At the Mother Temple of Besakih in Bali I had the Mother of all bad experiences! I donated 100,000 Rupiah. “That’s nowhere near enough!”, I was told by one chain-smoking scumbag. What a disgrace to the great nation of Indonesia!
Pura Besakih is the holiest and largest temple complex in Bali (in fact there are over 20 temples here), and it is dedicated to the Hindu religion. It is therefore a very important religious monument and complex as a whole. Despite this, there are so many local touts and scammers hanging around the place it’s as if they deliberately want to ruin the tourists’ experiences! This is such a shame, as being built on the slopes of the mighty Mount Agung, the terrain and views from all around the temple are sensational. When I got a moment’s peace from the touts, I did enjoy a brief gaze on to the horizon and the misty mountains in the background really added to the ambience of the place.
I travelled solo to Pura Besakih, as I did on all my travels in Bali, and on the way my taxi driver even had the gumption to scoff at my plans for the day: “they won’t let you rest”, he exclaimed. Now, having done a bit of research on the temple beforehand, I knew what I was getting myself in for, but having a local taxi driver feel the need to warn me on the way in was a little disconcerting!
So what exactly is the problem here? Well, in a word: money! The touts that hang around the temple are always after your money in a very aggressive way. They will claim that you need to pay extra for a sarong (incidentally, you do actually need a sarong, as it’s a religious place of worship, but bring your own so that you don’t need to hire one for a King’s Ransom), and they will claim that each part of each temple you set foot in has a separate admission fee. Many of these touts WILL stick with you and become very aggressive if you don’t pay them what they are asking. In fact, along with the $1 entrance fee to the Mother Temple complex, you are expected to make a small donation and log it down in a book (and pay in cash, obviously). You will see people have supposedly donated $50-$150 each, but these are fake entries (well, 99% of them must be). I donated 100,000 Rupiah, which equates to over $8 and I was told that this was not enough! Unbelievable!
So what do the Balinese authorities do about this fraudulent malpractice? Well, the answer is simple: NOTHING! Being a religious temple, you would have thought that there would be good-will prevalent, especially seeing as Hinduism is almost always a peaceful religion. Here at the Mother Temple, however, it is very, very different. A man demanded 400,000 Rupiah from me just to enter the top level of the temple, as he said there were “official ceremonies” in motion at the time. I politely declined by a shake of the head and tried to walk away briskly, but he kept following me and pestering me, accusing me of being “disrespectful” to the temple! After a couple of minutes I lost him; presumably he leeched onto another unsuspecting tourist instead.
If you really want my opinion, I would suggest skipping this temple completely – despite the great scenery – because put simply the scammers ruin it for everybody. However, if you do insist on seeing the holiest and the most important Hindu temple complex in Bali, then pretend you are German or French (or any other European language), and that way I guarantee the touts will give up on you pretty quickly if they think you cannot understand them. Me? Well, I pretended I was Korean (I can speak pretty good Korean)! I doubt they fell for it – my Caucasian appearance kind of gives it away – but the harder you make it for them to believe they’re going to get some extra cheeky money out of you, the better!
Here is another article from a traveller who shared a similar experience at Besakih Temple, but just as a quick reminder here are some golden rules for visiting:
It costs $1 (12,000 Rupiah) for all guests to enter the Mother Temple complex. Small addition donations are expected, but this should not be any more than a few Dollars.
Small additional fees for cameras and parking are required (but this is the case in many places in the world). Even if you want a taxi to wait for you, like I did, you will probably still have to pay for the parking. Check before you go.
Bring your own sarong. Don’t waste time or money queuing for the “official” sarongs, which you can hire and then give back when you leave. If you don’t already have one, then buy one in an Ubud market before you arrive.
Don’t buy any food or drinks at the complex, as it is grossly overpriced, and I suspect that the money all goes to the touts, rather than any true business or religious organisation. I had one bottle of water from my hostel. Eat when you return to Ubud.
You do NOT need a guide. You will be told and told and told that you do to enter certain temples, but you do not. All areas of Mother Temple of Besakih are open to visitors and can be accessed by your admission fee.
I hope that you have a more productive and enjoyable visit to Pura Besakih than I did!