Why I am Living in Bali, Indonesia

I’m currently living in Bali, Indonesia. I’m in the final steps on throwing down some serious loot on a 1 year lease, which for somebody who has been publicly diagnosed with “location ADHD,” and who has bounced around the world like a ping pong ball for the last 3 years, is a pretty huge deal.

I don’t think I’ve changed much. My values are still pretty much the same.

I’m still the guy that only needs $1000 bucks a month, a backpack, and my time.

The only way I can explain this sudden onset of nesting instinct is that I think Bali is special.

I’d like to stick around a while.

I don’t necessarily think you’ll like Bali as much as I do. You might hate the place. Visit at your own risk :)

Cart Before the Horse Lifestyle Business Tactics

My decision to locate myself in Bali isn’t based around some the plan for our business, although once I decided I loved Bali I was quick to dig up a ton of justifications (rationalizations!?) for living here. This sort of cart before the horse thinking is typical of the approach I’ve taken my entire business career. In any given business there are 1000’s of potential next actions– why not focus on the fun ones?

Given I don’t have a business idea that I think will slam dunk a few million in my bank account in the next 3-5 years (read: venture backed start-up), I see myself jamming on my core business for the foreseeable future. Given that, I depend on living a lifestyle and engaging in projects that I see as fun and interesting.

Very few people take this approach, which is all the more reason to take a stab at it.

The key thing here is to not divorce yourself form the act of providing value to others. You gotta be a giver baby! Being a business person is very rarely about what YOU alone want.

Bali Has a Completeness That is Tough to Find in South East Asia

It’s difficult to name the best place to live in South East Asia. There are so many damn options readily available. The lack of development in much of the region can start to wear on you when you are in one place too long. Spend a year in Manila setting up a business and hiring staff. Sure! Live there for 5 years? Not for me.

Of course there are places like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Bangkok that fit the bill, but I’m not hip to long term living in big city environments. Having freedom of location radically reduces the key benefits of living in cities in my view.

“By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by traveling: namely, the strange.” –Paul Tillich

Bali is the first place I’ve lived since San Diego that really competes with the “completeness” of some first world cities (San Diego, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York) but with all the access to adventure, nature, and Asia in general that I crave. Although I love places like Saigon, Hanoi, Dumaguete, and Bangkok, it was ultimately difficult for me to imagine staying in those places for a 3-5 year term. With Bali I have no such problem.

Bali Prejudices

So you’ve never been to Bali? I haven’t seen any movies or books that really nail it the way I see it. If you know some, please let me know. You could check out Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” where he contemplates why expats drop out and “go bamboo.” A few days in Bali and you won’t be asking such existential questions. This episode might not give you the best idea of expat living in Bali, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

I have a friend who describes Bali as “South East Asia for Grownups.” I thought that was apt and funny. Many people think it’s useful to use Hawaii as a standard for comparison rather than the rest of South East Asia. This might not make as much sense in terms of the local culture, but it makes a lot of sense to me in terms of what’s available. Bali is highly developed, surfers flock here, it’s a favorite of the jet-set crowd, and it’s the most highly developed “beachy” place I’ve been to in Asia.

For those of you who have done the South East Asia backpacker thing– my friends who have visited me have been pleasantly surprised that there is very little of the backpacker scene going on here. Most of the tourists here are fly in fly out, and not Phuket packaged style. You get the sense that many tourists coming to Bali have been coming year after year, and this is often the case. You’ll be spared of the gap-year “finding myself” travelers.

As a travel destination, Bali is extraordinarily diverse, easy to get around, and beautiful.

Value for your money.

I’m a super slow traveler. I haven’t been to as many places as a lot of the bloggers you might have read on the webs. So I say with some qualification– I have never been anywhere that I felt like my dollar goes further than Bali. Of course, when you think a place is stellar, your feel you are getting more value for your dollar.

We have been house hunting in earnest for about 1 month now. We are currently paying $750 USD month to month for a quality new house, 2BR with a pool (although its more like a pond at the moment) pretty much new in a good location. We’ve found a nice portfolio of homes 3-4BR, Pool, Garden, in the most desirable neighbhorhood in Southern Bali (Seminyak) for about $17,500 USD annually. These places are insanely nice and within walking distance from the top bars, restaurants, and beaches in Bali. You can get killer villas in secondary locations from $12,000 USD annually. You can find yourself a resonable room in Bali for $100 USD monthly. You can get a nice guesthouse in a central area like Kuta starting at $300-$500 USD monthly.

This is a great tip given to me by expat tax consultant David– who is a great entrepreneur and all around cool guy who is currently living here in Bali. The real estate market in Bali is really inefficient. About 80% of the places I’ve toured I could easily imagine marketing them directly to the long term rental market and getting 20% more than asking price on the ground.

If you are really ambitious, you could turn your leases in to a business by renting it out to short term vacationers. I’ve penciled together scenarios where someone could hypothetically be pulling down a few thousand monthly on one house. This isn’t necessarily a great business opportunity in and of itself, but it does cut the sting of getting yourself into long term leases here and something worth considering. Many landlords are highly leveraged because there is a building boom here– they need cash. If you can supply it you can get in on some great deals. This stuff might be illegal so keep a low profile and never take my advice :)

So What Are You Going to Spend?

You can easily live a quality lifestyle in Bali for less than $1000 USD a month. In fact, my roommate David remarked that he thinks living 15 minutes outside of the central area in Bali was cheaper than living in North East Thailand! I believe it. That said– it’s also easy to spend $4000+ a month here in Bali. So don’t be shy if you’re ballin’  :) The cool thing about running in Bali with a bigger budget is that you are truly getting world class services at a great value– it’s not like places like Manila where you can pay a mint for what is pretty average food and accommodations.

Jet Set Lifestyle and Close to Business Hubs

I won’t take the time to quote all these air faires out for you. Using a combination of Air Asia, Tiger Air, Jetstar, and the like you can basically get anywhere in Asia for under 200 bucks. Many flights, like Bali to Singapore, can often be under $40 USD. No shit.

The Philipines is important to my business, and also to a lot of my internet marketing buddies. Although there are no direct flights, I can get to the Philippines for under $200 USD via Singapore. It takes about 8-12 hours of total travel time. Singapore is 2.5hrs away. Hong Kong is 4.5 hours away. There is a direct flight from Bali to Phuket. You get the point, all the fun stuff– Tokyo, Hanoi, Australia, Bangkok, Saigon, Manila, Jakarta, Shanghai, Shenzhen– within easy striking distance. And because the visa I’m on will require me to travel every 60 days (something I look forward to), I’ll need to get out and about often.

On a related note– if you are thinking of coming to Bali consider booking your ticket to a hub– Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong– and then getting a budget ticket onward to Bali.

Extreme Access – City Quality and Range of Offerings in a Town Environment

In the past few years I had a realization: living in a city, over time, gradually wears me down and depresses me. I suspect this is the case for a lot of people but they put up with it because of the incredible benefits of being located in a metropolis.

Part of what appeals to me about cities like San Diego is that you get city level services, people, and opportunities in a town like atmosphere. In general “lifestyle overhead” drives me crazy. It’s amazing to me how much time people in Los Angeles and New York spend just dealing with the day to day of living there– commutes, long lines, busy grocery stories, increased costs, endless “networking,” you name it.

Bali goes toe to toe with San Diego in terms of ease of use.

I feel like the amount of places, people, services, and activities I can access within 15 minutes of my front door (on a speedy fun motorbike no less) is unmatched, anywhere.

The theme of “access” is one that constantly come up among my entrepreneurial friends here. Unlike many places in South East Asia, Bali is a magnet for influential people. You can meet people here you’d never have the chance to meet back home. You’ll have access to a broad range of interesting expats, local Balinese business people and artists, touring Indonesians from elsewhere in the country, the jet-set white linen crowd, and intrepid travelers from all around the globe.

You’ll be enchanted by the local Balinese traditions and customs, you’ll hang with the surf bums at Uluwatu, meet for coffee with jet set entrepreneurs, and wander it to world class restaurants and clubs. The place is dripping with charm, class, and culture.

Benefit from the Tourism Infrastructure While Avoiding the Annoyances.

Unlike every single damn nice beach in Thailand tourism in Bali doesn’t annoy the hell out of me. The crowds, in general, seem pretty diverse and interesting, even at the busiest of spots. There are also a lot of locals hanging out at the busy spots. Serious! Me and a group of expat friends often hang out at the most populated and touristed central beaches in Bali. We think the scene is great. We always have a great time and run in to cool people. In my experience, this is not the case in places like Phuket and Koh Phi Phi et all.

