Denpasar was rebuilt in 1906 after the puputan massacre, when the city’s royal families committed suicide rather than surrender to the invading Dutch army. It is now a city of 400,000 inhabitants and more vehicles per capita than Jakarta. Many first-time visitors to Bali make the mistake of skipping Denpasar in their tour of the island. But in fact there is much to do and see here. There’s a leafy, expansive art centre, a museum, and a colourful and cheap market in Jl. Sulawesi. There are also several department stores. Early mornings are recommeded as the midday sun can be draining.
Bali’s first beach resort, Sanur is a place of remarkable contrasts. Sanur is a modern and prosperous community, and hosts to many high class hotels and restaurants. But it is also famous for its sorcerers. When the Dutch invaded Bali in 1906, it was in Sanur that they landed.
Since the 18 th century, Kuta has served as the entry point for foreigners visiting southern Bali. In market, attracting a wide variety of international ‘low life’ and many would say that nothing has changed. Since its rediscovery by hippies and surfers in the 1906s, Kuta and Legian have expanded so rapidly that the district is now one of the busiest tourists areas in the world. Hundred of hotels, bars, restaurants and shops provide for all tastes and budgets.
The most recent of Bali’s tourist centres, Nusa Dua – located on the southern – most tip, is quite unlike anything else in Bali. A government run dreamland of coconut palms, five star hotels and perfect beaches. A great place to relax and be pampered, but this is a long way from Balinese village life.
On the west side of the Bukit Bali’s, Bali’s southern peninsula, lies the once sleepy finishing village of Jimbaran , now the site of the Intercontinental, Four Seasons Resort and the Ritz Carlton. Take a walk along the beach, and perhaps a sunset drink at one of the big hotels, which welcome all visitors. An offshore reef provides protection from the wave action, providing excellent swimming waters. Jimbaran is known for its spectacular sunsets.
Uluwatu temple is precariously located at the point of a sheer cliff on the island’s southern peninsula. It is one of the oldest and most important temples in Bali, one of the six original sad khayangan (territorial) temples on the island. More recently Uluwatu has also become famous for its challenging surf break (experienced surfers only), and spectacular views from the warungs (restaurants) perched on the cliff.
Tabanan’s landscape ranges from volcanic mountains to terraced rice plains. This is the rice bowl of Bali, with higher yields of rice than any where else.Tabanan, with its deserted, black sand beaches and tropical rainforest, is one of the prettiest districts in Bali. Visit the 17th century royal palace in Krambitan.
Tanah Lot is a simply designed, but dramatically located temple on the Tabanan coast. Built on a promontory only accessible at low tide, this temple is, like Uluwatu, a sad Khayangan temple, one of the most important in Bali. Take a scarf and dress accordingly. It is said that the temple is guarded by poisonous snakes. Sunset is the best time to frames the temple and the waves crash into the rocks.
Some 25 kilometers from Denpasar, Ubud has become known world -wide as a centre for the arts. Spectacularly set among lush rice paddies and the stunning hillsides of central Bali, Ubud harbours a number of palaces and temples, museums and art galleries, and a host of cafes and restaurants.
Just west of Ubud, Sayan is little more than a ridge. Views of a luscious ravine and manicured terraces have prompted many foreigners to choose Sayan as a place to live. Steps lead down to a river, which is clean enough to bathe in.
There’s a number of treats in store in Tampaksiring. One is that is home to numerous woodcarvers, and their waters are available in great quantities from roadsite stalls. Another is the presidential palace, an icon of modernist architecture designed by the man (Sukarno) himself. From an opportunely located verandah, it is said, the president was able to spy the maidens bathing at dusk in the Tirta Empul temple below.
Located between the city of Gianyar and Blahbatu, Bona is where to purchase bamboo furniture at reasonable prices. It is also famous for its dances, especially the fire dance, which is staged for tourists.
Celuk, just north of Denpasar, is the silver centre of Bali. There’s a whole lot of shops to choose from, and almost all have a large team of jewelers at work out the back, filling orders for other shops or for export.
Some 20 kilometers north of Denpasar lies the woodcarving centre of Mas, a village of high caste Brahmin families. The village, which has a special place in Balinese history, is home to many excellent woodcarving shops. Remember to bargain.
Kintamani is perched on the rim of a vast crater, overlooking the crater lake and its bubbling hot springs. Lake Batur is the largest in Bali, and provides water for an underground network of streams and springs across the southern slopes of the mountain. The evening can get cool but and overnight stay is well worth it, to climb the mountain and watch the sunrise, or just to take a midnight dip in one of the springs.
