East Bali and why you should go

by Travel Paulie on May 18, 2010

Last week in Bali, Indonesia, was holiday season: namely Galungan – with 3 consecutive public holidays.

Whether the average tourism-focused Balinese individual has the luxury of taking advantage of this is another story entirely. I think the majority of natives take some time out with their families to for the numerous rituals and ceremonies that constitute this holiday period.

Together with a colleague I’m working with, we embarked upon a 6-day journey to East Bali, to explore what is supposed to be some of the most beautiful regions on the island.

I wasn’t disappointed!

In a previous article about the central tourist areas in Bali, namely Kuta, Seminyak and Ubud and you might have been able to tell from the tone of the article that those parts of Bali aren’t a fit for me. While East Bali has it’s issues also, it’s a far cry from Kuta!

[Update 30-05-2010] This article is the 2nd part of basic 3-part series on Bali: South, East, & West.  The 1st and 3rd instalments are:

[Word count: ~1500.  Approx. reading time: 10 minutes]

The Journey to East Bali

The main arterial roads in Bali aren’t the best you’ll ever drive on, but they’re certainly not the worst.  We took off on our hired scooters from Seminyak, travelling along Bali’s southern coastal route towards Candidasa, passing through there then on to Amlapura. We didn’t go through Amlapura and instead turned north towards Amed.  We stopped briefly for something to eat in Amed, but ultimately our final destination was a little town called Tulamben.  Tulamben was base camp for the entire duration of our stay, in a resort named: Paradise Palm Beach Bungalows.  At Rp100,000/night split 2 ways, it was a bargain.

From start to finish, you can make this journey from Seminyak to Tulamben in the northeast in around 3~4hrs on the scooters, depending on your tolerance for speed.  Google Maps states that the journey is about 100km, which at an average speed of 40km/h should take 2.5hrs. At the time of writing, however, there are major construction works on the coastal route slowing traffic to a crawl in places.

Once you make it past Candidasa, you’re in for a truly wonderful scenic treat wherever you look.  When you start north from Amlapura, you’ll pass through the Tirta Gangga area, winding your way along the sides of the mountain, overlooking deep, verdant valleys covered in rice paddies.  A majestic Mt. Agung rears up ahead, to the northwest.

The scenery in the eastern side of Bali is gorgeous, and contrasts very sharply with visions of Kuta beach and the haggling tourist touts that I’d left behind that morning.  This is where the beautiful Bali can be found, and is as yet not completely ruined by the tourist masses.

Purists who frequented Bali from decades earlier will still decry even the current state of encroachment in the east, but then that is the paradox of tourism – they conveniently forget that when they visited all those years ago, they were tourists too.

After 30 minutes along that north bound road after Amlapura, you will have the option to turn east into what is now commonly called Amed.  It is actually the name of a single town, but the name has stuck and is now used to refer to the whole “growth” along the coast.

If you follow this particular road, you will eventually return back to Amlapura.  I say eventually since this road hugs a very mountainous coast, and only 2 years ago Bali government upgraded the road’s status to “asphalt” status.  It is winding, steep, and at times flooded in the valleys after heavy rains.

I took a journey along this coastal path and highly recommend it – again the views are spectacular!  Once you pass beyond the growing tourist section, you’ll be greeted with countless Balinese villages through which the new road was forced and will, at the very least, provide a glimpse into the everyday existence of a people that see out their daily lives on the sides of a Bali mountain.

Along the aforementioned routes there are a couple of tourist-worthy sight-seeing spots which I’ll mention below, but the “sight” worth seeing is the journey itself.

Things to see and do in East Bali

  • As you may have gathered, for me the best aspect of heading eastward is simply the scenery along the way.  The inland route and the coastal route both provide some stunning photo opportunities so don’t forget the camera.
  • Scuba diving and snorkelling.  The little town of Tulamben was basically built solely around this activity, more specifically the diving of the wreck which at low-tide starts at a depth of around 5m.  I never did any diving while I was there, so I can’t comment either way, but reports are generally positive, though it is a busy dive site, even in the low-season.
  • Temples.  Anyone visiting temples on their travels will know the feeling of complete exasperation that comes after a day of trekking through temples. My temple-viewing cup over-floweth so I’m not the best to discuss this topic.  To be fair, I do appreciate a mild smattering of a temple or two across a travel plan, and this time was no exception.  Given that the period within which I travelled was Galungan (thee most important religious ceremony in Balinese tradition), where it is believed that the Balinese gods pop down to earth for a few days and need to be entertained, there’s a high chance temple visiting would be on the agenda. And it was.

