A Day in Denpasar
Denpasar, the capital of Bali since 1960, was once an important trading center and the home of the rajahs of Badung before the colonial era. You'll likely pass through from the south on your way to the mountains. The core of the city is a crisscross of streets extending from Jalan Gajah Mada where the Catur Muka sculpture commemorates the Badung War. This space of land has since been turned into a peaceful park called Puputan Badung Square.
You can easily see Denpasar's center and many sights on a self-guided walking tour. The best time for this walk is a weekend morning when you'll face much less traffic. It will take you from 9am until about 3:30pm, including museum, temple, and dining stops. Start from Puputan Badung Square where your taxi driver can wait for you. Take in the Jagatnata Temple, Jl. Mayor Wisnu, dedicated to Sanghyang Widi, the supreme god, built in 1953. The white coral shrine (Padmasana) symbolizes the foundation of the world. Next door is the Bali Museum (tel. 0361/222680; Rp2,000; daily 8am-3pm), constructed in 1910 in puri-pura style. The fascinating exhibits have explanations in clear English on textiles, sacred objects, the Balinese calendar, rituals, masks, costumes, puppets, and prehistoric stone sarcophagi, bronze, and other artifacts.
After the museum, go towards the Arab area to hunt for textiles and gold around Jalan Sulawesi. Head towards Jalan Thamrin to visit the Puri Pemecutan palace, then the Pura Maospahit temple, on Jalan Sutomo, north of the roundabout. A small side lane leads to this peaceful 14th-century temple. The oldest section of this temple was likely brought to Bali from the Majapahit Kingdom -- though it has been rebuilt since being badly damaged in 1917 by an earthquake. After the temple, go down on to Jalan Gajah Mada to see the Badung and Kumbasari markets (corner of Jl. Gajah Mada and Jl. Sulawesi), selling fresh produce, meat, fruit, flowers, and vegetables. The second floor of Badung has textiles, temple elements, and dance costumes. Eating stalls are on the fourth floor. Kumbasari is the handicraft, textile, and souvenir market. The bird and animal markets and Satria temple are on Jalan Veteran. After the markets, you can easily head back down again towards Puputan Square.
You can watch the kecak dance at Catur Eka Budi, Jl. Waribang, Kesiman (tel. 0361/238935), every day at 6:30pm. The Werdhi Budaya Arts Center, Jl. Nusa Indah (tel. 0361/227176), also runs a daily show at 6:30pm.
Getting There -- Denpasar is reached from the Bypass from Sanur or from Legian and Seminyak through Jalan Imam Bonjol within a half-hour, although roads are very congested between 8 and 9am and 4 and 6pm. From the airport to Denpasar in a taxi should cost approximately Rp50,000.
Visitor Information -- The main tourist office for Denpasar is Denpasar Government Tourism Office, Jl. Surapati 7 (Puputan Badung Sq.; tel. 0361/223602; Mon-Thurs 7am-2pm, Fri 7 -- 11am, Sat 7am-12:30pm). You can get a free city map here.
Where to Stay -- Though most visitors do a 1-day visit to the city, if you do decide to stay check out: the Adinda Hotel, Jl. Karna 8 (tel. 0361/240435; fax 0361/235997; high season Rp250,000, low season Rp200,000; AE, DC, MC, V), with air-conditioned rooms; Hotel Puri Ayu, Jl. Jendral Sudirman 14A (tel. 0361/245312; fax 0361/228851; www.puriayu.com; high season Rp600,000, low season Rp500,000; MC, V), near the main business area, commercial district, and government offices; or the Inna Bali, Jl. Veteran 3 (tel. 0361/225681; fax 0361/235347; www.innabali.com; high season Rp450,000, low season Rp325,000; AE, DC, MC, V), the island's oldest hotel, known for serving cruise passengers in the 1930s. The Nakula Familiar Inn, Jl. Nakula 4 (tel. 0361/226446; Rp90,000; no credit cards), is a family losmen.
Where to Dine -- Visiting Denpasar provides the perfect opportunity to try authentic Balinese cuisine. Due to few tourists in the city, tastes are geared toward locals. Most restaurants and warungs can be found on Jalan Sumartra, Jalan Veteran, and Jalan Teuku Umar. The restaurants below are open daily.
For the best babi guling in Denpasar, keep your eyes peeled for low tables and the tell-tale pork with crispy skin -- there is no sign on this gem. It's on Jalan Sutomo, beside the Maospahit Temple (no phone; about Rp15,000 a plate; no credit cards; mid-morning to about 10pm).
The Amsterdam Café & Bakery, Jl. Diponegoro 140 (tel. 0361/235035; main courses Rp27,000-Rp100,000; MC, V [Rp100,000 minimum]; bakery 7am-11pm, restaurant from 8am) has veal cordon bleu, steaks, and great orange cheesecake. Hong Kong, Jl. Gajah Mada 99 (tel. 0361/434845 or 420320; main courses Rp18,000-Rp100,000; MC, V; 9am-10pm), has a huge menu with specialties of sliced beef with black pepper, sapo tahu (bean curd) seafood in clay pot, fried chicken, and, for the bold, braised sea cucumber. The Tiara Dewata Food Center, Jl. Mayjen Sutoyo 55 (tel. 0361/235733), is a cheap and clean food court offering dishes from many regions.
The following are on Jala Teuku Umar: Baker's Corner (tel. 0361/243861 or 243863; main courses from Rp20,000; AE, MC, V; 9am-11pm), a reliable bakery-restaurant-lounge with a vast menu of international dishes; Kak Man (tel. 0361/227188; main courses Rp20,000-Rp80,000; no credit cards; 11am-11pm), with bebek tutu (steamed duck with Balinese spices); Raya Sayang (tel. 0361/262006; main courses Rp25,000-Rp65,000; MC, V; 11am-11pm), the best Chinese restaurant in Denpasar.
Of the warungs, try Warung Sari Boga, Jl. Sutomo 29C (tel. 081/353260759; nasi campur Rp8,000; no credit cards; 6am-9pm), for its unbelievably varied textures of tofu and tempeh that look and taste like meat. Warung Satria, Jl. Kedondong 11A (tel. 0361/235993; around Rp15,000; no credit cards; 8 or 9am-10pm), is famous for ayam betutu (chicken), betutu bebek (duck), satay lilit (fish), and sambal goreng pedas (hot sambal). Warung Wardani, Jl. Yudistra 2 (tel. 0361/224398; main courses Rp25,000; no credit cards; 8:30am-4pm), specializes in nasi campur. You might also try the beef satay, dendeng sapi (beef cooked crisp and spicy), hati sapi (Beef heart), and chendol (made of thick coconut milk, palm sugar, red beans).