Getting Ripped Off In Bali

Tags: , , ,

I am no novice to traveling in Asia, and I feel like I have put my time into giving Bali a chance, but there are days where I wonder, why the heck do I live in Bali?  These days are generally the ones were I get ripped off, or spend my day avoiding getting ripped off in Bali.

There is no way of avoiding it, I am, in fact, a Bule.  Bule originally translated to albino, and was the word that the Balinese used when first seeing the Dutch settling in Indonesia.  Now, it refers to any foreigner, particularly of the white-skinned variety.  That includes me.

There are benefits and burdens to being a Bule in Bali.  The biggest benefit relates to the cost of living here, and is the reason why an increasing number of expats, retirees, and digital nomads are calling Bali home.  When you earn your money online, or from other Western sources, and are living in Bali (or most of Southeast Asia), it is a steal.

One of the burdens of being a Bule, in Bali and elsewhere in the region, is that we are often seen as giant ATM machines.  Now, I understand that there are a lot of things that I pay more for in Bali, solely because I am a Bule.  And, most of the time I am okay with it, because I know I earn more money than the average Balinese.  But, today, things went too far.  They went far enough that I want to scream that I am sick of getting ripped off in Bali.

Our Babi Guling Place

Getting Ripped off in BaliThere is a beach about 30 minutes from Ubud that Eric and I frequent.  Part of our ritual is that on the way back we stop at this fantastic babi guling, or roast pig, place.  They don’t speak English there, but I have been able to communicate with the woman who works there nicely.  I always complement her, saying she has the best babi guling in the area, and that the food is delicious.  She recognizes me, knows I live nearby, and smiles when I enter.  

We have taken friends to this place, and recommended it to others, although I have never seen another Bule in the joint.  It has become our place, our non-touristy spot for roast pig and pork soup.  Over the last few months we have been in there over a half dozen times.  My most recent visit was a little over two weeks ago.  We always pay 45,000 IDR for two orders. 

Until Now.

Getting Ripped Off

The first time we went to this place we were overcharged, but since then, it has been a reliable price.  This time, when we approached to pay, the woman who knows me was washing dishes.  There was a guy at the till and using his calculator he wrote down 80,000 IDR.  I was shocked, and told him mahal, expensive.  I told him my price, 45,000, and what ensued was an exchange that just made my blood boil.  I told him, in so many words, all in my broken Indonesian, that we always pay 45,000, I paid 45,000 2 weeks ago, that I like this babi guling place, and that I did not want to pay the Bule price.  He offered to lower the price to 60,000, but I hung tough on the 45,000.  Finally, he told me the local price was 25,000 for one order. I placed 50,000 down and turned to leave, while telling him the opposite of what I usually say.  Usually, I leave a place saying sampai jumpa lagi, or see you again.  This time, as I left I said tidak sampai jumpa lagi, or I won’t see you again.

Bali’s Future and Our Future

What made me upset by this was not the haggling over the few dollar price difference.  It was representative of larger issues in Bali.  First off, the woman who knew me and apologized with her eyes could not say anything – because she was a woman, and the man was running the shop.  That, obviously incensed me. 

Mostly, though, it was symptomatic of a change that has been occurring in Bali, even before we arrived.  The island is reaching maximum capacity, and is growing out of control.  There is so much construction, so much traffic, and infrastructure is reaching a breaking point.  There is insufficient resources for clean water and trash removal, but yet, the government is constantly concerned only with how many more Chinese tourists can be squeezed into the tiny roads of Ubud.  And, then there is the corruption, and rampant overcharging. 

I recently read an article where the local Bali tourism association was trying to engage in price fixing in order to raise the price of hotels and guest houses to be inline with Myanmar, where the average cost of a hotel is double or triple what it is here.  There is a reason for that: in Myanmar tourists are flooding into the country and there is insufficient supply of accommodations.  A simple supply and demand analysis.  In Bali, you cannot walk 20 feet without seeing the remnants of construction debris for a new hotel or guest house, which is why prices remain low – high supply, low demand.

