Candi Dasa has long lured vacationers exploring the east of the island. Just beyond the coastal town Ondy Sweeting discovers secret beaches, mysterious temples, honeybees, luxury spas and exquisite dining.
This small coastal town grew up around a fresh water lotus lagoon. But as tourist development raced, the ocean reef was mined for building material to feed construction and thus the beach disappeared. The result now is a sleepy hideaway far from tourist flocks and perfectly positioned to explore the resplendent regency of Karangasem.
Take a stroll through the town and its palm fringed coast and enjoy the calm sea where colorful jukung outrigger canoes bob on the gentle swell. Fisher folk work here from tiny villages perched on the rocky shore, flanked by petite boutique resorts.
Pasir Putih – white sand beach
One of Bali’s most gorgeous tropical beaches is a short drive north of Candi Dasa. One of its many names is Pasir Putih, which translates to white sand – and it is in Prasi village. It was very secret and didn’t even have electricity until recently but the location has kept it free of mass tourism. One signpost to Virgin Beach off the coastal road to Lovina is the lone direction. Keep driving until you meet a couple of locals selling parking tickets, leave the car and take a ten minute stroll down a rural road to the hidden beach. Enjoy the clean air, which is filled with butterflies and trees dripping in bamboo beehives. Look up high into the jungle to spot these unique hives. The bird life is bountiful, so listen carefully for tp tp, tp, tap of the Indonesian woodpecker. Cows with their calves are everywhere.
The white crescent beach has about half a dozen warungs that serve up Bali Kopi (coffee) and local treats including the delicious banana and pineapple fritters served with local honey. Boogie boards and snorkeling gear can be hired for a fee. There is a small coral reef at the far end of the beach, which is good for a snorkel. The beach itself is picture perfect with low cliffs and a few islands that rise out of the azure water offshore. A tract of beach is home to wooden jukung canoes, which looks as though it was styled by Hollywood’s finest art director.
Bug Bug Village
Bug Bug is a close by traditional village on the coast north of town that has some strange traditions. Every second year residents of all the villages in the area celebrate the Wars of the Gods when they trek to the top of the lush green hill and sacrifice pigs by hanging them in trees. This is not for the feint hearted or kids.
Padang Bai/ Blue Lagoon
Diving – both SCUBA, free and snorkeling in Padang Bai – south of Candi Dasa – is among the best in Bali. There are five excellent sites off the beach called Blue Lagoon. The crystal clear water makes this a hotspot for underwater macro photography. Expect to see scorpion fish, pygmy seahorse, the rare Spanish dancer and even more rare cat shark as well as the puppy like Wobbegong shark in the shallow and calm water. The Ferry Channel is a more challenging dive but at the right time of you may spot the legendary Mola Mola just a couple of hundred metres off the beach.
Stay – Alila Manggis
Candi Dasa has a huge amount of accommodation choices but nothing beats the Alila Manggis. This exclusive thatched retreat is built on secluded land with only the soothing sea in front with Mount Agung as a backdrop.
This award winning resort ticks all the boxes for a luxury get away; every room has a view, excellent service and delightful grounds. Enjoy a complimentary 5pm outdoor yoga session after a poolside afternoon tea.
Breakfast is an a la carte event where nothing sits in a bain-marie. The juices are fabulous and the food outstanding. Dinner is a romantic affair with candles and the sounds of lazy waves. This is fine place to explore Balinese food while it also has an impressive western menu including a divine herb encrusted rack of lamb paired with a perfect glass of pinot noir.
On my trip I spotted a celebrity chef with his family taking a rare holiday from his much-heralded Ubud kitchen. It is, without question, the upscale choice with amazing value. The kids cooking school is a standout as the kitchen staff are happy to hand over their recipes for brownies and muffins while giving easy to follow guidance to junior who walks away with a box of tasty treats.
The Alila spa is definitely worth an hour or three. The tented centre is right by the waves so as your therapist delivers a divine massage – which starts with a gorgeous foot scrub – it is easy to slip off to la la land with the smell of sea salt and frangipani floating in the air.
Bali Asli – restaurant and cooking school
To immerse into the culinary world of Balinese cuisine while in Candi Dasa head into the hills to the award winning restaurant Bali Asli. This beautiful destination diner and cooking school is open for lunch only, which makes the most of its stunning position tucked into a hill looking directly onto Gunung Agung – it is seriously beautiful.
Australian Chef Penny Williams – who apprenticed at London’s Savoy and was behind the pans at some of Sydney’s top restaurants – shuns ingredients that are not from local land or sea. Eggs are from the village, fruit and vegetables are from her kitchen garden, nearby growers or whatever the neighbours supply. Everything is cooked on wood burning mud-brick stoves by a team of Balinese chefs trained from scratch by Penny. You will not find a metal bladed food processor here as everything is hand cut and crafted, least flavours be diminished. Even the coffee beans are hand roasted for hours over a naked flame.
The result of this extraordinary effort is amazing food where flavours roll over each other and merge into taste sensations. Our tip is to try the Balinese megibung, which is indigenous to Kerangasem and traditionally served at Royal occasions. While the dishes comprising the megibung change daily depending on ingredients you can expect fragrant sambals, luscious soups, crisp vegetables with grated coconut, water spinach, fish sate, chicken and maybe banana blossoms and snake gourd salad. The drinks are hewn from local fruit and sweetened with palm sugar. The salak – or snake fruit – soda tastes vaguely of spiced pear and is refreshing, delicious and very moorish. This is a must-do for every person who takes food seriously.
Dine out in Candi Dasa
More mainstream dining is easily found on the main road through Candi Dasa. At the southern end is Karma Royale’s waterfront restaurant, which is open to the public and has good pizza, fresh juices and cracking view. Kids and families adore the popular Crazy Kangaroo in the centre of town. It is big and has a bar with a pool table and darts board and regular dance performances. The menu is international with fresh daily specials. Think burgers, steak and chicken. The nearby La Rouge is a bit more glam and has a mixed menu with European dishes, Indian food and a small Balinese selection while the neighbouring Vincent’s has a romantic candle lit garden and serves satisfying International and local food and is vegetarian friendly. The live jazz keeps this place booked and busy so plan a night and book a table. And for their pick up and drop off car service as it’s a nice touch. The Indonesian fare at La Zat Beach restaurant offers a novice a gentle and tasty introduction to Indonesian dining and it is very fresh, too. The location is waterfront so go at sunset.
This is an area of Bali that offers a rich diversity of experiences, from adventures to luxury stays and plenty of culture, enjoy.