The Kuta Bombing Site -- Three Months Later
I'm sure some of you readers are wondering how the paradise island of Bali has changed since the horrible terrorist bombings of the Sari and Paddy Clubs in the popular Kuta region on the 12th of October, 2002. This article is my first-hand account of my visit to Bali three months afterwards, including a survey of the bombing site itself. As I was also there in January of 2002, I was able to compare the Balinese environment before and after the bombing. The good news is that Bali is indeed recovering nicely, and that (apart from the noticeable drop in tourists) life on the island has returned mostly to normal.
Bottom line: I personally consider Bali a safe destination once again. Of course, I strongly recommend reading your government's travel advisories and always be diligent and mindful of your surroundings while traveling no matter where you go.
There are two main reasons why I believe Bali is safe. The first is that the government of Indonesia has taken several steps to prevent another terrorist incident while also reinvigorating its domestic tourist industry. The second is that the Balinese have persevered and maintained their culture and lifestyle despite the hard times. A weaker culture might have collapsed into turmoil.
The actions of the government produced the most visible changes, some of which presented themselves the moment I arrived. When I went in January 2002, there was virtually no police presence that I noticed. That's no longer the case. Police patrols are common in the main shopping and clubbing districts and checkpoints have become the norm around the resort regions of Nusa Dua, Kuta, and Sanur.
The increased police presence and the weakened tourist business has caused a number of non-Balinese Indonesians to leave, particularly Muslim immigrants from East Java next door. A number of these immigrants established themselves as freelance taxi drivers, who actively patrolled the streets chasing down tourist pedestrians begging to give them a ride (The word "Transport? Transport?" still echoes in my head). In 2003, I noted a drastic drop in these freelance taxis (except for Kuta), and found myself walking the streets of Sanur more than once without ever being pestered.
A good side effect is that petty crime is (according to the news) on sharp decline. The Balinese themselves are religiously honest, and do not steal. Much of the petty crime problem, which was minimal to begin with, was brought in from elsewhere.
The national tourist bureau has been on the offensive, declaring 2003 to be the "Year of No Violence," and Bali hosted huge banners playing up the theme. Such banners were also hoisted in the capital city of Jakarta. But as international tourism has flagged, the bureau has been encouraging Indonesians to visit Bali. Staggeringly-cheap domestic travel packages are now available.
But the international tourists have been slow to come back, except perhaps the Japanese. While Kuta Center and Jimbaran seem to be doing well, the further you go outside the primary tourist districts, the more obvious the drop in tourism becomes. Several whole blocks of outer Kuta have virtually closed up. The once popular local shopping district of Sukowati, north of Denpasar, gets only a trickle of visitors.
For a number of Australians and westerners who have returned, the Kuta bombing site has almost become a pilgrimage. I admit that I felt I had to see it myself, even though I wasn't sure I wanted to. I guess it was because I remembered the Sari and Paddy clubs very well from my January '02 trip... two very large open nightclubs filled with youngsters enjoying a cool drink on the warm nights. I particularly remembered Paddy's, which looked like it had been assembled over a couple days using cheap logs and salvaged building materials.
Was struck me the most about seeing the site three months after was how it had come to look like just another average construction site. Most of the damaged buildings have been completely levelled (first photo), and construction of replacement buildings are already underway (third photo). Some damaged buildings remain (second photo) and fire scars could be seen among some buildings in a two-hundred meter radius. But, by and large, reconstruction is well under way. The physical healing has begun.
So too has been the emotional healing. The Balinese have returned to their normal religious routines of placing daily offerings to the gods outside their homes and shops, and conducting town-wide rituals on a regular basis. I didn't notice much difference at all between daily life among the Balinese in either year. To me, that was a good sign.
After the block in Kuta has been rebuilt, there will likely be a memorial erected to commemorate the tragic events of 12 October, but I'd wager it will be small and subdued. The Balinese seem more interested in putting this sad event behind them and focus on the future, a future that hopefully will see the return of their tourist, art, and music industries that made their island home such a paradise for so long.
Would I go back a third time? As of the time of this writing, I absolutely would, and would encourage anyone to visit Bali. I believe any prudent traveler, one who does a little homework and abides by the rules of safe traveling posted on websites such as the US Department of State, will find Bali enjoyable and comfortable.
Visited the Kuta Bombing Site on 6 January 2003 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006