During our one month trip to Bali, we stayed in Kuta for a good chunk of time despite all the crazy things we read on the Internet.
Because we visited Bali during high season, staying in Kuta helped us to stay within our budget. If not for financial constraints, we would have stayed in Ubud or somewhere north. But we figured we would avoid the crazy nightlife in Kuta and just chill.
Which worked out in our favour because we did not experience the craziness that you read about Kuta on the web. In fact, our stay in Kuta was laid back.
I agree with what you read online though; skip this area if you can. But if you decide to stay there, know that it’s not that bad. It is very different from the rest of Bali though.
In fact, as we drove into Legian Street, Kuta’s main road, we could already see and feel a stark difference between Seminyak and Kuta. Unlike Seminyak Bali, this area has tons of shops lining the streets. There were also a lot of international brands that we recognized, more so than Seminyak. I guess that’s what people mean when they say Kuta is excessively touristy.
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Releasing a sea turtle on the Bali Kuta beach is a magical experience
This experience was so amazing that I am going to write a separate blog post for this, so stay tuned. If you visit Kuta, keep an eye for when the sea turtles hatch so that you can take part in the sea turtle release. It is definitely the highlight of my stay in Kuta.
We missed the release twice and didn’t get it right until the third time. We went to the WRONG beach the first time and we missed the second release because we were already in Ubud by the time we found out about the baby turtle release. Luckily, because we are slow travelling, we had flexibility in our plans. So when we found out one day that some baby sea turtles had hatched, we reshuffled our plans to visit Kuta beach.
Note: You won’t find out until the day of (around 1 or 2 pm) that the sea turtle release will happen because no one knows when these babies will come into the world. My only tip is to keep monitoring their Facebook page and be flexible with your plans!
There is a lot of security in Bali Kuta
The ambiance between Seminyak Bali and Kuta is noticeable the moment we drove into our Kuta hotel. As our Blue Bird taxi pulled into the driveway, there was a large gate for the security checkpoint. Guards came with a vehicle inspection mirror to make sure there weren’t any explosives or weapons hidden under the taxi before letting us in. Crazy eh?
Try to avoid carrying a bag in Kuta Bali
The area around the hotel felt safe to walk home at night thanks to the many security guards on most corners. I still caution you to be careful and not carry a bag because there is a big issue with bag snatching in Kuta. We noticed almost none of the other foreigners brought bags when walking. When I did have to wear a bag, I tried to make light of the situation and make me less of a target by having the tick. I figured those purse snatchers might think I’m evil and stay away from me. You know, maybe they don’t want to catch any bad luck that I may pass on to them. I’m not sure if it worked, but it did make Gary laugh, and my bag didn’t get snatched so yay! It might be worth giving it a try.
It was draining though to walk around and clutch my bag or making a conscious effort to keep my bag away from the roadside. Very tiring, but I’d rather not risk being dragged down the street by a motorbike, thank you very much.
Our driver did say that the locals will beat up the bag snatchers if they catch them in the act. This is because Bali’s economy relies so much on tourism. Something like 80% of their economy is based on tourism, so it’s their livelihood for sure.
The Bombing memorial in Bali Kuta is a reminder that life is short
Gary and I were a bit lost one day in Kuta when we realized we were at ground zero for the 2002 Bali bombings. I couldn’t believe how close the attacks were to our hotel, no more than a ten-minute walk. As we paid our respects to this terrible event that happened in 2002, I thought back to my first visit to Bali. My dad kept referencing this event as his reason why I should avoid Bali.
For context, my father rarely tells me not to do anything
He usually says “you’re a grown adult, you can make your own decisions,” and has been saying this to me since I was 8 (or younger). So when he tells me NOT to do something, I know he’s very concerned.
I remember how I felt when I first planned to go to Bali during my first “midlife” crisis. I read about the warnings and how the island is a target for terrorists. Because I was travelling alone, I was terrified. But I was also very sad, and I kept thinking to myself that if this is how I die, I’d rather die pursuing something I love than stay within my comfort zone. When I told him this reason, he finally stopped persuading me to avoid Bali and spent six weeks worrying about me instead.
I could not help but feel a deep sense of sadness from visiting this memorial. Many people were tourists in their 20s and 30s, just planning a getaway to relax when they died. 202 people were killed from this terrible event. Just like that. “Sharp knife of a short life.”
