Bali’s capital and most populous city, Denpasar, is spread between Sanur, Kuta, Kerobokan and Tabanan. While it can initially seem quite overwhelming with its chaotic traffic, polluted air and maze of streets, many tourists find that the city offers an authentic and intriguing insight into urban Balinese life.
While there are several major roads in Denpasar, the city is largely made up of hundreds of tiny side streets. Visitors on extended holidays in Bali will no doubt find themselves in Denpasar at some stage as many businesses are set up here including banks, hospitals and embassies. Apart from business trips, Denpasar is worth a leisurely visit as there are numerous temples, monuments and museums located in the city. It is a good idea to pack a sarong and sash as some holy sites require these to be worn.
Denpasar’s main attraction is Lapangan Puputan Margarana (Puputan Park): a spacious park with a 45 metre tall Bajra Sandhi monument taking centre stage. Devoted to Indonesian Independence and literally meaning ‘the struggle of Balinese people’, the monument features carvings that illustrate various forms of suicidal puputan – a fight to the death. The Palace Satria and the neighbouring Royal Temples are home to Denpasar’s royal family.
Both are beautifully maintained and open to all visitors. Also open to the public is the state temple of Pura Agung Jagatnatha, built in 1953. Colourful ceremonies take place here twice a month to mark the full and dark moons. For ancient history lovers Pura Maospahit is a must. Originally built in the 14th century, the temple was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake in 1917. The parts that remain offer a glimpse into the high art of the sophisticated Majapahit era.
The museums of Denpasar include Bali Museum which houses an impressive collection of ancient bronze, stone, textile and religious objects; Taman Wedhi Budaya Cultural which focuses on the history and essence of Balinese art; and Taman Budaya (Bali Art Centre) which hosts traditional performances and other cultural activities.
While Denpasar boasts a rich array of cultural sites, the spirit of the city is best captured at its markets. The most vivid bazaar is Pasar Badung. With outdoor and indoor stalls, mountain-high piles of fruits and chillies, sizzling pans of deep fried snacks, and mixed aromas of burnt incense, rotting temple flowers and chicken satays, it is a truly sensory experience. Vendors set up shop at dawn so it is best visited early in the morning to avoid the crowds. The area around the market square offers more shopping opportunities and is famous for its textile shops that sell traditional batiks and kebaya lace.
One of the most peaceful areas of Denpasar can be found at its university, Udayana. Located in the heart of the city, the complex is picture perfect with vast green boulevards, water fountains and busy students moving about, a stark contrast to the chaotic streets just outside its boundaries.