Sure But What About Business?

There is the possibility to hire local developers, trained web designers, and virtual assistants for your business. The language barrier keeps Indonesians from competing on the global scene in the same way the Filipinos do (for now). I haven’t totally sussed out the opportunity for hiring– but I’ve met a handful of talented (and sadly, gainfully employed) Indonesians and have been learning from them. I also have a few entrepreneur friends who have successfully hired talented help.

Some food for thought: Indonesia is the #2 Facebook market in the world. Internet usage is projected as skyrocketing in the next few years. There is no question there is a lot of opportunity here in general.

The Reported Downsides of Bali and My Take on Them:

The internet issue.

Internet is shittier in Bali than elsewhere in South East Asia. That said, by all accounts things are improving rapidly. I have not had a home internet connection for the past 5 weeks and have managed to put in long and productive days using a network of cafes with good internet connections and liberal squatting policies. A handful of these places are 24hrs and there is one dedicated business cafe of JL Kunti and Sunset Road called “Chat Cafe.” My understanding is that things are dicier in Ubud so you’ll need to pull down that year lease or get a serviced apartment to ensure you can stay plugged in.

Verdict: it’s no Thailand, but it’s not the Sahara desert of internet over here. You can pull it together.

The touts issue.

I’ve heard a few writers and friends who’ve visited in the past mention the touts ruined their expereince in Bali. First– this is far from a universal feeling, my friend who was here visiting last week exclaimed “I can’t believe how polite the touts are…. after one ‘no’ they turn away!” He said that in Ubud so perhaps the atmosphere there is different than the central Kuta beach.

I tend to think of how you deal with touts as one of those defining features between expats and tourists. Sort of like crossing the road: expats edge out and cut people off Asia style, tourists wait for a break in traffic. Same with touts– expats IGNORE touts and tourists say “no thanks” or whatever. I write IGNORE in caps because this is a very deep indifference you develop. Don’t kid yourself by thinking that a polite “no thanks” to touts does anything for the world or that person. At best it takes some of your energy and attention and encourages them to make their next pitch. Touts approach 1000’s of people in one day. IGNORE them.

There is another option: use them as an opportunity to practice the local language. They are always willing to go through the first 3-5 sentences of conversation. It’s a fantastic opportunity and you won’t feel as self conscious as you would with a non-touting native.

One final issue with touts: Bali is not a huge place. A few weeks of living here and they get to know who you are and leave you alone. You might even find youself chit chatting with them.

The Kuta issue.

Many travel bloggers are really disappointed by Kuta. I was really taken aback to read these accounts. I love these blogs but I don’t share the opinion. First, the offending area of Kuta is a very small area. It’s easily avoided if you aren’t in to a crazy party. The majority of Kuta is quite pleasant with a broad range of shops, eateries, local joints, and the like. Second, Kuta is beloved by freewhelin’ young Indonesians as well, so it’s not such an incredibly one sided affair.

I spend a lot of time in Kuta and think it’s good fun. I talk with a lot of the local people that are running and working at the businesses around here and it hardly feels like a ‘oppress the natives’ scenario. On the contrary, the Balinese, relative to their South East Asian neighbors, seem to be thriving. Sure it’s highly developed, has busy beaches that could use a little cleanup, and I’m sure there are plenty of underlying environmental issues (this is the developing world…). That said, it’s not just where a bunch of Australians come to party, it’s where everyone comes to party. And it’s pretty damn fun, if you ask me.

As a frame of reference– you’ll see much more partying and silliness on any given Friday night in Pacific Beach, San Diego than you will in Kuta.

The beach– although very busy and  tad polluted with trash– is a great spot to hang out and meet people. I always have a great time when we head down the beach. For the cost of a bottle of water you can earn an umbrella and a bench (credit natasha at www.dresshead.com), and start practicing your Indonesian with the locals and Indonesian tourists and swap travel stories with other travelers.

Interested in some incredible Bali photography? Check out my buddy Tommy’s site. He’s got mad photography chops. He’s also taught himself big wave surfing in 3 years. That’s him above risking his life at Uluwatu.

If you stuck with me this long, you are probably thinking of dropping by…

Please do drop me a line in the comments when you do. I’d love to hear your perspective and advice for me in regards to living here. Any questions I can help you with I will do my best to answer!