Like Asia but more Aussie

Bali is in general infested with Australians, but while Ubud has the yoga-centric hippie contingent, the vast majority can be found in Kuta.  It's a beach town a stone's throw from the airport, and, with neighbours Legian and Seminyak, the hub of Australian tourists from middle-aged bogans from Perth to affluent schoolies from Sydney.  The three towns stretch along Bali's southwest coast and are an easy walk from one to the next but with a discernible change of pace.  Semiyak contains the more swanky hotels, boutiques, and conceptual bars and restaurants; Legian is the family-friendly stretch, with sprawling resorts that have nightly entertainment and very Western menus; and Kuta is the Ibiza-style shitshow, all tacky tourist shops, nightclubs, and hostels with triple-decker bunkbeds.

These beaches are nowhere near the best in Bali (especially if you count the Gili Islands), with grey sand strewn with litter and cigarette butts.  But they're an easy place to spend some time, smoking shisha, drinking a Bintang, or just watching the surfers.  There are many surf schools in the area often with local teachers who have been surfing these waves for years, or who come from neighbouring Lombok which is also famed for its "swell".  I find surf talk incredibly tedious and am not a comfortable swimmer so this wasn't on the cards for me, although apparently that doesn't stop a lot of people.  One night my friend and I were enjoying a beer with one of the surf instructors, a guy called Froggy, who was telling us he'd seen an entire Indian family attempt a night time surf session without anyone overseeing, only to start flailing in the water when it transpired none of them could swim.  (They survived of course, or that's one weird story to tell nonchalantly to a couple of strangers).

Bali in general has a huge Western influence, but it was most obvious to me in Kuta.  We went to the Sky Bar with a couple of lads from Bribane because they do a killer deal, 5-6pm unlimited refills of your beer and access to the buffet all night, only for Rp.50,000 (like $5 AUD).  It's a weird place, with several levels before you get to the roof area, and every single person inside is white.  There were a few empty dancefloors on the way up (it being barely evening), yet there were inexplicably scantily-clad women dancing to an audience of nobody to house music.  Literally, empty rooms.  They would occasionally shout at each other over the music.  And while I was hoping the food would be a delectable mix of Indonesian staples, it was all burgers and potato salad.  The blandest of Western offerings for the least imaginative of Western tourists.  But they had shisha so we ended up staying for hours.

The gift shops here, and in truth all over Bali, are stuffed with a weird assortment of trinkets.  There's your standard Asian fare, local fabrics and elephant pants (wide-legged trousers with a distinctive elephant pattern that half the travellers you meet in Asia will be wearing.  Actually half might be a conservative estimate).  But there's also a lot of clearly Australian-influenced stuff, like bumper stickers that say "I fuck midgets" or "X is gay" with many popular Aussie names, that you can bring back as souvenirs for your friends, who you apparently hate.  You'll go into a bar in Kuta which is selling Coca Cola for the same price of an entire meal on the other side of town, and three generations plus inlaws of an Australian family will be loudly arguing with the staff about how they know best because they've been coming for 15 years and their friend Gary owns the place.

I stayed at first in the M Hostel in Seminyak, which my friend warned me "you have to go through a pharmacy to access".  She was not bullshitting.  The front is a 24hr pharmacy, then there are several shady, American Horror Story-reminiscent corridors to get through, before you come to the hostel's communal/outdoor space.  It's actually a lovely little hostel, and inexpensive (although as I'd learn, if you're not travelling alone then homestays will get you more for your money).  The strange entry process is because of the Balinese backstreets which do not always connect to the main road in the most logical way, so M Hostel actually exists on the courtyard of several other buildings, which may or may not be residential.  It's eccentric but clean, which for me is a great combination.

Balinese culture is still present in Kuta/Seminyak, despite the Western influences and the resorts.  Like in the rest of the island, there are shrines everywhere and business owners will perform their morning rituals, lighting incense and sprinkling scented water, and leaving an offering which always seems to include a cigarette for some reason.  If you want to see traditional dance you're probably more likely to find it in Ubud (post coming soon), but some of the resorts do put on traditional entertainment, for example a performance of the Ramayana my friend and I stumbled across.  And of course the best way to get stuck into any new place is the food.  Avoid restaurants and find warungs, and then the cheaper and more interesting thing to do is eschew the menu and attack the buffet.  There's so many delights you won't know where to begin: beef rendang, tempe (fried bean curd), vegetables cooked with shredded coconut, this delicious spicy aubergine thing, ayam goreng (fried chicken)'s possibly one of my top national cuisines.  Warung Murah on Double 6 Street (Jl. Arjuna) is the top bet but there's many of a similar type.  Even if you did just come to Bali to stay in Kuta and get wrecked, at least try and eat local food...maybe all that chili might help your hangover.

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