Singaraja is the former Capital of Bali. It surrendered the title of Capital city to Denpasar in the early 20th Century as commercial trade increased and the ships needed a deeper harbour to anchor in. Benoa in the south was a safe harbour for larger vessels, protected from the ocean storms, so it was a viable alternative.
Located just east of the commercial tourist area of Lovina its name means ‘Lion (Singa) King’ (Raja). It boasts a population of around 90,000 people and is the hub for the islands education with many schools and universities’ of a high standard. It has a rich cultural heritage and its people are helpful and friendly.
The Dutch colonial past of Singaraja is still apparent by the architecture of many of its buildings, especially those that are located in the old harbor district. White plastered warehouses still breathe the atmosphere of the old days when the harbor was still busy and trade in spices, vanilla and tobacco flourished. The last time the nearby Mt Agung volcano erupted was in September 1963 and this event was accompanied by large earthquakes which rocked the foundations of many of the old colonial buildings in Singaraja. Some of the buildings still stand tilted from the event.
This district is still busy today with many local people trading amongst themselves. The old produce markets are located near the river in the middle of the city and trade a variety of food and wares every day. The center of the town lies at the intersection of the Jalan Gajah Mada and the Jl. Jen. Ahmad Yani. Here you will find banks, a post office, some accommodation, a number of small restaurants and the local market Pasar Anyar, which turns into a night market with foodstalls after sunset. You will also find a section here where you can buy clothes for real bargain prices.
Lovina is 15 minutes away from Singaraja towards the west and is labeled the commercial area for tourists in the North. It really isn’t much to look at, a kind of poor man’s Kuta. There are many home stays and hotels but avoid staying at the Excelsior hotel as they keep dolphins in their pool. There is a Commonwealth Bank (Australian) atm there which charges only a small percentage for usage fees compared to the Indonesian banks that charge up to $12AUD for a single transaction. There are several restaurants located on the beach and there are a few bars where you can party at night. The most famous being the ‘Volcano Club’ that has foreign and resident DJ’s. The best restaurant by far is the ‘Spice Beach Club’. Located on the beach it boasts a lovely seaside feel to it with pastel white and blue décor. The food is delicious and moderately priced. The duck is exceptional and the beer is ice cold. There is a good European bakery on the corner near the traffic lights that serves aromatic coffee at a European price. The bread is yummy and baked on the premises. On the same side of the road back towards Singaraja is an authorized money changer that I can highly recommend called ‘Swasti’. They are very friendly and won’t rip you off.
Where to Eat
There are a number of eating places that we can recommend; ‘Gandi’ is a Indo/Chinese restaurant located about 100 metres along the Jalan Jen Ahmad Yani road heading west towards Lovina from the main set of traffic lights. It is tucked away at the back of a parking area after the large Banyan tree. Very well priced and the restaurant prides itself on authentic dishes. There is a Day time market in the bus/truck terminus (Terminal Barang Kampong Tinggi) after the bridge on the road to Ahmed. There is only one river running through the middle of town and the market is next to it on the right as you head towards the East. The warung closest to the road near the exit is again run by a Chinese/Indo family and the food is prepared and displayed in a glass cabinet for diners to choose from. It is delicious and very cheap. Komang is the manageress and always serves you with a big smile. The ice jeruk (orange juice) is a good choice to drink with your meal. Further along the same road as you head further east is a ‘Carefour’ supermarket where you can buy western imported items and food. There is a variety of foreign imported fruit and veges, I go there to buy lemons etc which I need for our restaurants seafood. Across the road is a large parking area market called ‘Taman Mia Metra’. It is located next to the police station and many police eat there. It is famous for its Satay Goat and the Avocado juices are so tasty they are a juice made in heaven. There are a few authentic Massakan Padang (Sumateran & Java) restaurants as there has been a Muslim population living in Singaraja for several centuries. The best I can recommend is on the road towards Lovina next to the MBM clothing retail warehouse named Rumah Massakan Padang. It has its food prepared earlier and displayed in a glass cabinet. My favourite is the ‘beef rendang’ and I combine it with various chicken and vegetable portions. It is a small eating establishment patronized by many locals which assures it a high turnover of food so it’s always fresh.
A beautiful Chinese temple (klenteng) named Ling Gwan Kion can be found just off the Jalan Erlangga, close to the ocean in the harbor district of Singaraja. This temple is one of the few Chinese temples on Bali. It can be accessed via a bridge over a lotus pond and it has magnificent golden Buddha statues. The temple was founded in the year 1873 and has been renovated several times, the last one in 2004. A unique lontar museum annex library, the “Gedong Kirtya”, can be found at the Jalan Veteran near the center of the town. The Gedong Kirtya collects, copies and preserves thousands of lontar (manuscripts made of palm leaf), “prasati” (transcriptions on metal plates) and books that deal with various aspects of human life such as religion, architecture, philosophy, genealogy, homeopathy, “usada” (medical manuscripts), black magic, etc., in the Balinese, Kawi (old Javanese), and in the Dutch, English and German language. The museum and library are open to visitors during weekdays but it is closed in the weekends and during national holidays.
Singaraja is not your average tourist town but if you spend a bit of time there you can feel culturally satisfied that you have experienced a piece of old Bali still steeped in tradition.