But, the tourism authority wanted to increase prices, just because they thought tourists should pay more.  I am left to wonder, when will enough be enough?  When will there be too many stories about trash littered beaches, or increased visa on arrival fees (another $10 per person increase in the last 2 weeks), or increased exit fee (another $5 increase over the last 2 months.  How many stories of travelers exclaiming that Bali should be removed from your bucket list, or TIME decrying Bali’s woes.  This is not to mention the recent violence plaguing Ubud and other areas, violence that is directly targeted to foreigners.

An island that until quite recently seemed to hold some magic for us, encouraging Eric to post on a regular basis that he “f*cking loves Bali” is losing some of the magic.  I am sure it is like any place: when you stay for awhile, when you look behind the curtain, things seem to appear different.

There are still things that I love about Bali, and it will be a place that we call home for awhile more, but there is something to be said about having this particular incident while we were discussing our plans for 2015, and whether we want to live in Bali full time at all. 

Right now, it is bad timing to have an “incident” such as this.  Just when I need the Island to send me a sign that Bali should remain our home, I fly off the handle about getting ripped off for babi guling.  

What do you think?  Should we stay or should we go?



  1. Obviously I haven't spent much time in Bali but I think I could feel all of those things just on my short visit. I have NEVER felt so much like a walking dollar sign as I did in Bali. It's a beautiful place but a tough place to be too.

  2. Amber, that really sucks! I really appreciate your insider perspective of living in Bali, and I think you raise several valid points. This is definitely a jumping off point for many different discussions. I hope you find the magic that brought you to Bali in the first place.

  3. I think the ultimate beauty in doing what you're doing is that you can pack it up and off you go until you find the next place that you want to explore until that 'curtain' get's pulled back. I think, sadly, that you landed here because you have seen so much elsewhere so where to next??? I suppose there are pros and cons everywhere – it's a matter of what you can accept and what you cannot.

    Keep doing it – it's fun to read (as I sit here in my little cubicle with a giant window and consider myself lucky to have natural light as I work….)

  4. Like Kim, although I spent far less time on Bali than you have, I felt a similar "walking ATM" issue just based on our short stay there. It was especially bad on Ubud, but we experienced it everywhere on the island and, to be perfectly honest, on the other islands we visited in Indonesia and was by far the thing I liked least about our visit. I found it increasingly tiring to pay top dollar for shitty rooms and should-be-cheap meals, and it's one of the things that makes me reluctant to return to Indonesia. I'm sure I will again at some point, but it does get wearying and I completely understand why you'd be tired of it. Of course, this kind of thing is an issue pretty much everywhere in Asia, though certain countries (Indo being one of them) do seem to more aggressively gouge tourists.

  5. This post reminds me of the power of coincidence ( and not taking things personally. I mention the article because in your post you acknowledge that you generally pay more, and that you accept paying more because you know that you earn more money than the average Balinese. As a result, your financial interactions on a daily basis are skewed by this “Bule” tax, yet when you were levied this surcharge at a restaurant you got upset.

    Eric and you chose to base yourselves out of Bali are because it is inexpensive and beautiful (this obviously has factored into other expat "Bules" decision to settle there, too). Much like anywhere in the world with wealth inequality, sometimes it gets the better of those with less (one only has to look at the increase in crime against foreigners to see a correlation). Now that it has extended to your local pig-roasting place, you are taking it personally. You shouldn’t. The frequency which you have eaten there evidently has not changed the systematic viewpoint of “Bules;” you are just another ATM. If you can reconcile the Balinese charging you more everywhere else on the island, then the popularity of this restaurant among expats should not influence how the locals feel towards you. Maybe they were charging you the locals’ price for the past several months, but now are charging you the “Bule” rate. Is the meal at the current price still a good deal?

    The times Tara and I found ourselves being overcharged during our travels, we tried to step outside of the situation and think of what the real cost was. In your case, the initial bill of 80,000 IDR was 35,000 IDR more than you were used to paying (roughly $3USD). However, you were able to talk him down to only difference of $0.43USD from your usual price. You are still saving tremendous amounts of money living there versus many places in the world and certainly the US. That extra charge might be infuriating, but you should not take it personally. We wrote extensively on fighting tooth and nail to avoid scams, fake fees and surcharges but sometimes it is unavoidable. Ultimately, you find that balance between accepting generally low prices, while acknowledging those are local prices based on local wages. Is it right to charge a foreigner more for the same service? Absolutely not, but it happens everywhere.

