Why I am Still Going to Bali

Speaker's Corner: Bombers have killed hundreds and decimated the island's tourist-based economy. But Liz Sinclair refuses to cower.

11.15.05 | 8:37 PM ET

Bali sunsetMy friend Dian, an Indonesian journalist who works for ABC Radio, calls me on my mobile. I’m standing on the corner of Hoddle and Victoria Streets in Melbourne waiting for the lights to change. Dian tells me her phone has been ringing all night with calls from Indonesia about the Bali bombings. I don’t understand. I assume she’s talking about the anniversary.

She knows I am leaving for Bali in three days. “Aren’t you worried,” she asks. I haven’t read the paper yet or heard the news and reply, stupidly, that the bombings were a long time ago.

I hear her suck in her breath and then she tells me; there has been a second round of attacks in and around Kuta. I have friends in Bali and I go there often for yoga retreats, to rest and to write. All I can think about now are the lives lost and how the Balinese will suffer economically as tourism plummets.

The pedestrian sign turns green and I step into the street. A khaki-green Mercedes hurtles around the corner. The driver, a young kid, sees me at the last second. He attempts to stop but is moving too fast. Brakes screech. I jump back out of harm’s way. The boy throws his left arm up and I hear him yell “Sorreeeee” as he accelerates away. 

Having been knocked down twice at intersections by drivers who seem to confuse pedestrians with the zebra lines on the road, Melbourne drivers scare me more than Jemaah Islamiah. As I walk to work every day, I decide to research my survival odds: In 2004, 49 pedestrians were killed in the state of Victoria. That means the same number of Australians die every month here on the streets as died in Bali II. Even more frightening is the fact that 30 percent of drivers surveyed by the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) admitted they had almost hit a pedestrian or cyclist at least once. I am 12 times more likely to become a traffic statistic this year than die in a bomb attack. I won’t lose sleep worrying about terrorists; it’s Melbourne drivers that give me nightmares.

In the cruellest of ironies, the Ubud Writer’s Festival takes place the week after Bali II. The Festival is an annual event started by Janet de Neefe, an Australian living in Ubud, as a way to encourage tourists back to Bali after the first bombing in October 2002. When I interviewed Janet last year, she told me the Festival was organized to “draw the people and the community back together.” Janet e-mails on Monday to say, “We hope you will support us at a time when we need your help more than ever before.”

Besides attending the Writer’s Festival, I am going to Bali to finish a story about the unemployed young men who idle along the sidewalks of Hanoman Street, where I stay, and how they struggle to find work in an uncertain economy that is overly reliant on tourism. Before, many of them worked in shops or as artisans, but now, they tell me, tourists aren’t buying handicrafts, the result of an oversupply of crafts and tourist numbers that never recovered after the first bombings. The men have gone onto the streets. They work as drivers, couriers, guides, anything. Sony, one of my contacts, tells me that he is happy to have one job a day. “As long as we can eat and drink, we are happy,” he says, “It has been a good day.” I have a sinking feeling that when I go back to visit Jalan Hanoman, there won’t be many good days now.

For me, going to Bali has been a calculated risk since 2002. Several Indonesians warned me Bali would be a target again. I have been taking precautions since the last bombing—staying in small hotels, avoiding tourist restaurants, steering clear of markets and crowds—but the odds are still greater that I’ll be struck down right here at home. I am nervous about going but I also feel a sense of responsibility to the Balinese and to the tourism culture that Australians have helped to build. Eighty percent of Balinese rely on tourism for their livelihoods and there is a lot of hidden poverty on this island. I am more worried about the latest bombs blowing a hole in the Balinese economy. Ketut, another of my Jalan Hanoman contacts, e-mails me that he “has much fear Australians not come” to Bali now. The fatalistic Balinese urge tourists to return to their island; bombings, they tell me, are just one of those unfortunate things that now happen everywhere in the world that we must all learn to live with. The only way I know to help the Balinese is to go there and spend my money in their country. I’m not a medical professional; I’m not trained in disaster relief or forensics. All I can give is my presence, my money and my stories. I can assure them that I will still come back.

As a travel writer, I’ve learned that fear is largely a matter of perception and of not understanding the community in which you find yourself. Ubud, where I am headed, is a tightly-knit community; outsiders stand out. Dian, who has a house in Jakarta, where she never ventures out of doors without a bodyguard, tells me she is afraid to walk alone in the early morning hours in Melbourne, a city I consider the safest I’ve lived in. Peter Semone of the Asia Pacific Travel Association, quoted in the news, says that Australians may inevitably face terrorism anywhere we go; he calls it the “new normal.” We may no longer be safe from terrorism even inside Australia.

On Monday afternoon, I call Australian Airlines to confirm my flight to Denpasar.

