Scuba divers traveling to Bali are going to be most interested in the eastern coast, which is quite a distance from the tourist traps of the island's far south. Also, the southeast coast is a prime spot to catch ferry rides to the adjacent island of Lombok. So, not surprisingly, a number of tourist attractions have established themselves in the relatively remote southeast corner of Bali. On a Sunday afternoon after Mass in Gianyar, I had the chance to comb three significant tourist sites there -- the resort beach of Candi Dasa, the plantation house at Taman Ujung, and the open bat cave of Goa Lawah. Each of these are very interesting in their own right, though of the three I would consider the latter the must-do (if you can stand it)!
Candi (CHAN-dee) Dasa was built up a few decades ago as eastern Bali's answer to Kuta. It is a strand facing eastward that sits across the bay from the Lombok ferry. The first photograph was taken from the eastern side pointed toward the ferry point.
Candi Dasa was one of the areas obviously hit hard by the reduction of the tourist industry after the Bali bombings. As the numbers decreased, they have concentrated more in the larger resort areas in the south and vastly fewer seemed to be making the trek up the eastern coast. Several of Bali's resort and restaurant chains had franchises around Candi Dasa, but on the day I went in January 2003, many of them were plain empty. I and my travel companions were the only visitors I saw the entire time I was there. This was a shame because the beach wasn't bad (admittedly it wasn't kept nearly as clean as other beaches, which I figure was symptomatic of the hard times).
The scenery around Candi Dasa was very nice, both with the heavily forested hills surrounding the coastline and the cute little islands scattered a short distance offshore, some of which are seen in the second photograph. Also, Candi Dasa avoided a lot of the torrential downpours during the rainy season because it sat east of the volcanoes, whose rains tend to migrate due south during the daytime. Candi Dasa's challenge was that it simply found itself too far east, about a two-hour ride away from the Ngurah Rai Airport near Denpasar, to be able to fulfill its dream of becoming Kuta East. But certainly for those wanted to scuba dive off Bali's eastern shore, this beach would make a decent lunch-and-sun stop along the way.
My next stop was Taman Ujung, near the town of Ujung high on the hills overlooking the eastern coast. Taman Ujung was a former Dutch plantation house or garden (not really sure which) that was heavily undergoing reconstruction when I visited. The third and fourth photos show two different scenes, both showing how the Dutch embraced the natural beauty of surrounding region.
The third photo was taken from the top of a long terraced garden that has not yet been fully restored, but shows the artificial pond (fed by underground stream) overlooking the ocean. There were several dozen stone pedestals arranged around the circumference of the pool, some original, others not. The pedestals contained Balinese-style art reliefs on the exterior, but I would stress that they appeared "Balinese-style," meaning probably European interpretations of traditional art and not truly reflecting the Hindu mythology. None of the statues that would have stood on those pedestals have yet been restored.
The island will be the site of a gazebo, connected to the mainland by a bridge that is not yet complete. Both sides of the bridge will have a gatehouse similar to the one seen in the fourth photo, that shows the ground to the left of the third photo.
This side of the Taman is comparatively unfinished, and many of the ruins of the original architecture still remain hidden among the trees and in the artificial pond behind the gatehouse. (While the pond in the third photo has been cleaned and restored, the other pond is still a dense swamp.)
I expect that the completion of this project is still a year away (that is, 2004 at the earliest). For now, entrance to the Taman Ujung appears to be free (although there were lots of locals who insisted on being your tour guide, for a fee of course). As to whether the intent is to make it a historical attraction or a resort complex, I haven't a clue. But certainly it was the best site I have visited for seeing the influence of the Dutch on Bali during the colonial days (because the only other references I've seen regarding the Dutch have to do with the independence memorials showing how proud the Indonesians are for throwing them out in 1949).
The third stop was made on the way back south. Goa Lawah was the open bat caves that was only a short distance from the city of Klungkung. It was exactly as described... a bat cave.
The cave was located directly because a Hindu temple that sat on the main southeast coastal road. The proximity to the road surprised me, because I was expecting it to be something hidden away after a thirty minute walk in the woods. Nope -- it was right there in a roadside cliff, though the temple blocked any view of the cave from the road (convenient, eh?) As it was on temple grounds, temple dress codes, etc., applied.
The fifth photo pretty much shows what you would see, a hole in the rock decorated by a few offering tables that are totally covered in guano. But the photo does not capture the sounds and smells of the bat cave at all. The black regions around the top of the cave walls are not soot, they are bats. Thousands upon thousands of bats, and during the daytime they were not sleeping. They were crawling over each other, flying around, squeaking, yelling, suckling young, etc. etc. It was like listening to a hundred fingernails continuously scratching blackboards.
It didn't stink as bad as I would have thought, but I was very careful not to get underneath any of the bats as I could hear the guano dripping to the ground at regular intervals. The sixth photo shows a section of the cave where the bats were sparser and I was comfortable getting a close-up shot without feeling like a pigeon target.
I probably watched the cave for ten minutes, more in a state of fascinated horror than genuine interest. There are few creatures that I found more obvious repulsive than bats, but this was the first time I'd actually ever seen one (or ten thousand) in its living environment. Even still, I considered ten minutes to be my limit.
Hey, if you have the stomach for it, try it. It was ... unique!
My visit to the southeast coast of Bali was further proof that there was a lot more to the island than the tourist traps, and that new and different things awaited visitors willing to trek off the beaten path. So, as I always advise, don't be shy about trying something a little different -- you will almost assuredly be rewarded.
Trip taken 7 January 2003 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006