    One last thing to consider is since you two don’t speak the language, what if the price of pig went up in the past week or two? What if there was a legitimate reason for the increase in cost? Take the surcharge with a grain of salt. In all likelihood, nothing changed. But if you love the place as much as you seem to, perhaps don’t write it off just yet. Continue to visit it. Show them your support and maybe after other employees see you come enough, you’ll get the local’s prices again.

    Good luck and safe travels…

  6. As you know, the longer you stay in a place the more layers you peel back.
    I liken it to an onion. With places/things/relationships, when you start peeling the layers there are sweet layers, pungent ones, ones that make you cry. Does the sweetness overcome the pungent layers or vice versa?

    For us, Bali has run its course and we will visit her, but I think we are done living there for a majority of the year. We have been traveling with our children for 4 years now and want something different that Bali does not offer.

    All the best….let's catch up with a juice when I get back.

  7. I recall joining you and Eric at this Babi Guling place so I could relate. We loved our year in Ubud, the fresh air, beautiful scenery, country roads for bicycling, the Yoga. But, more than anything we loved the people. Think of Nyoman and Sri who cooked incredible and cheap meals for us and welcomed us into their lives. Think of Made and Nyoman and their $1 fresh coconuts and $3, to die for, ribs meals. You two and we were privileged to get to know so many wonderful Balinese people who truly enriched our lives. Anyhoo, having moved away from Ubud recently and having ventured to Cuenca in Ecuador, I can tell you we like it better here where the local government builds and maintains 100s of miles of bike and walking trails, the trash is picked up, every corner has a trash can, the water from the tap is drinkable, the streets are cleaned with water sprays, the air is clean. Oh, and yes, the people are wonderful and welcoming.

  8. So many great comments all. Susan, I wonder if you would feel the same about Cuenca if you stay for a year and a half…as Sabina says, the longer you stay the stronger the opinions, the more you learn. And, as Mike points out, I do live here more cheap than I could in a lot of other places, and I have met wonderful people as Susan says, and those are the Balinese who treat us with respect and kindness, and not as walking dollar signs. I think there is a power of coincidence going on here, and it is that something liked this happened on the very day we are considering leaving Bali. And, that, I think is powerful.

  9. True, we have only been here a short time, but we have met many expats who have been living here for years and truly love it. We can understand why Cuenca has been named by many one of the top places for living overseas.

  10. Amber, I can understand how you feel. I will be in Bali next week and will keep an open mind. It was 1997 last time I was there and I am hoping that the majority of the people are still the humble people they were. I want to see the culture and the tradition and not the tourist rip offs that I am reading more and more about.

  11. I think relatively well-to-do foreigners pay a premium everywhere, so I don't imagine leaving Bali will solve that problem. But I do think the attraction of Bali may be on the decline. As you know, we lived there for a year and made many good friends — Balinese and otherwise — and saw many beautiful sights. But there are lots of wonderful places in the world and Bali, frankly, suffers by comparison with some of the “value" alternatives. And mostly it’s not in the same class as the up-scale destinations.

    Indonesia has treated Bali as a cash cow. They are extracting as much foreign currency as possible without concomitant investment in infrastructure. Officials talk of making Bali into a five-star destination (which I reckon would drive away much of the current economy-minded expat population) but the sidewalks are in ruins and many of the beaches are a mess. Wishful thinking is their privilege, but the lack of a coherent, well-coordinated strategy is a shame. The Balinese deserve better. Expats and tourists have choices and it seems to me Bali’s attraction is on the decline.

    Returning to your question, I think you can do better. We’re in Cuenca, Ecuador now, where we’re getting much more for our dollar and are enjoying a comparatively pristine natural environment. The government here has invested in making this a great place to be. Maybe Cuenca’s not for you, but the fun is in the search.

  12. Lyn, I hope you find some non-touristy spots here in Bali, but it is getting a little harder.

  13. Rick, I think you are entirely right. I do see things being on a decline and am not sure if it is the Balinese or the Indonesian influence, but I do not think that Bali has the same sparkle that it once did for travelers. Although, there is still a lot to offer expats who settle here for awhile.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *