The green belt of Bali, Tabanan is just the place to go if you long for tranquility and relaxation – and if you would like to experience Bali in its own special and traditional nature.
This beautifully landscaped regency is divided into a series of environments. The lowlands are covered with rice fields, while the surrounding high hills greet travellers with steeply terraced fields carved out of the fertile soils. Take a walk through the villages and sweep away in the melodies of the gamelan orchestra at the bale banjar or community centre. You might well be the only visitor there at that time.
Rice fields are common in the landscapes of Tabanan, where agriculture has been an integral part in the life of the Balinese people for thousands of years. The image of nature and people living together in harmony can be found here in the regency – scenery that can’t be made up.
Beautiful when the sun reflects on the water of the fields and glowing with yellow ears when the harvest is ripe, Tabanan’s rice fields are a feast for the eyes – and definitely a photographer’s dream. If you find yourself in one of Tabanan’s vast rice fields during your off the beaten path travels around the regency, then you’ll see that sometimes words just can’t describe the emerald-green beauty that sprawls right before your eyes.
The region’s landscape that is both spectacular and truly exotic is the home to the grand sight of terraced rice fields that carpet the ground for as far as the eyes can see in Jatiluwih. Comprised of over 600Ha of rice fields that follow the flowing hillside topography of the Mount Batukaru range, Jatiluwih sets an exceptional example of Bali’s irrigation system known as Subak, which dates back to the 9th century.
You can find a number of restaurants along the small road overlooking the rice terraces. From here you can enjoy the lovely view of Jatiluwih while having a meal (international and local cuisines), or a cup of coffee, letting time slip by. Different from its famous Tegallalang counterpart, located north of Ubud, Jatiluwih allows the visitors to really enjoy the largest and most picturesque expanse of paddies on the island undisturbed, for tourist jams and hawkers are not a common sight here.
If you have time, here you can observe the rituals of planting, maintaining, irrigating and harvesting rice, something that enriches the cultural life of Bali. At the beginning of planting time, after the water buffalos walk the rice fields several times, ceremonies are held to carry the young stems of rice that have been nurtured in a special nursery. On each section of the rice fields, the corner nearest to Mount Agung will receive the honour to be the first place to receive the young stems. The planning and responsibility of the irrigation and planting schedule are arranged through Subak, a Balinese system that ties together rice cultivation with its water temple system. Throughout growing time and at harvesting, ceremonies are also held and offerings are presented to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice. This is why in the middle of rice fields you often find little shrines with neatly decorated flowers, fruits and offerings.
The belief that the gods and goddesses appreciate the mundane pleasures as much as the mortals is an important aspect of religious life in Bali. Treating the cycling process of planting and harvesting rice with so much respect is also believed to please the gods; which in effect, would also please the humans with abundance of crops.
Anyway, as you pass through the undisturbed beauty of the Tabanan villages, you get to witness the locals doing their daily activities; a lady walking down the road in her traditional outfit, or one fixing an offering in the village temple. Children normally play by the village streets, chasing one another or even climbing trees. There are numerous small roads and unmade tracks, especially if you venture the black sand beaches in the villages near the popular Tanah Lot; be brave and venture them, and learn that the simple, unpretentious life of the Balinese people can be so captivating.
Though the beaches are nothing to shout about, joining the villagers in the nearby warung eatery whilst gazing at the waves could be fun. Just open up, and when they’re finally comfortable with your presence, they’ll tell your stories about what’s interesting and happenings in their village. Now this is the kind of genuine experience that will leave a memorable note on your travel diary.
From the rice fields and coastal areas of Tabanan, the regency’s highlands are home to stunning hilly areas such as Bedugul that covers the western highlands of Bali, and just the place to go to when the coastal area’s heat and humidity finally get to you. Bedugul entertains visitors to the area with three lakes that provide everything from water activities recreation to grandeur shows especially when Balinese Hindu ceremonies take place at the Pura Ulun Danu Bratan (Lake Bratan Temple).
Among the three lakes, Bratan is the most famous one especially for its pièce de résistance, the spectacular temple of Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. The temple, which was actually built on a tiny island in the 17th century, is completely surrounded by the lake and dedicated to the Lake Goddess Ida Batara Dewi Danu. Pilgrimages and ceremonies are frequently held here to ensure that there is a supply of water for farmers all over the island.
You can pedal a cute swan boat around the Lake, appreciating the temple’s classical Hindu thatch-roofed meru (multi-tiered shrines) that is reflected in the water and silhouetted against the often foggy mountain backdrop. For an aerial view of the temple and the lake, parasailing is on offer and proven to amuse quite a number of visitors.
Going further up the area are two lakes that used to be one until a landslide separated them at the turn of the 19th century, Bunyan and Tamblingan. The sister lakes can be easily observed from the higher road leading to the Munduk Village. Stop points are conveniently found along the road, with some providing wooden decks and even a swing for optimal social media snaps.
Indeed, the bird’s eye view of the two lakes is astounding, but if you’re willing to drive a bit further, down to the lakes, you’ll be rewarded with something that is even more amazing: pure serenity. The calmness of the two lakes contrasts the wild forest of the surroundings that is commonly bustling with the sounds of insects.
