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Guide To East Bali: Sidemen And The Karangasem Coast

Guide To East Bali: Sidemen And The Karangasem Coast

There’s a reason why many call the east ‘real Bali’ – away from the chaos of the south, with holy temples, traditional villages, working farms, and a jaw-dropping landscape straight out of the pages of National Geographic.

Historic Karangasem Regency is brimming with scenes that epitomise what most people envisage when they think of Bali, like a towering volcano framing an infinity pool peering over misty rice fields.

Well off Bali’s beaten path, these lush landscapes are worthy of a trip on your next jaunt to the Island of the Gods. But one area in particular is drawing travellers in the know. Dubbed the ‘new Ubud’, Sidemen Valley boasts a collection of boutique properties that belie its authentic, old-world Bali feel.

With roads that snake through palm-fringed rice fields, the bewitching mountainous village offers punters the opportunity to explore gorgeous waterfalls, take in imposing views of Mount Agung, check out traditional weaving workshops, visit important temples, go volcano hiking, and even experience some top-tier rafting.

Sidemen is also a solid launch pad to other incredible spots in Karangasem Regency, like the chill fishing villages Amed and Candidasa, renowned as some of Bali’s best dive sites.


What to see and do

Photo credit: https://wapadiumesidemen.com/

It becomes unavoidably obvious the closer you get to Sidemen that this stop on your itinerary is all about immersing yourself in nature. There are sweeping valleys of rice fields framed by mountain ranges, tropical jungle hiding epic waterfalls, and hiking trails via sacred temples to the holiest mountain on Bali.


Hike through the rice fields

Most accommodation will offer a guide to take you hiking through the endless lush rice fields and terraces that surround Sidemen. It’s absolutely worth doing as they’ll explain the local area to you as you head down to the river. If you’re going sans-assistance, the Sidemen Rice Terraces are a great place to start.


Explore impressive waterfalls

Two impressive and unique waterfalls worth seeing are Gembleng and Tukad Cepung.

Gembleng is a 15 minute drive from Sidemen village and while not a huge waterfall, offers tiered natural infinity pools that cascade down the rock face and take in sweeping views. Tourists usually dip in what’s been nicknamed the ‘natural jacuzzi’ at the top and get their ‘gram shot.

It’s a short yet steep climb and there’s a viewing platform at the top where you can drink in stunning vistas. When I visited, I had the whole place to myself – another benefit to being off the tourist trail.

Tukad Cepung is a waterfall-in-a-cave situation 40 minutes from Sidemen and could serve a pinch-me moment if you time it right.

Each morning (usually between 9 to 11am depending on the season), streams of light shine through the tops of the falls, beaming into the canyon-like forest cave. The magical rays illuminate the surrounding rocks to create quite a majestic scene.

Check out the local weaving workshops

Bali’s tradition of using textiles stretches back thousands of years, so if you’re in need of a new sarong, Ikat or Balinese “Endek” cloth (native to Sidemen) then where better to purchase them than a traditional weaving workshop where you can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into creating these woven treasure. Pelangi is the most well-known but other workshops are dotted throughout Sidemen village.


Raft the Telaga Waja River

Photo: https://balicheapesttours.com/telagawaja-river-rafting

Fans of white water rafting will be keen to get down to the Telaga Waja River. There are multiple companies offering rafting tours and it’s a more exciting experience than doing it in Ubud on the Ayung River, with 14kms of wild rapids.

However, if grade three to four rafting is a bit too intimidating, you can also go tubing and either are a wonderful way to spend a few hours.


Visit Bali’s ‘Mother Temple’

Known as Bali’s ‘Mother Temple’, Besakih Great Temple is a palatial complex of at least 86 clan temples and shrines, which, for more than 1,000 years, have sat 1000m high on Mount Agung’s southwestern slopes.


Hike Bali’s holiest mountain

A highly revered site, most homes in Bali have temples or shrines dedicated to the mighty Mount Agung. Hiking it is no easy feat; this trek is for advanced hikers only.

There are two main routes in Karangasem: an extremely challenging option leaving from Besakih Temple which takes you to the absolute summit at 3,031 metres, and the more popular route from Pura Pasar Agung which leads to the crater rim, at 2,866 metres above sea level.


Go diving on the black sand coast

Amed and Candidasa are two areas known for their laid-back atmosphere and excellent diving and snorkelling, all with the backdrop of spectacular coastal scenery including views of lush mountain ranges and Mount Agung. The black sand beaches are lined with traditional Jukung canoes and the water is crystal clear.

The small fishing village of Amed is known for its macro and muck diving sites, as well as easy access to the famous Tulamben Shipwreck. Candidasa is the jumping off point to some epic dives on the rocky islands off the coast, such as Gili Tepekong, Gili Biaha and Gili Mimpang. You’ll see diverse coral and marine life including sharks and, in the right season, the sunfish (mola mola).

If you decide to stay in either Candi or Amed, check out two famous sites that are spectacular at sunrise or sunset: Lahangan Sweet view point and Lempuyang Temple (​​Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang). Both offer jaw-dropping views of Agung.

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Swim at ‘Virgin Beach’

Photo: Sonia Taylor

Not all of the beaches along the east coast are black sand. There is one special stretch known as ‘Virgin Beach’ that boasts a lighter shoreline – one that changes depending on the volcanic content of Mount Agung, which is only 33kms away.

Virgin Beach is a spectacular spot – be sure to stop off at the lookout on your way down – lined with relaxed warungs, traditional canoes, coconut palms and sun loungers. When I visited, the sand was more milky grey than white, with the vibrant blue waters beckoning me for a swim.


Pop into Bali’s newest microbrewery or Komune Resort

Photo credit: @kombunebali

If you’re headed south after your East Bali getaway, then it would be rude not to make a stop en route at one of the island’s burgeoning microbreweries, Breman. Bali’s craft beer scene is still in its infancy, but Breman is serving tasty pints and stellar beer snacks and food to accompany the experience, including salty, crunchy, fish spring rolls and fried chicken dusted in Balinese spices.

It’s a stone’s throw from renowned Komune Resort, which is perched right across from the WSL-level Keramas break, an exposed reef break with a powerful right hander. So if you’re an intermediate to advanced surfer, you may want to spend a night or two here, but it’s also a lovely spot to grab lunch.


Places to stay

Photo credit: https://samanvaya-bali.com/

Where you stay in Sidemen really shapes your whole trip, and there are two options that stand out in this beautiful rural area: Samanvaya Adults Only Resort and Wapa Di Ume Sidemen.

Samanvaya offers 15 separate villas with beautiful bamboo architecture, stunning interiors, and views to match. There’s an infinity pool, plus a lovely on-site spa and its very own boutique. I stayed in the newly renovated two-level Rice Barn Villa, which has a private plunge pool, gorgeous views, and an enormous, moody-luxe bathroom with copper tub.

Wapa Di Ume Sidemen is a boutique hideaway that provides classic hotel touches. There’s an impressive two-tier infinity pool surrounded by mountains and rice paddies, with spacious, aesthetically-pleasing rooms designed to maximise the glorious views, many with their own infinity pools. The resort also provides access down to the river, with free daily guided walks each day, as well as a spa and small fitness centre.

Photo credit: https://wapadiumesidemen.com/

At both resorts, staff can arrange a variety of activities or guides to make your stay a breeze. They also each have fantastic restaurants: Asri Dining at Samanvaya and Sleeping Gajah at Wapa Di Ume Sidemen.

Of course, there are homestays and villas in the region too (this one has an Instagram-famous view from the pool), but if you’re coming to Sidemen for a two-night stay, you can’t go past these two fantastic resorts.

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