On Bali’s eastern shores sits a sliver of hidden paradise. Quiet, slow, and focused more on the water than anything else, Amed has become a dive and snorkel haven for those looking to escape the whir of the more developed Bali.
I’m rattling down the small pot-hole laden road to where I was two-and-a-half years ago, and as far as I can tell, not much has changed. Swaths of rice fields and hunched over palms still line the small entry road that sits in the shadows of Bali’s imposing Mt. Agung, and farmers still mosey along unhurried and unbothered by much. The organic make-up of the town that enticed me so much the first time I visited, is still here: the narrow and chipped-away road that bisects the coast to the east and the mountains to the west still hasn’t been fixed, the sleepy guesthouses are still seemingly as vacant as my last trip, and the loudest anywhere is getting this evening is a low hum from the local dive shops that populate either side of the unlit main street — I’m back in Amed, and I couldn’t be happier.
A strip that lies on the black volcanic rocks and sands of eastern Bali’s coastline, the small fishing towns of Amed, Bunutan, and Banyuning, make up what is collectively known to travellers as Amed. An increasingly hip diving and snorkelling destination, this collective of towns was once not much more than a fisherman’s outpost. But as Bali has continually seen an influx of foreign visitors, the calm waters, lack of commercial activity, and abundance of sea-life could only stay hidden for so long. And while the colourfully decorated jukung (traditional outrigger fishing boats) still line the rocky sands of Amed, so too do the sleek diving rigs dot the translucent waters of Amed’s numerous bays.
“Where are they?” I ask myself, “All those tourists that must have found out about Amed by now, where in the the world are they?” The short answer, they’re not here yet.
And so, with both apprehension of running into the new tourist horde, and excitement for reuniting with a place that I fondly remember, I unload my bags at my accommodation, a slow-moving guesthouse that sits on the beach, and decide to take a ride down the twisting coastal road to see how much things have changed since Amed’s relative increase in popularity. But as my motorbike grunts and groans its way up and down a number of the hills that make this getaway home, I notice that my apprehension is fading. “Where are they?” I ask myself, “All those tourists that must have found out about Amed by now, where in the world are they?” The short answer, they’re not here yet.
For most of the folks travelling to Bali, wherever isn’t on the Seminyak/Legian/Kuta to Ubud route is rarely touched, moreover, the drive to Amed can be a bit confusing and challenging for solo travellers who aren’t at least somewhat versed in Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Bali, or cornering mountain roads with buses so far up your tail that you can feel them in your throat. But with drivers, cars, and motorbikes that can be had on the cheap (US $25 — 40) in some of the bigger tourist destinations like Seminyak and Ubud, there’s no reason to miss this still-hidden sliver. And at about three hours from Denpasar, and an hour-and-a-half from Ubud, Amed can even be done as a day-trip or an overnight escape.
As for me? I’m here for two nights, and while short, it’s just the sort of relaxation I need on a travel-heavy journey around the Island of the Gods. After I finish my ‘welcome back’ ride and get freshened up I feel a pang of hunger, and decide to head out once more to find some fresh seafood, a sublime treat on this part of the island. The stop? Waeni’s Sunset View, a family operation that acts as a restaurant, bar and homestay. I plop down into one of the lazily tossed about beanbags that sit on the cliff-overhanging balcony and order myself some fresh marlin, or marlen as it’s written on the menu, and take in the view. Aptly named, Waeni’s sits atop one of the hilltop points of Amed’s undulating geography and provides one of the best views that can be had, with Mt. Agung in the foreground, a number of smaller mountains stepped behind, and a glass-topped bay below, seafood by the bay, and the sunset, can hardly get better. The fish is fantastic; fresh, tender and flavourful, this five-buck chunk of marlin steak is a throwback to when fishermen ruled the land, and in case anybody has their doubts about the increasingly shrinking fishing industry, it’s safe to say, it’s still alive and well, though perhaps on a smaller scale. And even though the local fishing industry has shrunk in recent years, visitors are still more than welcome to hire a local guide to take them out on one of the narrow jukung that line the shores to try their hands at local hand-line fishing for little more than US $20.
But it’s not just the views, fishing, and food that bring travellers like me to Amed. Diving and snorkelling have recently become the magnets to which people are attracted in Amed, and understandably so. With groups of shaggy-haired divers ringing in the day with a Bintang beer in their wetsuits along the main road, and fins and snorkelling masks available for hire at just about every establishment here, Amed gives off the vibe of dive hangout more than anything, and for good reason.
With groups of shaggy-haired divers ringing in the day with a Bintang beer in their wetsuits along the main road, and fins and snorkelling masks available for rent at just about every establishment here, Amed gives off the vibe of dive hangout more than anything, and for good reason.
