The Joys of North Bali or … Is there a Bule in Buleleng?

There are mixed feelings involved when asked to write an article encouraging more people to visit the north of Bali. Many would prefer to keep it a secret, only “those in the know” living and visiting this relatively untouched part of beautiful Bali.

Friends and relatives planning trips to Bali always suggest they could drop in and visit … until they find that we’re nowhere near Seminyak, Canggu, Sanur or even Ubud! “Oh it’s too far” they say, “maybe you could come and visit us instead? Our hotel is in Nusa Dua.”

And on our (increasingly rare) visits south, if asked by a shopkeeper or new acquaintance “Where are you from?” the answer “Buleleng” elicits the inevitable response, “Aduh, jauh!”

So what has Buleleng got that you can’t find in the south? Perhaps I should start by outlining some of the things it hasn’t got, for example:

Traffic jams: The bane of the southerners’ life, almost unknown in the north. From central Singaraja to Pemuteran, for example, a distance of some 57km, you will meet just 5 sets of traffic lights and make the journey in under an hour and a half. (So, about the same time as to travel the length of Sunset Road on a good day!)

Violent crime: We shudder when we see reports of some of the things that happen down south. Apart from the odd incidence of petty crime, we are a remarkably law-abiding lot up here!

Tourist hordes: Actually we do have tourists, just not in hordes. By comparison with the south we have vast areas of towns, villages and countryside still untouched and unspoiled by tourism.

In return for forgoing the pleasures of traffic jams, violent crime and tourist hordes, we can offer plenty of enticement to visit the north. The main tourist centres, Lovina and Pemuteran, have no shortage of accommodation all the way from back-packer to 5-star luxury resorts.

Our attractions celebrate the natural wonders – the stunning mountain lakes beyond Bedugul, trekking in Munduk, dolphin-watching in Lovina. The mountain chain running the length of Buleleng seems to almost rise from the sea and disappear high in the clouds. Incredible waterfalls can be found all along the north side of the mountains, my favourite being Sekumpul – a real jaw-dropper. On the way there drop in and see gamelan instruments being made in Sawan village.

Snorkeling is good at various places along the north coast, but the pièce de résistance underwater is undoubtedly to be found around Menjangan Island where both diving and snorkeling are world class.

Singaraja is a vibrant city of broad avenues and tiny alleys. There are plenty of restaurants – enjoy a delicious ikan bakar served at your table on the jetty at the old port, or join the university students at one of the many cafes in the campus area. You can even have a meal from either of the big two world-wide “restaurant” chains! To the east of Singaraja you will find many spots for a delightful meal by the ocean.

Lovina offers a wide range of food options from Balinese to Greek, and plenty of night life if you are ready to party. And it is all at about half the price of similar fare in the south.

Pemuteran likewise has some wonderful eating establishments in addition to its underwater attractions. Further west you enter the West Bali National Park – wildlife abounds, including deer, forest fowl, wild boar and the elusive Bali starling.

Looking for property, perhaps? There’s plenty on offer, frequently with ocean views over rice-terraced hills. On a clear day you can see right across to the imposing mountains on the east coast of Java. Those used to southern prices will not believe what’s available in the north!

But quite frankly, many of us would prefer you don’t take advantage of all of the joys of North Bali … we’d much prefer to keep it to ourselves!

Kit Hamilton