Bali: Hmm, Not Bad

boatssanurWhen I first thought of going to Bali, I rejected it. The island, I was sure, was chock full of bloated Australian tourists nursing skin cancer and middle-aged women in the throes of Eat Pray Love sickness — there would be nothing for a cool, Anthony-Bourdainesque Traveller Capital T like myself there. The place would probably give me cooties.

However, Bali is the entry point to Flores, and my friend Robert Delfs offered to allow me to stay at his place in Sanur, which is located somewhat in between Kuta Beach and Denpassar.  And my friends who had been to Bali reassured me that the Australians and Eat Pray Lover-s tended to clump together in easily avoidable groups, and I was unlikely to be dragged either into a dubstep party or a consciousness-raising session against my will.

So I came out here.

Sanur turns out to be lovely — high end and pleasingly secure in a way I was seeking after Phnom Penh, but with a nice vibe all its own. I like the stone architecture, the friendly people, and the relatively pleasing weather as compared to the miserable sauna that is Phnom Penh in April and March.

Best of all, I was able to take a night-time walk to get a SIM card and some sate without having to spend my time worrying about getting mugged.


Call me paranoid, but Phnom Penh has been stressing me out lately, and Bali is already proving a very pleasing change.

Examples? Hmm.

I witnessed a violent mugging, followed by a rather impressive revenge beatdown (on the mugger) courtesy of four large Nigerians a few weeks ago, for one thing — and am reluctant to repeat the experience, telling all my friends to avoid walking at night at all costs. That’s not to mention the multiple smartphone thefts, although all of those were nonviolent.

There’s something weird in the air — April, jao (thief) season, balmy months when the scumbags of the city decide they need to top up their bank accounts the medieval and zippy way prior to the sometimes-pricy Khmer New Years festivities.

Reports of theft and threats keep funneling in from friends. The paper tells me about murders, machete wounds, acid attacks, and people finding and then inexplicably mucking about with grenades.

Corruption gets worse, the weather gets hotter, and I almost got squashed by a speeding black Rolls Royce on Norodom Boulevard near my house the other day, which would have been a news-making but ultimately rather unfufilling way to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Even crossing the street is something of a life-in-your-hands experience —although I’ll admit more and more cars lately have stopped to let me pass, a new development that is one bright spot in a rather starry filament of stress and paranoia. Still.

I have perhaps erred in spending the past two months in Phnom Penh without giving myself a break. It’s not good for my delicate Western psyche.

I should at least have gone to Kep, or something — though even sleepy, verdant little Kampot had that recent foreigner murder. I’ve become twitchy, snappy, attempting to minimize leaving the house (not that I carry any good stuff out with me anymore) — overreacting, absolutely, but perhaps behavior not entirely unfounded by the nastiness of reality.


It is all much worse for the Cambodians I know, and that grinds away at you too. You are largely powerless to help, but you try to do what you can. The problems of even this small Southeast Asian kingdom seem enormous and impossible to master.
Then it’s time to get away, if you can — and remember that many cannot. And feel bad about that, as you eat $1 sate out of a brown paper bag, and walk down a little coral beach laden with sea grass.

Off to Flores tomorrow, and hopefully will be able to stop in at Komodo. I will try to avoid being eaten.

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