Singaraja is an old harbor town, centrally located at the north coast of Bali. It is the second largest town of Bali (approx. 100,000 inhabitants). It was once the former colonial capital of Bali and now the capital of the Buleleng regency.
The Dutch colonial past of Singaraja is still apparent by the architecture of many of its buildings, especially those that are located in the old harbor district. White plastered warehouses still breath the atmosphere of the old days when the harbor was still busy and trade in spices, vanilla and tobacco flourished.
Since colonial times Singaraja has been an important educational and cultural center, with nowadays two universities in town. Singaraja is an attractive town to many, thanks to a lingering colonial ‘feel’ and some well-preserved colonial architecture. Mainly in the southern part of the town one will find tiny, winding backstreets which make for pleasant wandering. In 1995 Singaraja won a nation wide award for the cleanest and best maintained town in Indonesia.
People here are extremely friendly and helpful. The center of the town lies at the intersection of the Jalan Gajah Mada and the Jl. Jen. Ahmad Yani. Here you will find banks, a post office, some accommodation, a number of small restaurants and the local market Pasar Anyar, which turns into a night market with foodstalls after sunset.
A small seaport and the capital of Buleleng featuring tree-lined avenues, quiet residential perimeters, a wide market street, rows of bright Chinese shops, and horse-drawn carts amidst frenetic traffic. Singaraja is reminiscent of Java.
Traders from all over Asia have called at the port of Buleleng since the 10th century, trading arms, opium and ‘kepang’ for fresh water, food, livestock, and slaves. Each group has greatly impacted the cultural life of the city. Singaraja means ‘lion king’, a name commemorating a palace built in 1604 by Raja Panji Sakti. The Dutch fought the powerful raja at a fierce battle in the nearby village of Jagaraga, finally taking control of the northern Buleleng region in 1849.
With a present population of more than 550,000 people, Singaraja is Bali’s second largest city. It’s cleaner, less polluted, less congested, and more attractive and relaxing than Denpasar.
The only part of the city that has retained its original character is the densely packed merchant’s quarter south of the harbor. Many imposing residences and examples of European architecture still stand, reminders of Singaraja’s former grandeur as the Dutch capital of Bali and all the islands to the east.
A number of these white-painted colonial edifices can be found along Jalan Ngurah Rai, heading south from the harbor up to the winged lion statue, where Jalan Ngurah Rai meets Jalan Pahlawan. In Indonesian called Tugu Singa Ambara Raja, the lion symbolizes the dynamic spirit of the people of Buleleng and serves as the regency’s coat of arms.
At the top of Jalan Ngurah Rai is the Kantor Bupati, once the official residence of the Dutch ‘Resident’ (a sort of governor). After independence it was used as the Indonesian Governor’s office when Singaraja was the capital of Nusa Tenggara. In 1958, Nusa Tenggara was divided into three provinces-Bali, Nusa Tenggara Timur, and Nusa Tenggara Barat-and the island’s capital was moved from Singaraja to Denpasar.
The building remained vacant until 1970, when it was used as the headquarters of the Fifth Regional Defensive Command. In 1977 it was converted into the Hotel Singaraja. In 1982 it became the mayor’s office.
Enjoy beautiful sunsets over the old harbor area. Walk through the narrow streets and along the seawall and try to imagine the days when this was one of the Dutch East Indies’ busiest entrepôrts. Now only a few small fishing and cargo ‘perahu’ bob offshore.
See abandoned and decaying coffee and tobacco ‘gudang’, shophouses, the crumbling old Port Authority office, and an antique arched steel bridge. This old anchorage at the mouth of the Buleleng River, poorly protected from bad weather, has long since silted up. Celukanbawang, 40 km west of Singaraja, now serves as Buleleng’s principal export harbor.
Near the waterfront, the haunting statue of freedom fighter Ketut Merta points seaward. After WW II, in the chaotic period between the Japanese surrender and the Dutch return, the crew of a Dutch patrol boat hoisted the Dutch flag in Buleleng Harbor. Ketut Merta climbed to replace it with the red-and-white Indonesian banner.
He was machine-gunned from the Dutch boat the minute he stepped away from the pole. During the Indonesian struggle for independence it was common for guerrillas to use nicknames like Pak Hitam (‘Mr. Black’), Pak Cilik (‘Mr. Small’), etc. Ketut Merta was known as I Lontong, (‘Mr. Steamed Rice’). A shrine commemorating I Lontong is located around the corner opposite the Chinese temple.
The huge Hindu temple Pura Jagatnatha is on Jalan Pramuka. In the evenings the local ‘gamelan’ rehearses in the first courtyard. Singaraja’s ‘pura dalem’, on Jalan Gajah Mada below the cemetery, contains a wall of incredible phantasmagoric relief depicting Balinese heaven and hell and the dire consequences of earthly sins.
See miscreants with their tongues pulled out, arms sawed off, boiled, beaten, and stabbed. A large Chinese klenteng in the eastern part of the city houses priceless vases and tapestries.
In the west part of town is the Chinese cemetery Bukit Suci with unusually marked and decorated graves; turn north just east of Terminal Banyuasri and travel down Jalan Pantai Lingga. There’s a fishing village and swimming beach nearby.