It has been over a year since I last posted. Are any of you still out there?

I’ve been busy writing books and screenplays. My 8th book just got published. Check it out! It’s doing awesomely on Amazon and is only 99p at the moment… just saying… 🙂 (Here’s Amazon.Com’s link).

I figured it was time to post an update because this is a big one.

Almost five years ago now we took off on our adventure that brought us to Bali. It was an island we fell in love with instantly, a place we were excited and thrilled to call home. Now though I’m heartbroken to admit that we’ve fallen out of love.

Bali is the lover you cling on to longer than you probably should because the memories are just so good and you keep hoping that things will get better, but you know in your heart of hearts you can’t be together long-term. So it’s with sadness I write this post.

Bali has been good to us. It’s given us a new beginning – allowed us to explore our passions and develop those into successful careers. It’s granted us the space to dream bigger and bolder and realise our strengths. Five years ago we never dreamed so big, nor had such self-belief. Now we feel like we can achieve anything. No obstacle seems insurmountable. We feel like adventurers who’ve climbed a mountain and who can now can climb any other peak that gets in our way.

Alula has flourished in Bali – it’s a magical place to raise young children. She’s full of delight at the world, knows nothing of Justin Bieber and has an innocence yet knowledge of the world, of poverty, of religion and people, that I think will stand her in good stead the rest of her life.

So why is it time to leave Bali?

I just got back from a 7-week trip to the UK and US and stepping off the plane in Bali for the first time my spirits didn’t lift like they always used to. Instead, as we drove through miles and miles of traffic clogged streets, past rivers of trash, I felt my heart sink lower and lower.

Arriving home we were greeted not by the sound of crickets and frogs – the sounds we once fell in love with – but by the incessant sound of a tile cutter, now so normal to my ears it’s like white noise. The noise of construction never ends.

The rice paddies outside our house once stretched to the horizon. Now houses spring up like mushrooms every week. I have to wear noise-cancelling headphones all day in order to work, in order to stay sane.

I’m saddened by westerners who have bought rice paddy land from poor, and financially-ill-educated Balinese who, enticed by earning more money than they’ve ever seen in their life, hand over the deeds to their land for 35 years or more, often resulting in further abject poverty when they no longer have any sustainable income (the money they receive from the deal is often spent immediately on cars, ceremonies, family needs). I’m saddened that westerners think this is OK. That it’s OK to send your children to Green School and spout a green agenda while building a concrete Macmansion on rice fields with an Olympic sized swimming pool, possibly thrusting a Balinese family into poverty in the process. No. That’s not OK. In what world is that OK?

It feels as if greed has become the underlying sentiment on the island. Between people out to make money any which way they can, or wanting simply to build their dream, not caring that doing so tramples the dreams of others, and the western fishermen-pant yogi types here worshipping at the cult of raw food while spouting bullshit om shanti mantras and walking around barefoot clutching their green juice, I just want out.

I’m mad at the Indonesian government for not putting in place legislation to better protect the beauty of this island and local communities. Because the fact is I’m now warning off friends from coming here. Why waste the money? I sat next to two honeymooners on the flight over and felt awful for them that they were flying 20 hours to come to Bali.

The beaches are filthy. The rivers basically open sewers. The rice paddies are vanishing beneath concrete.

I was here 20 years ago, when Bali truly was a paradise. Now, I have to say, it more and more resembles hell.

I no longer dare head into town – aware that the streets are so jammed that Ubud could contend with San Francisco for worst traffic congestion. I’m also aware that I’m one of the people making the situation worse by adding yet one more car to the equation.

It simply feels wrong being here, contributing to the destruction of an island so magical and beautiful. Watching its decline before my eyes is too much. I feel too sad and too angry at myself for not doing anything to stop it. The only thing I feel I can do, is leave, be one less person using up the valuable water table, be one less person consuming, abusing and polluting.

And in the last day I’ve spoken to three other people who are also leaving because they can’t bear to see the devastation either. Is this the turning point? Is this now the moment where Bali sees its tourist economy crash and burn? What happens when Lombok opens its international airport and that becomes the new hot destination – Bali as it was twenty five years ago? What happens to Bali and to the Balinese then? Who will stay around to fix the problems?

There are so many lessons we will take from Bali, the biggest of which is about consumption. We came to Bali with nothing. And we’ll take nothing to wherever we move next. Except perhaps a Ganesha statue and some palm sugar. We’ve learned we don’t need anything – not even a second bedroom. We just need each other. We live big lives in a small home. We love it.

We have let go of all the western nonsense about belongings and a huge home and shiny appliances equalling success and happiness. We’ve learned that struggling is part of living and that we are stronger than we thought.

