Bali History

In 1579, Dutch sailor Cornelis de Houtman was fascinated by the beauty of Bali. At the time, Indonesia was mostly known for its spice production, but now was being recognized for its scenery and culture.

The Dutch Colonial government tried repeatedly to overtake Bali, finally succeeding in 1846, 1848 and 1906. Around 1914, Bali’s condition began to stabilize to a more peaceful state. This is when the first records of modern tourism are found.

Bali was most frequently accessed through its main port of Singaraja, which quickly became the Dutch capital of Bali. Here, colonists could rent horses or horse-drawn carriages to reach their destination. Guesthouses were also available, though normally reserved for colonial officers.

Tourists in the 1930’s (Source : Bali Media Info)

Bali was introduced to tourists as the “Island of God”. Europeans and Americans were particular drawn to its landscape and merging of cultures and religions. They arrived through mains ports of Singapore, Batavia, Semarang, and Surabaya, stopping in Singaraja to catch the boat to Makassar. It was common to join ships carrying crops and livestock (later coined “Bali Express”).

Road infrastructure was introduced in 1917 in the northern provinces. This facilitated transport for workers and tourists. By 1926, there were 3 main roads. The first went through Kubutambahan, Kintamani, and Denpasar (118km); the second through Singaraja, Bubunan, and Pupuan (113 km); and the third through Lake Beratan near Bedugal (78km).

Lake Beratan, Bedugul 1930’s (Source : Bali Media Info)

Kintamani 1930’s (Source : Bali Media Info)

The first hotel in Denpasar was recorded in 1930 near Puputan Badung Square (where 1906 battles took place). Nearby, Padang was developed to receive cruise ships.

By 1924, there were 213 tourists recorded on the island. That number continued to grow with 480 in 1927 and 1,428 in 1929. These numbers were recorded in in Indonesia’s Tourism Magazine. Tour packages were also featured, as well as accommodation options.

Tourists loved the dance and cremation ceremonies, as well as Lake Tamblingan and Buyan by horseback. Other attractions included the Bali Museum, royal tombs, the Goa Gajah rock carvings, Goa Lawah bat cave, Mount Batur, and the “sacred springs” of Tirta Empul “.

Tourists at Goa Gajah 1936 (Source : Bali Media Info)

Ngaben Ceremony 1930’s (Source : Bali Media Info )

The area was thriving. Entrepreneurs of all sorts were making their mark particularly in the taxi, tour, weaving and jewelry businesses. Ship transits had increased to 4x per week with most tourists staying 3-10 days.

Local market 1930’s (Source : Bali Media Info)

After a slight decline in tourism in 1930 (due to the world economic depression), traffic began to pick up again in 1933. A flight path was opened from Surabaya, Java. And in 1934, connections to Gilimanuk and Ketapang were made. It was this year tourists reached a record 3,000 people. Pre-WWII accommodations had grown to 78 rooms (48 from Bali Hotel, 16 from Satrya Hotel, 6 from Kintamani Hotel, and 8 from Kuta).

Mount Batur 1925 (Source : Bali Media Info)

You may recognize the name, “Walter Spies”, a German painter who settled in Ubud, Bali from 1927-WWII. He played a large role in Balinese tourism helping develop Balinese arts, which were attractive to tourists. He wrote dance and drama with Beryl de Zoete and filmed the “Island of Demons” with Victor Baron Von Plessen. In addition, he founded the Pita Maha Group of Artists in 1936 with Rudolf Bonnet, Gusti Nyoman Lempad, and Tjokorda Gede Agung Sukwati. This group preserved Bali’s art and opened its perceptions to color, themes, and light.

Many artists and intellectuals visited Spies including Margaret Mead (American anthropologist), Miguel Covarrubias (Mexican painter), Charlie Chaplin (American actor), and Magnus Hirschfeld (German sexologist).

In 1936, an American photographer/painter couple arrived in Bali. In their book, Bob and Louise Koke observed Bali’s hotels with “modern bathrooms and hot water”; the town’s architecture, art, antique stores, silk and batik cloth, and Chinese-owned grocery stores. They also cited Bali’s culture of topless women, which was a foreign concept to westerners.

Bali around Japanese succession 1941

Tourists flourished to local markets for Balinese products. These included baskets, mats, batik cloth and dying equipment, flowers, fruits and vegetables, sugar, and cotton. Visitors could also witness traditional cockfights and Kecak dance.

Traditional Kecak dance 1958

Market cockfight 1930’s (Source : Bali Media Info)

All was going well until 19 February 1942 (during WWII). The Japanese army landed on Sanur Beach to overtake the Dutch government, who had little defense. Japan held it stance until 1946 when and all-out war was unleashed, reinstating the Dutch’s power and wiping out the Balinese battalion.

Balitahun funeral ceremony 1938 (Source : Bali Media Info)

Bali’s economy slowly began stabilizing after 4 years of turbulence. In 1951, The Daily Independent reported low crime rates, which was surprising given the recent past. Tourism began to grow again.

At this time, a taxis cost $0.17 per kilometer. Tourists could rent a car for Rp 100 one-way, or bus for Rp 10. Local women were also starting to cover their chests to meet western expectations. Bali was a destination for many; one traveler called it the “most exotic and exciting” place he’d visited after 40 countries.

First Indonesian president, Sukarno, began to push tourism after the 1950’s. He invited prestigious tourists like Jawaharlal Nehru (first Prime Minister of India), John F. Kennedy (35th president of the United States), and Ho Chi Minh (Vietnamese Communist leader). He ordered the construction of “Sukarno Center” from 1957-1963 equipped with a special dance performance stage for his guests.

Dancing ceremony 1930’s (Source : Bali Media Info)

Fast forward to the 1970’s when Kuta’s beaches were still pristine and covered in palm trees. This area quickly grew to one of the most densely visited areas of Bali with hundreds of hotels, villas, restaurants, and shopping centers, later known as the “Kuta beach walk”.

Kuta Beach 1986 (Source : Bali Media Info)

Today, almost all of southern Bali has followed the same path. The area boasts luxury hotels, fresh seafood, and shopping galore. But that’s the beauty of Bali; there’s something for everyone here! Big cities, small villages, and untouched nature waiting to be explored.

Denpasar 1977 (Source : Bali Media Info)