Travelling to Kuta Beach, Bali

When you're staying in as cramped and exasperating a place as Kuta Beach, Bali, there's only one thing to do: throw your arms open and embrace it.

John Bucher on Travelling to Kuta Beach, Bali | BCBusiness
Above: An alley in Bali’s Kuta Beach, the tourist district that feels like sun, sounds like industry, and smells like clove cigarettes. Back: The BCBusiness Guide to World

When you’re staying in as cramped and exasperating a place as Kuta Beach, Bali, there’s only one thing to do: throw your arms open and embrace it.

Probably the nicest thing about Bali is how spotless the locals keep the white outdoor tiles, which are everywhere. A guy just finished with the patio I’m on. He dragged a tineless rake wrapped in a towel through the overnight rain, and if I squint, I can see the last threads of moisture evaporating. The morning air is a pleasant 23 degrees. Bali, international haven of sun and surf, lies eight degrees below the equator, a tiny volcanic nipple poking out of the Pacific.

It was 5:00 a.m. when I walked down to Kuta, the island’s most notorious beach. All is quiet. No vendors are yet on the street. No tattooed Australian surfers. No mothers, children on hip, begging. And no hawkers muscling into my path, parroting (in a credible Aussie accent), “Sunglasses – bloo’y cheap, mite!” I’ve been in the neighbourhood three days, staying at the mid-market Masa Inn ($16 a night), but the long trip from YVR has left me wonky. I fell asleep before dinner last night and rose before dawn. And that’s how I find myself on the patio of an American fast food restaurant, sipping a coffee that cost 5,500 rupiah (60 cents). Obstructing my view of the ocean is an eight-foot clown hanging ten on a striped surfboard. Ronald can make a guy feel he’s not as far from home as he should be.

WEATHER The best months in Bali are April to September, when humidity is lower and the rain is light and infrequent.

CAN’T MISS Poppies 1 and 2, the largest alleys in Kuta, dense with people, noise and commerce of every kind.

COOL EATS Antique, in nearby Seminyak, is pricey for Bali, but the unique category-bending creations of its chef are more than worth the tariff. 

BEST BEDS The Beverly Hills Bali is a luxury boutique hotel tucked in the silent, verdant hills of Jimbaran. Ask for Ardana.

I was in Bali once before, in my twenties, and on that trip I pursued a more authentic travelling experience. I rented a motorcycle and rode up to a volcano in a heavy rain. I made earnest eyes at waitresses in rural restaurants, communicating in smiles and hand signals. I learned Indonesian phrases. Most of all, I stayed away from the crush of Kuta Beach. While some white people go on holiday expressly to eat Pizza Hut, swill beer, and sleep near the hotel pool, I thought smugly, I was not one of them.

Nine years later, that energy and self-regard embarrasses me. And as I sit, waiting for the kitchen to open and produce me a Sausage McMuffin, I’ve begun to think that perhaps I’m not a traveller, after all. I may just be a tourist.

It’s hard to feel like much else in Kuta. The beach teems like the Amazon – and with as many predators. From your hotel room (rates from $2 to $300 per night) it’s a stroll to any provision the mind can summon: a pair of Ripcurl board shorts, a four-dollar pedicure, a pirated copy of Transformers, a 125cc scooter for hire, a used longboard, a packet of ephedrine, a 75-cent bottle of Bintang pilsner, a Beckham jersey from his Manchester United days, a patterned batik scarf, a wooden Christmas-morning puzzle, a pair knockoff “Oakey” sunglasses, a Zippo inscribed with Toughen Up, Princess in block letters, a dented scuba tank, a secondhand guidebook to Borneo, a tattooist specializing in Celtic knots, a 24-hour tailor named Mr. Ketut, a tube of antibiotic salve, a baggie of narcotic mushrooms, a braided friendship bracelet, a mango-wood bongo, a techno, country, jazz or gay bar, or Balinese culinary riffs on flapjacks, ramen, Yorkshire pudding, and schnitzel. The place feels like sun, sounds like industry, and smells like clove cigarettes.

It’s now 7 a.m. at the McDonald’s, and my coffee is done. Behind me, the monster district is waking up. Tourists are trickling down to the beach, the vendors are shouting, the clatter of commerce has begun. As dawn subsides to day, Kuta roars to life.