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Our Bali guide experience

Now, this is a post that’s been needed a few months to really be told – our trip to Bali, which saw us encounter one of the most unusual – undesirable – elements of any trip we’ve been on to date; our Bali guide experience.

I’ll start off with the surrounding context; during our trip to Bali in August 2023, the whole island – in my opinion – had become generally much too full of tourists. It feels like one of those scenarios where it’s not really what you’d expected, but everyone feels compelled to jostle for the scenic/beautiful pictures regardless, lest we all have to admit it wasn’t really all that great.

Everywhere, beginning with the arrivals hall in the airport, is slammed. We decided, rather than potentially queue up with the hordes to visit every single attraction, to instead hire a – recommended – driver/guide for our trip. And so it was that we ended up with ‘Dewa’.

DPS immigration hall

First things first, as you can see above, the airport immigration hall is more or less an accurate representation of the crowds you can probably expect to see for the remainder of your trip.

Straight from the off, shortly after collection, a bad mood filled the air – our failure to also book our hotel directly with Dewa being the apparent issue, as we were interrogated over how much we paid and would we not consider doing quad biking the next morning, on our one day of no plans – before stopping abruptly at a convenience store for ‘full payment’ that I don’t remember any of us agreeing to beforehand.

The following morning (i.e. the one after the quad biking could have happened on) we were up at the crack of dawn for a visit to Nusa Penida. You would imagine of course that having a guide meant skipping the line – unfortunately, in what would turn out to be the theme of the day if not the trip, that was very much not the case and we joined the collection of fellow weary tourists at the ferry ticket office, all doing our best to pretend we were having a stress-free, relaxing holiday.

Nusa Penida ferry ticket office

If ever there was a place that was the embodiment of staging a great holiday, then August 2023 Nusa Penida is it – crowds like nothing you’ve seen before, all lined up to reach the front of a queue to have a picture taken in apparent reflective isolation. Notwithstanding of course the hundred or so people waiting behind in line.

Nusa Penida crowds

And it’s a crying shame, because some of the sights are spectacularly beautiful, like the jutting peninsula of Kelingking Beach. At which, we were afforded approximately 20 minutes – barely enough time to climb the required ‘photo stop’ tree to take a picture that offered the illusion, again, of being by ourselves.

Kelingking Beach

For our last stop on Nusa Penida, we were brought to what we were assured was one Nusa Penida’s most stunning beaches, Crystal Bay. Once again, if by stunning, the actual meaning was more ‘swamped’ – then yes, it was indeed. There was just about enough room to spread your towel out.

Crystal Bay, Nusa Penida

After we complained that it was not particularly spectacular and very crowded, our driver first of all told his fellow guides that we were complaining and saying it was boring (which we understood), we also learned that we were due to be there for a full hour and a half and that there were no other options, as the ferry didn’t leave any earlier. Despite of course being told there were earlier ferries that we could take, in the morning, whenever we wanted.

The ferry, once again, was an exercise in crowd control as what felt like a few hundred sweaty, tired fellow passengers jostled for prime seats.

Nusa Penida ferry queue

Two further guide-based trip disappointments occurred in the following 24 hours;

After the long, mass-tourism trip to Nusa Penida, our guide insisted on making it up by bringing us to a very well-known, ‘local’ seafood restaurant. To say it was a tourist trap would be a severe understatement. It was expensive even by Irish standards, the fish was blander than what I can muster up in the kitchen myself, and we spent maybe 40 minutes there if even. As a sign of just how bad it was, I didn't even have a drink.

Snorkelling – I actually laughed out loud thinking about this one again. Despite pre-booking, we ended up having to listen to a forced upsell speech at the venuce of choice, before being sulkingly led off for our actual activity, located on a docked boat a few hundred meters from the shore. Honestly, it was the least natural snorkelling venue ever – divers a few feet below were the most visible signs of life, while the sheer volume of fellow snorkellers meant you were never more than a few seconds from bumping heads with someone. And when, without our watches and with no warning, we finally egressed from the water – our guide was standing by, sulking, telling us we had to pay fees for staying over time? We politely – and then less politely – declined.

By now, the mood had taken a severe turn for the worse and after a long one-hour drive for Babi Guling, the apparent Balinese specialty, our guide admitted he actually had no idea where he’d find a restaurant serving such a dish.

Instead, seemingly, we could either go to a restaurant of his choice, or be dropped off at a beach. As a result, let me present to you the undoubtedly questionable set of food shops we did get dropped off at, in the middle of a coach park (incidentally beside a beach).

Bali food stop

Next morning, despite the otherwise wonderful stay we’d had at Maca Villas, we were very much ready to leave Bali and neither return to see, nor recommend, Dewa, our tour guide ever again.

But, we were also determined to try to maintain some positivity and goodwill. It lasted 30 seconds until an immediate demand once again for the ‘extra snorkelling time’ the previous day. We flatly refused, called BS on both that and his entire guiding skills, and proceeded – guide included – to sit in silence for the remaining one hour drive. And never have I been as happy to check-in for an economy flight, and be on our way.

Honestly, Bali – the towns and main sights – were so busy and overcrowded, the need for beautiful pictures requiring such staging and queuing, that in and of itself, I’d not be keen to go back. Throw in Dewa, our guide, into the mix, an absolute scam artist, and I couldn’t possibly see us returning again for a lifetime – let alone a few years! Truly, the overrating is very, very real.

Have you ever had a really disappointing tour guide? How would you have dealt with this?

Reformed backpacker & former ultra-cheap traveller, Andy now atones for his past by overspending on premium travel experiences and failing at making the most of the miles & points game. Former expat now returned to Ireland, he is a product manager by day, and travel aficionado by evening and weekend.

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