We’ve had five blissful years of re-learning what community really is about. We’ve made the best friends of our life. We’ve learned from the Balinese to believe in magic. We’ve learned to take things slower and to be more present.

It’s time to see if we can put those lessons into practice back in the west.

I’m going to start blogging again as we start on Can We Live Here part two. Stay tuned!

trash ubudphoto copyright of Ubud Now and Then

26 thoughts on “Why it’s time to leave Bali

  1. Michelle says:

    Dear Sarah
    You’ve put so eloquently how we/I felt about leaving Bali. Even though our 18 mths was much shorter I have always worried about Bali’ s future.
    The coast/Kuta is a he’ll hole and Ubud is being swallowed up by developers…. Inch by inch. My Indonesian friend, Anna, who I worked with at Plastic Free Bali is now in Australia studying Environmental Policy. The future is in their hands.
    I hear and feel your sadness? Did we contribute to the current state?
    I know you and John did all you could to live sustainsbly.
    I wanted to go back to Bali to see you and Asa but not the reality. The government is responsible for not enforcing proper waste management and fines. But that’s our western way.
    I hope wherever you end up you will create the same magic. I wish you could see our paradise 🙂
    BTW – was reading Ross’s surfing magazine. They now encouraging surfers go further afield as Bali is too crowded.
    We need to Skype…. Home studying all week.
    Best of love n luck.
    M xxx

    1. Miss Fanny P says:

      Wishing you all the best on your next adventure. London’s changed a lot in the last 5/6 years and I’m
      not sure I could go back to it or how it is now. I miss it but at the same time I don’t. Does that make sense?
      I dream of living by the sea ….
      Maybe one day I will make it happen.

      1. SarahAlderson says:

        We’re only stopping in London briefly before heading elsewhere 🙂 We were there this summer. I don’t miss it but will be good to go back for 6 months and reconnect with friends and family.

  2. annelie says:

    How timely to be reading this! We also afer 4 years in Costa RIca are also looking for a change for many of the same reasons. Please keep us posted as your experiences resonate SO much with our story. We are now back in the U.K on ‘holiday’ but I believe we will return for good next summer. If you find the next best place to live then let us know Many blessings and the best of luck!! Annelie x

  3. Nic Jones says:

    I felt emotional for you reading this post. It sounds like Bali once brought you and your family such happiness, hopes and dreams, it’s a shame that that feeling has gone away. I know you are a family of adventurers and so I’m excited for your next steps, and I’m sure Alula will adapt to them with excitement and she will continue to flourish! My love to the three of you – I can’t wait to see where your travels take you next.

    Nic J xx

  4. David leach says:

    Ubud trafficjam, hoardes of eat ,pray,lovelies(what was it you used to callthem)stumbling into landfills, entitled crusties banging in the temples and those are the good bits. Glad to hear your escaping with dignity before the nandos porn casino hits town. The americans have a word for it….paradise.
    You could check out Brighton on you tour. weirdos aplenty…also an astonishing head of writers artists etc. real ones though the struggling published, tortured and sectioned variety. Add to that steiner schools and a green council…..blah blah
    good luck

    1. SarahAlderson says:

      Blissninnies! I know Brighton well, my dad lives not far from there. I like Brighton a lot but the UK just isn’t home any more.

  5. Hannah says:

    Oh Sarah! I’m sorry to hear that your journey in Bali has ended, but I’m also happy that you are taking away the most valuable lessons in life, love, community, family and what one actually needs in order to be happy. It’s always sad when the dance is over, but it only means that you guys are opening yourselves to another partner, another song, another whirl around a different dancefloor. I am excited to hear about where your next adventure lies! big kiss, hannah and pierre xxx

    1. SarahAlderson says:

      Thanks Hannah. You’ve put it so well!

  6. melisa rachel says:

    Dear Sarah,
    I know exactly how u feel. Bali is no longer “heaven on earth”, where we can find peace.
    I’m Indonesian and my mom is from Belitung Island (maybe you haven’t heard of it before). All I can say is that Belitung Island is way better than Bali. And my family, my friends and I are trying to make a change for the people there. To educate them by not throwing waste or rubbish everywhere. We are planning on a short trip there on october. Maybe you can have a look on google on how beautiful Belitung Island is.

    Don’t let the human waste destroy the nature’s beauty!


  7. Just curious: so when there a challenge, an uncomfortable situation, you choose to go away, instead of doing something about it? Be careful, because in short time, you’d be run out of homes…
    For me, home is where I care enough to dirty my hand to ensure it’s continuity …

    1. SarahAlderson says:

      Philip if you read my other posts you will see that we are leaving for a number of reasons, not least my husband has a job in London and I don’t want to be apart from him for a year. Also my own writing career is now at the stage where moving to London / near to LA is looking like the only feasible move if we want to work on the projects we want to work on, which for my husband is a Green design project and for me screenwriting. So yeah… I appreciate what you are saying, but sometimes it’s not so easy. Making a living in Bali is very difficult for foreigners and we are both driven by our passions and want to succeed at those things (dirtying our hands so to speak in other ways and hopefully making a much greater social impact with our work than we could do here).

