4 January 2012

Scammed. Hard. [Bali, Indonesia]

Everyone has heard of Bali, and it seems most people want to go there. Paradise on earth, apparently. Well, our experience shattered a few expectations; both good and bad. While I had never expected to find amazing temples and beautiful highland villages, we found just that. But the flipside; the beaches we visited were either not all that nice or full of rubbish and way over touristed. Kuta is over touristed like no other place I have ever visited. Kinda sad.

Let's back up. In the last post Julia and I were just leaving the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. Our bus down the mountain arrived to Probolinggo by early afternoon. At the bus station the sales guy assured us that the journey from Probolinggo to the port town of Ketapang would only take four hours, but in reality it took over six. In a hot, sweaty, cramped public bus (conditions that by now are par for the course). We jumped straight on the ferry for the short hop across to Bali. It was after 8pm by the time we arrived on the island, in the small harbour town of Gilimanuk. It seemed like a deserted place with not a lot going for it. We had spent most of the day travelling with another couple that were trying to head on to Lovina the same night, and as we didn't have any firm plans we decided to join. Unfortunately the public buses only left when they were full (14 people) and being quite late no one was around. We ended up bargaining hard and getting the guy to take us for about US$4 each.

Lovina is a small, sleepy coastal town with a nice beach and calm seas. There is quite a lot of interesting places you can discover around Lovina by hiring a scooter - temples, markets etc. But to be honest I just wanted to be lazy. I have been walking for hours or zooming around on scooters to see temples or points of interest for months. I decided it was time for a break. But Lovina didn't really do it for us. The beach wasn't all that nice as it was full of rocks, and the town was a little too sleepy. So we moved on after a day.

Next stop was Ubud; the cultural capital of Bali. I am really glad we made the effort to go, as we were thinking of skipping it (for the above reasons). It is overflowing with Hindu temples, Balinese dress, dance and traditions. Even the guest houses all seemed as though they were old temples or shrines, full of moss-covered stone carvings. And the carvings here are in a style I have never seen before; they kind of look like cartoon characters with very exaggerated facial features. This is all surrounded by wide rice terraces, swaying palms and deep green valleys.

We visited the monkey sanctuary while in Ubud, which had more monkeys than I have ever seen! It was really cool and we spent a couple of hours wandering around. There are some temples inside the complex as well as what looked like a stone carving school. The monkeys themselves were awesome; all with very different personalities. For some reason most of them seemed to really like me, clambering all over me or just sitting on my shoulder or camera bag. A couple going straight for the pockets. One actually stole a pack of tissues straight out of my pocket and proceeded to tear it apart.

We also had a quick walk out in among the rice terraces. We got to see people going about their daily lives in the fields, collecting coconuts and working in the rice. It was quite cool as walking five minutes out of town and you are surrounded by wilderness and feel miles away from civilization.

From Ubud we headed to Kuta, with a quick stop just outside Sanur - a place called Turtle Island. There is a turtle conservation center there that breeds and releases sea-turtles. I love turtles and have never seen the giant sea-turtles before, so really wanted to check it out. To be honest it was a little disappointing; there were just a series of small tiled pools which contained turtles, just sitting there looking bored as hell. It would have been nice to see them in a more natural environment, but it was still worth the visit.

How to describe Kuta? It feels like it was over-touristed 20 years ago and has just continued to deteriorate. Packed full of tourists whose IQ can't be above 20, loud clubs, expensive restaurants, about five million touts and taxi drivers trying to sell everything from magic mushrooms to fake Versace wallets. The only locals in Kuta are working behind the bar or trying to sell you a "cheap, cheap singlet, just for you". And so many Australians! Even the touts have adopted an Australian accent; "Bloody cheap, mate!". I knew it would be touristy, but I never expected this...

It was actually raining most of the time we were in Kuta. Which wasn't so bad actually as Julia and I both had a bit of a cold. But we did get in a couple of good sessions at the beach. We only got in the water a couple of times as it was really dirty and disgusting. The shoreline looked like a rubbish dump, and in the water we were surrounded by countless plastic wrappers.

One afternoon just as we were going to get some lunch we were approached by a guy with a kind of scratch and win thing; a promotion from a new hotel in Nusa Dua (about 30 minutes drive away). Julia won a free t-shirt, and I uncovered three stars. The guy immediately got hugely excited and started shaking my hand furiously. Apparently I had won either US$1000, a luxury holiday, $500 in vouchers or a digital camera. I was a little suspicious, but I was interested enough to stick around and see where it went...

So went through the terms and conditions. And that we didn't meet he just told us to lie about. He told us that he was due to get a big commission! We walked down to see his 'manager' who was very dismissive. So instead accompanying us to the hotel he gave us a voucher for a free taxi and said to maybe go tomorrow. I wasn't sure how legit this all was, so had pretty much dismissed it. A little later another guy tried to give us one of the promotional cards. We told him we had already won, showed him the ticket, and just like the last guy he got extremely excited. Shaking my hand and saying how amazing it was. He told us to not worry about the lunch as we would be given a free lunch at the hotel, all part of the service.

We were lead across to the office where a woman took my details. Anything that wasn't in accordance with the terms and conditions we were just coached to lie. So by the end of it Julia and I had been together for 3 years, living together in NZ for 2 years, holidaying for only three weeks, and I was permanently employed. They pulled a car around and we jumped in, headed for the hotel. The whole time the guy was coaching us on what to say so that we would get the prize and he would get his commission. If we told the hotel people the truth apparently he would be fined and fired. Hmmm...

There was horrific traffic so it took us about an hour to get there. We filled out the forms with all the lies they had coached us to give, then they gave us a bit of a grilling to make sure we were legit. Then a sales guy came around and gave us the schpeel. They were basically looking to sell time-share units, and needed A$10,000 before we left Bali. Yeah, not something I was interested in, and after he explained the scheme I told him so. Back at the front desk we finally got to find out what our big prize was! ... The $500 in vouchers. But these were discount vouchers. 10% off this expensive restaurant, 10% off this exclusive tour. It was basically just promotional material. There was literally nothing that we would have considered doing or going to. There was another couple who had also won, and strangely enough they also got the amazing voucher book. What a coincidence!

Well, at least we would get a free lunch, right? Wrong! Because we did not stay in the presentation for more than 60 minutes we were told we wouldn't get the lunch. So I asked if we had lied to the guy, wasted both his and our time for 60 minutes that we would have got the lunch. The woman was very apologetic and said it was not her call. Grrr... So we got scammed. Hard!

That about wraps up Bali. From here we fly to New Zealand for Christmas. So this is the last post for this trip. Which is sad, but I'm looking forward to going home and catching up with friends and family. I'll do a wrap up post in a few weeks when I can be bothered. Until then; I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


  1. And that? Is how Matt and I wasted 8 HOURS of our Vegas trip. But we had to because we were out of food money and ended up getting $200 in restaurant vouchers so it was only a partial win. ;)

  2. So sorry that you had that experience, but well your pics are awesome!

  3. I love how honest and informative this is. Like Sara said above, that is Vegas. We did stay long enough to take full advantage of the free food. Those things take almost a person's whole day. Hey, at least now you know.


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