Located in the southern reaches of Bali, Denpasar is the sprawling capital of Bali. Much like quite a few other Southeast Asian cities, Denpasar doesn't score too highly on aesthetic appeals. While it certainly isn't a Bangkok or Jakarta, it still suffers from the familiar woes of challenging pavements and traffic congestion, and, at least in its centre, a dearth of public space.
In parts though, especially to the east, it can be a pretty city, with tree- and villa-lined boulevards and the calm of at least one large public park offering shelter. To the west though, a sea of motorbikes swirl around Simpang Enam, coursing into the centre of town, jamming its footpaths and confusing one-way streets.
Denpasar has been an important city since colonial times, when the Dutch used it as a base to administer the south of the island. Also an important trading centre (a tradition that continues today), this facet was captured well in the 1930s by Colin McPhee in his book “A House in Bali". McPhee writes:
"The shops were a repeat of Buleleng - a line of Chinese grocers and goldsmiths, Chinese druggists, photographers and bicycle agents ... On a side-street Arabs sold textiles and cheap suitcases. In the Javanese ice-cream parlour you could buy hilariously coloured ices when the electric equipment was in order. There was no church, but the Arab quarters contained a mosque; a small cinema ran Wild West pictures twice a week. At one end of the main street lay the market, where people picked their way through a confusion of pigs and pottery, batik, fruit, brassware and mats."
Today the markets remain the main attraction (save a consular visit) that brings foreign visitors into the Balinese capital. Also if you're getting around by public transport, you will get to know Denpasar very very well.
While the city is dotted with markets, three in particular are worth a mention.
On Jalan Gajah Mada in northern Denpasar, Pasar Kumbasari has loads of arts and crafts, with bargains to be had here on souvenirs that you might see in the shops in Kuta or Ubud at marked-up prices, such as placemats, figurines and textiles. It's a large, multi-storey building and well worth at least a casual stroll around.
Pasar Badung is directly across the river from Pasar Kumbasari and is the central produce market of Denpasar. Of particular attraction to many visitors are the cheap spices on offer, such as vanilla beans (less than 1,500 rupiah per bean in bulk). Note that the first spices you see may not always be the best quality in stock and it is important to ask if the stall holder also has "number one" quality. Be careful of the saffron on sale as it has a reputation for not being the real thing.
A couple of blocks to the northeast from the above lies Pasar Burung: a small market selling many different types of birds. In general, the birds don't appear to be in good condition and bird lovers should prepare themselves for a standard of care well below what they may be used to in their home country. Also on show are baby monkeys, cats, rabbits and some more unusual animals that only an animal expert would be able to identify. There is small display of dogs on the footpath across the road — this was raided in 2010 when it emerged than dogs purchased from here turned out to be rabid — perhaps save your dog purchases for another time.
Lastly, another spot worthy of a browse if you're a fabric lover is Jalan Sulawesi, which is packed with stores selling a wide range of fabrics.
If you're in the market for computer equipment and software, you want to head to Rimo Plaza on Jalan Diponegro.
The only other "attraction" that is likely to pull you into Denpasar proper is the Bali Museum (admission child/adult: 2,000/5,000 rupiah, camera fee: 1,000 rupiah) which faces onto Puputan Park in the north of town. The five pavilions at the museum contain a diverse range of historical and archaeological Balinese artifacts, ranging from pre-historic periods to current times. Budding historians should derive a lot of pleasure from a look-see, and everyone else should also enjoy the good selection of costumes, masks and textiles which are described in some detail in English. The section displaying traditional Balinese masks is particularly interesting and includes the usual Barong and Rangda, but also rarer masks used only on very special occasions.
Upon entering the museum premises you will be greeted by a friendly chap who will proceed to show you around the premises. It all seems like such a professional service provided by the museum until the end of the tour when he asks for money. Much pleading and typical fake shocked expressions will ensue when you tell him that you didn’t ask for a guide and thought he was part of the museum staff. If this happens, just pay 10,000 rupiah — or else you've been warned, so decline his services at the outset.
By Adam Poskitt.