Kuta from a different angle
Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
Kuta ... the central tourist hub of all Bali. From all over the island Kuta offers the most events and entertainment. Unlike other less developed tourist areas of the island, Kuta concentrates a wide variety of tourist attractions in just one place.
If you are a surfing boy, look for beautiful, long wide beaches with golden sands and consistent, easy waves suitable mainly for beginners and advanced surfers. If you like good food, you definitely won't have trouble finding the right restaurant or Warung in Kuta. Thanks to a high number of tourists arriving from all around the world, local restaurants offer a wide range of international cuisine, ranging from European through Aussie to Indonesian. If you are looking for relaxation, you can find it even in Kuta - you can choose from a wide selection of hotels, guest houses, and fancy resorts. Last but not least, if you have been traveling for a long time now and need to renew a few pieces of worn-out clothing or just want to delight your loved ones with some souvenirs, to find suitable shopping options in Kuta is a matter of a few minutes. What you can't find at street markets, you will discover in large and modern shopping malls.
Initially, I didn't have any idea what to think about Kuta. At first, I wasn't sure whether I would evaluate our stay rather positively and thus recommend or I would let the overwhelming negative sides of Kuta affect our overall experience. In the end, I would recommend Kuta but decide for yourself.
Staying here can be undoubtedly enjoyable. You can relax and gain the strength for further traveling, but at the same time, it is necessary to remember and beware of certain negative aspects and avoid specific scams.
We first visited Kuta in May 2015. It was our first Asian destination this year and the beginning of our traveling in Asia. It wasn't as much a shock as a significant cultural difference compared to the quiet New Zealand where we lived the past half a year. From a small village lost somewhere between Abel Tasman Nature Reserve, beaches and apple farms in the north corner of the South Island, we arrived after a few hours sitting on a plane in overcrowded Kuta full of tourists, arrogant taxi drivers, cocky street vendors, arrogant hotel and restaurant hawkers. Well, for a start Kuta was too chaotic to our taste.
No doubt, Kuta is cheap. Imagine that after half a year living in New Zealand, where prices for hotels and meals are generally astronomically high - you arrive at the airport, take a cab to the center for about 6.7 USD, you find a cozy hotel or guesthouse room at an affordable 11 USD for two, you grab some nice Indonesian meal for 1.3 USD, continental food for 4.45 USD. Fried fish just enough for lunch for one person you can get from 3.5 USD. Good food is complemented with a large bottle of beer 0.6l for 2 USD, and that's it - you don't need anything else.
Would you like to try surfing, but you are still a beginner? No worries. You can rent an adequate longboard ranging 3.5 - 18 USD a day (quality is usually the same), and for one hour under surfing instructor guidance, you pay at least 6.7 USD - usually with some sunburned beach punk. You don't fancy surfing? Doesn't matter, sunbathing is free and the beach is loooong. Kuta Beach connects Legian Beach and Seminyak Beach, so you have a 6,5 km stretch of endless beaches for your daily walks and morning jogging.
Have you had enough of sunbathing and now you'd like to explore the surroundings? If you travel as the locals do, you will get to Denpasar (main transport hub) for 0.7 USD and then all around Bali for about 2.2 USD - 3.3 USD. Sometimes, traveling locally by bemo or bus can be undesirably complicated and lengthy, so why not to hop on a rented scooter for 3.3 USD per day (gasoline for 0.5 USD / l) and go wherever you need.
Are you looking for more comfortable ways of traveling, preferably with a free minibus pick-up at the hotel? Ask in one of the thousands of travel agencies in the Kuta center or directly at your hotel. Regular sightseeing tour trips range between 5 - 14 USD and trips to the Gili Islands start at around 13 USD.
Are you planning longer transfers and you are running out of time? Why not take domestic flights between the Indonesian islands at affordable prices - the Denpasar airport is just around the corner.
Have you explored the area surroundings, enjoyed sunbathing and eating to yours heart's content? What can be better than watching the romantic sunset on Kuta beach with a cold drink in hand? When it comes down to the nightlife, go crazy at the well-known Disco Sky Garden complex on Jl. Legian! At night, this street turns into a bursting madness full of bars, discos, live music, and most of all, there are hundreds of young tourists from all around the world, most of them from Australia, UK and Scandinavia, with the only mission in mind - party wild until morning.
Such a high number of wealthy tourists arriving in Bali at any given moment comes with its negative side too. Many Indonesians move over to Kuta pursuing the sole purpose - making tons of money. But how to make this happen when hundreds, maybe thousands of other locals have the very same idea as well? It's clear, everything goes at the expense of the tourists - vendors offer their goods at unrealistically high prices, they will try to rob you, rip you off and take all you have if you let them. The basic rule for a happy shopping in Kuta is to learn how to bargain. Negotiate hard and uncompromisingly. Are you after new, certainly original, Ray-Ban sunglasses? Vendors most likely start bargaining at a price around 200,000 IRD (13.3 USD). Those who are more desperate will start low, let say at 50,000 IDR (3.3 USD). According to our experience, the lowest realistic selling price may be around 1 USD. And so it is with everything. Don't be afraid to bargain, stop by several shops. Why not when there are hundreds of stalls offering the same range of products. If the low price is not your priority number one, I recommend visiting bigger shopping malls, where the quality of products should be noticeably higher, and at fixed prices.
What you should really avoid is exchanging currency with unauthorized retailers. Every second street stall has a sign in front of the shop with very competitive exchange rates and a writing "Authorized money changer" on it. That's not true. At first glance, Authorized currency exchange is definitely not a stand with clothing and baubles, with a high wooden table in the darkest corner of the room. While watching these scammers in action, you may think of a magician's performance, or a game popularly called "shells." You can watch their hand performance as closely as you want - they convert the cash in front of you (well, behind a greasy glass panel), and stack in piles of 1mil IDR each. You can count the money yourself several times. Believe that the cunning scammers are waiting for one second of your momentary inattention, and several banknotes end up in a secret drawer hidden under the counter. You then return to the hotel with a good feeling of a good deal you made, because of course, you didn't notice anything. When you come to complain later, there is nothing else you can do but hit hard on the trader and claim the remaining banknotes uncompromisingly. He will know ...
After a few days in Kuta, you begin to be allergic to the constant yelling of the market sellers, beach dealers and taxi drivers all around you uncompromisingly demanding your attention. If it's not them, then it's gonna be young girls for sure, sometimes even children, shouting on every corner "Massage, Massage!" It really starts to bother you that everywhere you go, the locals try to rip you off, whether it is at a marketplace, in a regular grocery store in the city center, in the taxi, or sometimes even in the restaurant, when they try to get some tip out of you. The most straightforward recipe is ignorance - ignoring everyone and everything. Despite the rude comments from their side, they leave you alone, and you will spare yourself unscrupulous arguing and aimless conversations.
Last but not least, especially in the night time, locals will shout out loud random names of drugs in a masked manner on you. Mind what punishments in Indonesia you can get, even for holding illegal drugs ...
I would like to summarize the above in a few sentences. Kuta is good. We have visited Kuta in total 3 times, and our experience has gradually improved. It is necessary to know local prices and circumstances, find suitable accommodation and favorite restaurants, learn to communicate with local people, and then you can have a lovely stay. Young rebels who want to party and meet young people of the same kind will like this place as much as more moderate travelers, as there are still plenty of quieter places avoiding the party districts.