Sanur, Bali’s Tourism Haven

The tranquil shores of Sanur are fringed by a series of coral reefs that have given safe haven to sailing boats and protected the golden-sand shores from storms for centuries. One of the oldest archaeological remains on the island can be found here, in Pura Belanjong, a temple built by the Buddhist king Adhipatih Sri Kesari Varmma—the first in the sequence of kings and queens of the Varmadeva Dynasty—in a.d. 914. Within this temple is a stone column crowned by a lotus cushion that bears ancient inscriptions in both old Balinese script and Kawi (similar to Sanskrit). Only partly deciphered, it is thought to refer to a military expedition against enemies in neighboring islands, perhaps Nusa Penida, or even some more distant part of the Indonesian archipelago, commemorating victory in battle. Two other similar pillar edicts have been discovered further inland near Tampaksiring and Bangli, documenting further conquests.

Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida make up a group of three islands 20km (12 miles) off the southeast coast near Sanur and offer a sedate and peaceful alternative to the “mainland.”

Sanur is just 18km (11 miles) from the airport. Taxis from the airport to town  like Blue Bird taxis can be called (& 0361/701111) . The journey takes around 20 to 30 minutes. Plenty of Blue Bird taxis patrol the main Sanur strip, until about 10pm. It’s easy to hail a cab. If you are going a long distance, it is best to fix a return journey cost. Don’t be afraid to ask them to wait for a few hours, as most drivers are happy to. Bemo prowl the streets, operating on a hop on/hop off basis and are an economic way to tour the strip.

Your hotel or villa can arrange a car or car and driver rental. However, if you don’t  want to pay their commission, you can easily arrange your own from any of the rental car businesses on Jalan Danau Tamblingan, the main drag. Some companies also offer insurance packages. Be sure to take one, as it is worth the extra money.

Locals take good advantage of the seaside path for morning constitutionals, and it is fun to join them and their dogs, shortly after sunrise or just before sunset, and stroll from one end to the other in the vibrant tropical glow.

Tourism in Sanur

In many ways, Sanur’s history is a microcosm of Bali’s modern history, particularly in regards to tourism. After initial European visitors began arriving in the 1920s, Sanur attracted a number of European artists who established homes here—among them Belgian Le Mayeur, Swiss Theo Meier, and Mexican Miguel Covarrubias. Sanur also attracted Walter Spies and Beryl De Zootes who collaborated and recorded their discoveries in Dance & Drama in Bali. Much of the research for the anthropological tome Balinese Character compiled by Margaret Mead and her third husband Gregory Bateson, was completed in Sanur during the mid-1930s.

The Sindhu Beach Hotel and the Narmada Hotel, built in the 1950s, were Sanur’s first flirtation with large-scale tourism. Early travelers were delighted with the secluded seaside village, and Sanur began to attract a steady flow of international elite. The Hotel Bali Beach was built towards the end of the Soekarno era, with war compensation funds from the Japanese. The construction of this luxurious building, Bali’s first ever high-rise, attracted both positive and negative attention: Local sightseers came to Sanur on holiday to view the symbol of Bali’s entrance into the world of modernity, while travelers expressed their regret at this blot on the traditional village landscape. In response to the negative reactions a law was passed preventing further construction of any buildings in Bali to a height taller than the coconut palms. This law remains in effect today.

Balinese traditional architecture and decor derived from local arts and crafts became more popular. The Tandjung Sari Hotel and La Taverna set this trend to some extent. Favored by the early jetsetters of the 1960s, these became the haunt of celebrities, artists, and musicians. By the end of the decade, tourism was booming. The Bali that met Australian artist Donald Friend in 1967 was dealing with the aftermath of immense social unrest, natural disasters, and rampant inflation, conditions that worked in favor for him and his friend Wija Wawo-Runtu in their acquisition of property and antiquities. These were times when the land by the sea still had little value in the eyes of the Balinese and was only used for grazing cattle or growing coconuts. The beach was also considered a dangerous place to spend time, as not only do demons inhabit the sea but the Sanur beach looks out to Nusa Penida, where the most evil spirit in Balinese cosmology, Jero Gede Mecaling, is believed to dwell.

By the end of the 1960s, Sanur became a focus for a new international set of expatriates and artists seeking their own piece of paradise and Donald’s house was an integral part of the expatriate social scene. The fame and notoriety of his Villa Batu Jimbar, built in 1975, soon spread to a new generation of Australian artists. As the Tandjung Sari Hotel grew and new developments were built, Donald had considerable influence in evolving what became the “Sanur Style” of low-rise dwellings inter-relating with meticulously designed gardens.

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