My Guide to Ubud on Less Than $10 a Day = My War with the Bali Tourism Board

     Normally, I check out Google News and search by the town or country I am visiting to see what is going on. Maybe there is a film festival coming or a hot local topic people are stirred up about, but every time I look at what is going on in Bali, I get agitated, like this story about “stingy tourists” (i.e. backpackers) not helping the local economy. Here are it’s most salient points:
     Tourism Board chairman Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya said stingy tourists are overcrowding Bali, and residents who rely on tourism for their livelihoods are not reaping the benefits. “It’s ironic. We want people to come but when they come we have serious problems of traffic and waste. The island becomes dirty," he said.
     However, their average length of stay has fallen from a week to three or four days, while daily spending has decreased from $300 ten years ago to $100, Ngurah said.
     Bali has begun to lose its cultural charm and exclusivity due to the crowded conditions, he said, driving away “quality tourists" like those from Europe.

     I don’t believe the $300, but if I did, it means I’m staying in a big international hotel, brunching at Starbucks, dining in exotic ethnic restaurants presumably not owned by an Indonesian, and probably going on excursions provided by the hotel. How is that helping local people?
     There’s only one benefit: those places employ locals. They employ them at dead-end, dirt-low wages, but even the salary argument aside, look at the difference with us “stingy travelers”. We stay with local families in guest houses and homestays and eat in Indonesian or locally-owned restaurants—the money’s not leaving the country, it’s not even leaving town. Even better, we are helping to grow local businesses, which is more of a future than a service job—big difference. Again, we can debate the effects of increased tourism on the local community until the cows come home, but don’t deride us unwashed backpackers so quickly.
     I’m making this black and white for the sake of argument and tourism here is spiralling out of control from its own success despite the arrival numbers, but my point is that money that is spent locally helps grow local economies. Money spent the Bali Tourism Board’s pipedream way is all leaving the country except for taxes that somehow disappear. Have you been to Ubud lately, Bali Tourism Board? Ubud is probably my favorite place in Bali, but it has several fundamental flaws. The biggest one is ironic, that you have to get outside of the town center to enjoy it. If you don’t, you’ll be swallowed up by the endless gelato shops, Mexican restaurants and fifi bars. The Ubud of today is of a wretched infrastructure: crumbling sidewalks, poor lighting, no garbage cans—where is the tourism tax money going?
     The most ridiculous assertion from the Bali Tourism Board is that somehow we non-Europeans are responsible for the traffic and waste. If there was something resembling a transit system, foreigners would gladly take it to avoid the rapacious taxi drivers, and I feel comfortable in saying that no tourists are littering, or more to the point, if we ever saw a garbage can, we would use it.

     'Strictly forbidden to throw garbage here'

     You’re upset visitors spend only $100 a day? Fine. I’ll show you how to stay in Ubud for less than $10 a day. Deal with it, Bali Tourism Board!

The Dromomaniac’s quick guide to Ubud for the stingy,
non-European, Bali-Tourism-Board-hating, low-quality tourist!

     I still can’t get over that we aren’t “quality tourists”. I don’t care if this is directed mostly against greasy Aussie surfers, we non-Europeans of every color, income level and “quality”—OK, even those who don’t like tempeh, we’ll take you, too—we need to band together against this slanderous injustice! Solidarity! Let’s do this!!!
     9150 rupiah = $1. If you have any ideas or think I am overreacting, please comment below. As I always say, life is too short to be shy.

     There’s construction at the airport now, but it’s not far, maybe 400 meters, to walk straight ahead out of the parking lot and to the one road leading north. Then you need to go right at the first street and walk to a bigger north-south main road (or go with one of the motorcycle guys offering transport) where you can find a bemo/bus that will take you to Denpasar for 10,000 rupiah or closer to 5000 if you have a sympathetic local person haggle for you. You’ll need to get another bemo to another part of Denpasar, Batubulan, to take another bemo to Ubud because, you know, we tourists love making traffic and the taxi mafia can’t allow a decent public transit system that would connect the two main places tourists go and the cheapest shuttle companies aren’t allowed to do airport pick-ups.
     Sorry, I digress.
     I was a little impatient last time, but there is a stretch right after the place where everyone pays for parking which would be a great spot to hitchhike. It wouldn’t be so unheard of to get a ride all the way to Ubud since I imagine lots of drop-offs are being done all day. In fact, keep an open mind. If someone is driving to Amed or Padang Bai, take it. It’s easier to hitch back to Ubud from there.