The Lush pine forest seems to create freshness in the air around Lake Bunyan. Gazing over the lake from higher ground with a hot cup of coffee in hand can definitely give you that well-deserved break from hectic daily life. Waves and cries of “Hello, how are you?” from the local villagers of the two lakes break the tranquil silence; and it’s these honest pleasures that stay in your heart. There is something about the essence of village life both in Bunyan and Tamblingan, seeing the spirit of a community that works together and lives so humbly that makes the visit to these two lakes so enchanting.
Local villagers, including the children, normally spend a quiet afternoon fishing on the rim of the two lakes. Of course, you can always bring your own fishing gear and join them to experience the ‘real Bali’. You can also rent one of the many traditional wooden boats and explore the lakes – sunrise is the best time to do this, when the first rays of light hit the shrines of the majestic Pura Gubug that sits on the edge of the Tamblingan. Down on the lakes, photo opportunities abound. So be especially sure you have your camera with you.
In addition to the lakes, Bedugul is also home to a botanical garden named Kebun Raya Eka Karya Bali. The garden is indeed a treasure trove for botanists and plant lovers; but it also makes a great playground for those looking for brief respite from urban life.
This huge expanse of garden, whilst an aesthetically pleasing refuge from modern life, also helps plant species stand the test of time, allowing them to continue to thrive and flourish outside of their increasingly diminishing habitats. It gives the opportunity for visitors to experience firsthand the diverse flora found around the country and around the world. Some plant species at the garden are exhibited and displayed neatly for enjoyment and education, while others grow wild along the trekking pathways, inviting you to explore and discover!
Thousands of plant species are preserved here, many representing the vegetation of Indonesia’s eastern areas such as Bali, Nusa Tenggara, Sulawesi, Maluku, and Papua. New collections are frequently added, sourced from other botanical gardens, breeding programmes, and collecting expeditions. For scientific and educational purposes, the garden features a herbarium, seed bank, glasshouses, nursery, and library.
Most of the towering trees that occupy a good portion of the roughly 157 hectares of the garden’s land are of original forest at the botanical garden, with convenient pathways and rest areas scattered below the canopy to allow for comfortable wanderings and quiet escapes. Whilst definitely good exercise, trekking amidst the greenery of the garden’s forests also gives you the chance to bird watch. The garden is a good birding area with the Grey-cheeked Green Pigeon, Short-tailed Starling, Java Sparrow, Spotted Dove, Eurasian Tree-sparrow, Yellow-vented Bulbul, Streaked Weaver and Scarlet-headed Flowerpecker making frequent appearances.
Of course, picnics are wildly popular in the area – this is what the majority of visitors come to do. Entering Kebun Raya Eka Karya Bali and into the garden’s Ramayana Boulevard, you will feast your eyes on the beautiful, green landscape with colourful flowers and intricate statues that portray the characters from the Hindu epic tale, the Ramayana. The statues are popular amongst visitors and posing teenagers taking photographs.
N I G H T L I F E
Night markets are huge attractions for the locals especially in downtown Tabanan. The multicultural Tabanan is also apparent at these markets such as Pasar Senggol Tabanan on Gajah Mada Street. Most of the food sellers at the night market, if not all, are Muslim migrants from Java, offering a plethora of dishes typical to their Java hometowns such as Bakso Solo meatballs and Sate Madura chicken and goat satays. And whenever there’s a ceremony taking place in the nearby Hindu temple, you can see the local Balinese residents in their traditional attires flocking the market, having their meal served by their veiled Muslim fellows.
There’s a whole host of other vendors selling lots of other goods at Pasar Senggol Tabanan. You can find shoes and sandals, t-shirts and shorts, electronics, homewares, women’s accessories, and even gold fish and mini aquariums. Children, too, find this night spot an amusement, for they can play on the slide with crush-proof plastic balls on the bottom, or fish the baby catfish (take home whatever you can fish) – in addition to the toy vendors, of course.
S L E E P
Though a day trip to Tabanan is very doable, you may want to spend a night in the area to enjoy the cool mountain breeze and wake up to a beautiful misty morning. A two-minute drive away from the Kebun Raya Eka Karya Bali in Bedugul is the cabins of Strawberry Hill, a small, incredibly homely accommodation to spend the night.
Incorporating features of a typical Indonesian mountain-style residence, such as hardwood floors and wooden-clad walls, Strawberry Hill reminds one of a cozy, alpine ski-lodge. Each of Strawberry Hill’s 17 cabins are named after a mountain in Indonesia, and comprises a comfortable, colourful and snug interior, a balcony where room service can be enjoyed overlooking one of Bedugul’s dormant volcanoes, and an en-suite bathroom complete with shower and separate bathtub, with plenty of hot water for those unexpectedly cool high-altitude evenings. Each cabin has a telephone, and a TV with key satellite channels. The cabins are definitely comfortable, but the hotel’s very own strawberry farm is a treat especially for your little ones, who can pick their own strawberries for a healthy fruit snack!
S H O P
Certainly, you cannot leave Bedugul without shopping at the Candikuning Market; the vendors here mostly sell the freshest of local farm produce such as a wide range of tropical fruits and flowers. And since Bedugul is one of the most visited areas in Tabanan, you can also expect to find souvenir shops in this market. Hungry? Here you can buy local snacks such as boiled peanuts and steamed sweetcorn, or you can just go with potato chips from a number of familiar brands. And since Bedugul is one of the most visited areas in Tabanan, you can also expect to find souvenir shops in this market. The vendors here are friendly, so the market is a great place for you to exercise your bargaining skills.