Bali vs. The Maldives… my initial impressions

As I’ve previously mentioned I was in the Maldives for four days this past week. Many of you may know that Bali is one of my favorite places on earth, so I often suggest Bali to people in lieu of Bora Bora or the Maldives, given that it’s a lot easier to get there in comfort (Cathay Pacific and Thai Airways both fly to Bali and release plenty of award space). However, I was making that suggestion without having ever been to the Maldives, so I’m happy I can now speak from experience.

Over the past few days I’ve gotten a handful of emails from blog readers asking how the Maldives compares to Bali, and my response has essentially been “I’m not sure, they’re totally different.” And they really are.

Let’s start with Bali. What I love about Bali first and foremost are the people. I find them to be among the friendliest and most genuine people of anywhere I’ve been. I also love the resorts, the variety of landscape on the island (bays, beaches, jungles, etc.), and the incredibly reasonable prices for everything, from five star hotels to massages. For the most part, the beaches in Bali aren’t actually that spectacular. So for me Bali isn’t a beach destination, per se. It’s a relaxation destination where I like to hang around the pool, see stuff, and get massages.

The Maldives, on the other hand, is a bit like most Miss America contestants – absolutely stunning on the outside, though not a whole lot of substance to them when you dig deep (or just listen to their answers to questions in the pageant, for that matter).

The Maldives is literally one of the most stunning places on earth. What could be more amazing than an overwater bungalow sitting atop crystal clear turquoise water?

At the same time, that’s where the awesomeness ends. Don’t get me wrong, everything else was nice, though there’s nothing else spectacular about the Maldives other than the setting.

One common complaint I hear about the Maldives is that the service isn’t that great, no matter how high end the hotel is. We stayed at the Six Senses which goes for $800+/night and the service was good, though at no point great, as opposed to the incredible service we received in India. It’s clear the locals all take these resorts for granted given that the island’s economy is mostly made up of tourism, so they don’t feel they have to put that much effort into what they do.

Furthermore, perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but most resorts in the Maldives are located on secluded islands, so you’re more or less stuck on that island.

Lastly, and again this shouldn’t be a surprise, the prices for everything are astronomical. An hour-long massage is $200, a surf and turf dinner buffet is $150+/person, and a glass of orange juice is $15.

So my goal here isn’t to rag on the Maldives. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth and I don’t think I’ll ever forget how beautiful it is. At the same time, it lacks substance, so just expect that going in. If you go to Google Images and type in “The Maldives” I’m pretty sure you’ll get a good feel for what it’s like, because there’s not a whole of substance beyond the physical beauty. Bali, on the other hand, can’t be done justice with pictures, because it’s the character of the place that I love.

So if you’re into diving, swimming in crystal clear water, and laying at the beach, the Maldives is definitely for you. Just expect to pay dearly for it and to not have your expectations too high as far as service and other activities go.

Of course a full trip report will follow in the coming weeks.

To those that have visited Bali and/or the Maldives, how do you feel?

Comments

  1. Haven’t made it to the Maldives yet but can compare Bali and Tahiti. I found Tahitians to be more than friendly and laid back. Prices in Tahiti tourist areas are sky high, though, and of course the resort options are less than the luxury brand blitz on Bali. Still, I think the beauty of Tahiti and less tourists than Bali make it the winner in my book.

    Tahiti smells so good! Being able to have a quiet moment on a stunning beach and breathe in the scent of flowers and ocean is my idea of relaxation. Still, I recognize that kind of tranquility can drive some people up the wall.

  2. You can go to Bali and never go near the beach, focussing instead on art, music, dance, batik, the temples and the rest.
    For beaches, save money and stay in Hawaii.

    For more activity in Bali, the diving on the north shore, away from the beautiful beaches, is really unique.

  3. Ben, Love the comparisons. Totally agree with it. Personally, I’m more of a Maldives person. Sun, beach, water – that’s all I need.

    Hoping to visit Tahiti and French Polynesia to see how it compares as well. Maybe you’ll beat me to it?

  4. For Europeans the Maledives are much closer / more accessible. If you want to stay at a retreat and forget about everthing in the office this is a convenient place to go (at a price). If you run out of books and get bored about the serenity it absolutely helps if you are into diving/snorkeling.

    Bali has (mostly) nice people, but is often crowded and I disliked the hawkers who try to sell me stuff I’m not interested in. Also in Bali – at the time we visited – there was the tense feeling around physical security (if you don’t know what I mean type Bali and security into your search engine of choice). Prices are much lower – mostly because the income level of each staff is so low.

