I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain; from his ripping people to shreds on Top Chef as a guest judge, to his book “Kitchen Confidential,” and to his flawless TV show that everyone hopefully knows and loves.
My favorite part of his tv show is how honest he is about the places he visits, while he does remain generally positive toward his experiences there. I genuinely trust his opinion and thoughts because he has no reason to bullshit; he isn’t promoting anything except for his own personal authentic experience. His episodes on Vietnam are so positive; a spin on the most absolutely touristic spaces and the most unacknowledged in the country. In Thailand, he goes on an eating adventure through Chiang Mai and drinks homemade whiskey with locals until his vision starts to blur. His take on Indonesia, specifically Bali, recorded in his field notes, though, is more pessimistic than a lot of his perspectives in other places. The piece of field notes is called “Anthony Bourdain’s musings on touristy Bali” and that seems about right.
It’s short but worth the read:
People who’ve seen Eat, Pray, Love—who were inspired to come to Bali and do yoga—they have a romantic notion. They want to improve their lives in a physical and spiritual way. They would like to have an experience that they can remember.
But if you come to Bali and it looks exactly like Cancun and Miami, why the f*** get on a plane all the way to Bali? Am I bitter? Am I just old? Do I just have a predisposition, an instinctive hatred of young people? Perhaps. In the words of Baba Ram Dass, “Be here now.” But I am here now.
So this too is Bali, I guess. Or it is now.
Did I have that same romantic notion? Was I expecting to step off the plane and be led on a spiritual journey? No. But I can’t help but get this same sense of disappointment, perhaps disdain, upon coming here. I literally read his field notes just two days ago because Parts Unknown isn’t available on Netflix here and I couldn’t watch the episode. I wanted some sort of justification for how I’ve been feeling. And I got that from Anthony Bourdain.
It reminds me a lot of what I’ve heard of Thailand in terms of growth. The secret of Thailand is out. It’s been discovered. It’s become touristic. But Thailand is a big place; Bali is a small island in the 4th largest populated country in the world. I’ve talked to people who have been here before and are now returning; their take is basically this: Bali is growing at a fast rate, probably faster than it can handle, and it’s changing. Resorts on the coast are popping up and taking over the land. Prices are going up on the coast. Jungles are being taken over by hotels and villas that offer you a view of that jungle. How much can this island really take? When does it start to become like every other place in the world? Has it already?
To be fair, I haven’t done my proper research. I was not even expecting to come to Indonesia right now. I was expecting to come closer to May; it was supposed to be the last stop on my travels before I started my teaching certification. I didn’t get an extended visa, I still have a lot to explore in Vietnam, and I haven’t explored the other islands in Indonesia; I might like them a lot more. But Bali does not really do it for me right now; most places that are loaded with tourists don’t seem to really do it for me anyway. Maybe I just need a local experience that isn’t catered to the west. Maybe I need more time. Maybe it’s the rude owners of the villa in which I’m staying (who are not even Indonesian). Maybe I wasn’t ready to leave Vietnam. There are a lot of factors that could be influencing my perspective. But I think herein lies the problem and this applies to anywhere: once a place knows how special it is, it loses its sparkle.
“So this too is Bali, I guess. Or it is now.”
Until next time,
As always, thank you so much for reading. Leave me a comment; share your thoughts! I’d love to hear them.