To think you will live a long life is the ultimate deception.
You can find affordable food in Bali Kuta
You just need to know where to look. You’ll see in travel guides about Kuta that prices are higher since it’s a touristy city. But Gary made a point that the locals need to eat too – we simply need to keep hunting to find out where they eat. There’s so much truth to that thought. We realized, and confirmed that the locals in Bali do not bring lunch to work! I guess it is a luxury that our offices tend to have fridges where we can bring our food and store at the office back in Canada.
I realized Ajinomoto (aka MSG) is a popular ingredient in meals while in Bali Kuta
Well, to be fair, most of Asia loves to use Ajinomoto in their food. Even though I’ve eaten in Asia countless times, I didn’t realize the extent of this Ajinomoto usage in food.
It all started when we found a local warung in Kuta that became our favourite place to eat. Every day, we’d visit and order a new dish to try. We were feeling pretty happy that we found a place where the locals ate and that we’d be within our food budget.
Each night after dinner, I’d get super thirsty and shrugged it off as mild dehydration from the tropical heat. It wasn’t until one night when I was feeling so sick that I realized my symptoms were from MSG.
Once I was aware of the problem, I made sure to request no Ajinomoto when ordering food. I’d also have to ask for no salt either because the locals would increase the salt for the lack of Ajinomoto!
One day, I found an excellent warung that served MSG-free food. I was so happy about this discovery that we made it our go-to place to eat. That is, until we saw a rat scurrying across the kitchen counter.
Rats are an issue in Bali Kuta, and the locals are ok with it
As you know in my first-month highlights of our slow travels, I’ve seen rats in Thailand and Malaysia as well. But that doesn’t change the fact that rats are an issue in Kuta.
Take it from my personal experience while eating in Kuta. We were thrilled that we found a restaurant that doesn’t put MSG in their food and made it our new regular place to eat. One afternoon, we were eating our meal when we saw a rat running across the kitchen.
The sighting could not be timelier; I was halfway through my meal while chatting with the owner of the place. Gary and I were facing the open-concept kitchen when we saw the huge rat climbing onto the kitchen counter. The owner had her back to the kitchen, so she didn’t see at first, and Gary and I were too polite/stunned to say anything.
I completely lost my appetite at that point while Gary continued eating! I couldn’t believe he did that, but he is used to rat sightings since he grew up in a developing country where rats are abundant.
The owner’s reaction to the Rat?
Well, she saw the rat later on, and when she did, her reaction was not what I expected. She squealed, laughed, and proceeded to take a photo of the rat with her phone! It was the strangest reaction ever, but I guess rat sightings are a normal thing for her.
Once we (well, just Gary at this point) finished our meals, I sublty walked over to the kitchen to inspect the counter. You can imagine my relief to see that all the ingredients were either sealed or stored in the fridge.
Regardless, I was so scarred from the experience that I went straight to the most touristy looking place and ordered a huge heap of ice cream to wash down my shock.
But that’s what it’s like living like the locals
If you’re wondering what I was missing at that very moment, I was missing how I don’t see rats when eating in Canada. Sure, they exist, but they’re not that big, and they’re not bold enough to run around in broad daylight.
But that’s part of the fun, I suppose. I chose to leave my country and explore the world. Eating a meal while watching rats run through the kitchen is the byproduct of my choice.
I later discovered that Kuta has a rat problem because of the rapid urbanization that is happening in the area. Because there isn’t a proper plan for this swift growth, a good sewage system isn’t in place in Kuta. Hence, rats are everywhere and are a huge problem in Southern Bali. Apparently, rats are more destructive in the rice fields; they eat all the crops and leave the farmers in a bleak situation.
Naturally, I stuck to eating my packaged Oreos after that incident.
We had Oreos and seaweed chips every day for breakfast in Bali Kuta
True story. I have an affinity for Oreos when I’m in Asia because a) they are packaged and b) you won’t get food poisoning from Oreos. I mean think about it, if you had diarrhea, Oreos might help the situation. You know, because they tend to cause constipation! The logic makes sense, right?
I’m half kidding… please take my advice with a grain of salt.
Anyway, it’s been hard to stay healthy. We tried to eat fruits every day and order vegetable dishes, but it’s not the same as when you can prepare your own food. To stay healthy, Gary stayed fit by doing push-ups while I exercised my mouth by eating (haha).