     OK, so you already in a bad mood when you get to Ubud and then you are bewildered by your sleeping options. It used to be that you wanted to stay near the market, but that has been turned on its head and travelers with some money want distance from the center to get some tranquility, so now, generally, the cheapest places are…near the market!
     The best place to start is to walk east from the market, take the first street on the left, Jalan Sriwedari, and then check the first few homestays on the right. Remember to bargain for a room without breakfast and if you are staying multiple days, work that angle, too. I bet you can get something for 70,000 if you are alone. I stayed in that area two years ago. I would go check rates, but looking at homestays isn’t my idea of a good time. It’s hot today!
     Another area that has cheap sleeps and everything else you’ll need are the three roads parallel to the east of Jalan Hanoman. (I saw internet on Jalan Sugriwa for 5000/hour, the best I’ve seen.) If you are coming from the Perama shuttle stop or are being dropped off in southern Ubud, it’s within walking distance.

     This is easy, and you aren’t going to suffer by eating cheaply. On every little side road there is bound to be a stall that sells basic goods and then a basket of these balls in the photo below of food wrapped in banana leaves or butcher paper is about 3000 rupiah. You can add little portions of stuffed tofu and fried tempeh for only 1000, though a concerned citizen has suggested I should go easy on the soy due to this study about adverse sexual side effects.
     I had 10 small sticks of chicken satay with lontong for 11000 and for snackers, you can find thick chunks of tasty tempeh bacem for 3000 at most, thin slices of fruit for 1000, little packs of highly addictive singkong chips are 1000, etc.
     1.5 liter bottles of water are cheapest at the many Delta Dewasa convenience stores for 2500, then you can refill them at Bali Buddha market/restaurant or the library by the soccer field for 1500-2000 rupiah.

     This is a little overkill: pork, chicken AND tuna, but it's still 8000 rupiah, less than a dollar.

     Two things I like to visit are the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (any time you see the words “sacred” or “sanctuary”, watch your wallet) and the beautiful Tegallalang rice terraces. Who doesn’t love monkeys and rice terraces?
     To see the 20,000 rupiah Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary for free, there are two entrances in the front and one in the back, but from the front, if you follow the motorbike path on the left, where it makes a sharp right turn you’ll see a sidewalk that leads back into the forest.
     To check out the rice terraces 10km north in Tegallalang you can do two things: take a cheap bemo from the market to Gentong and then hitch or walk the few kilometers from there or, walk from the market on the main road heading east to where it comes to a “T” at the stoplight, go left, walk just past the big supermarket and police station, and hitchhike from there. There’s only one road north, but it’s nonstop shops and not the easiest route to hitch. Hitching back is much easier.

     Love the monkeys, fear getting bit by them.

     Is your total looking like you are going to spend more than $10 a day? Make some money to compensate: stay in a place with free wifi and charge people to use your laptop —yet another free business idea from The Dromomaniac! Just kidding, I would never do that, not matter how much they hate tempeh.
     Last tip: don’t mail anything from Indonesia if you are going on to Malaysia. Postcards now cost 10,000 rupiah to send to USA and Europe, about four times the cost from Malaysia, and parcels are similarly much cheaper in Malaysia. Send them sea mail as sometimes they go as air mail anyway. I sent packages to USA and Denmark by sea mail and they arrived within 10 days.

     Tegallalang rice terraces with a swastika table, a Hindu symbol the Nazis reversed and took for themselves.

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My Guide to Ubud on Less Than $10 a Day = My War with the Bali Tourism Board — 15 Comments

  1. Sometimes jaded locals can be a turn off. But it seems your issues (unsurprisingly) are mostly with the taxi drivers and the tourist board. Is this more of an issue in Bali than other parts of Indonesia?

    Do you plan to head anywhere else in Indonesia? Have you been, or do you plan to go to Kalimantan?

