...Legian, Tuban and Seminyak...
The little fishing village that grew out of control
around the world flock to Kuta, with its famous sunset and a wide white sandy beach it is
the most well-known village in Indonesia.
Kuta is the original sleepy fishing village that grew, once the hippy trail turned into a major tourist highway. The aspects that were once its major attractions; the peacefulness of an off-the-beaten-track location and the undiscovered majesty of the perfect beach break have long since given way to discos, pub-crawl party nights and hundreds of shops, stalls, hotels and other establishments geared toward extracting the cash reserves of all who venture here.
The Kuta of today is essentially six or seven kilometers of closely packed pubs, designer boutiques, restaurants, hamburger joints, department stores, video arcades, bookstores, supermarkets, t-shirt stalls, travel agencies, money changers, banks, beauty parlours, cyber-cafe's, surf shops, clothing, CD and tape shops--you name it!
Anyone planning to visit Legian, Tuban or Seminyak should read this section--the borders between these villages are virtually invisible.
Over recent years, many tourists were hassled by street hawkers offering everything from fake watches, perfume, toy spiders, paintings, wood carvings, postcards, silver (you get the picture). The common sales tactic was to block the walkway and thrust the products in the tourist's face. Today the authorities have moved most of the hawkers off the main streets, making it easier to get from A to B without a hassle, but sometimes making it more difficult to pick up a "bargain" trinket for the folks back home. Be aware that the hawkers are still active the back streets and on the beach.
No matter what you are after, be it cut-price hedonism, never ending party nightlife, sophisticated seafood restaurants, plush international hotels, great boutique shopping, a beach to be seen on, or one of the world's best-value hangouts, Kuta delivers.
Accommodations exist at all standards and in all price ranges, and naturally the shops and restaurants cater to every taste. Many people describe Kuta as spoiled, overcrowded, crass and dirty, while others cannot get enough of the place. No matter what people say, the popularity of Kuta remains high.
Most of Bali's tourist arrivals head straight for Kuta, or nearby Tuban, Legian or Seminyak. Anyone with a pre-arranged holiday deal will almost certainly have hotel transfers included. Others who choose to make their own arrangements may be a little daunted as they step from the international arrivals area into the madding crowd of transport hustlers and taxi touts. Look for the taxi desk near the airport exit, and arrange a vehicle there (be sure to note the price to your intended destination from the large sign nearby). If you decide to go it alone, expect to pay around Rp. 10,000 to 15,000 depending on which part of town (about USD$1.50 to $2.00). A fare to Legian or Seminyak will cost about Rp. 15,000 to 20,000. Sharing is possible, so don't hesitate if you see someone like yourself wanting a ride into town.
Be sure you have some cash for the taxi, either brought from home, by cashing a small note at one of the airport money changers or by making a withdrawal from an ATM.
If you want a cheaper taxi ride, make your way to the toll booths on the main road about 100 meters from the airport entrance. Continue on to the first street on the left and flag down a bemo or metered taxi. All vehicles must pay a tax for entering the airport (which is added to your fare if you rent from inside the airport gates).
If you don't know where you are heading for, aim for Bemo corner or the nearby Poppies Lane. Find a restaurant or cafe, and study your guidebook to locate suitable accommodation.
A place to stay
The older central area of Kuta has many possibilities for low cost accommodation, especially in the lanes such as Poppies Gang I, Poppies Gang II and the smaller lanes that link these streets. Jalan Bakung Sari and Jalan Legian also have a number of places to stay in the budget range. All of these are within a short walk of the beach and the famous surf.
Just a little further away from the centre of town is Jalan Kartika Plaza where there are a good selection of places to stay and eat, and the beach area near there is quieter than in central Kuta. The Tuban area between Kuta and the airport is reasonably new and features a number of up-market hotels. This area is popular with families.
Legian is a little quieter than central Kuta, and has many well established hotels and many bungalows set along the beachfront. It's actually quite hard to tell where Kuta ends and Legian begins. Try Jln. Malasti for cheaper places to stay, pubs and restaurants.
Seminyak is typically more up-market and hosts many of the areas most exclusive resort hotels. The more distant places usually have free shuttle bus services back into town.
The beachfront boasts a number of luxury resort hotels operated by many of the world's major chains, however walk-up prices tend to be far higher than the price of accommodation included in package deal holidays (see your travel agent in your own country for package options).
Note that hotel prices are subject to a 15% government tax.
