Singaraja, The City of Light

Secret Bali | Written By, NOW! BALI | October 28th, 2013

With a couple of visitors in tow and a shared interest in exotic places we bundled into a big blue Feroza and headed north to Singaraja. Far from the deep south and a couple of hours drive from Ubud over the great volcanic crater of Batur, Singaraja is the thriving capital of Buleleng.  A regency once ruled by Rajahs and once the coastal port for the whole island, this colourful coastal town has plenty of history! When you arrive and start to wander, you start to feel that you have moved out of Bali and across to Java – it feel more like Semarang, or Surabaya or any other northern coastal town that has had a lot of foreign influence.

TEXT AND Photo by ayu sekar

With a couple of visitors in tow and a shared interest in exotic places we bundled into a big blue Feroza and headed north to Singaraja.

Far from the deep south and a couple of hours drive from Ubud over the great volcanic crater of Batur, Singaraja is the thriving capital of Buleleng.  A regency once ruled by Rajahs and once the coastal port for the whole island, this colourful coastal town has plenty of history!

When you arrive and start to wander, you start to feel that you have moved out of Bali and across to Java – it feel more like Semarang, or Surabaya or any other northern coastal town that has had a lot of foreign influence. Glaring bright sun and clear skies illuminate the low lying dwellings along the beaches lined with fishing jukungs and shading trees. Vibrant temples and a big sky give a sense of space.

The influences are visible – Chinese, Arabic, Javanese, Madurese, Bugis all have their kelompoks or villages close to the sea.  While the city itself is somewhat featureless, it is all a facade covering the real life behind. Walk into any of the small laneways or gangs and have fun exploring. You will discover a different world of communities, of life as it is lived. Neat houses with tidy gardens, temples, mosques, and a peaceful village atmosphere, where life, apart from the TV parabolas and motorbikes, has changed little over the centuries.

Our main reason to visit was to see the old harbour where the Dutch, Chinese and other visitors arrived over the centuries and where, long before there was an airport, the passenger liners would disgorge interested visitors coming to experience Bali’s fabled culture. 

Hunting long and hard we discovered freshly painted Chinese klentengs  (temples)  family karaoke bars, fish restaurants, serving dishes of a freshness and flavour rarely tasted outside five star establishments, as well as Peranaken dishes, usually found only in Singapore or Malacca. There were also plenty of burgeoning new shopping malls. 

But strangely, mysteriously, there was not a sign of what was once the busy harbour. Gone! Disappeared! The story is that the shallow harbour silted up and business just went elsewhere. Apart from two suspiciously renovated old colonial buildings there was no sign. Kuching, and Malacca and even Singapore have plenty of proud relics of earlier times, but here, they have been eradicated!  No steamship company offices, law courts or all the other trappings that typify colonial ports.

Even ultra modern Singapore has plenty of historical buildings that give some idea of the city’s roots, but here, there is just a new jetty filled with tourist restaurants and a monument – to times gone by? That is all that remains. But the old villages which date back 80 or 90 years are here vigourously alive. 

Maybe there is more to discover, hidden in another part of town, but the historical port has been relegated to… history. It is always fun to go back for another look! 

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NOW! BALI

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