Having been living in Bali as a digital nomad for quite a while, I wanted to see other parts of Bali that is not only offering lovely nature but also some history and architecture. Since I’ve seen how picturesque Tirta Gangga and Taman Ujung Water Palace are on Instagram, on one fine day I decided to head toward Karangasem, Bali at the eastern part of Bali.
Approaching the end of the year, Bali is predicted to be more crowded as it’s entering the high season and tourism is gradually recovering. At least, it would be packed with local tourists from another region in Indonesia. My last trip to Karangasem, Bali was probably one of the last moments where I could enjoy Karangasem, Bali without crowds of other tourists disturbing the view.
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Karangasem, Bali, Home of The Gateway to Heaven
Have you ever seen a picture of a girl standing in between iconic Balinese gate with a gigantic mountain as a backdrop? That’s Lempuyang Temple, the most well-known tourist spot in Karangasem, Bali. During pre-pandemic, people have to queue for up to 3 hours just to get a chance to take the iconic Bali photo for their Instagram. Karangasem, Bali is indeed one of the most interesting areas to visit in Bali. It has the whole package it needs to be called as the perfect holiday destination ranging from pristine beaches, crystal clear water, a majestic mountain, serene countryside vibes, fishing villages, diving & snorkeling spots, a long history, and marvelous architecture.
Long before Karangasem, Bali was known as one of tourist centers, it used to be a kingdom in the middle of the seventeenth century. The dynasty claims that they descent from the last Majapahit Governor of Bali at the time of the collapse of that Empire. The Karangasem Kingdom was then conquered by the Dutch in 1841. In 1950, the principality acceded to the Indonesian Republic, but the king continued to reign as nominal king until he died in 1991. Some relics from the Karangasem kingdom now can be visited as tourist spots in Karangasem, Bali.
How to go to Karangasem, Bali?
It takes 2,5 hours to reach Karangasem, Bali from my home in Canggu, North Kuta by car. The road wasn’t busy at all so I felt I reached Karangasem pretty fast. Before noon, I have arrived at Candi Dasa, a strategic place from where to start on adventurous treks through Bali’s eastern region. Since I was hungry, I decided to stop here to have lunch and visit Candi Dasa beach for a moment. Honestly, I think the beach here is way prettier than beaches in Canggu. The light and dark blue gradation color of the sea reminds me of the lovely beaches in Gili Trawangan, near Lombok, Indonesia. It looks exactly the same.
As Tripadvisor recommended Warung Bintang on the top of the list of places to eat in Candi Dasa, I went there, so did most of the tourists I saw that day in Candi Dasa. They seemed to be not ready to receive fewer than 10 guests, so I decided to move out to find food at another place. While Warung Bintang was busy, other places were empty. There was almost no tourist that day in Karangasem, Bali. Covid has been killing the tourism industry in Candi Dasa. I finally had lunch in a burger place located right across Candi Dasa Beach.
Things to Do in Karangasem, Bali
- Candi Dasa Beach
Candi Dasa or often called Candidasa is a quiet, relaxed coastal town about 90 km northeast of Kuta with interesting local markets, Hindu temples, and plenty of excellent, budget-priced warungs/local restaurants by the beach. There are excellent scenic views across the straits to Lombok from Candi Dasa beach. When I went to Karangasem, Bali, Candi Dasa was totally empty from tourists. But it also makes it a perfect place to do nothing and enjoy the quietness.
2. Tirta Gangga Water Palace
Arguably the most iconic place of Karangasem, Bali after Lempuyang Temple. Tirta Gangga is a former Karangasem royal water palace that turns to be tourists’ favorite water garden. You must have seen the famous Instagram photo of someone posing on a maze of beautiful pools while feeding a group of koi fish. People come to Tirta Garden to admire its unique mix of Balinese and Chinese architecture, enjoy a tranquil atmosphere, and spoil their eyes with its beautiful pools.
Its name was taken from the Sanskrit word “Tirta” which means water, and Gangga is taken from the holy river in India, the Ganges. The one-hectare complex was built in 1946 by the late King of Karangasem but was destroyed almost entirely by the eruption of nearby Mount Agung in 1963. Tirta Gangga is considered a sacred site for Balinese Hindus, and its holy water is regularly used for religious ceremonies.