  8. Well then I wish you all luck in the world, and I’m waiting for the greater impact that your family will make!

    1. SarahAlderson says:

      Thanks. Yeah, watch this space. Or read my books 😉 My last one was about human trafficking.

  9. Gus Dark says:

    Dear Sarah, it’s great to read a good article from you, it’s true and it’s sad as I am Balinese myself, I feel and breath the same air, feel the same sand and dusty land beneath my feet, BUT if you think BALI is just KUTA and UBUD then the marketing team of Tourism Industry is succeed to keep you and few people dreaming about Paradise, what Paradise? are we dead yet? Bali is part of the 3rd world … Poverty in Bali is never ending nightmare, we want to stop it, we need to stop it, we fight for it, we seek and go to the deepest side of Bali when people still own the philosophy that our ancestor once gave, You are not alone, if you really love Bali, you will try to at least take one step further to help us out than watching and waiting for us to clean and prepare paradise for you, Bali is more than small villa covered by concrete to keep you save and sane, Bali is offer something else that hardly to find anywhere else, it’s called culture, Balinese culture with it’s ‘Taksu’. wherever we take ‘taksu’ with us than that’s Bali for us ( Our Government may learn to understand the difference between Hospitality business and Culture, when it come to business, smile can cost you around hundreds dollar, but in culture smile and greetings Om Swastyastu is giving you more than you give. The Government keep spreading news about Bali go green, but do we have to depends everything in Government hand? don’t you think when nature give you something priceless all you have to do is take care of it rather than exploit it to make sure it will be yours forever? Taking care nature and this planet is not a job desk for one government or country, it’s a call for all human cuz as they said it in small banner in the corner of the street, ‘Blue Planet is hard to find’. Believe me trash in Bali is not part of our culture, some people, some groups and some activist local and internationally keep educate and help Balinese people and other people who live in Bali to understand more about this matter. They try to cut this vicious circle, HOW? by educate the next generation, start from a family, then to Banjar, from Banjar we go even further to the village … how educate to Balinese generation? Helping them to get education and give them books might sound ‘oh come on …easy to say hard to do’ But by put your heart on what you will do for these children will give you more vision about what future will these generation of Bali will bring? There so many Local Orphanage, green activist that Internationally known to be your source to dig more about helping Balinese and keep sane … all you have to do is open your heart and look outside the Box …. – Gus Dark (cartoonist | Illustrator | human beings)

    1. SarahAlderson says:

      Hi Gus
      Thanks for your comment. I think you have misunderstood me a little and it isn’t fair to claim that I am waiting for YOU or the Balinese to make Paradise for me! I never claimed that I saw Bali as just Kuta and Ubud either. Indeed, you are right that much of Bali is still untouched – but for how much longer? I was a media spokesperson for Plastic Free Bali – a local campaign to rid Bali of plastic waste. Our daughter goes to Green School (as you suggest – we are helping educate the next generation – did you know that 10% of the kids there are local scholarship kids?).As I say in my post though, I don’t feel as if I am doing enough here to make a difference. In the UK I worked for 10 years in a non-profit creating and managing projects that made a a social / environmental impact – so I’m not a fool about these matters. As a writer I hold up a mirror and reflect back what I see. I don’t expect it to correlate with everyone else’s view but at least by writing posts like this I stir up debate about the change that needs to happen and inspire people to maybe think twice about building on rice paddies, to think about the cost of their decision to move here, to consider what more they could be doing to make Bali greener / more sustainable. Our decision to leave Bali is a complex one. If you read my later posts you will see that many factors play into it. Bali will always hold a dear place in our hearts.
      Best wishes and thank you for your thoughtful comments,

  10. kusalaviro says:


    Sorry you didn’t find a permanent home here in Bali. I’ve been here twelve years and the love grows stronger every day. Waste management is a major issue as you said but I would challenge your remarks regards development. The money the Balinese receive from land leasing is more than anything they could produce from the land otherwise. I am involved in business on several other islands and the Balinese are FAR better off than anywhere else. Yes tourism brings it’s evils but that is more than balanced out by the massive contribution it brings in economic terms and exposure to the international community.

    Bali is still a paradise. It’s rich culture has not been compromised. And anyone familiar with land statistics knows there is still a LOT of room for development without sacrificing it’s beauty. The rice fields in tourist areas may turn to villas but there’s always more land for farming here and on other islands. Plus a lot of rice fields are zoned as green belt.

