Rare Photos of an Eerily Quiet, Tourist-Free Bali

"I can last two or three months. After that, I'll have to close.”
01 April 2020, 2:00am
bali coronavirus

This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.

The Indonesian resort island of Bali is usually an immensely popular place to holiday, with an estimated six-million foreign visitors annually crowding its majestic, sun-drenched land. Plus a further 10 million from the mainland.

Cruise ships brought international tourism here in the 1930s. Then later, when an international airport opened in Kuta in the 1960s—a quiet, dreamy fishing village at the time—the region became a verified hippy paradise. But unrestrained development in the decades to follow turned Kuta into a polluted, concrete carnival humming with garish resorts, gnarling traffic, thumping nightclubs and drunk tourists.

That is, until now. Stripped of tourists by the coronavirus, Bali is the quietest it has been for many, many years. In mid-March, as the travel industry was all but totally stalled, I walked around Kuta to capture this rare period of calm, and to ask locals how they're faring.

Mr Pearl has made a living selling cheap jewellery to tourists for nearly 30 years. The tourists have now gone, but Mr Pearl refuses to let go of his once-profitable business. "I'm Mr Pearl: tell your friends back home about me."

“How long do you think it will be until the tourists return?” asked this store holder in South Kuta. “I can last two or three months maybe. After that, I'll have to close.” When I told him there may not be tourism in Bali until next year, he shook his head in despair. "Not possible for me to wait that long," he said.

Discovery Shopping Mall on the Kuta boardwalk, now closed. "My daughter works in Bali so my husband and I came from Jakarta to make sure she's all right," says the woman in the photo. "Now she's busy so we're sightseeing. I've never seen this place empty."

A group of Balinese pray at a once-busy intersection in Kuta on March 25, the second day of Melasti (a Hindu ceremony to cleanse the world of bad karma). A "pecalang" traditional security guard said it was necessary to break social-distancing policies to pray for Bali. "We have to pray or Bali will die," he said.

The Balinese use colourful wooden outriggers to catch seafood for local markets and thousands of hotels, resorts and restaurants around the island. But now that most tourists venues on the island have closed, demand for seafood has plummeted, and many outriggers, like these pictured in Kuta, lie still.

Massage parlours are ubiquitous in Bali, providing jobs for thousands of Indonesian women on the island. By the last week of March, nearly all had closed. Eta, the masseuse on the left, comes from the neighbouring island of Lombok and has been working in Bali for the past two and a half years. They're offering 50 percent off to try to garner some business.

A lone tourist passes Azul Beach Club, near Kuta. "G'day, mate," he said as he passed. The beachfront club, like many, was still officially trading in the last week of March. But almost no one was there.

A lone tourist leans on a classical Balinese split gateway at Kuta.

A local rests in the heat near a beached outrigger on the Kuta boardwalk.

ATMs stands empty in Kuta, near Discovery Shopping Mall.

Kuta Beach is where mass tourism began in Bali in the 1970s. It remained, until recently, one of the busiest beaches in Southeast Asia—yet by March 19, 2020, it was practically deserted.

Closed beach umbrellas line Legian Beach north of Kuta.