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When tourists come to Bali, most head for the happening areas of Kuta, Seminyak, or Ubud. Chasing waves or hitting trendy clubs on the island’s west coast or practicing yoga surrounded by rice fields are definitely the most popular activities. Those looking for a more laid-back trip to the Island of the Gods in a place that feels more local than touristy should consider heading to Sanur – a classic Bali town.
While it’s home to a long sandy beach (pantai) that’s lined with hotels, shops, restaurants, and bars, Sanur is at its heart a Balinese fishing town. You’ll still see the boats and fishermen casting their line up and down the beach, which has not been overrun with tourists as the other side has. Indeed, this is a much quieter side of Bali. The town is even derided by many as “Snore” for its apparent lack of action. For many people, however, Sanur offers just the right mix of tourist comfort with traditional Balinese life. Let’s look at a few of the things you can do here to prove that this little town is actually quite interesting.
Thanks to its location on Bali’s east coast, Sanur is the perfect place to catch the sunrise (matahari terbit). Get up bright and early and head down to the beach to take it in. Whereas the other side of Bali is full of tourists and bars competing for the Rupiah of tourists with loud music around sunset, Sanur offers peace and quiet along with its stunning sunrise view.
While visiting Sanur, you’re guaranteed to come up close and personal with the local culture. On a daily basis, you’ll see Balinese people leaving their offerings – known as canang sari – on the beach, at shrines, or in the local temple. It’s also very common to see ceremonies going on here, which can bring traffic to a standstill. Sorry, tourists – this town is still very much for the locals! You’ll often see the final stage in a cremation ceremony happen here, which is the bringing of the ashes to the sea so the spirit can return to heaven and begin the process of reincarnation once more. If you happen to be in town during Nyepi – the Balinese New Year – you’ll see countless ogoh-ogoh monsters and many processions.
Sure, you’ll find plenty of places that cater to tourists on the main drag in town near the beach, but cross over the bypass road and you’ll be in a very traditional Balinese town. Rather than spend your entire trip in the tourist bubble, go out to explore the area a bit. Just be sure to wear a bit more than your bathing suit and Bintang tank-top when you do so. There are local markets (pasar), temples (pura), and plenty of cheap and delicious warungs waiting for you!
Get some exercise and explore the area by joining the fine folks at Sanur Cycle Tours. They’ve got quite a few tours, friendly and knowledgable guides, and high-quality bikes. Most of the tours are quite easy and leave early in the morning, so you won’t tire yourself out by joining one. We did quite a few in our time living in Sanur and loved them all!
The long beach in Sanur is perfect for relaxing, swimming, or doing a bit of water sports. There aren’t huge waves here, which makes it a good choice for families. While it’s not the best spot for surfing, you can still have lots of fun in the water here – there are snorkeling and dive sites nearby, and kite-surfing, jet-skis, and more are all an option. The beach here is super lively on Sundays, when it seems like the entire town comes out. Grab some snacks from a local vendor and a cold Bintang, and sit back and take in the scene.
One thing you won’t want to miss in Sanur is exploring Taman Festival. This theme park was abandoned in 2000 during the economic downturn and has remained a ghost town ever since. Bring your camera and spend a few hours exploring the grounds, which once had a fully functioning performance venue, movie theater, and even an erupting fake volcano. Urban legends say that there are still crocodiles that roam the park. We didn’t see any, but then again we didn’t go looking for them, either!
Every Sunday during the dry season, there’s an awesome Sunday market in front of the Mercure Resort in the south part of Sanur. Here you can shop for clothing, handicrafts, art, produce, wine, and so much more. There are also plenty of vendors cooking up tasty treats, a play area for kids, and live performers.
We can’t talk about Sanur’s markets without mentioning its epic night market (pasar malam). This place is a favorite of both locals and tourists, with a wide variety of vendors cooking up Indonesian classics like nasi campur, gado-gado, mie ayam, and siomay. If you’re not too full, you can also get yummy sweets like crepes, fried fruit, or an avocado juice (jus alpokat) with chocolate syrup.
While Seminyak is famous for its upscale beach clubs like Potato Head and Kuta has all the rowdy spots like Sky Garden, Sanur is home to some pretty cool bars. For starters, there’s the Man Shed, which is full of classic cars and has rocking bands on the weekend. Over at Sanur Garage, they’ve got tons of kickass motorcycles and cold, cheap beer. Finally, the Cavern Bar has an impressive collection of Beatles memorabilia on display. Make sure to hit a few of these places on your visit!
As you can see, there’s plenty to do in this classic Bali town that has undeservedly earned a reputation as being boring. Let the crowds continue to head to Kuta and Ubud – those who choose Sanur will be rewarded with a nice beach, great options for food & drink, and a closer look at the colorful Balinese culture.