Bali: Tropical paradise or dangerous dump?

Tourists walk along Kuta beach in Bali.
Tourists walk along Kuta beach in Bali. Photo: AFP

To Bali, or not to Bali? That is the question. Australians have a love/hate relationship with this tropical paradise/dangerous dump. Me? Well, I avoided Bali after the 2002 bombings. This caused consternation among the many people I know who love the place.

Then there are the reports of cheap drugs, corruption, the shocking state of roads, nasty scooter accidents, food poisoning and spiked alcoholic drinks.

But in 2010 I cracked and broke the ban, booking tickets to join another family in Seminyak for a mate's 50th birthday. Days before, the Australian government issued an updated warning about the threat of terrorism. We chickened out (cue clucking sounds). Everyone else had a ball.

Local children taking part in a Temple Festival, Bali.
Local children taking part in a Temple Festival, Bali. Photo: Getty Images

So now, I'm reassessing again.

One friend, Nathan Jones, takes his two young daughters to Bali every year, despite having been in a cafe near the Sari Club when the bomb exploded in 2002.

According to Escape Travel, more than a million of us are expected to visit the island in 2014.

Escape Travel general manager Mark Hodgson says it has been Australians' number one destination for five years. "There are great-value all-inclusive resorts with kids clubs and activities galore, which are perfect for families," he says.

So let's look at what's to love.

First, proximity: six hours from the east coast and less than four hours from the west.

Next, you can live like a rock star in a private villa, with a butler, chef, cleaner, and nanny, for next to nothing. It's a haven for foodies, a far cry from the old days when the options were nasi goreng or - nasi goreng. Most restaurants are child-friendly, with Western as well as local options, including lumpia (spring rolls), satay (chicken, beef or pork), and pisang goreng (deep-fried banana fritters - yum).

Drinking is also cheap: Just keep an eye on where the grog is coming from and, to avoid a poisoning horror story, choose bottles you can open yourself where possible.

As well as the thrills and spills of Waterbom Park, there are educational attractions including the Bali Safari and Marine Park.

Or take the kids to one of the 20,000 temples to teach them about a different culture, religion, and way of life.

Another friend, who takes her family to Sanur every year, says it's the perfect antidote for Aussie kids awash with Western excess.

"Every time we go, our sons Tom, 10 and Ben, 12 are reminded of how fortunate they are to live in a country like Australia," Leanne West says. "Seeing Balinese kids playing with a ball, fashioned out of sticks, sends the message that you don't need the best of everything to be happy."

So, tempted? I finally broke my ban late last year, to attend a boot camp near Ubud called Sharing Bali. It was the best week of my life (except for our honeymoon of course, darling!)

We ate fresh food from the local village, rode bikes through the rice paddies, and hiked up a 1717-metre volcano at sunrise. It was nothing like the touristy experience of Kuta and Legian.

However, I still have lingering concerns about safety: Last year 59 Australians died in Bali, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, up from 47 in 2012. While it refuses to detail causes of death for privacy reasons, most injuries are caused by motorbike accidents and nightclub fights. So, hubby and I are still debating whether to take the kids there.

I guess the best advice is to keep an eye on the federal government's Smart Traveller website for warnings. Also, research carefully where to eat and drink, always use the hotel safe and don't swim on beaches with red flags. Then you can come back and sing, with a smile, "I've been to Bali, too".

The writer travelled to Bali courtesy of Virgin Australia and Sharing Bali.

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