    I really like both places. As a diver and European I would go to the Maledives in a heartbeat.

    Regards
    Ham

  5. I haven’t been to either, but from friends I have that have visited both, their consensus seems to be that Bali is great for exploring as an island and where you stay doesn’t really matter, since you’ll be spending a lot of time away from your hotel, while the Maldives is a place to just chill in at your resort…

  6. They are very different places. Bali in my view suffers from being the “Ibiza” of Australia. It is highly developed and full of tacky tourists. Maldives is very unique. Personally I love the people there. They are less used to the service standards of Asia, but this is no reflection on their warmth in my view.

    I still find it absolutely ridiculous you’d recommend Bali over either Maldives or Bora Bora. Frankly it’s just an admission that your flight finding service can’t find good reward routings. Should just be upfront and say “they are really hard to get to”.

    Oh and if you are still there go underwater. The underwater world of Maldives is the safari equivalent of Kenya or the like. You won’t find that in Bali!

  7. Ben, I think that you’re comparing apples to oranges. While both destinations are wonderful in their own right, they are meant for entirely different audiences (and this might be what you were trying to say, though most here probably felt that you were insinuating that Bali was better). Bali is quite a common destination. It might be exotic for Americans due to the distance, but it is (like somebody else here said) the Ibiza of Australia (and to some extent Asia). The Maldives, on the other hand, is a disappearing piece of heaven on earth. Of course it’s more expensive, because it can’t afford the “treading” of the sheer volume of “group tourism.” Therefore, it is almost exclusively a honeymoon destination. I would never go there with a guy friend, for example, whereas we’d hit Bali in a second! To be sure, there are many resorts in the Maldives double and triple the price of the Six Senses (One and Only, Four Seasons, Banyan Tree…), so that might be why service wasn’t spectacular. I’m not saying that $800+ is small money, but in the Maldives it is. An Orangina in Monaco is the prices of a glass of Champagne in Paris and it still only comes with a plastic straw! Just global economics…for better or worse.

  8. These service generalizations are based on four days at one property in the Maldives. My experience with service in the Maldives was wildly different. Notably, the hotel that I went to (FS-kh), had help substantially all from Sri Lanka or India – with very few front of house locals.

  9. Having traveled to India, Bali & the Maldives, Ben hit it on the head. The Maldives is a place I was glad to have visited, and my photos tell the story how breathtaking the beauty is there, but I have little desire to return. Bali and India, on the other hand, permeate my dreams – I can’t wait to return to both places.

  10. I can’t speak for now but in 2003 Bali seemed very safe. Ben, you’re right, it was the graciousness of Bali’s people that made our visit to it so memorable. Bali rates as my favorite destination ever —–

  11. @ Phil — I’m not recommending one over the other. See this part of my post:
    “So if you’re into diving, swimming in crystal clear water, and laying at the beach, the Maldives is definitely for you.”

    You agree the places are totally different, so I’m not sure how you could say it’s absolutely ridiculous that I would recommend Bali over the Maldives for someone with similar interests as me. Per the quote above, the Maldives is better for lots of people, though not people like me that get bored easily. The Maldives were gorgeous, but I don’t need to return all that soon.

  12. Ben – I was referring to a prior quote you made (more than once) that when people ask you for help redeeming to Maldives, (or Bora Bora) you recommend they go to Bali instead (!?!. Quote: “so I often suggest Bali to people in lieu of Bora Bora or the Maldives, given that it’s a lot easier to get there in comfort”. Problem here – and all of us mileage junkies including myself have been guilty of this – is you are picking the destination based on the available journey, not the best destination and then trying to find the way there

    The more I think about it Bali to me is about the same level as Cancun. I don’t mean this overly derogatory. Take someone from Australia and they would be pretty impressed with the Mayan cultural activities along with the turquoise seas. And the familiar Westins and Ritz Carlton type hotels. Heck I quite like visiting the Mayan pen and I would struggle to explain to anyone why Bali is any better. I am not saying like for like but they are similar category destinations. But Maldives on the other hand has few equals in the world. From what I can tell (have not been) but Bora Bora seems up there but Maldives is very hard to come close to

  13. Ben, I can’t disagree with you more. Sure, Balinese people are warm, friendly, and nice. Balinese culture is beautiful, but vast majority of Bali is overly developed and over crowded. We were shocked at bus load after load of tourists flooding on the main street of Ubud. Smog and trash burning smoke made air quality really bad. Seminyak & Kuta looks no different than LA, malls, traffic, shops. A taxi ride from Sanur to Seminyak can takes up to an hour due to traffic!!! Can I point out the most obvious, beaches in Bali are not very nice unless its a resort beach. Public beaches are covered with litters. Bali is a party destination for young Australians on their surfing/partying getaway (like Cancun to American) I can see the appeal to you as a single college male intrigued by the party atmosphere. But for couples seeking peace and quite, it’s a different story.

