I’ll cut to the chase. TAIWAN is better than Bali.
But let me explain.
It seems that people in the U.S. typically “ooh and ah” over the idea of going to Bali, while Taiwan is met with either crickets or “Where is that again?”. But the fact that Taiwan is less known and less coveted (in the U.S.) is actually the reason why you need to go there. Keep an open mind, and maybe I can convince you.
Taiwan and Bali are both exotic islands. They both have
- Beautiful beaches
- Lush mountains
- Ornate temples
- Rice fields
- Fresh fruit
- Tons of scooters
- Similar level of English proficiency
With a simplified list like this, they may seem interchangeable. However, I argue that Taiwan does everything Bali does, but better.
Of course these are completely different countries, so I could never name their differences here. However, I believe that Bali’s appeal stems from the fact that:
- Bali is cheaper.
- Bali is easier to maneuver as a tourist (because part of the island is designed for tourists).
These conveniences cannot be ignored. But, again, I argue that Taiwan is more worth your time and money. And here’s why.
1. Bigger / Better transportation
First, the island of Taiwan is more than 6 times bigger than Bali, so there’s much more to explore. Taiwan is 36,193 km², while Bali is a mere 5,780 km².
Sure you can hop over to the other Indonesian islands, but this isn’t as convenient and can actually be very dangerous in poor conditions. There are less safety regulations in Indonesia, so the boats and planes that travel between the islands have been known to sink in the past. I recently read about a blogger’s shipwreck experience. She was sponsored to travel with a company between Lombok and Komodo Island (a trip Tyler and I wanted to do). In the middle of the night, they shipwrecked and were robbed among the chaos (they believe by the crew)! A child was even on board. Thankfully, they all managed to swim to land.
Both Indonesia and Taiwan are guilty of fatal plane crashes occurring in recent years. However, they are not even comparable in their total number of crashes. While all other countries have their flight incidents listed on the same Wikipedia page, Indonesia’s list was so long that an entirely new page was formed for it. Keep in mind, the United States also has it’s own page (though the countries differ by size and number of flights, this is still scary!). Because they don’t comply with safety regulations, Indonesia has the greatest number of airlines banned from operating in Europe. I’ll let that fact speak for itself.
2. Unspoiled beauty
Bali is revered for its beauty, but when I arrived I felt like I had been deceived. It’s not that I wasn’t impressed with the nature, I was. But what no one told you about was all the TRASH.
The island is covered in it, and I’m not the first to notice. A honeymooner wrote all about it, and I pulled the quote below from her article.
A Bali-based NGO estimates that 5,000 tons of trash is dumped daily on the island, most of which is washed into waterways by the daily rains and carried into the sea. The waves promptly deliver the material onto the beach, and the miserable cycle begins anew.
So when you’re flipping through beautiful beach photos on Instagram and you see “Seminyak” tagged as the location, you can also imagine trash islands that congeal where the ocean meets land. And the incredible smell of (what seems to be) feces wafting in your face as you sunbathe. When you move away from the tourists, you can find beautiful, unpolluted beaches in Northern Bali. However, as a whole, Bali is definitely not a clean place. Taiwan is much better in this regard. I would compare the pollution in Taiwan to that of the U.S.; it’s still present, but it’s not as crippling as it is in Bali.
What’s even more important is the nature in Taiwan. This island is home to an incredible number of nature reserves that are almost untouched in comparison to Bali. Tyler and I visited a slot canyon just 30 minutes from downtown Taipei. It was hidden in a ravine off the side of a highway, and known to few. We climbed down to the stream and swam to the end of the gorge, where we found a small but beautiful waterfall. We floated for hours, making friends with some locals who just found the place as well. If this spot existed in Bali, it would surely be on every top 40 list on Google. There are few spots in Bali that are “unknown” to the extent that the slot canyon was. And the great part is that there are TONS of hidden gems like this in Taiwan! There are so many spots to explore where you can feel like you’re the first to set foot there.
3. Better tourism
Bali has come to thrive on the tourist industry like a vampire on blood. It makes sense, and I get it. But now there are some parts of the island that are intolerable because of it. There are entire streets where locals can’t afford to eat. There are taxis constantly honking at you as you walk by (this is to ask if you want a ride). And there are areas in which it would be strange if you weren’t being harassed to buy something.
I don’t want to drag the whole island into this, because that isn’t true or fair. But odds are, you will be running into a much greater number of tourists in Bali than you would ever see in Taiwan. It’s not that Taiwan has less tourists; they actually have over 10 million visitors a year, while Bali only surpasses 4 million. However, the tourist industry is not so “in-your-face”. I suppose it’s because the tourists are spread out over greater distance, but maybe I’m wrong. Regardless, the following story illustrates my point.
One evening, Tyler and I went out to eat in Taipei. The restaurant we chose only had a communal table, so we had a mom and daughter sitting in front of us. As we ate, they kept sneaking glances at us with faces of pure curiosity. It was like they had never seen anyone like us before. It was the coolest feeling, and something that I’ve only felt here. I’m not saying you could never find this in Bali, but you will definitely notice that a good part of the island feels as if it were designed for the tourist industry. And that’s because it is! This has it’s pros in that it makes things easier.
If there are millions of people trying to do the same things in Bali, it eventually becomes a well-oiled machine, knowing how to give the people the experiences they’re looking for. But what this takes away are authentic experiences. I truly feel that you have to dig around for diamonds among the rough- for those unique experiences that haven’t been lived over and over again.
In Taipei, this never felt like an issue. Having an authentic experience was natural to us. We made friends with locals easily, and found great places to eat and visit without asking Google where the “remote waterfalls” were.