On the Galungan day itself, I was privileged to witness whole families partaking in the ceremonies – one interesting point to note about the Balinese is their unique ability to simply continue doing things they have done for centuries regardless of whatever foreign eyes are prying.  They’re quite happy to just keep on keeping on regardless of the opinion and presence of non-conformists.  And rightly so.

I had expected something much more boisterous and extravagant for the event, but it was really very subdued and dignified.  After the ceremony was over, they came over and offered my friend and I food and snacks that had presumably just been blessed and were ready for consumption.  A really nice experience to be in their villages and their temples, and being made to feel so welcome.

On the main day I visited 3 separate temples, the first 2 are likely not on any tourist map/guide, but the 3rd was the (in)famous Besakih on the slopes of Mt. Agung.  It is the most extravagant of the 3 that day, but the local “tourist information” there attempted to force us to take a guide – with it being a “special” day, tour guides were compulsory apparently.

A guide?  Sounds lovely.  The cost?  Based on “donation” and it was suggested that we offer similar amounts to those who had come before us – e.g. Rp400,000.  Er… no thank you.  So we didn’t go in that day, and frankly I’m not sure I’d be interested in returning to Besakih again to try.  Far too much hassle.

  • Tirta Gangga – a water temple and water palace.  An extravagant temple and much more interesting than the “normal” temples you’ll see.  It’s on the road that runs north-south from Amlapura towards Amed (mentioned ealier in this article).  Taman Ujung, the water palace in Ujung, is on the other side of Amlapura towards the coast and is a worth a visit if you’re taking the coastal road.
  • Lempuyang Temple – north of Amlapura, and while I never got to visit this temple, it’s supposed to be worth a visit – apparently 1000 steps to reach the temple grounds proper.
  • On my travel map I have included most of the places I went to and I feel are worth a visit.  Also worth noting is a particular Warung (Balinese restaurant) that I found while stopping in Amlapura for a bit.  It’s called ‘Warung Annisa’ and has really delicious food and very friendly, English-speaking, staff.

Points to note about East Bali

Here are some things to bear in mind when you head out East…

  • Check out my Travel Map for key locations mentioned in this article.
  • There are no ATM machines north of Amlapura.  The next one along the road north will be Singaraja.
  • Candidasa – you will hear much hype about this place, but please feel free to drive right on past it.  Candidasa is as though a little piece of Kuta was plucked out and rammed in there.  It’s not a nice area.  Not only that, if you decide to walk along the beach you will find the washed-up scattered remains of the coral reefs which used to live there that the developers tore up to build the town you see.  A depressing story that is repeated the world over.

That’s really all there is for me to say about East Bali for now.  It is a beautiful part of the island and this article barely begins to relay this fact.  Forget Kuta and the south, and instead head to the beauty that awaits you in the East.  If you’ve ever visited the area and have anything to add, please feel free to put your comments in the section provided below.  Any and all feedback is welcome!  Thank you for visiting.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Linda Norton December 12, 2011 at 00:07

We just returned from a week in Bali and a visit to East Bali. We were taken to a beautiful, secluded beach resort at Bug Bug (Karangasem) called White Sand Beach. It is owned by the local community and is quite unspoilt, and only reached by a very rough dirt track through a paddock with cows, pigs, chooks, etc. You can have a beautiful seafood lunch at one on the row of beachside huts for about $6 and a one hour beach massage for around $5. Lovely beach beds and pastel coloured silk umbrellas, and hardly any tourists! And to top it off, further up the beach a large number of working fishing boats that go out in the afternoon under full sail – breath-taking. A complete contrast to Kuta.


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