Kristin and I had a few days of free time and decided to take a little road trip north. Northeast Bali has become increasingly popular with tourists looking to escape the hustle and bustle of busier areas around Canggu, Kuta, and Denpasar. We battled mid-morning traffic as we passed through Sanur, but the road opened up as we moved into the Gianyar regency.
The Balinese Hindu hold most sacred the Sad Kahyangan, the 'six temples of the world'. These points provide the spiritual balance of the island, but oddly vary depending on the specific region a person originates. The list often includes Pura Besakih, Pura Lempuyang Luhur, Pura Uluwatu, Pura Batukaru, Pura Pusering Jagat, and Pura Goa Lawah.
Literally meaning the 'Bat Cave Temple', Pura Goa Lawah is a rather unique site. The temple is built at the entrance of a cave where thousands of fruit bats reside. Legend has it that the cave connects all the way to Pura Goa Raja, housed within the Besakih temple complex. The depths of the cave are home to Vasuki, a mythical snake-like creature said to be the caretaker of the Earth's equilibrium.
Pura Goa Lawah dates back to the very beginning of the 11th century and has been an active site of worship ever since. A celebration was underway during our visit, so access was limited. We enjoyed the surrounding gardens and cool ocean breeze before quietly joining the crowd gathered at the cave's mouth. We stayed for a short while, enjoying the spirituality of the ceremony without disturbing the participants.
We continued northward through the sleepy coastal village of Candidasa before ascending into the Tirta Gangga. A friend had recommended we stay at the Kusumajaya Homestay, accessed by a very long staircase. Fortunately, the climb was over-exaggerated, the accommodations were nice, and the view was amazing. Sitting halfway up a mountain, the site overlooks a beautiful valley below that extends eastward to the ocean.
As the sun began to set, Kristin and I headed back down the stairs in search of dinner. The only place that seemed open was a convenient store half a kilometer down the road. We bought a few items and the owner directed us to a nice little warung to head to for dinner. Before we left, he even gave us some of his locally made Arak. As night fell, the temperature dropped significantly. Being cold in the tropics might seem contradictory, but it's surprisingly cooler once you move inland and into the higher elevation of the mountains.
We both enjoyed a good night's sleep and awoke early the following morning to a nice breakfast before packing, saying goodbye, and walking 100 meters up the road to the Tirta Gangga Water Palace.
Tirta Gangga Water Palace belongs to the royal family of Karangasem. Construction of the complex began in 1948, blending traditional Balinese, Chinese, and European architecture to create an unique atmosphere covering over 3 acres. The beautifully maintained gardens and stunning sculptures frame the complex's main attractions: two massive front ponds, the 11-tiered fountain, and 2 upper pools.
The name is derived from tirta, meaning blessed water, and gangga, referring to the holy Ganges River in India. Tirta Gangga's water is sourced from the Rejasa natural spring, which enters into a large pool at the top of the complex and filters down through several other pools before exiting into the rice fields below as irrigation. This water is considered holy by the local people and used for ceremonies at the Water Palace and throughout the area. The spring water is even rumored to be the fountain of youth, and those who swim in it are revitalized and remain youthful forever.
Kristin and I couldn't believe how few guests were enjoying the morning here. Another couple walked along the waterline and a handful of young locals were playing in the small, lower swimming pool. Otherwise, we had the palace to ourselves and even enjoyed a swim in the main pool alone. I'm guessing the pool is 25 meters in length, about 8 meters in width, and about six feet in depth. The spring water was refreshingly cool and crystal clear. Actually, a bit too cold for Kristin who jumped out after 10-15 minutes. I think I could have stayed there all day, but alas, we left behind the cool wet climate of the mountains and moved north and east towards the coastline.
It was early afternoon by the time we reached Amed. We hadn't bothered researching accommodations before our trip, but several young girls approached us selling some items to earn money for school. We got to chatting and they ended up leading us right to the ideal homestay just steps from the beach and a short bike ride from all the restaurants. We thanked the girls with some sodas while they taught us how to blow bubbles using a local leaf.
Amed is a town of its own, but is often used to refer to a 14-kilometer stretch of Bali's northeastern coastline that encompasses several other small fishing communities: Aas, Banyuning, Bunutan, Cucik, Jemeluk, Lipah, and Selang. Amed only recently made its way onto tourist itineraries once people began yearning for a more 'tradional Bali experience'. This of course has spurred dramatic improvements in living conditions over the last decade including paved roads and phone lines. A dozen or so hotels and homestays accommodate tourists, and a handful of ex-pats call the area home.
The sun seemed to fall from the sky quickly as the day wore on. We ambled down to the beach, which was virtually empty. Beaches back home in the Bukit are often busy, but still nothing compared to areas like Kuta and Legian. We cooled off in the calm water as we enjoyed a stunning sunset together. As the sun ducked behind Gunung Agung, we cleaned up and headed out for dinner. We chose a cozy beachside restaurant and enjoyed a live reggae band while we ate.
Waking up to this beautiful view outside our window didn't have us hurrying the following morning. We sipped our coffees slow and enjoyed the peace. Amed has rightfully earned a reputation as a quiet getaway, and that was exactly what we were after. Amed is home to quiet black sand beaches and beautiful views, but I would guess its biggest attraction is diving.
Several dive companies call Amed home. They offer full PADI certification courses and dive trips in the area that include the famous USAT Liberty wreck in Tulamben that attracts thousands of divers every year. I've been wanting to get dive-certified for several years, but have yet to make the commitment. Kristin isn't a diver either, but we love the water and were excited to do some snorkeling.
The idyllic bay of Jemeluk was just a few minutes up the road from our homestay. The reef here starts close to the beach and stays relatively shallow until about 50 meters offshore. Easy access and calm waters made it the perfect first stop. The bay had excellent visibility, which made it easy to enjoy the broad variety of coral formations and fish.
Our next stop was the Japanese shipwreck in Banyuning. Very little information is known about this ship, including if it is truly of Japanese origin despite its name. The wreck itself is located just 20 meters offshore in 5-8 meters of water. Visibility is not as good as Jemeluk due to stronger currents, though it's still pretty clear compared to a lot of spots I've dove. Just past the wreck, the ocean drops off significantly and there are some amazing structures to be seen here for more experienced snorkelers.
I really enjoyed Northeast Bali's relaxing vibe and beautiful scenery. If only there was some surf there, I would probably stay!