For snorkellers, there are few places easier to get wet than Amed, and along a coastline of over ten swimmable kilometres you can happily pop in anywhere, swim anywhere from 10 to 20 metres and be floating above a myriad of colourful corals and fish. A particularly neat experience, however, is being able to snorkel over a shipwreck, usually an adventure left to divers. Just off the beach in Banyuning (ask locals at any of the outposts and they will give you a guide as to where the wreck is), is a small wooden shipwreck that has made itself home to a number of playful fish, and, only a five-to-15-minute swim from the shore depending on your swimming strength, it’s a relatively easy visit as well. But don’t let the wreck wrest your attention from the rest of the adventure, as each and every beach on this stretch offers something worth seeing, whether it’s barracuda, manta rays or jellyfish. Currents do have a tendency to flare up at certain times of day though, and these changes differ from spot to spot, so it’s always wise to check in with the locals regarding the tide, currents and safety of each spot before you hop in the water.
Though snorkellers aren’t the only ones in Amed, and for divers, this part of Bali is hard to beat. Dive shops line either side of the main road, and with friendly faces and competitive prices, you can do no wrong popping into any of them and having a chat. Most are run by foreigners who have migrated to Amed and found little incentive to leave, and a host of languages is spoken for those who may not be dusted up on their Bahasa Indonesia or English. PADI certification can be had here, and dives range in nature, but one of particular interest, is the USAT Liberty wreck dive. Situated 100 metres off Tulamben (about 30 minutes away by car), this sunken cargo ship was torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese military in 1942, and has since made its home the shallow waters of Bali’s coast. A treasure for divers, the site can be reached via boat in Amed, or you can transport yourself there in the early morning to catch one of the dive boats taking off from Tulamben. Either way, be sure to check out this relic of war for both its pristine condition and plethora of frolicking sea-life. Though perhaps one of the most unique packages you can come across in Amed is that which the high-end, Arya Amed Beach Resort, offers. Night dives have become commonplace around the world for those seeking to broaden their diving horizons, but the Arya has gone a step further, and has added fluorescence to this experience. While night dives are unique for the teeming life that divers don’t often see during the day, the fluorescent dive offers divers the chance to see the many colours that typically don’t exist during night dives. Equipped with fluorescent mask lenses, this dive turns the ocean into a glowing swirl of neon colours that will have you questioning whether you’re actually under the water, or in some sort of 1960s funhouse on the coast of California. Truly a unique experience, this is a dive that comes highly recommended, and perhaps one that will add another understanding of the mysteries of the ocean.
For travellers who prefer a more land-oriented trip, however, Amed is no slouch. For all of the guesthouses and homestays that pander to lower-budget travellers, there is also a fair share of swankier stays that make Amed home. From Bali Dream House to Hidden Paradise Cottages and The Griya Villas and Spa, those seeking out pampering spa treatments, fully air-conditioned rooms, and quiet pools that look out over the expanse of coastal water, are in luck. With limited rooms, these haunts rest their laurels on luxury and privacy, and on an island where the latter is hard to find, there is perhaps no better corner to find it. Sip a cocktail or a traditional Balinese coffee by the pool after having your body nurtured by the hands of experienced Balinese masseuses, or hire a bike or car from these secluded havens and make your way with a guide to nearby Pura Lempuyang, one of Bali’s highest and most sacred temples, for a truly spiritual experience. Beach lounging is also a popular pastime here, and with a number of chic cafes serving everything from local seafood dishes to all-natural-cacao-laced and sesame-seed-doused fruit dishes at the ever-popular organic-minded hangout of Apneista (also offers free-diving lessons, daily yoga classes, and dive trips), there’s a plethora of choice to keep you from going hungry as you soak up the quiet sun.
Amed won’t blow you away with its high-rises (it hasn’t got any), nor will it impress with its nightlife (slim to none), but what it will do is coax you into the slow lane, and what a beautiful lane it is. The main street stays quiet, and aside from the jamming of a few local reggae outfits that play the sparsely populated guesthouse restaurants, there isn’t much to be heard aside from the gentle lapping of the ocean. Stars shine bright here in the absence of light pollution, and trash and traffic are all but non-existent, though I suppose when life revolves more around the sea than it does the land, that’s to be expected. And on an island full of paradises, this might just be the one that I find a future home in.
(Featured image: A traditional jukung coming into shore after a day of fishing. These boats, which still line the black shores of Amed, are sorted with a sail, outrigger and small one-prop engine to ensure safety, but more interestingly, each is painted and adorned with a number of colours as to give each vessel a personal identity. Photographed by EMW)