Monday, 12 January 2009


All dressed up and no place to go?

Been there before?
More hot springs from Bali. This time, the more well-known hot springs of Banjar village located on the north coast of Bali. Often these springs are also referred to as Lovina hot springs, carrying the name of the local tourist stretch of coast.

When researching hot springs I am often limited by a small number of references; not so in this case, as there are well over 4,000 references to Banjar + "hot springs", while Lovina + "hot springs" refers to 64,000 results. Flickr has more than 100 and 300 finds on either search terms. Clearly a well-known / well-trodden place!

The site rates this hot spring as one of the "Eight most scenic / breathtaking natural springs in the world", which seems to be an accolade open to discussion. Especially as the setting is not natural (though much naturalness surrounds this soaking complex) nor breathtaking.

Despite the surplus of references, when requiring more background on this place, little is forthcoming. So I will not bore you too much then.

The site
As said, Banjar's hot springs are located just outside the village; they're up a side road to your left. The road follows a stream until the valley narrows and a big car park lies in front of you. As it's heavily touristed, it's no surprise to find that beyond the car park is a street lined with tourist knick knack shops. At the end of the street is a motorcycle parking place and an entrance gate (where you pay the small entrance fee, not even half a $US) which leads over the now narrow stream to the soak site proper.

On the other side of the bridge you pass a 5 by 2 m open water tank with three water spouts dropping water from 3 m height as a sort of water massage. Besides this, there are two main water tanks, one emanating hotter water, one which overflows from the previous pool. Opposite the entry, is a restaurant perched high above the pools which also incorporates changing facilities. Below the pools is the fast flowing river, above are a few temples.

Water massage

What makes these hot springs stand out are the tasteful way they have been built. A certain sense of historicness is evident as all improvements have been made by local bricks and stone work. There's little regarding the exact history of the site. But the neatly sculptured Naga (serpent) spouts could well point to quite some time ago.

Other aspects are the local popularity, not for sightseeing but for really soaking. Naturally the low entry price is part of this. And probably the long existence of such a facility has meant it's a common thing to do for locals especially as it's not too far away from a busy market village. And it has possible spiritual value. In Bali water is cleansing much more than in other societies. Quite often temples are built around springs and major temples dot the shores of Bali. For more on the significance of water in Bali read this posting on

Argh, all the time this water pumping, give me a break!

On the other hand this doesn't mean the springs are clean. I doubt whether certain health standards are met here in Banjar, especially as water from pool one, flows into pool two.

The waters are not clear but as elsewhere on Bali they are colourless and non-sulphuric.

Yes or no?
Issues I often come across when debating hygiene standards of various hot springs sites in Southeast Asia, are those of various standards of dress. In my belief (which seems logic) the more clothing worn during bathing, the more unhygienic. So au-naturel bathing should be encouraged. But not in conservative Southeast Asia; both Buddhists as well as Muslim frown on any state of undress.

Though Hindu Bali seems more relaxed on this issue, those in charge still feel compelled to signpost that bathers are being strictly forbidden to take to the waters starkers. Thus many are actually fully clad. The not-so-fully clad were mostly foreigners.

Three commandments ("Attention"):
  1. It is not allowed to bathe nude
  2. You may not bathe with soap/shampoo
  3. Let's keep this place clean
Thank you

Showering (for hygienic reasons?) was encouraged but in full sight of all, so probably the anti-nudity clause covers this as well.

It is strange this anti-nudity emphasis; the directive was both in Indonesian as well as in English, so on the one hand one might believe that foreigners are those that possible offend the locals.However, I've seen quite a few local bathers elsewhere on Bali take to the waters with next-to-nothing.

Currently there are quite a bit of sound bytes on this, as the Indonesian parliament is pushing for a so-called
anti-porn bill which would ban any depictions of nudity let alone naked bathing and seems at odds to both Bali's laissez-faire attitude to foreign tourists (and their states of (un-)dress on their beaches) as well as towards their own attitudes to nudity. Also the artist center of Ubud thrives on artist impressions of naked ladies / gents.
'The bill would kill 80% of the art in Bali'

Source, the Times.

Bathing beauties no more? American immigre Symon captures Bali's tolerance before it's too late. Let's hope not!

A great article can be found by nomad4ever, an increasingly interesting site, I believe.

For more information, see for instance:

'Balinese ceremonial wear is not a dictate of fashion but is a prescription of function and symbolism. Temple attire in Hindu Bali is strictly prescribed and followed. The belief is that there are body parts that should be exposed, harnessed, or covered up and the proper dress helps fulfill these conventional codes. Which makes me realize how meanings evolve over time as I’ve been told that up to the early 1900s, Balinese women went topless until the Dutch decreed them to go “moral” and cover up.'
Oddly enough it was then Dutch pre-war tourism efforts which depicted Bali as a paradise of near-naked ladies which might just have lead to the (mis-?)conception of what's normal and what's not.

My take is that in prior times, the whole neighbourhood bathed au-naturel in streams, but as piped water has become popular it's become more fashionable / sign of wealth to not bathe with the whole village in attendance. Naturally this process is still taking place.
An interesting theory?

It's also the same in other Southeast Asian countries, Thailand and Lao for instance. Bathing in minimal dress is determined by levels of wealth, the poorer regions seem less uptight. Understandably it must be very confusing then to see wealthy westerners man the barricades to promote skinny dipping as a preferred way of life!

I for one certainly understand it's not everybodies cup of tea (bathing au-naturel) but a certain degree of tolerance is all that's needed. It's sad to see age old traditions of tolerance of body and body acceptance eroded by narrow minded politicians clamoring for the moral high ground.

Clothes and soaking in Southeast Asia, a hot debate?

Anyway, Banjar hot springs would not be a good place to get au-naturel, simply due to the crowds of gawkers. Then again why the need for all the covers? At the end of the day we all are similar and have nothing to hide. I've also noticed that soaking in private cubicles /cells as common in Malaysia and Thailand is not common on Bali, probably due to the same line of thought?

Located not far from the tourist stretch called Lovina, this could also be a nice cycle ride away, if it were not for the busy stretch of road one needs to pass along the way. On the coast there are activities such as dolphin watching and some good snorkeling. Otherwise there is a nice waterfall (Singsing) located between the hot springs and Lovina and there's a lone Buddhist monastery not too far away.

Lovina also contains many hotels / lodges as well as having many restaurants, it's clearly on the tourist trail.

For a real au-naturel soak try finding Blahmantung waterfalls up in the mountains beyond Lovina. They are great and refreshing and natural ....

Getting there: Straight forward, head to Banjar village some 20 km west of the local capital of Singaraja. In Banjar take a left after the market and it will be obvious.

Soaking experience: the water was only luke-warm, waits were long for the water massage, will have to come back and have to pick a more peaceful day (It was Sunday morning).

Overall impression: If it were not for the obvious tourist trail running straight through these hot springs and my doubts of the hygiene this would be what all those Southeast Asian governments should be willing to create ...

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