“Do you still want to go after what’s happened?” asks the agent.

“Of course I’m still going,” I reply.

I’m told that I will get a full refund if I choose to cancel my ticket.

“I won’t let the bastards win,” I say.

“Good onya, love,” says the agent.

Photo by Jim Benning

Australia-based Liz Sinclair is living in Bali, learning Indonesian, volunteering as a grant writer for a maternal and child health center for the poor and writing about Australia and Asia, with an emphasis on Indonesia and interfaith issues. She has written for The Melbourne Age, The Big Issue, Australia, The Brunei Times, The Evening Standard and Islands magazine.

28 Comments for Why I am Still Going to Bali

jogry 11.21.05 | 1:47 AM ET

I fully agree with Liz. I live in Bali and will not leave. I feel so sorry for the balinese people who without the tourist have a meagre life excistancy. Bomb are everywhere now a days.

Christoph VOEGELI 11.21.05 | 2:36 AM ET

Dear Liz

Well put .......and I only can agree with you. Bali and the Balinese did not deserve that.

However, I hope Australians will continue to support Bali especially wihtout dramatically droping the price.

Sould you visit Bali drop me a line.


Hillary 11.21.05 | 3:00 AM ET

The travel warning reads “defer all non essential travel to Indonesia including Bali….”

What they don’t get is that to me, travel to Bali is essential travel. Not because I go for business and not because I’m fulfilling some laudable humanitarian function there.

I just can’t envision a time when I cannot go to Bali.  It has become part of me.

Since I started to lurk on travel forums of the Bali variety I am much relieved to find that there are many fellow addicts in search of a support group or a 10 step programme perhaps.

We are a motley group aren’t we? What a mixture, what a campur!!  The one thing we have in common is an enchantment with Bali and things Balinese.  I suppose it’s not possible that somebody actually has a cast a spell on us although sometimes I wonder. 

Maybe it’s just the Island of Bali that weaves some kind of magic. I think it might be.

natalie prayudha 11.21.05 | 4:31 AM ET

Dear Liz I was in Bali at the time of the second bombings,many guests from the hotel i was staying at went home early.I too thought about leaving but decided i wouldnt let the bastards win either!I will definately be returning to Bali in the near future.

herni holmes 11.21.05 | 4:33 AM ET

we were in bali 2 days after the second bombing. the balinesse were so devastated. they haven’t even fully recover feom the first bombing. They are a nice people who don’t deserve this.

We love bali,we’ll continue going there. It’s such a magical island. Please keep supporting Bali. Don’t let the terorist win.

Jiggs 11.21.05 | 4:41 AM ET

Dear Liz,

Bless you for your article. As another American expat and Baliphile—just as much at risk from terrorist bombs on the streets of London as I might ever be in Bali—I think your cogent arguments about perceived “safety” are right on. Please keep urging people to visit Bali. Few foreigners realise that reduced numbers of tourists has bad effects on every part of the Balinese economy, even those not directly related to the tourist industry and weakens Bali’s position as a minority culture within the Indonesian state.

Jose 11.21.05 | 12:11 PM ET

Dear Liz,

  I was in Bali on October 1st 2005, staying in a small hotel just one block from the Kuta square area. The same night I received several phone calls asking me if I would stay in Bali after what happened. I stayed until October 11 as my initial itinerary.

  I love Bali and I’m planning to visit this magic island every year, no question about it.

  Thanks for your article, I fully agree with you. Please keep supporting Bali and Balinese people.



Cathy 11.21.05 | 1:03 PM ET

Hi Liz,

Your comparision in the risk involved with crossing the street or getting injured in a terrorism attack is very accurate. So many people think they are ‘safe’ as long as they never leave home but in fact are probably at more risk of being injured or dying in their home city.

I just returned yesterday from 11 nights in Bali. I took a group of 10 girls from Canada and we honestly never felt unsafe once. It was my 14th trip to Bali since 1983 and I can only feel sadness that the Balinese are again having to recover from this latest incident. My group supported the Balinese economy in a huge way (can you say 40 foot container full of furniture etc.) and totally loved every minute of our trip. Now that I have hooked 10 others on Bali, they are already talking about their next trip to my favorite place in the world!

I know that Bali will recover as where else can you experience such amazing culture without having to do much more than a day trip from your hotel, eat for almost free and be the recipient of the warmth and friendliness of the Balinese?
Not to mention Bali is a shopper’s paradise!!!

Keep writing these positive articles about Bali. They need lots of good press.


Stephanie Morrison 11.21.05 | 5:24 PM ET

Hi Liz,

First off, thank you for writining this article. If it helps convince one person to continue with their trip than you have made a difference

I traveled to Bali in December 2002, only 2 months after the first bombing. I had been dreaming of the trip for 10 years. Everyone, my family and friends, did not want my husband and I to go. But, I had already post-poned once, right after 9/11 and I wasn’t going to do it again.