  2. I think Bali is Ground Zero because it really does suck the tourists in unlike anywhere else—for good reason, there’s a lot of great things here—but with increased tourism come all the challenges you would expect.
    I try and avoid taxi drivers anywhere if I can. Here they are generally honest and don’t hassle you much, but there are just so many of them wanting your business.
    I’m flying to Makassar, Sulawesi today. I’ve never been to Sulawesi before. Never on Kalimantan either, just the Malaysian side twice.

  3. As I discovered yesterday and as Laszlo on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree message board pointed out, there is now a bus service between Jimbaran, running along the main road at the end of the airport runway, all the way up to Batubulan. Costs only 3500 rupiah. They have funny elevated bus stops. It’s definitely the way to go from the airport to Ubud or anywhere northeast if you wanted to avoid Kuta.

  4. Hi Kent,

    Let me spam you with some unsolicited advice: you really should check Palawan before it goes all “Bali”. There are some 20 dollar flights from Manila going there.

    You’re in the vicinity (kind of), and it is the one spot in SE-Asia no one should miss.

  5. Okay, let me know if you’re in Transylvania, I might be able to help you with accommodation and cheap booze.

  6. Taking all of what you said into consideration, how do you feel about haggling with locals knowing the prices are much lower than the “non-stinky travelers” prices? Any feelings of guilt?

    I do love how you went about this argument, and completely agree that dealing with local small places is MUCH better than these large businesses.

    I wouldn’t be suprised if we see this argument come up in other places around the world seeing that Bali is having to deal with this because it is such a popular crowded place. This same issue may come up in otehr places. What do you think?

  7. I’m not sure what you mean. If a sweet-smelling tourist pays $2 for a bunch of bananas, but I’ve been told that the same bunch should go for 50 cents, I will try to bargain for 50 cents. If I am paying around the same amount as a local, I don’t think anyone’s worse off and I don’t feel any guilt.
    If I am in the Ubud market, though, I will never get those bananas for close to 50 cents because it’s worth it for the seller to wait until the next tour bus arrives.

  8. I agree with u on the pollution n waste n overcrowded Bali. I’m a Bali born n breed originally from Gianyar although now I live overseas because of my work. I’m offended by the BTB’s article and I’m not even a tourist. We locals have to put up with the situation and only been put off by the stupid birocracy if we were going to do something about it. Ive been around most places in Indonesia and they are pretty much the same maybe because of the country’s economy, but because other places are not so much tourist oriented. The people tend to be a little more ‘gentle’. Definitelyioneed to bring back cultural tourism in Bali!!!

  9. I also agree with your point about money staying in local communities and lack of government infrustructure – this was incredibly apparant also in my recent visit to Cambodia, where there was little development but tourists paid $20US for a daypass to Angkor Wat.

    However, I also agree with the previous commentator, in that as “westerners” from richer countries, perhaps we can afford to be a little more gracious and pay $2 for the bananas, even if locals get it for 50c. After all, as you mentioned, you own a laptop computer, and have also paid for several air tickets that these locals could never hope to afford in their lifetimes.

    So, yeah, far be it for me to stop you from bargaining, but please don’t lump me in with the type of travellers who can go home and make 10-20 times the wage of the locals and yet still be so preoccupied with getting a slightly better deal in the local market.

  10. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for your comments. It was well-said.
    I admit that sometimes I have to stop myself and say, “This little bit of money we are quibbling about means a lot more to them than it does to me.”

  11. Im a Malaysian living in LA now. This past December me and the fiancee went up to Bali after doing the family thing back in Malaysia.

    I would prolly never go there again. Don’t get me wrong, it was great – especially the history – a thousand years! And the unique Hindu religion that is apparent everywhere and make the Balinese very humble and different from the ‘orang Jawa’. However, even with our no frills budget and my speaking and understanding of Malay (hired a local driver, speak only Indonesian, its very similar) I spent something close to what I did on a budget in New York City. Other than the temples, Monkey forest (notice that it has actual old trees, not secondary forest like the rest of the island) and hospitality, I think Bali is over-touristed. Compared to the many many destinations in SE Asia, including my home Penang, this is really nothing to shout about.

  12. Pingback: Bali – the island of the gods… and the tourists | Life, the Universe and Everything

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