Food is never a problem in along the Kuta strip. Restaurants of every description cater for all tastes. Hawkers ply the streets with their little blue carts (if you're game), and the night market offers the spirit of Asian eating, with the relative safety of tourist food preparation standards. Check out Poppies Gang I, Poppies Gang II, Jalan Buni Sari, Jalan Bakung Sari, Jalan Kartika Plaza and Jalan Legian (start at bemo corner the walk in the direction toward Legian) for the area's most famous restaurants. Seafood, steak, pizza, European, Asian and Balinese specialties are all available. Just look for the crowds! Anyone who fears eating outside the major hotels should discard their apprehensions. Those who can't quite take the plunge and homesick travellers can rest easy--familiar American style burgers and fried chicken outlets are easily found. All hotels offer quality meals, although the prices are significantly higher than outside.
Bemo Corner is located at the corner of Jln. Pantai Kuta and Jln. Legian. This is Kuta's most famous landmark. Basically it's a round-about controlling an intersection, nearby to a bus stop.
Kuta is a shopping paradise. All of the major tourist areas feature large department stores, but Kuta has the most. Here the shops are also the biggest, and the range of items is excellent. Products include European shoes, suits, designer clothing, baggage, perfumes, toiletries, giftware, and underwear.
Almost all of the department stores advertise huge discounts (up to 70% off is not an unusual claim). Many of the bargain products are discontinued items, old stock, broken size ranges and so-on. Never mind, the prices do appear to be keen. Well worth a small spree if you can splash your cash! Note that the sizes of Asian clothing and shoes typically ranges from tiny to medium, although there are a growing number of stores stocking larger (tourist) sizes. You may have to shop around for the your own size's (except t-shirts, which seem to start at extra large).
The biggest shopping centre is Kuta Square, at the Tuban end of Kuta on Jln. Kartika Plaza. The main attraction is the Matahari Department store and Supermarket and a host of smaller specialist stores. The supermaket is typical of any you would find at home, with everything from fresh meat, delicatessen, laundry and toiletry needs, coffee, milk, tinned food , baby needs, snacks, fruit and vegetables. The department store has a good range of products, and they will alter most garments to fit while you wait.
There is also a Matahari Department store and Supermarket in Jln. Legian at the end near to Jln Melasti (not far from the Hard Rock cafe). This is a similar setup to Kuta Square, with several other specialist stores--including a TimeZone amusement arcade.
Kuta Art Market is on the beach at the end of Jln. Bakung Sari, near the Kuta Square shopping complex.
The market features many items, such as wood carvings, statues, pottery, masks, mobiles, paintings, sarongs, ethnic style travellers clothing and t-shirts, although the same items are available almost everywhere else as well. Competition at the market may allow greater bargaining power for those prepared to try their skills! Unfortunately, the market suffered severe damage by fire in early 2000. There are plenty of other large market areas scattered around town - most sell similar items, and prices mainly depend on how well you can bargain.
Shopping is a great activity to fill in a rainy afternoon, but wet weather shopping in Kuta can be a dangerous experience. Most of the shopping areas feature shiny tiled concourse areas, which become extremely slippery when wet. Be careful.
Antiques and treasures
Kuta has many shops specialising in the sale of antiques and fine-art objects from the island, and from elsewhere in Indonesia. Take care as it is difficult for the experienced tourist to know genuine articles from fakes, but take a look in any of the better antique shops just for interest. Prices are typically fairly high (and do not compare with the cheap manufactured "artworks" sold in markets and most stores).
Duty Free Shopping, cameras and electronics
Forget it - the shops that advertise as duty free charge more than most of the department stores for most items. Look around and compare prices. Do not wait until you get to the airport to buy last-minute duty free goods. If you do you will be disappointed. Compact cameras are available, but prices are rarely cheaper than duty free at home. Electronic gear other than personal portable stereo's is typically overpriced.
Music and Software
The Kuta area has many tape, CD and Video CD shops, and a few places selling software. In days gone by, all of these goods were pirated, and quality was pretty poor. Today the music tapes and CD's are licenced (surprisingly, some songs with explicit lyrics are deleted). Much of the software and most VDC's are still pirated (common prices are around Rp. 50,000 to 75,000).
Books and newspapers
Second hand books are available in the areas where backpackers hang out. The shops will trade your books (usually at a rate of 2 for 1). There are quite a few book shops around, but the selections are not great. Stalls around town sell foreign newspapers, as do children who collect and sell second-hand papers (probably obtained from the airport), often a few days old. Local english language papers are reasonable, and usually carry enough world news to interest most people. Look out for the tourist newspapers distributed freely at hotels and shops. These have a few advertisements and articles that will interest visitors.
Designer clothing and shoes
Kuta is one of Asia's fashion capitals, and it's no surprise to find some of the world's leading fashion houses represented in the shopping malls and boutique lanes around the hotel precincts. Locally made clothing and shoes are very reasonably priced and there are items to suit all tastes from hippy to very smart casual.
Police, medical facilities (dokter) and pharmacies (apotik) are readily available.
