After almost four weeks in Bali, we were just starting to worry that we’ll be too sad to leave. And then we went and stayed our last three nights in Canggu. Sometimes we get annoyed by certain destinations; sometimes we are underwhelmed; sometimes we are disappointed; sometimes it’s a socio-political situation that makes us feel frustrated or uneasy; sometimes we are bored; sometimes a place can feel like food without salt. But I don’t think we’ve ever hated anywhere we’ve traveled. We hated Canggu.
On thinking about our feelings about Canggu, wondering if we were crazy, we googled things like ‘Canggu sucks,’ ‘Canggu is the worst,’ ‘I hate Canggu’ – just to see who else is out there and what people think. Turns out there are many people who hate Bali for that western stretch of beaches – Kuta, Seminyak, Legian. The reasons cited are all the same: the traffic is terrible (sure), the piles of trash on the beach (an occurrence around December that we did not witness), the drunken folly with the Australian accent (avoidable), pushy and/or scheming locals (this is the opposite of what we experienced), poor beaches (Bali is more of a surf than swim beach destination). The scapegoats seem to be Kuta and Seminyak. Canggu is rarely mentioned, and sometimes even offered as an area to escape from the above-motioned plagues.
I can’t cite ‘5 reasons I hated Canggu’ (maybe I could), because it’s just an overall atmosphere that has washed over this neighbourhood, gentrifying in its wake. It revealed itself slowly whilst driving through it for the first time on our way to our accommodation. Local family-run restaurants by and for locals and tourists alike, quintessential signposts throughout Bali – Warung Wayan, Warung Made, Warung Ketut – slowly gave way to one-syllable, styled-for-instagram, vegan restaurants – Quince, Nüde (don’t forget that superfluous Umlaut), The Slow, and, the unfortunate pinnacle and epitome of our Canggu-focused hatred, Crate. Crate was conveniently located right around the corner from where we stayed our first night, so we sauntered over first thing in the morning and what a rude awakening we had. Maybe if I can describe what it was like, I can capture some sort of essence of our general dislike.
Everywhere you looked: young and good-looking white people, all resembling one another. (Do white people all look the same?). Dressed, styled, made up and blown out for the perfect candid smoothie bowl shot. Scrolling through albums of selfies. No not selfies (who takes selfies anymore?), drone-followed footage and giant tripod setup shots of self. Against the wall are printed polaroids of the regulars – all these same people. Hundreds of contoured faces and tastefully tattooed pecs peeking from obnoxiously low cut tank tops lined the wall. Where are we?
And just to completely drive us over the edge: Offensive abbreviations and Zs added to every item on the ‘Brekkie’ menu. Expect your ‘Chia Boi’ smoothie to come with coconutz and strawbs. Cute, right?
Let me just interject here and say the breakfast was really good.
Anyway, our immediate point of comparison to this was Cape Town, my home town. I love Cape Town – it’s cool, it’s trendy, it’s gorgeous, it’s great, but it is still deeply segregated, having been severely targeted by the apartheid government in terms of city spatial planning. And Canggu felt separated. It felt like a weird hip upper-class instagrammable neo-colonial white enclave. And Canggu is not all white, it is local too. But because there seems to be such a high concentrate of expats here it is startlingly obvious when all the white/expat kids can be seen playing after-school football on huge cut grass fields behind tall security gates, behind security booms, behind security guards. It was startling and confusing, because Bali seemed like one of the safest places we’ve traveled to (at least during the day). So yes, in this way, Canggu was like what we hate most about Cape Town. Except if all the white people in Cape Town were Western foreign expats who don’t have to 100% commit to either their own country’s or their host country’s issues. It’s nice to stay in a developing country when you can have one foot out the door and leave when the shit really hits the fan.
But that’s a whole other thing.
People warned us about Seminyak: ‘young, drunk and Australian’. But we stayed one night anyways to see it for ourselves. And it was young and drunk and mostly Australian. But it was unashamedly and unpretentiously so. People were having a lot of fun, that’s for sure.
But I did not expect to hate Canggu in this way. I was completely ready to like it.
I think a better way to concisely describe why we hated Canggu is this: think of all the things that you hate about Instagram. Canggu is the embodiment of these things.
Of course we are making snap judgements. We were only there for three days, and disclaimer, I was super sick for most of it. I was mostly sleeping off a fever in my room, eating flavourless sweet potato and dry bread. Disclaimer number two: the food in Canggu is good, I’ll admit. I remember having some really good meals before my fever shot through the roof. Disclaimer number three: we were warmly welcomed by an old school friend of Joel’s – a super sweet expat family from California living and working in Bali. We had a great time connecting and reconnecting, and we got to hang out with our regular Bali buds who we went exploring Nusa Penida with and who subsequently moved over to the Canngu area. So we did enjoy some fun and special moments. And I got my antibiotics from a kind doctor at a Canggu clinic, so that’s a good memory right there too.
I mustered the strength to get out of bed for our last blood orange sunset in Bali. Only to be met by hoards of people doing their best coyly-looking-down-or-out-of-frame insta poses and multiple drones following girls erratically jump skipping and twist-turning in and out of the waves. Coming to a YouTube screen near you.
Canggu is not for us.
And then we were definitively ready to leave Bali.