Buleleng, on the northern stretch of Bali, is often seen as the other side of the island in terms of culture and landscape.
The regency is a melting pot of cultures that coexist in an exemplary peaceful mode amidst a mountainous terrain and sandy beaches.
Singaraja, the regency’s capital city, for example, is home to Hindus, Moslems and Chinese, all of whom boast interesting and intricate places of worship located within close proximity to each other.
In the city, a well-maintained Chinese temple with time-honored red tiles stands erectly, a proud witness to the ethnic group’s strong trading presence and influence in the past.
Singaraja is about a two-hour’s drive from Denpasar heading northward. Passing the hill-resort area of Bedugul, one breathes in the fresh and clean air amidst compelling views of Lakes Bratan, Buyan and Tamblingan, making the car drive a memorable moment.
Be prepared, however, of the torturous snaking, narrow roads that test your driving skills (and your threshold of car-sickness).
But the soothing sights of coffee, palm and clove plantations, as well as the ubiquitous roadside resting places where you can consume duren at unbelievably low pricess are bound to compensate for the terrestrial hardship.
Travel industry players agree that Buleleng is poised to welcome more visitors in the future, as it has markedly improved public facilities and made the area greener.
Buleleng has no less tourist attractions than, say, Denpasar has to offer. The regency is a treasure trove for those inclined towards agri- and eco-tourism—one can feast on its terraced rice fields and at the same time enjoy its fascinating sunsets.
Its marine tourism matches that of southern Bali’s, with Lovina beach resort area and Menjangan Island as your best bets.
Lovina is the ideal place for snorkeling, diving, sailing and fishing, as well as for watching – and even mingling – with dolphins. The quite beach resort area and its surrounding areas are also famous for its aquatic inhabitants and incredible marine life. This is also the site where you can hire a boat and head towards makeshift fish markets in the middle of the sea.
Menjangan Island is inhabited by some 6.000 people of different faiths, mostly Islam and Hindu. And yet, they coexist remarkably well in full tolerance.
Buleleng was founded as a kingdom by Gusti Panji Sakti, who ruled in the late 16th century and is commemorated as a heroic ancestor-figure who expanded the power of Buleleng to Blambangan on East Java.
The Dutch colonial power attacked and conquered the then powerful Buleleng in the 18th century, and incorporated it in the Dutch colonial system.
In 1929 a descendant of Sakti, the renowned scholar Gusti Putu Jelantik, was appointed regent by the Dutch, and his son and successor was the well-known novelist Anak Agung Nyoman Panji Tisna.
In 1949-50 Buleleng, like the rest of Bali, was incorporated into the Republic of Indonesia, but Dutch traces remain abound, especially in Singaraja, the colonial power’s capital.
When the Dutch first came to Bali, they actually entered the northern part of the island, and not the south, which most European artists prefer in the early 19th century. This explains the prevalent Dutch atmosphere, in the forms of old office buildings and mansions, in Singaraja.
And this also explains why the majority of foreign tourists found in Buleleng come from The Netherlands.
A friend of mine who is in the travel business, amazed by the presence of many foreign tourists in Buleleng, was curious as to why they were there and not in such familiar places as Nusa Dua or Sanur.
He approached a young couple who were having breakfast at one of the star-rated hotels, and was told that they came from Amsterdam.
“We’re here to dive, as this is the best place in Bali in terms of marine tourism,” said the male part of the duo.
“It’s also much quieter here, much more laid-back, with none of the hustle-bustle you won’t be able to avoid in such areas as Kuta or Sanur,” his partner added.
Buleleng Regency, which in fact is a former kingdom, has nine sub-regencies, namely Tejakula, Kubutambahan, Sawan, Buleleng, Sukasada, Banjar, Busungbiu, Seririt and Gerokgak, all of which are distinctive and worthy of at least a short visit.
And all of which are, as the Dutch lady asserted, “quite and laid-back.”
How to Get There
By car from Denpasar, you head north either by way of Tabanan and Seririt or go to Bedugul upwards.
Other Interesting Places to Visit
* Banjar Hot Spring
10km west of Lovina beach and surrounded by a bamboo jungle.
40km of the main coast of Singaraja, where you’ll catch sight of beautiful Bugis schooners.
* Gedong Kirtya
Ancient Balinese letters in form of chronicles written on palm leaves stored in a building built in 1928.
Bali’s most spectacular 45meter waterfall.
The stronghold of Gusti Ketut Jelantik and his army who defied two large and well-armed Dutch expeditions in 1846 and 1848.
A number of temples are found here, the most impressive being Pura Dalem.
Places to Stay
* • Menjangan Resort
• Bali Handara Hotel
• Bali Lovina Beach Hotel
• Bali Taman Beach Hotel
• Puri Bagus Lovina
• Waka Gangga Resort