the incessant entrance fees. Almost every road leading to a beach demanded a small fee for access. While individually insignificant, the cumulative effect was bothersome. Perhaps a bundled fee system, inclusive of the visa, would streamline the process and reduce these frequent transactions.

Crystal Bay. Not spectacular at all. Dirty and crowded. The beach is not nice at all - a mediocre tourist spot.

Much better. The area around Broken Beach

Keliking Beach. Each spot from the cliff offered unique vistas, and the rugged coastline left an indelible impression. Did not climb down to the beach, the stairs were too crowded. Better to go in the morning for that.

Day 5 -  These annoying "Instagrammable Spots"

Another motorbike excursion. This time clockwise toward the famed Diamond Beach and its neighboring Treehouse "photo-spot". 

It's easy to drive a motorbike in Bali. It's not too busy, although the streets can be a bit narrow without a good view around the corners.

At the Diamond Beach. The views were undeniably breathtaking.

But these artificially curated locations - whether a specially constructed hut or a strategically placed swing - seemed to cater solely to the social media crowd. 

Visitors, clad in evening attire, queued up to capture the same clichéd shots against the stunning backdrop. 

Ferry back to Ubud

At midday, I retraced my route toward the ferry port, embarking on a 50-minute journey back to the Bali mainland.

Once there, I wasted no time - directly hopping into a taxi bound for Ubud. The bustling town greeted me with a cacophony of local traffic, and the heavens opened up in a torrential downpour. 

Despite the rain, Ubud’s was nice - even with the traffic and noise. It was a stark contrast to the serene coastal landscapes of Nusa Penida.

Day 6 -  Temples and "artificial" Rice Terraces

In the morning, I embarked on a 1.5-hour drive northward through Bali’s forests and rolling hills. Once outside the center, it's nice to ride the streets.

Many temples and old buildings along the way.

Destination: the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan temple complex. Although the lakeside setting intrigued me, the purpose of this particular temple remained elusive.

I wandered through its grounds, more curious than spiritually moved, and then continued my journey - it would be another two hours to the next temple.

The ascent to the next temple was relentless. The road spiraled upward, seemingly without end. It was the road towards the volcano Batur.

Up the volcano. Cold, only 12 degrees

As I climbed, the temperature dropped to 12 degrees, and the sun disappeared behind thick clouds.

Rain began to fall, but luckily, I had the foresight to bring a poncho from the motorbike rental. 

However, faced with the prospect of another hour’s ride in heavy rain to see yet another temple, I reconsidered my plans. It was too cold on the motorbike. I did not expect this in Bali to be so cold but I had to change plans now.

Instead, I veered in the opposite direction, toward the famed Ceking Rice Terrace.

Little did I know that I was about to encounter a surreal scene - one that left me both bewildered and slightly irritated. 

Thankfully, just as I arrived the rain started heavily. The people escaped from the rice fields, all of them hurrying to save their Instagramm clothes from getting wet. Within a few seconds, the fields were empty and I enjoyed it.

Sometimes rain can be perfect on time!

Ceking Rice Terraces - The artificial rice terraces made for tourists

Picture this: meticulously manicured rice fields, perfectly aligned, with strategically placed water channels. In between, vibrant flowers punctuated the landscape, and neatly trimmed palm trees stood sentinel. It felt like stepping onto a movie set - a staged paradise for tourists. 

It really felt like these rice terraces were not cultivated for sustenance; they existed solely for the lens of the camera.

Like a playground. Rows of swings, strategically positioned seating nooks, and artfully arranged props awaited their eager subjects. Tourists, clad in their finest attire, queued up to capture the quintessential Bali shot. Once the rain stopped, I watched in disbelief as hordes of visitors returned to the fields and posed against this meticulously curated backdrop. 

Day 7 -  Kuta, the tourist beach in Bali

On the second last day of my Indonesia trip, I set off early from Ubud, bound for Kuta - a renowned beach resort area.

Going to look at the bustling tourist hub and determine if it lived up to its reputation of a pure tourist trap.

The motorbike ride from Ubud took a solid 2 hours, navigating through intense traffic. As I neared the beach, a string of restaurants and shops unfolded before me.

Kuta was exactly as I had anticipated. Packed with eateries, boutiques, and the typical tourist buzz. 

The beach was nice though, during the day and for sunset. But maybe this was mainly because it was off-season these weeks.

Day 8 -  Waiting for Departure to Brunei

As I sit at the airport, awaiting my flight to Brunei, I reflect on the kaleidoscope of experiences in Bali.

Summarized, on one hand, Jakarta with its chaos was not spectacular but Bali, unexpectedly, revealed its serene landscapes. Ubud stood out, I liked it with the roads and sceneries made for motorbike trips. And Nusa Penida Island - was OK too. Both are nestled amidst nature - very nice. 

I thought there were too many noisy tourists but it wasn't that wild. But maybe this was because I have been here during the shoulder season. 

Now I will visit Brunei for three days and luckily the chance to face touristic areas there is low.

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