A bike lane. Not something I expected to see in a city where most streets have no sidewalks, yet there it was. Painted on the side of a road, lit by LED street lights and… casually driven over by cars. Bali is dipping its toes in modernity while still firmly rooted in ways of the old.
The first thing I noticed, shortly after our arrival, was that we received receipts pretty much everywhere. Shops, restaurants, parking lots and tourist attractions—all their cash flow was being recorded in a tidy, comprehensible form. That meant traceability and accountability, which are normally characteristics of well-developed countries.
The second thing I noticed were the compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) used everywhere, be that in public as well as private spaces, and not one incandescent light bulb in sight. These CFLs are now gradually being replaced by LED lights, which in turn are already widely used in traffic lights and street lights, often powered by solar panels. There must be a central law regulating this—a sign that energy efficiency is on the government’s agenda.
I complained a lot about Bali over the three weeks we’ve been there, from lacking infrastructure, through ubiquitous trash, to the remarkably basic food. These are all valid points, but they’re not the whole story. There’s a lot changing for the better, especially in the big cities of the south—Denpasar, Sanur and Kuta, as the people of Bali increasingly want to live a healthy, comfortable and sustainable life.
- Yes, traffic is dense on most streets and walking is a balancing act between getting hit by a passing scooter and falling into a roadside ditch. But gradually streets are getting sidewalks—narrow, frequently used by scooters to overtake traffic, but still—and their availability increased dramatically over the last few years.
- Bikers are a frequent sight and their numbers are growing—a trend I reckon will continue as dedicated infrastructure becomes available.
- A week into our vacation, the local transformer made a loud “boom” and… died, leaving us without electricity (and no internet access, which was more annoying than the lack of air conditioning). The repair crew was on site within an hour, with a portable transformer immediately restored power while they continue to work on the broken equipment.
- Internet access was available literally everywhere. At our guesthouse, obviously, in every single restaurant and café—with prominent signs shouting “Free WiFi!"—even at grocery stores. Quality of connection was another story, though. Super slow or downright not working.
- Credit and debit cards were accepted in major stores and some restaurants. They all worked with chip cards and PINs, not the old-school magnetic stripes or signatures. Still, cash is king and probably 99% of our payments required a pilgrimage to an ATM. Thankfully, these were available in abundance, often housed in tiny, air-conditioned booths.
- Finally, the trash. The average person will casually dump any sort of litter on the street without even a hint of hesitation. At the same time, there’s this massive, grassroots ForBALI movement, protesting against the development and destruction of Benoa Bay. And there’s Green School. Clearly, there’s a growing group of people who care a lot about the environment.
It’s all contrasts, everywhere you look.
The Balinese are increasingly well traveled and educated. They’re going places, studying in Australia, working abroad, usually in well-developed countries. Everything they see there, they bring back to Bali. Those people are then driving change, light bulb after light bulb, street after street, garbage can after garbage can.
There’s plenty of justified hope. I can see Bali becoming the paradise it’s said to be, not just on the postcards and within the confines of luxury resorts, but for all tourists, expats and the Balinese alike.