North of Mount Batur, overlooking the Petanu River, is Goa Gajah , site of an intriguing archeological mystery. The man-made caves here date from the eight century and feature Buddhist inscriptions and carvings, even though Buddhists are known to never have lived in Bali. Above the entrance to the cave is a giant head, with floppy ears, though by many to be an elephant, of which there is also no record in Bali. This is a special place, especially if you can avoid the crowds.
One of lake Batur’s villages, Trunyan is inaccessible expect by boat. At the lakeside you’ll be met by a greeting party of locals wantilang money. The Trunyan people believe they are Bali Aga, the original inhabitants of Bali. Hidden away here is the largest statue in Bali, the Pura Gede Pancering Jagat. Cremation is not practised in Trunyan, the dead are simply placed against a sacred tree by the lake, which stops the decomposing body from smelling.
Fifteen kilometres from Mengwi is the famous Monkey Forest and the ancient Pura Bukit Sari Temple, surrounded by tall nutmeg trees. But the area is ruled by monkeys and they will try to snatch anything : spectacles, jewelry, watches and handbags. Go late in the day, after the tourist rush, so you can appreciate the serenity of the place.
Candi Dasa offers and escape from hassles of the more populated tourist areas, although sometimes it seems there are more hotels, restaurants and losmen here than tourist. Boats can be hired for a day’s snorkeling.
This town was once home to an illustrious dynasty, the remains of which are evident at the Kerta Hall of Justice. Most of Bali’s royal families are descended from the Klungkung dynasty, for it was here that the rules of the Majapahit empire fled in the 16th century as their kingdom in Java crumbled. Klungkung was the centre of Bali’s ‘golden age’ when the Gelgel dynasty held power for over 300 years, and the arts flourished. If you go to Klungkung, check out the painted ceiling and the bale kambang (floating pavilions) at the Kerta Gosa courthouse. Also, nearby, the village of Kamasan specializes in traditional paintings, the origin of which can be traced back 500 years.
Located on the slopes of Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest and most significant volcano, the whole of southern Bali is visible from this temple. Pura Besakih is not one single temple, but rather a sprawling complex of shrines and compound, united through ancient rituals. Badly damage when Gunung Agung erupted in 1963, the temples has now been fully restored. Remember to dress appropriately.
Selat and Iseh
This area was chosen at the home of artists Walter Spies, who settled here in the 1930s. These are also some of the most beautiful areas of Bali, with fertile soils and the ever-present Gunung Agung in the background. It is also an area that suffered badly from the 1963 eruption of Gunung Agung.
This is the site of a beautiful water palace, built by the last king of Karangasem, Anak Agung Anglurah Ketut, in 1947. Much of it was destroyed by the 1963 eruption, but the famous bathing pools remained intact. This is a place of stopover when you’re touring east Bali. There’s a losmen in the palace grounds, and a restaurant, too.
Goa lawah’s famous bat cave, 10 kilometers east of Klungkung , is a Shivaite temple founded around one thousand years ago. The cave is believed to lead all the way to Gunung Agung, but there’s a couple of serious deterrents. Firstly, the cave is believed to be home to an enormous snake, Naga Besuki. And secondly, the ceiling and the entrance of the cave is covered with thousands of noisy, long-nosed fruit bats. This is a very strange place, but definitely worth a visit.
Located just west of Candi Dasa is the village of Tenganan, and a visit here is a trip back in time. This is one of the homes of the Bali Aga (original Balinese), the first inhabitans of Bali. The Tengananese believe they have been chosen to honour the royal descendents with offerings, sacrifices and rituals, and by administering the surrounding lands. Only recently has this society opened itself up to outsiders, although strics rules still apply, especially concerning marriage to outsiders. Tenganan features wonderful fabrics, one of which is the renowned gringsing double weave ikat cloth.
Ten years ago Amed was just a quiet fishing village with one losmen. It’s still quiet – there’s no phone line into Amed yet – but being developed fast. Amed is north west of Amlapura, and a couple of hours drive from Candi Dasa. The drive is as rough as it is scenic, so once you get to Amed it’s a good idea to stay a few days. There’s a collection of beaches around this part of the coast, and they are all good for snorkeling. Off the coast there’s a shipwreck, famous in diving circles, and boats can be hired to get there. This is a place to lounge on the shady beach with a good book.
Just north of Amed, Tulamben is famous for the World War II US cargo ship Liberty that lies wrecked just off the coast of this small village. It’s bow only a few metres below the surface, the wreck lies 50 metres off shore. Its coral encrusted bow and resident coral fish area visible to snorklers, but the best parts are 20-30 metres down, and only accessible with full diving regalia. There are several places to stay in Tulamben. For obvious reasons, it mainly attracts divers. The beaches are pebbly, but the water is clear.