After a one month visit to Indonesia I’m back in the land of good internet. We spent most of our time in our favorite town on the north east side of the island – Amed. It’s amazing for a number of reasons (internet not being one of them) and everyone who visits the area is excited to find “the real Bali”.
Yet, two years ago when we visited, and before we found Amed, we were downright disappointed with Bali. In fact, a couple we met was saying the exact same thing. But this is because we went to crappy places. And guess what? The entire “Kuta” area which is the major tourist destination sucks. So I want to help people avoid that.
Let me first say that Bali isn’t just beautiful because of the beaches, it’s the unique Balinese-Hinduism, their ceremonies, elaborate temples, rituals, their friendliness, the snorkeling and coral, volcanos, rice terraces, and day to day living. None of this can be found in Kuta – instead you’ll see drinking Australians and shopping malls.
Where To Go In Bali
Your first step is to head north to the mountains. Bali is shaped kinda like a diamond and the northern half is hilly all the way up to some big mountains. The volcano I got to see everyday from the beach, Agung, is ~10,000 feet tall.
On the way up the rice terraces are the best. Phenomenal. These perfected irrigation systems blow my mind and when green and flowing with water are incredible to walk through. Locals are super chill and hiking in the most remote rice terraces we’re always greeted with a smile.
For whatever reason I always see pictures of people in relatively flat rice terraces in Bali. Stop being lazy and do more than a 30 minute ride away from your hotel and get to where the rice terraces are better.
In general, it’s good to know that there are a number of main temples in Bali (a local told me that there are 9 main ones, but I haven’t verified this anywhere else). Certainly there are many other beautiful temples but the following are guaranteed successes:
- Basaskih Temple (they call it the mother temple)
- Tirta Gangga
- Tirta Empul
- Tanah Lot
- Ulun Danu
- Pura Luhur
- Goa Lawah
- Taman Ayun
- Gunung Kawi
So a lot of these are not on the way to wherever it is you’re probably going. Basaskih, Ulun Danu, and Lempuyang are all in the mountains and more remote. Tanah Lot is on the coast but definately was out of the way. But arguably these are the most rewarding temples.
One of my favorites is Ulun Danu. It’s on a lake in the mountains. It’s like a crater on the top of a mountain filled with water and a temple on that water. It’s awesome and the drive up is phenomenal. I wish we had stayed in that area for a few days. It’s really quiet and much more remote, but I love that kind of thing. Otherwise, it’s just SO far out of the way. Too far.
And Tanah Lot is also an incredible temple as it’s reachable when the tide is out… It’s also out of the way, but the surrounding area is less interesting. But the real problem for me was how packed with people it was. If I were to do it again I would try to make it for sunrise… although it’s in the perfect spot for sunset (as it’s on the west coast).
My recommended temple route:
Well, if you’re going down to Uluwatu, then stop at Pura Luhur as it’s located on the cliffs of Uluwatu. This is one of the few things worth seeing in the south and if you’re staying at the InterContinental, it’s only a 20 minute drive (according to google).
Then one day I would get a car up to Amed and work it out so you can stop in a couple of the temples on your way there or on your way back from Amed. For the sake of example let’s say that while you’re staying in Amed you go out and do a day trip to Tirta Gangga and Lempuyang. Lempuyang is kind of two fold, you see one temple and if you want to see the next you have a bit of a walk up like 1,700 steps.
Then most people want to go to Ubud. So do your trip to Ubud via Besakih. It’s far fetched to call Besakih “on the way”, but it would be the easiest way of seeing it. And then you could stop and look over Batur. It’s a pretty epic scene with the volcano coming out of the giant crater with a lake in it. Not sure how much I’d push Batur, but if you’re doing Basakih anyways, I think it’s on the way.
Amed and the East of Bali
There are other towns besides Amed that get the same feel, but Amed is a great place to start. If you continue to go east along that road I think you’ll find some really cool spots and some great snorkel spots.