    I’m sorry but your opinion is quite misinformed. I can understand how people get that impression but a better understanding of the facts doesn’t support that view.

    1. SarahAlderson says:

      Hi Chris,
      Thanks for the comment. I understand the reason why the Balinese sell or rather ‘lease’ their land to foreigners. The financial incentive is huge. I am thinking of our friend Wayan though, whose father leased their family sawah for 35 years and has now spent all the money. The family is now in dire financial straits and despairing because they have no sustainable income. Having born witness to Wayan’s own despair at the situation (she’s only 22) I wonder at whether this is really the best way to support development in Bali? Maybe it is. I’m not a economics or development expert nor do I claim to be.

      Is my opinion misinformed? Possibly. I’m drawing on my personal opinions and conversations with Balinese I know. So yeah… I don’t claim to be an expert. This is a personal blog not a newspaper op ed. 🙂

      1. kusalaviro says:


        I did suspect your opinion may have been based on an isolated incident. I have years of experience with land deals and am close with so many families and have never witnessed a situation like you describe. No doubt at all it happens sometimes, as it does all over the world, but it not the norm. Better education in money management may be needed.

        Anyhow, I’m sure you’ll always cherish the time you had here and will visit again sometime. I hope we have the rubbish problem sorted before you do. Best of luck with your writing…

    2. Suki says:

      Sadly Kusalaviro, I have 2 friends who are in the same position at Sarah’s friend Wayan. They leased their lands for 25 years, and already within 5 years the money is gone. Now they beg them to extend the lease so they have 5 years more rent in their hand. And again, within 3 years, that money is spent. And so the cycle continues.

      I feel you Sarah. Ubud is overwhelming now. There is still magic and beauty to be found, but with every other person building a villa, the emerald green is shrinking too fast. I left Ubud for a quieter life in Canggu, and now they say my village will be like Seminyak in 2 years. It’s unthinkable. I have two choices – to stay and profit from it’s expansion, or to leave and find a new place to call home.

  11. kathy says:

    The plastic rubbish was bought here by western people The Balinese have embraced the use of it but sadly discard it so easily on the found I live in Karangasem in an area with few western people and it sadness me to see all the plastic discarded on the ground by the balinese I cannot understand why they have no respect for what they are doing to their land and ocean WE live very close to where ceremonies happen for the departed . People gather and throw they pastil on the rocks and let it be washed out to sea . I talk to them bout this problem and they don’t really care .
    BTW we built a villa to give employment to an extended family and plan to leave it to them when we die We just hope they will not waste the opportunity

    1. SarahAlderson says:

      Thanks for your comment. I’m actually turning off the comments on this post because it’s turning into a freaking Ubud Community FB post where people start slagging each other off for fun and getting on their high horses (not you Kathy, but I’ve junked a tonne of rude comments to some of the posters and towards myself). People – take some chill pills. If you don’t like the post STOP READING. Move on. Read a book! Read one of MY books! Pick up some litter. Learn Indonesian. Write your own blog post. And remember: “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle.” Peace out.

  12. davy 't Hoen says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for your piece on Bali… I have lived and worked in the City of London (Tea) also Amsterdam,NYCity, Paris, Rio,Mombasa Kenia all over the course of 40years.. Now for the last 12years here.. And indeed it is beginning to become increasingly crazy concerning “Selling out the Bali Brand”.. Therefore inevitably problems with sewage, waste and traffic. All Cities in the World have changed! But Bali as a hotspot relatively speaking the fastest. The issue what to do is helped first of all by a new Prez Jakowi who is smart and Is the right person for the country to move it further in a fair way. The other thing one should consider especially after years of enjoying it here is; How can we (really) Help! We are setting up a Tea Plantation (organic)
    where the Small Holders (farmers)remain owners of their Land and we build a school and small medical facility for the community. On top of that we are trying to get new waste burning facility to Indonesia and the Island of Bali. The World will change Bali is no exception… let’s try to move in a positive direction so that we do not spoil Mother Earth! Davy ‘tHoen, Sanur, Bali.

    1. SarahAlderson says:

      Thanks David. So great to hear of your project. Sounds really positive. Let me know what I can do to help promote it.

  13. Mike says:

    I arrived in May 2005 and saw it deteriorate from then on. Couldn’t stand it any longer and left in October 2013. There are far better islands in Indonesia.

  14. Ni Zain says:

    Sarah, about how I felt 1 year ago. I was 20 years there. saw more of the beauty go. Saw more distruction. I left 8 months ago and don’t regret it. I have take a lot with me from Bali which helps me to do things now in the West again. The change was no culture shock. So goodl luck and you are not alone….

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