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Padang Bai Beach Development: East Bali

The beautifying of Padang Bai‘s front beach on Bali‘s central east coast has improved the area no end. Gone are the Rasta shacks and edge of water warung ready to flop into the blue seas like fish just caught; along with kitchen waste and sewerage.

Today the front beach is instead awash with the colors of local wooden prahu or fishing boats, their lobster-like forms resting on the golden sands in wait for the next dawn’s fishing trip.

Padang Bai’s beach again looks like a well-loved fishing village; the prime movers behind the beach clean up, completed recently, were visionary and courageous. Padang Bai is now pretty enough to rival many an international beach destination and should be attracting tourists like lobsters to lobster pots.

However there is a downside to all this smartening up of the place. Women who for years have trawled for customers the beach and its lopsided warung built on bandy-legged stilts, selling their sarongs, fans, paintings, massages and more, are now practically out of a job.

Seventy-four-year-old great grandmother Ida Ayu Rai and her younger sister, Nyoman, travel by bus daily from Gianyar to Padang Bai to sell their wares. For great grandmother, English-speaking Ayu, days at the beach are better than being at home with seven grandchildren to contend with, even if business is not as good as it was pre-beach makeover.

“For me it’s a chance to get away from the grandchildren. Also it’s a healthy way to spend my days and maybe make some income as well. I sell lontar, paintings, fans and other souvenirs.

“Sometimes I might make Rp 100,000, other days I will go home without covering my bus fare. I used to make a lot more before the beach was cleaned up of the warung,” said Ayu.

She adds that despite more tourists visiting the spruced up beach, there is less opportunity to sell her wares.

“In the past we could go into the little warung on the beach and maybe people would be interested, but now with the big restaurants, we are not comfortable entering. But I still like being here — it’s lovely,” Ayu said.

Though Ayu is not totally dependent on her beach earnings, for younger women, such as Wayan Doreen from Klungkung and Nyoman from Padang Bai, the changes to the beach have had a severe impact on their ability to earn a living.

“Visitors no longer rest on this beach. In the past, before the beautification, many people would rest at the warung and meet us afterward on the beach for a massage or to buy a sarong. Now they go to other beaches and don’t relax here so much,” Doreen said.

Both women have school-aged children and are dependent on their income selling souvenirs to cover education costs.

“We now live on borrowings to pay for things like school fees. We never had to do that in the past. It’s getting really hard,” Nyoman said.

Despite the difficulties all the women agree Padang Bai is a good place to work and would not choose to go to different areas. `”I have been here 15 years and during that time tourist numbers have gone up and down. We all find the tourists are always really nice and friendly — never rude. I hope as people hear how good Padang Bai is these days, we get more people coming to visit and we can sell more souvenirs,” said Doreen gathering her mixed basket of souvenirs and loading dozens of sarongs onto her head before heading off in search of customers.

Trisha Sertori