I had the most wonderful time of my life on my visit. I dream about going back every day, it seems like. The Balinese people are the most wonderful people I have ever met. The culture itself is something that is so peaceful and sincere, I had never felt more welcomed or safe when I was there.

When the second bombing happened my heart sunk and I began to cry. When I was there, I kept hearing the horrible stories of families trying to make ends meat. Some of the hotels we stayed at we were the only guests. It was the saddest thing, but I knew that my being there was just such a big help and everyone there was telling us this.

I just hope that people still visit the island of paradise and will go and spend their money to help the Balinese people. It makes such a difference.

I will absolutely be traveling back to Bali. I have been dreaming about it now for almost 4 years, since I took off from the island and saw it disappear in the distance from the plane. My only problem is still trying to pay off the first trip.


Debbie Beatie 11.21.05 | 6:34 PM ET

Dear Liz, thank you for putting my thought into words.  My husband and I have been going to Bali for over 20 years, our two sons, now 13 and 9 have grown up in Bali and class it as their 2nd home.  We are all booked to go next year in September, along with my 75 year old parents who have been going for over 25 years.  I love the people and the country.  Last year we took many articles of much needed goods to an orphanage in Negara, everyone can help a little bit but it goes a long way.  Bali is my second home and nothing will stop my going back.  If I didn’t feel safe I wouldn’t be risking the lives of my sons.  Regards Debbie

Maree 11.21.05 | 6:51 PM ET

Dear Liz, thank you for your article. Like many others I became addicted to Bali on my first trip there in 1999.  Since then I have holidayed at Sanur every year and spent 2 magical weeks there in September. I am already planning next years trip. Bali is my second home and needs our support more than ever. If we stop going the terrorists have won. Regards, Maree

Sharon Q. 11.21.05 | 11:44 PM ET

Aloha! Liz great article! My husband, a surfer, have been going to Bali for five years now. May will be our sixth trip..My husband will not go anywhere else. We live in Hawaii and feel very safe at home and have the same feeling while in Bali. We do not stay at large hotels, and travel with an open eye. We love the Balianese people and I support the economy while I am there!

margaret 11.22.05 | 12:45 AM ET

dear liz, your comments reflect my thoughts on bali also. my husband and i have been to bali 16 times and no terrorist will EVER stop us going again and again.Bali is our second home and we have many friends there that we love and respect,in fact it is seldom we have come across any balinese that we dont love.We feel that magic every time our plane lands in Bali and cannot wait to go again in April 2006

Jess 11.22.05 | 2:43 AM ET

Dear Liz,
I absolutely agree with you with what you wrote in your article.
I have been to Bali 5 times, and am going back for my 6th visit in two weeks. Ever since my first trip in 2002 I have been copping a lot of slack about travelling to Bali by narrow minded people who have never travelled to my favourite place.
As soon as i stepped off of the plane on my first trip I fell in love with Bali, just everything: the lovely people, the amazing culture, the shopping, the awesome beaches and landscapes, just to name a few.  To me it breaks my heart that Bali has been hit by terrorists, not only one but twice and i just hate seeing the locals suffer.  But little do narrow minded people realise that they have just as much chance as being hit by a car or experiencing misfortune in their own town as that of being involved in a bombing in Bali. 
I was actually in bali on 1 oct this year with my mother, just around the corner from Rajas when the blast occured.  My mother was also in London when the london bombings happenned.  This goes to show that it can happen wherever you are, and it makes me realise and appreciate that everyday is a gift and we must make the most of our lives.  That is why i am going to continue going back to Bali, not a day goes by that I dont think of Bali, and i have so so many wonderful memories of my time spent there.

Cheryl Pepper 11.22.05 | 10:22 AM ET

Hi Liz,
Yes, once Bali gets under your skin, you are completely hooked, and, just like an addict, you simply can’t get enough of it and each time you leave, the withdrawals get worse…...you just can’t wait for your next fix! People who have never been there cannot understand this and since the second bombing, whenever I talk to anyone about Bali they now say “of course you won’t be going back there again now will you?” My reply is always “of course I will, I’ll never stop going” and after having lived and worked there in 1998, I have so many friends, both locals & expats, that it truly is my second home, I feel so comfortable there. I go every year, usually twice and for a month each time…....why on earth would I now abandon such a ‘friend’ in need?

pip 11.22.05 | 6:12 PM ET

It is so nice to hear all these lovely comments about bali and the balinese.I have been there 12 times in the last 20 years and still find the place enchanting.We will still continue to go there and are booked to go next April which cant come quick enough.My 18 year old son is going with his girlfriend in January and when we asked him not to go,his comment was, “mum i have more chance of being killed on the roads than i do being killed in a bomb blast”  How true is this so wot can u say. He has a point.It can happen anywhere.we will still support our friends in Bali.

