When someone mentions Bali, what are the first thoughts or images that come to mind? For me it was serenity, beauty, Balinese architecture, culture, and so forth. If that is in fact what you’re looking for, you should scratch Kuta off your list. However, if you’re looking for any and every possible souvenir to bring home, shopping galore, lots of Australians, and are ready to party like you’re back in first year university, this is definitely the place for you.
We began our trip to Bali in Kuta, spending three nights in a homestay about a ten minute walk to the rather polluted beach. My opinion on Kuta might be slightly skewed due to the constant on-and-off rain the entire time we were there, so perhaps my experience here would have been a little more pleasant had the weather cooperated. Emphasis on the “little”.
What there is to like about Kuta:
Of the other places we stayed at throughout Bali, Kuta was definitely the cheapest in terms of food, souvenirs, and nightlife. I think this is because it is such a popular destination among young-ish backpackers who aren’t swimming in money and staying at the secluded villas. There are many options for food – local stalls, a plethora of bars on Legian Street and by the beach, as well as higher end restaurants. There is also a KFC, Pizza Express, Wendy’s, and a number of McDonalds and Starbucks if you’re so inclined to travel and eat the same fast food crap you can get at home. An average meal was between 30,000 – 50,000 IDR (about $3 – $5 USD).
In terms of souvenirs and legitimate shopping malls, Kuta has you covered. There are tonnes of little souvenir stalls that sell your typical items: sarongs, handmade crafts, clothing, jewelry, and so forth. One thing I did notice that popped up in almost all of these stalls was a concerning amount of penis paraphernalia, ranging from wooden members mounted onto a bottle opener to giant ones covered in glitter. Not sure what the obsession is.. There is also a large mall located right on the beach called Beachwalk Mall and another a quick cab ride away called Discovery Mall. Both malls have high-end stores to satisfy any shopaholics needs, though why you’d want to spend your time in Bali inside a shopping mall is beyond me.
Many things about Kuta make it convenient for your average traveler. First of all, it’s location. Kuta is located about a ten minute cab ride from the airport (depending on where in Kuta you’re staying), which makes it quick and relatively cheap to get to after a potentially long flight. Even though our homestay stated that we should only be paying around 50,000 IDR, we couldn’t find a cab that would take us for less than 100,000 IDR (apparently it was because all rates have recently gone up and it was due to the time of day..).
What there is to not like about Kuta:
Quite literally, you cannot escape the hoards of vehicles itching to get through the streets of Kuta. Taxis, cars, and motorbikes fill the streets at every hour of the day (especially during the afternoon rush). On the main street, walking isn’t such an issue since there are sidewalks. However, when you’re on the smaller interconnected streets throughout Kuta, you better keep your eyes and ears open because there usually aren’t sidewalks to separate you and oncoming traffic. When there are sidewalks, they are often in much need of repair making it difficult to walk on or motorcyclists use them to weave through traffic in hopes of getting to their destination faster.
This point can be a positive for some people (see above for the things to like in Kuta, as they are mostly due to this fact), however when I am travelling I want to experience a different culture and environment other than what I can experience at home. Unfortunately, Kuta is so commercialized I almost felt like I could have been in any other small city. At the end of the day, there was just nothing that special and unique about Kuta. If you’re looking to really experience Bali (let’s think Eat, Pray, Love for a second – though this movie painted quite an unrealistic expectation of Bali, but that’s another story), then Kuta isn’t for you.
This takes me to the title of this post.. Kuta has so much going on that it’s hard to really get a good grip on what Kuta’s “identity” is. By this I mean that it really doesn’t have any essence of Bali or Indonesia in general. Yes, walking around I did see some Balinese architecture and locals performing a morning offering (which is left littered all over the streets), but it was overshadowed by large chain stores and restaurants in the background, the sound of vehicles honking at one another, and garbage left lying around. Quite the contrasting image. At times, I found it a bit sad that so much of what initially made Kuta a popular tourist destination has been long forgotten or developed over. When speaking with some locals, they also commented on how they do not like how drastically Kuta has changed within the last ten or so years.
If you’re thinking about travelling to Kuta, just be mindful of what you’re really looking for during your stay and keep your expectations in check. Kuta could be a great place for you to spend your vacation or it could leave you with a sour taste in your mouth, and have you itching to head to a more remote and local area of Bali.