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  • Denisa Mayari

Stop Calling It "Bali Belly"

(Image credits: galuhtati)

The island of Bali, arguably the most popular tourist destination in Indonesia, is known for a number of things, including its beaches, lush greenery, charming cafés and beach clubs, and a bizarre sickness that has recently made waves on the Internet. The term "Bali belly," though not particularly new, has recently gained popularity on platforms such as TikTok, especially among foreign tourists visiting Bali. There are many anecdotes of tourists falling ill after drinking tap water or eating local delicacies. While "Bali belly" certainly has a nice ring to it as an alliterative phrase, the growing use of the term may be misleading and even upsetting.

The misconception that this health problem is specific to Bali can best be debunked by first clarifying what it actually is. Bali belly, or traveler's diarrhea, to use its proper medical name, is an illness that is easily caught by those who go to regions with different climates or sanitation standards than their own native country. Besides diarrhea, other common symptoms include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and a high temperature. All of these are consistent with what tourists have called "Bali belly" on social media.

To lessen the risk of traveler's diarrhea, tourists should be mindful of what they eat and drink while on the trip. That is to say, one should read up on their destination of choice before booking a flight there, especially if they will be traveling to a place with noticeably different practices of hygiene and diet. Locals hardly drink tap water as it is not the safest to drink; getting a stomach ache after drinking unfiltered tap water is practically a given, and this information is easily accessible via a short Google search. Precautions should be taken throughout the trip as well. For anyone whose stomachs are not acclimated to certain types of food, it is not a wise idea to consume, say, street food or foods with a moderate amount of spice.

Interestingly enough, "Bali belly" is not exclusively a Balinese phenomenon. Both Moctezuma's revenge and Delhi belly are names for the same condition when it is caught in Mexico or India. Traveler’s diarrhea is not unique to one region but prevalent in many different parts of the world with similar food and hygiene habits, such as parts of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Central and South America. As the factors that cause the illness are found virtually everywhere, singling out Bali for blame for "Bali belly" gives the island a negative stigma. While the government and local companies are working to improve conditions for international tourists and locals alike, tourists should remember that any trip abroad involves some degree of risk.

Conditions in Bali definitely have a lot of catching up to do with the more developed parts of the world, but it is unfair to associate the island with an illness that can be found in other travel destinations. The term “Bali belly” encourages the false belief that Bali is an unsafe and unpleasant place to visit, when in fact tourists who take the time to do their research beforehand will have a far more enjoyable and safe experience. The idea that Bali may be blamed for the choices of its visitors—such as the consumption of unsanitary food or water due to a lack of due diligence on the part of the visitors—is incredibly unfair. Therefore, stop calling it Bali belly; it is actually traveler's diarrhea.


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