Trying to eat well does lead into my next point where I suffered from six days of Bali belly. Six days! You’d think it was because I ate from some shady street vendor with rats running all over the place… but nope, it was thanks to a vegetable dish prepared by a restaurant!
Ordering vegetable dishes can cause food poisoning in Bali Kuta
For context, I have always prided myself in my iron stomach. Up until this point, I’ve been to Asia almost six times in my life, spending a total of eight months there! And yet I’ve almost never gotten food poisoning. The worst stomach issues I had was from eating watermelon in Shanghai, and spring rolls from a vendor in Bangkok but that resolved within a few hours.
It wasn’t until we ate at a restaurant where I experienced a mild form of Bali Belly. Gary also felt weird after the meal too, but it wasn’t as bad as mine.
The experience was very disappointing because I ordered the vegetable dish in an attempt to stay healthy! And we went to a place that had good reviews from TripAdvisor.
I know exactly what the culprit was because Gary was having minor stomach issues as well from the same dish. At first, we thought it was the water or that we overate so we went back and ordered the same meal the very next day. It was only when I got SUPER SICK the second time that we realized it was the vegetable dish. UGH.
What a post office looks like in Bali Kuta
The post office was an interesting one. We had to send some stuff to Taiwan, and it wasn’t until we get there that I start to wonder the legitimacy of this office. For one, it’s a bit ghetto looking, and when we returned a second time, the staff quoted different prices from our first visit.
Thankfully, we verified with the hotel after that it was a legit post office (should have verified before we handed over money).
Regardless, it was an eye-opening experience to see how different things are done here in Bali compared to Canada.
First, the staff used what looked like a bigger version of a kitchen scale to weigh our stuff. Secondly, when we wanted to pay with my credit card, we experienced connection issues. After the third try, the staff kept insisting that we pay in cash. Of course, we refused because we wanted a record in case something happened. We ended up using Gary’s credit card, which had no issues.
Then, as the lady handed me the receipt, a huge cockroach crawled up her sleeve. As disgusted as I was, I didn’t show it on my face. When this woman noticed the cockroach, she wicked the insect with the other hand and continued with the transaction. Totally nonchalant. No big deal.
The beach in Bali Kuta is super busy. Watch your kids carefully, or you will lose them
We were on Kuta beach when we started to hear a woman speak in Chinese over a speaker. I was able to pick up some of the words with my basic understanding of Mandarin that it was a family member looking for a child. The woman sounded like she might need help, so we followed the voice and tried to find her.
We discovered it was a mother who lost her child and was running all over the beach to find her daughter. We followed her and was looking for the opportunity to offer to help her where we can. As she walked to find her child, she’d stop every few meters to show strangers a photo of her daughter. It was a disappointing feeling when the strangers shook their head to show that they have not seen the girl.
After a good ten-minutes, the woman finally found the girl playing with other children. The girl could not have been past four, and she looked confused when her mom knelt down and scolded her. Unbeknownst to the child, the mother wiped away streaming tears as they walked away from us.
The kid did not see the hurt she caused her mom
That’s symbolic of what happens to parents. They keep their pain to themselves instead of sharing it with their children. Or, when they do, it comes in the form of yelling or anger. It was a heartfelt reminder that as children, we are never aware of the sadness we sometimes create for our parents. My dad always says this to me, and I suppose he is right. He tells me all the time that it isn’t until we get older that we empathize more with our parents. And it’s not until we become parents ourselves that we understand the sacrifice they went through to raise us.
This moment also reminds me of ALL THE TIMES my mom used to lose me as a kid! Seriously, every time we’d go to the mall, I’d wander off (I have a wandering problem) or get distracted by something. By the time I realized my mom is nowhere in sight, I’d cry and go to the information desk where I’d blabber my mom’s name over the speakerphone in Vietnamese. It’s funny to look back on that memory and realize I was ALWAYS the one looking for her!
Kuta Bali, one of the most developed areas on the island
The streets of Kuta are crowded everywhere with restaurants, tourist booths, and shops, all developed as a result of the tourism industry. It’s true, what they say, if you want to experience Bali, avoid Kuta at all costs. But it still doesn’t mean that you’ll have a bad experience in Kuta if you end up visiting this area.
Our next destination in Bali was in Sukawati, which was a way more authentic experience compared to Kuta.
Have you been to Kuta? What was your experience like in this area?