Looking back at our Indonesia trip, I keep asking myself, “what did we do wrong?”
I’ve had mixed feelings about our Indonesia trip. I loved Indonesia yet I was also frustrated and disappointed. I’ve dealt with these feelings on other trips, but on this trip, those feelings were magnified. In this post, I explain all those feelings.
(Note: We visited Ubud, Kuta, Nusa Penida, Canggu, Labuan Bajo, and Komodo National Park. Ubud, Kuta, Nusa Penida, and Canggu are all part of Bali, so we spent much of our time there.)
I estimate we spent 14 hours in a car during our trip.
Everything was much farther away from each other than I thought they’d be. We had two days of sight-seeing that felt a lot like a hop-on, hop-off bus. Getting from the airport to a city and city to city always involved a lot of traffic. Maybe we could have avoided it if we didn’t hop cities so much but it was unavoidable when you want to sight-see.
We’ve seen some incredible sights in our travels. Were we unimpressed by what we saw?
Bali is surprisingly not one of the most Instagrammed places in the world, but you would easily guess a Bali location by its blue waters, perfect views, and “wish you were here” beaches. They were so beautiful, yet something was missing. Maybe it was my own lack of gratitude and excitement. Maybe it’s harder to appreciate a sight when there are hordes of people surrounding you. Maybe my expectations were too high.
Asia’s plastic problem is real.
More than half of the plastic in the ocean comes from five Asian countries, Indonesia being one of them. They produce and use much of the plastic and it seemed like many of the communities don’t have a system for waste management or simply don’t care about having trash everywhere. I know there are issues with the amount of trash Asian countries import from rich countries and overtourism causes issues with waste management. But seeing piles of trash on the side of the road and currents of trash in the ocean brought our world’s trash issues to the top of my mind. Trash doesn’t just disappear when you throw it away.
Overtourism was obvious.
One, it was crowded. The beautiful viewpoints we visited were also enjoyed by hundreds of other tourists while we were there. Even when I knew to expect a high level of visitors, I ended up being disappointed. Two, everything was touristy. The beach towns were filled with restaurants and shops catering to tourists. Can Indonesia put up tourism restrictions? Will more areas of Indonesia create a tourist culture?
Instagram culture was at a whole other level.
Everything is set up for the perfect photo opportunity. You can probably see it in your mind: swings above the rice terraces, over-sized nests, and heart photo frames for those perfect shots. What you don’t see are the lines of people waiting to get that exact shot. Is it a beautiful view? Sure. Is it worth your time to wait for it? I don’t think so. I appreciate thoughtful, artistic, and beautiful photography, but sometimes I think that photo is the opportunity to brag about where you’ve been or what you did. And when everyone is doing it in the same place, it makes the place lose its luster.
Is Indonesia set up for meaningful tourism?
When we go on tours, we expect a tour guide who engages in conversation about the past, present, and future of the country. We want to learn about the culture and the significance of the sights we’re seeing from a local. We went on several tours in Indonesia and were disappointed that our tour guide was merely a driver who didn’t speak fluent English. From our experiences, we felt like superficial tourists who simply wanted that perfect photo opportunity. I’m sure there are tour guides who can give that engaging experience and we found that in our food tour guide, but otherwise, you’ll have a driver offering a one-sided experience and an awkward, silent car ride. To counter this, I would look for a tour company that provides narration and conversation.
You can’t fully experience a country or culture in a short amount of time.
We try our best by going on sight-seeing and food tours and trying to connect with locals. We have a tiny chance to get a big impression of a place. With all the lows listed above, I had a hard time connecting with Indonesia. In Thailand, I loved the culture through food and the festival. In Egypt, I was in awe of every historic site. I think our experience would have been more positive if we went to different cities.
The above things? Not so great. But in everything, you have to have positivity and gratitude. Look past the bad and see and appreciate the good! Even though the lows were depressing, I still had some memorable moments on this trip.
I didn’t get sick!
It happened in Egypt and it definitely happened in Mexico City, but even with the longer period of time and lots of local food eaten, my ironclad stomach prevailed the Bali Belly! However, Will got sick a week into our trip and stayed sick for about a month. He concludes that the cuisine triggered a pre-existing illness and he’s doing a lot better now!
We saw beautiful places.
We were so lucky to have the opportunity and wealth to experience places we had previously only seen in photos. Even though there were many tourists everywhere, when I took a quick moment to stop and appreciate the view, it was hard not to be in awe of the blue skies, powerful waves, and the beauty of nature.
Dining at Room4Dessert was a dream.
I was excited when I made the reservation before our trip, but moments throughout that dinner had me giddy. I think it was a combination of the flavors we were tasting, the dinner experience the restaurant put together, and the gratitude of being able to experience it. I gushed all about it in this post.
We met the kindest bed and breakfast owners.
On Nusa Penida, we stayed at a family-owned bed and breakfast. I had found it online and read many reviews about the place being quaint and the owners being friendly. From giving us restaurant recommendations and rides on their mopeds to arranging a tour, they were always happy to help, quick to respond, and the most honest and hospitable people we met during our trip. Having familiar and friendly faces greet you every day is a bonus at hotels and staying there was a highlight for me.
Learning about Indonesian cuisine and eating some of the best food on our trip on our food tours.
You know how I feel about food tours. We went on the Ubud Foodie Walking Tour and the Kuta Street Food Tour with Good Indonesian Food Tour. Both tours were full of delicious food at restaurants that locals visited and were somewhat unknown to tourists. Our guide Ratih guided us for both tours and happily answered all our questions about Indonesian culture and food. Connecting with locals is the best way to see and experience a country and when food is involved, it’s an even better experience!
We dove in one of the best places in the world.
The amount of fish and the variety of fish were incredible. In some places, it felt like we were in an aquarium. We saw huge manta rays for the first time, which will always make Indonesia a special place for me. I also got to see so many different types of nudibranchs, probably my favorite sea creature, and starfishes. I also saw pygmy seahorses, which are usually smaller than three centimeters!
It’s all about perspective, and once we recognized the lows, it was hard to not see them everywhere we went. There are plenty of people who visit Bali and love it! For me, if I’m going to go somewhere simply to relax, eat good food, and sit by the pool, there are places closer in distance with less stress to do that! I also recognize that we went to Indonesia for our honeymoon, immediately after our wedding, which involved a lot of high feelings and maybe the post-wedding blues were already settling in.
I want to note – Indonesia is a quick flight for Australians and others in Asia, so for them, it’s a long weekend getaway. Indonesia to Australia is like Mexico or Central America to the U.S. Their experience is and can be completely different from mine!
I haven’t written Indonesia off completely and I hope this post doesn’t do that for you either. I know there are more cities and islands in the country than the few we visited. Those are definitely less touristy. It’ll take some courage to visit places you know won’t cater to your comforts like Bali does. I also know there are at least three more areas of Indonesia with incredible diving, so I’ll be back for sure!
Have you been to Indonesia and what did you think? Any recommendations for my next trip there?
Have you ever been somewhere that underwhelmed you? What’s the story?
P.S. If you want to read all my Indonesia posts, click here.