Tirta Gangga Karangasem, Bali opens at 08.00 – 18.00. Ticket is Rp.25.000,- ($1,74)
3. Taman Ujung Water Palace
Before I came to Taman Ujung Water Palace, I thought it would be just okay, but it turns out has been leaving a deep impression on me. It’s very gorgeous!! Taman Ujung Water Palace is a marvelous water park consisting of three large pools and the main building in the middle of the pool named Gili Bale, which is connected to the edge of the pool by European-style bridges. It’s built-in 1909 by King of Karangasem I Gusti Bagus Jelantik as his recreation and relaxation site.
If you pay enough attention to its architecture, you would find a fine blend of Chinese, Balinese, and Dutch architecture. The main reason for its unique architecture style is because Taman Ujung Karangasem is built by Dutch and Chinese architects, Van Den Hentz, and Loto Ang. Taman Ujung Karangasem, Bali was almost entirely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Agung in 1963 and the earthquake in 1975, but it has been restored completely by now.
I came to Taman Ujung first then moved to Tirta Gangga since its located pretty close to each other, with the distance is only less than 10 km and can be reached in 19 minutes by car. Taman Ujung or Sukasada Park opens from 07.00 – 19.00. Ticket is Rp.15.000,- ($1) for domestic tourists and Rp.50.000,- ($3,5) for international tourists.
Don’t forget to visit a European-styled pavilion on the top of a hill to take the famous Taman Ujung photo and climb the stairs to get a bird’s eye view of this stunning water palace and the ocean.
4. Lotus Lagoon
Known for being one of the central landmarks of Candi Dasa, Lotus Lagoon is a lagoon full of lotuses on the water. Sadly, when I went there it looked like it’s been abandoned for some time, not well-maintained and dry. Probably because there are far fewer tourists coming to Candi Dasa due to Covid.
Ticket : FREE
5. Lempuyang Temple
What is known as The Gateway of Heaven is actually Pura Lempuyang, one of the highly regarded temples in Bali. The whole complex is made of seven different sanctuaries, but Pura Lempuyang located on the slope of Mount Lempuyang is the most popular.
From the top of Pura Lempuyang, you would see a breathtaking view of the Bali landscape including Mount Lempuyang from an elevation of 1,175 meters above sea level. It looks almost surreal thus people call it The Gateway of Heaven. If you’re into hiking, this visit is a great blend of an adventurous mountain trekking experience, incredible panoramic views, and the visit of an ancient, religious site.
To visit Pura Lempuyang it’s better to start the journey in the early morning to avoid the crowds and get a better photo opportunity at 7 AM after the clouds got cleared. or visit it before the sun sets to get another stunning view. If you want to visit all the seven different temples in the complex, it takes 4 hours in total. Don’t forget to cover your shoulders, wear a sarong (you can rent it there also), no kissing (it’s a religious site after all), no flying drone, and enjoy the panoramic view.
Ticket : Rp.50.000,- ($3,5)
6. Besakih Temple
I visited Bali’s Mother Temple or Besakih temple not on this one-day trip to Karangasem, Bali but on another occasion. I include it in this article because Besakih temple is definitely one place you should pay a visit to in Karangasem, Bali. It has a reputation as the oldest, largest, holiest, and most important temple of Balinese Hinduism not without reason. Every Balinese visits Besakih temple every year to pray and hold ceremonies. At least, there are 70 festivals held at the complex located on the slopes of Mount Agung.
Pura Besakih or Besakih temple is an extensive complex of 23 separate but related temples with the largest and most important being Pura Penataran Agung. The temple is built on six levels, terraced up the slope. Visitors can only visit some part of the complex, while the inner part is limited only to pilgrims.
Ticket : Rp.30.000,- ($2,09) for domestic tourists and Rp.60.000,- ($4.17) for international tourists.
Note: Don’t forget to cover your shoulders and wear a sarong while visiting the Besakih temple.
There are more things worthy to visit or do in Karangasem regency but unfortunately one day trip is not enough to cover the eastern part of Bali so I couldn’t share the stories with you yet. But, I love the experience of exploring Karangasem, Bali. It is definitely different than living in the more westernized Canggu or the bustling Kuta and Seminyak in south Bali. If you like to enjoy the countryside and looking for some serene moments (besides visiting some historic places with nice architecture), you’ll definitely have to put Karangasem, Bali on your list of places to visit in Bali, Indonesia. I myself, still waiting for a better opportunity to explore the other side of Karangasem, Bali such as Sidemen, Karangasem, Amed the fishing village, diving spot Tulamben, or even hiking to Mount Agung, the highest mountain in Bali and also an active volcano.
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