Kerrie 11.22.05 | 6:44 PM ET

We have been to Bali 12 times now, we were there on 9/11, we were stranded there when Ansett collapsed, and we were there again this year on Oct 1, We love the place and have made many friends there.  We will be going back.

Greg C 11.23.05 | 8:35 AM ET

Hey Liz, great article and good on you .Well we are departing for Bali on 3rd dec for our 4th trip to the island . I must admit that we almost deferred the trip due to the latest reports with the extremists video etc, but we have decided to just go . I believe security levels are very high around Bali at this time which is great news for the tourists. What a shame the Balinese people have to struggle again for a while , they dont deserve this.

Sam 11.23.05 | 1:10 PM ET

Liz - the “new normal” is a good way to put it. Bali is not the only place where people must live with a “new normal” - it’s true here as well in S. California. We were in Bali during the 2nd bombings - refused to return home early and completed our month-long visit by staying another week. We’ll return in 2006. -Sam

Joe Stryczek 11.25.05 | 10:00 AM ET

Bali is my second “home”.  I have been going there for the past 15 years and I am not going to abandon it nor the Balinese people who have treated me with such friendliness over the years.

Christoph VOEGELI 11.28.05 | 12:25 AM ET

Dear All

The bad news is that Paradise Airline is gone.

The good news is that GOH issued new 2=1 special offers to the market…...talk to your agent.



Joan Davis 11.28.05 | 1:27 AM ET

On just returning from Bali(27th Nov.)I can’t stop feeling sad for Bali and the Balinese. Their faces tell a thousand stories. To have to endure another bombing then the collapse of Air Paradise how are they going to survive. The work that Kadek has done to try and get Bali’s recovery boosted after 2002 has been a non stop effort and another big blow for Bali. I just pray they all can survive over time. I would also like to thank Qantas for helping out the many
stranded tourists including myself.
Om Canti Canti Canti Om

Michelle Brand 11.28.05 | 7:20 AM ET

Good on you Liz! My two kids & I were booked to go over for christmas & new year with Air Paradise. My 10th visit, my kids 5th. Unfortunately I can’t afford a new airfare so we can’t go now. Our friends think that it must be a sign that we should no longer go to Bali. First the bombings & then the airline….. I don’t think so!!! I am saving my butt off & we have re-booked with Garuda in March!

Jannene Black 01.12.06 | 9:57 PM ET

I think it is great that so many people still want to go to Bali. I was engaged and then later married there, I have very close friends that live there but I will never go back. My family and I were present in Kuta square on October 1st and I will never forgot the images. I was heart broken that somewhere that was so wonderfull for me had been taken away by such stupid selfish people. My 18 month daugther was with me and the thought that she could have been hurt breaks my heart.  Just remember the risks you take as we never thought it could happen to us and we were within 10 meters of loosing our lives or being injured.

Bob M 01.29.06 | 5:28 PM ET

Hi Liz,

Well, I’d planned my trip with my fiancee’s to Bali in July of 2005 and was horrified that again these crazy people would bomb Bali..So, as the time for the trip came closer-Jan 2006..I figured too that what are the chances they would strike again…my odds of getting hurt are greater on the freeways of California than by terrorists in Bali. Needless to say we were a little more cautious as to where we hung out, keeping our eyes peeled but not to worry. Nothing happened. The only thing that I’m really shocked about is the cab drivers and other stores that rip you off so blatantly with currency exchanges and services. If they really want tourists to come, they’d better start treating tourists as friends and not as walking dollar signs to gouge. I’m happy we went to support the truly hard working people of Bali but not happy that some view us as tolerating bad service or being ripped off.

Bob M 01.29.06 | 5:41 PM ET

Sorry, I should add that I think a lot of the problem’s we encountered are not the Balinese themselves, but the other visitors from Indonesia such as people from Java or other non-Balinese that come there to work because of the tourism..

Joan Davis 02.22.06 | 8:41 PM ET

Om Swastiastu Liz,
Have just returned from another trip to Bali and feeling so depressed.
They are really struggling so sad to see and typical of the Balinese still optimistic “next week will be ok guests be back”
They are being hit with electrity going up 100% as well as another 6000rp for petrol at beginning March.
How are they going to survive with hours being cut back on all hospitality jobs.
There is not a thing we can do for them but try and promote BALI NEEDS TOURISTS!!!
The Indonesian Government has stepped up a lot on security systems
I just pray the Government can do more for their recovery and quick.
Om Canti Canti Canti Om

Maree 02.23.06 | 5:39 PM ET

I have just booked to go back in September, and I can’t wait to get there!

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