Amed doesn’t have sandy beaches, but instead volcanic rock, but its nearest tiny bay “Jemeluk” is protected with tons of coral. So right off the shore is good snorkeling. Truthfully, there may be nicer places further down, but I love the community feel there.
Also, everyone in town is a fisherman and going out fishing is fun. Fishing will also provide the best views.
On this trip there are a few snorkel spots you have to hit, some of them very close to Amed.
The Liberty Shipwreck in Tulamben
This is a popular dive spot as the ship is torn apart and is in some deep area. And the first time I was there, there were large schools of fish circling the wreck.
This time I saw schools of smaller fish in the “coral garden” a little further east of the Liberty in front of a hotel. On the snorkel outing I got to see 3 different schools of fish, a black tipped shark and a barracuda. But the ship itself doesn’t have tons of fish as it doesn’t have much coral directly around it. Still, you can see the Liberty shipwreck and the neighboring “coral garden” at the same time as they’re right next to one another.
On the 30 minute drive to the Liberty, there is a spot close to Tulamben notorious for having cops pulling over tourists (and locals) with the intent of raking in the bribes. They hassle tourist for not having “an international driver’s license”. It’s pretty typical to pay the ~100,000 IDR ($10 USD) “fine” and go on with your day.
I’m 2/2 on avoiding the fine. The first time… I just didn’t pull over when they pointed me to the side of the road. Instead I looked inquisitively in the direction they were pointing.
This latest trip I acted stupid for long enough for him to explicitly ask for the bribe and then I revealed that my gopro camera had been recording. I’ll save the rest for later, but it was very clear that they are more scared of my camera then I am of them.
The Japanese Shipwreck
We enjoyed the snorkeling here because of how shallow it is. Coral, sand, the wreck and the fish all so close to you.
It’s east of Amed, and no coppers in these small towns (that I’ve seen). 😉
This is similar to the Japanese shipwreck but it’s known for the best white sand beach in the area. It’s small but it’s enough for an occasional ray to come by.
This is real close to Amed, even closer than the Japanese wreck.
Jemeluk is the first little spot in the Amed vicinity with a protected reef. And I highly recommend doing freediving lessons right in the bay.
I mean… what’s your goal? To party? Stay in Kuta. To sit on sandy beaches? Perhaps Sanur. Although Sanur is really full of business hotels in an okay area. South of the Sanur bridge there are some great spots and it’s where the Grand Hyatt is. On the west coast side south of the airport is Jimbaran, which is where the InterContinental is. The beach is very nice, much more scenic with the landscape, although I’m told the water is cloudier there. But it seemed the same as Sanur to me.
Indonesia is primarily Mulsim but Bali remained Hindu… sort of. It’s nothing like what you see in India but it’s absolutely beautiful. There are temples in each village and for each family. Heck, there’s a small temple in each building for daily offerings.
Sometimes they are constructed someplace important like where spring water shows up. Sometimes they have a day ceremony to bless cars and tools, and other days to bless trees, specifically to protect bigger older ones. Every day there is something. Always making offerings, and always preparing for the next ceremonies with beautiful arrangements of flowers and banana-leaf crafts handed down specifically for ceremony use.
This time we got to see one of the biggest holidays – Nyepi. The day before Nyepi they make these giant demon sculptures dance down the street. It was intense. But the real intense part was the day of Nyepi.
I kid you not, on the day of Nyepi (which is once a year) no one is allowed to leave your house/hotel or anything. No one is allowed on the street, not even tourists. We had to stay in our hotel, and unless you’re in the south in a big hotel, you shouldn’t use lights, cook, or even use electricity the whole day.
This would have been fine if the internet was working. But as it was I was stuck in a room with no ac and no internet, getting no work done. Oh yea, and I had no food. Even if I could have walked down the street nothing would have been open.
This kind of detracts, but it shows how dedicated they are to their traditions.
You could spend a lifetime discovering all the traditions, temples, and details of Bali. You’ll miss out on many lifetimes’ of culture by staying in the south.