But even besides the sheer number of tourists, the type of tourists really play a role here. In Bali, you find so many people who are there for cheap drinks and a nice place to stay. The whole cultural experience is lost on them, or if they experience it, it is only the pre-packaged cultural experience that everyone else is getting as well. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but Bali is known as an Australian party island. You’ve been warned!
“Don’t walk with your phone in your hand at night here in Bali,” our driver said. “People are known to drive by on scooters and just grab them.”
Tyler and I looked at each other nervously, knowing that he had thousands of dollars worth of camera gear in his bag. Is it really that unsafe?
Well, we didn’t experience any petty theft, but considering how many times we were warned about it, I’m guessing it’s prevalent throughout Bali. This doesn’t mean you’re going to get robbed, of course. But I do think it’s important that you feel safe. In general, Taipei felt safer to walk around at night. I wouldn’t question holding my phone in my hand while walking aimlessly on the sidewalk. Lonely Planet even says, “If you forget your bag somewhere [in Taipei], chances are good it will still be there when you go back.” While you can walk with your phone in hand cautiously in Bali, a bag left behind probably won’t be waiting for your return.
As for violent crimes, I think both Bali and Taipei are safe places to be. It’s really just the petty theft and alcohol contamination you should be concerned about. Local spirits like Arak in Bali have been found to contain methanol, a substance that can be lethal even in small doses. There have been a number of deaths linked to methanol poisoning throughout Indonesia (and Thailand), because home-brewed spirits are widely available there. According to the International Federation of Spirit Producers, 50% of spirits in Indonesia are counterfeit. However, this is an issue that is not contained to these two countries, as it occurs all over the world. Taiwan has recently implemented a better system for testing wine and spirits, and there has been a decline in adulterated substances because of this. Even packaged and taxed alcohol can be dangerous, so be careful.
Aside from general safety, scams are another thing you should be weary of while traveling. As a tourist in Bali, you’re going to find scams everywhere. The locals just want to get their cut. So if you hop into a taxi and ask them to turn on their meter, they often won’t. Many times, they will give you a fixed rate that is more than 200x the standard cost. If you don’t agree, you will just have to find another ride. The taxi drivers can be rude to say the least. The same sort of thing can happen in Taipei. Just remember, you need to ask the drivers to turn on their meters.
Keep in mind that most food and trinkets sold by locals in Bali and Taipei don’t have fixed prices or any visible price tags. That’s where they always get you. If you look like a tourist, you may be asked to pay more than a local. Just try to avoid touristy spots and make sure you know what the item is actually worth before buying.
5. Better infrastructure
One of the biggest perks of Taipei is its infrastructure. The buildings, streets and sidewalks are all well-kept. There are clearly marked signs for pedestrians and bicyclists, and you feel safe walking around the city. Bali, on the other hand, is a shit show. There are few sidewalks, and if there is a sidewalk there, it is so damaged you could easily break your leg by tripping on an overturned rock. We had to use flashlights at night to get around because there were so many deep potholes in the road near our house that it was a recipe for disaster.
Most of the local buildings are rundown, while the tourist restaurants and hotels are in great condition. Overall, it only takes one walk around Bali to see that it is not a developed island. Most of the buildings and roads are not maintained, and anything that is neglected for that long begins to deteriorate. It’s sad that the capital gained from tourism is not used to restore more local buildings.
6. Better food
In my humble opinion, the food in Taipei was much better than Bali. Still, I heard positive remarks about the gastronomy of both places before going there, so maybe you can’t take one person’s word for it.
I found that the places I went to in Bali had fewer vegan options, and those vegan options were just too healthy. They always looked good on the outside, but most of them didn’t hold up once the fork reached your mouth. In contrast, Taipei surprised me time and time again both with it’s variety of options and taste. We even found a vegan Italian restaurant, something I thought only existed in my dreams.
The street food in both places didn’t have much as far as vegan options, but at least what we ate in Taipei didn’t make us violently ill. We were so excited when we stopped at a clean, local stand for some rice and tempeh in Bali. The dish had a great kick to it, some spice here and there but also a distinct sweet flavor. Fast forward 8 hours later and we were in the hospital hooked up to an IV because we couldn’t stop puking, even when the only thing left in our system was the water we were drinking. Tyler had to stay overnight because he was so sick.
This is a common occurrence for travelers anywhere, so I can’t necessarily blame it on Bali. However, I think it was more than just Bali Belly, which you get from eating different bacteria than you’re used to. We got way too sick for that, which makes me think it was food poisoning from- ew, I don’t want to know.
7. Less disparity between locals and tourists
Probably the most frustrating part about Bali, and any developing country, is the sheer difference in salaries between the tourists and locals. The most incredible restaurants on “eat street” are filled with people that originate from anywhere but Bali. They are too expensive for locals to actually eat at. The grand houses and villas are also occupied by tourists, while the locals just maintain them. Aside from nature, the most well-kept and beautiful parts of the island are essentially owned by tourists. It is a sad reality that tourists take advantage of the locals’ cheap services. I was told by a driver that we can haggle for anything in Bali. But why would I? It feels ridiculous to haggle over something that costs me $3, especially when that money can make a real difference in someone else’s life.
If this is something that also saddens you, you can take solace in the fact that poverty has almost been eradicated in Taiwan, with less than 1% of people falling in that category. As a tourist, you don’t feel like you are taking advantage of the locals and their services. They eat and spend their time at the same places we frequented. There was a fairness to the system, which was something I felt was lacking in Bali.
8. Cheaper and shorter flights
If I haven’t convinced you yet, then maybe you’re a numbers person. I made this cute infographic for a side-by-side comparison of both flight prices and duration. (I searched for the same flight dates and from the same origin.)