    We loved the Maldives for its seclusion and remoteness. Where else in the world can you have Robinson Crusoe experience? Seeing sea turtle everyday, reef shark 5 feet from our water bungalow. Vast majority of its beauty is underwater. Most people’s Maldives photo album composed more than half of underwater shots, but you didn’t post one single picture of the amazing coral reef of Maldives. Bali also has some good dive and snorkel spots, but many of its beaches are over commercialized, and seriously polluted with trash and litters, which saddens me. We had amazing service at our resort in Maldives (Zitahli), the service we received was equally good to the resort in Ubud & Sanur. Ironically, the worst service was in Seminyak.

    Another note is that Bali is not the only island in Indonesia, if you ask travel veterans, most of them will tell you they found Bali overly touristy and they prefer near by islands of Gilis, Flores & Lombok. The key is if it’s easy for you to get to in comfort, so is it easy for thousand of other tourists to get there in comfort, which means over crowding, overly commercialization and overly touristy…

  14. I haven’t been to Maldives but just returned from Bali. Profoundly disappointed – what a loss of time, money and energy. Very dirty, less than average food (most restaurants are dirty), pollution that kills the nose and brain, not cheap at all unless you live in a hut or 2-star hostel), very bad infrastructure (sewage smell all over, trash all over right in Seminyak beaches and Kuta), most massage places are very dirty and old and smelly, no path for pedestrians and you end you walking between an endless wave of dangerous motorists! – the only exception is Nusa Dua secluded well-served area yet very expensive hotels).
    Airport is old. Being a frequent traveler on biz, it was my biggest mistake – decision ever. I have heard Thailand is no better. So is the Philippines. Worth getting all over to Hawaii for a few more hour flight! The service is totally different and most importantly, the great American infrastructure!!!!I wonder why Westerners go to Bali. Drinks? (drinks are all over the world except Saudi Arabia so even if cheaper, people would pay the difference in airfare no matter what cheap they are!)Drugs? (I saw many families so it’s not a main reason), beaches (less than average by all means). Shopping is no special at all (most goods are made in China!). We saw a lot of wealthy Russians in our Nusa Dua 5-star area)! I guess it would be better for wealthy Russians to fly a bit longer to Hawaii and perhaps, Hawaii airlines would need to consider a direct flight esp. since US visa for Russians is much easier nowadays! I couldn’t wait till my flight landed back in Dubai. Nicer beaches and the limited scenery of Dubai desert would be much more valuable than Bali’s dirty streets! I heard 2 French couples saying in French what we felt – it’s not clean – it’s not clean (in other words, very dirty!)

  15. Ben: having been to both places you described, your assessment is right on. You hit the nail right on the head!

  16. Interesting post, sometimes we can not compare something that is culturally diverse. I myself have never visited the Maldives. so I do not know much. But I see that both these tourist sites offers the experience of exotic travel environment, and unique cultural diversity. maybe the difference is the accommodation. I do not really know. nice post. thanks.

  17. I realize this is a very old thread but I thought I would try with a question/comment. We have visited the Maldives and would like to now visit Indonesia or Philippines – we are looking for the snorkeling experience that we had in the Maldives. Specifically the ability to snorkel right from the room/off the porch of our villa. Where can we find this in Indonesia or the Philippines? Or is there another destination one would suggest?

  18. Well, Maldives is not a place full of culture and stuffs like Japan , Thailand, China or Bhutan etc…

    I have been to Maldives few times, the price is getting ridiculos each time. It is over priced. Local/ foreign companies defiantly trying to be a blood suckers.

    They own the area, if you want to go , you have to pay the price. UGH, No doubt Maldives / Indian Ocean is unbeatable.

    Bali/ Philippines / Okinawa might looks similar to Maldives on the photos until you get there in person. I m in love with that place….

  19. I just got back from the Maldives… I stayed at Kurumba Resort. The service was incredible. The staff were smiling and greeting all the time and just eager to help. aside from the extremely high price of everything it’s perfect.

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