Of all places on Bali, Kuta is the most likely place to become the victim of crime. Don't be too alarmed as crime is not carried out in epidemic proportions, and provided you are careful not to flash money around, don't roam dark back-streets after midnight and you keep your room securely locked you should not become a victim.
Kuta is serviced by many cars and vans offering transport, although travellers universally report that the "blue" taxi's are the cheapest and most reliable. Insist that the driver uses the meter unless you are very confident of negotiating a fare. The driver may tell you the meter is broken--insist that it is not broken, and find a different cab if you cannot convince the driver to use the meter. The metered taxi's charge a flagfall of about Rp.2,500 plus Rp.1,000 per kilometer.
Kuta is famous for its dogs. Infamous really. The sad and often mangy creatures prowl the streets in search of food scraps and trash, typically oblivious of tourists. These are not pets and are not usually friendly. Don't pat stray dogs, and don't arouse their attention. Be like the locals--let them be.
Banks and money services
Every tourist needs money, and Kuta is well serviced by banks, money changers and ATM's. Banks are almost always large and impressive looking buildings, so it's not difficult to find them. Money changers are located in small booths along most of the main roads. Look for the signs advertising today's exchange rate. ATM's are found in and near major hotels, shopping centres and near bank enteraces. Note that most ATM's have transaction limits that equate to about USD$50. You can make multiple transactions, but you'll pay a transaction fee each time.
Most hotels and many shops sell postage stamps, and a few postal agents are located around town. Large items and parcels can be sent from...
A Protestant church is located in Jalan Raya Tuban, and a Catholic church is located in Jalan Kartika Plaza Tuban.
The streets are often littered with tiny parcels of rice and flowers wrapped in palm-leaves. These are offerings by the Balinese people to their gods. It's difficult to avoid stepping on them, but keep an eye open while walking around and try to avoid them if possible. It's a basic politeness to respect the belief's of others.
The beach at Kuta is popular with sun worshippers, surfers, swimmers and casual strollers. There are some shady trees between the beach and the main road, and along the strips occupied by the expensive hotels. Deck chairs and umbrella's are available for hotel guests and paying customers--the rest of us must provide our own protection from the burning sun. Several bars and stalls cater for drinks and meals.
The main area of beach is protected by a coral reef at the southern end, which reduces the impact of the waves, but further up, the undertows and strong currents can be very dangerous.
The beach may look a safe place, but the undertows have claimed many lives. Surf Lifesavers patrol sections of the beach between the red and yellow flags. These areas are the only safe places to swim.
While relaxing on your patch of sand, you can expect to be offered cool drinks, massage, wood carvings, trinkets and other souvenirs by what sometimes seems like hundreds of local entrepreneurs, all trying to make a dollar. Among them are likely to be a few offering "weed", "hash" and "Buddha". Don't be mistaken that you can get a good deal on drugs at Kuta beach. More often than not, the deal will be fake, and stories have it that many of the dealers earn their living by reporting westerners who bought dope to the local police.
During the late afternoon, at low tide, teams of local boys set up soccer games on the wet sand. Tourists are welcome to participate. Later in the evening, when most of the tourists have gone, local people will take their own leisure on the beach.
The Balinese women offering massage, facials, hair-braiding, manicures and pedicures on the beach must be licensed. Look for official badges indicating their status. Many people visit the beach specifically for the wonderfully relaxing massages, and what self-respecting teenage girl would be seen without coloured beads and silver foil hair accessories? The general rule is that the older massage women are the best.
Kuta became a "surfers paradise" in the early 1970's when the search for the ever-lasting wave attracted the "off the beaten track" adventurers to the famous beach break and the infamous left-handers out on Kuta Reef. For full details on all 27 Bali surfbreaks, plus the many other breaks in the other Indonesian islands, check out Peter Neely's "Indo Surf & Lingo" website.
Local surfers tend to be fairly possessive about their waves, so make friends with them first, and don't drop in.
Surfers at Kuta will find the best conditions between March and July, and can access the best of the waves on the reef near the airport runway from one of the prahu (small outrigger boats) that are available for hire (Rp.15,000 to 30,000 per person, or about Rp.30,000 to 50,000 by motorised outrigger from Jimbaran Bay). The weather is generally unsuitable from December to February due to rain and heavy storms.
For surfing equipment, bring your own or better yet, head for the dozen or so surf shops on Jln. Bakung Sari and Jln. Legian. These shops are run by veteran surfers, and rent or sell surfboards, wax, boogie boards and even tide charts. Surfboards can also be rented on the beach. Expect to pay about Rp.8,000 to 20,000 per day, or Rp.30,000 to 50,000 per week.
You should ask about current information where you rent your board.
Movies are shown in many of the pubs and restaurants on video screens (sit close to the front so you can see and hear). A stroll along Poppies Gang I and Poppies Gang II during the afternoon will give you an idea of the program (stay a while and you'll note that there is a fairly limited number of VCD's doing high rotation amongst the venues). There is no cover charge, but you are expected to eat or drink.
Pubs abound, mainly simple bars that start out serving breakfast (American - steak and eggs, English - bacon and eggs, Continental - cereal, Aussie - vegemite on toast), progress throughout the day serving lunch and dinner, then before you realise, become disco or pub-crawl nightspots. Stay all day, drink all night - you never have to leave. You can always join one of Kuta's organised "pub-crawls" for some variety. Large groups of (mainly Australian) revellers are transported by bus from pub to pub where they drink, then drink some more until finally they're deposited semiconscious at the doors of their hotels in the middle of the morning. The signs around Kuta's pubs advise: "Avoid Hangovers - Stay Drunk!".
Several clubs and discos operate in the Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak areas, each promoting its own unique atmosphere. Most open late, from about 22:00 when Kuta's club scene really starts rolling until any time from 02:00 to 04:00 (officially midnight). The nightclub scene includes some gay and TV venues and opportunities for commercial liaisons with prostitutes (although this guide has no details about prices).
Most clubs have no dress code, but many tourists come well prepared (you'll probably feel under dressed in a bikini or t-shirt, board shorts and rubber thongs).
Cover charge is around Rp.10,000-20,000 (usually with a free, watered-down drink included to get you started). Most of the popular clubs are within a few kilometers of each other along Jln. Legian. Look for the advertising fliers handed out on Jln. Legian as these places come and go. Kuta also has it's own Hard-Rock cafe ($$$) and a local live music scene (where reggae is a popular style, generally performed better than the western cover music).
Family entertainment and adventure is also plentiful, although mainly in the form of commercial enterprises, such as Waterbom park (a water-slide theme park), day tours, rafting, diving, sea kayaking, horse riding, bungy jumping, para-sailing and jet-skiing.
The people of Bali are master artists, and any journey to this island should include a visit to an art gallery, museum or cultural performance. Most agents can also arrange for visits to "cultural" events, such as Balinese weddings, funerals and temple festivals. Almost all hotels and many restaurants host Balinese cultural entertainment such as dancing and musical performances (the popular Ramayana story, Barong or Legong dances are often featured). Keep an eye open for genuine performances being played in temples or by local community groups.
Action and adventure activities, such as rafting, bungy jumping, para-sailing and jet-skiing cost similar prices to what you'd expect at home, often ranging from USD$50 to 75 per person per day. Check your travel insurance covers these activities. The best way to find out about the programs is to look for advertising and posters in the windows of any of the travel agents along the main streets (hotels can arrange any of these activities, but at significantly higher prices than the smaller agencies outside), or to find a copy of one of the tourist newspapers that are widely distributed.
Day trippers can hire their own vehicle, or hire a van with a driver to explore Bali at their leisure. Organised tours offer another relaxing way to see the sights, while relieving you of the hassle of trying to navigate your way around. On the down side however, the tours follow set itineraries and you certainly won't be alone. Some of the standard destinations include visits to art galleries, gold shops, silver shops, wood carving centres, tourist markets and the odd scenic or cultural stop-over. Some are advertised as shopping tours, and quite frankly, you'd better believe it! You will be taken by bus to every place that the travel agent has a commission deal with. Organised tours can be booked at any of the travel offices scattered around town.
Golfers are well catered for on Bali, although not in Kuta itself. Trips to some world-class golf courses can be arranged from any of the travel offices in the Kuta area. Bring your own clubs if you expect to play a few rounds.
Kuta is an ideal kick-off for visits to other parts of Indonesia. The airport has domestic flights to nearby Lombok, Flores, Sumba, Java, Sulawesi and further afield. A flight to Lombok costs about USD $60.00 and takes less than 30 minutes. Boat trips from Benoa are also available, including the Spice Island cruise to Komodo (but at around USD$500 per person for three days this isn't the cheapest add-on to your holiday). Other boating operators such as Pelni and the Indonesian government ferries may also offer interesting get-aways, although at lower comfort levels (but also, far lower prices). The biggest drawback of boat travel is that departures are usually only every two weeks or so.
For those after a more sedate experience there is always the hotel pool - and Kuta has plenty!
While it is worth visiting and even staying a few nights, Kuta should not be the place from which you form your lasting impressions of Bali--stay a few days then move on if you have the opportunity.
© 1994-2000 Wayne Reid. Bali: The Online Travel Guide
Contributions, including corrections, updates, new information and suggestions are welcome.
Disclaimer: All of the information available within this site is believed to be correct, however the author accepts no responsibility or liability for any outcomes that may result in using this site's contents.