Aggressive touts at Pura Besakih

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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

And they even charge for toilets!
And they even charge for toilets!

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!

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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!

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34 thoughts on “Aggressive touts at Pura Besakih

    1. 🙂 sorry for the inconvenience, but here in Indonesia we usually pay for using public toilet. so during national holidays at many tourist sites, some people will open “temporary toilet” business and actually earn quite good income.

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    1. Yep, most people see this temple in guidebooks and think they must see it, but I am not sure its worth the hassle. There are so many other temples in central Bali that don’t have the aggro.

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      1. Hi….

        Pretty nice pictures. Love them!
        You are NOT absolutely compulsory to accompanied by a local guide to enter the Besakih temple!

        l am a licensed and government control tourist guide in Bali,especially English and French speaking, and i am a native Bali. One thing you need to know before you are visiting this temple is…you should be accompanied by your own guide or at least by your driver to entering the complex of the temple in order the touts will never asking you the additional fees of what ever reason. Make sure that the one who will be your driver or guide is a licensed/ legal and a government control so that you will feel very safe a long your visit to all sites and especially the Temple of Besakih. Or….you can just show them your entrance ticket, and you will free to enter any complex of the temple. Hope it works!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hey! Great blog here!

    Look, I just visited Pura Besakih last week and for some reason none of those misadventures you described happened to us. We were asked no entrance fee, no donation, no nothing. Our car dropped us, we each rent a sarong for 1USD and walked to the temple. Maybe it has changed, maybe we were lucky that day, I don’t know. The only minor thing that happened to us was a tout approaching us when we got to the temple and telling us that we can’t go inside the temple. We payed little attention to him, just walked away, climbed some stairs and did enter the temple (from a side entrance though, not the main one at the sight of everyone).

    So overall, I had a great experience there, every single temple of the complex is beautiful, dramatic and worth seeing, there is a reason why it is called Mother Temple. I would go back anytime to soak up more of the atmosphere there.

    Just wanted to share this as my guidebook also suggested to skip that temple for the same reasons you mentioned, and we were pleasantly suprised!

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    1. Thanks for telling us of your positive experience, Antoine. It’s good you enjoyed yourself there, and I admit the scenery there beside Mt Agung is amazing, but my experience was much different to yours. Hopefully more people like you will tell of their positive experiences at Pura Besakih, as this may mean the Balinese authorities have began to crack down on the corruption…

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  2. Pura Besakih is NOT a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that’s not correct. It was nominated in the mid-90’s but to date has never received that status. However, it should be.

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    1. Ah, thanks for the info Chris. I will change the sentence now. 🙂 I agree that the temple itself is UNESCO-worthy, but maybe there are too many negatives associated with it these days because of the touts etc.

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  3. i have lived in Bali for more than one year. Actually my husband is balinese. I have been to Besakih several times. With and without my family in law. I never had any negative experiences there. I had to pay for a sarong, but you need one to enter. I made a small donation (maby 1-2$) and wrote my name in the book. No complaints.

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    1. Thanks for your input Yvonne. Great that you had a positive experience here and were able to enjoy it! 😀 I wonder though that maybe this was because your husband is Balinese? I think the touts here try to con people who cannot speak Bahasa Indonesia very well…

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  4. Im half Indo and half american, been living in Bali for 15 years, seen almost the whole Island and been to Besakih several times, overtime the touts are getting worst and worst. I guess speaking fluent Indonesian doesnt help either. I generally tell friends that are visiting to check out Batukaru temple instead as the local temple caretakers are much friendlier. And only just only go to see Besakih if they have to see it.

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    1. Jasmine, I think Balinese people may be OK, but even tourists from other regions of Indo (like Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi etc.) may have problems if they aren’t prepared. Shame that more and more people are avoiding Besakih though. It is very beautiful situated near Agung.

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  5. Hi,
    Thank you for your review. Personally, i am very sorry for you inconvenience at our temple. You must be very disappointed with what the local people around besakih temple did to you. Probably to all tourist coming to this temple by their own and not a company by guide.
    My suggestion, please hire legal guide and driver for your trip to Baesakih temple.
    Toilet also need to pay as the local also must look after to cleaning etc

    Thank you

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    1. Yes, hiring a legal guide is a MUST for visiting Besakih. Thanks for the advice, now everybody will know (including me for next time)! I love Bali – well apart from the Kuta area – and the Balinese people are amazing and friendly. And I also love Balinese cuisine like babi guling and bebek betutu! 😀 My experiences at Tanah Lot, Tirta Gangga, Taman Ayun, were all brilliant. Especially Tanah Lot, which for me was almost as impressive as Borobudur in Java! But my experience at Besakih temple did sour my impression somewhat… 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for telling us your review for the bad experience in Besakih. I’m sorry to hear the bad experience. However, I think it’s just a person who is not fully reflect the attitude of the Balinese people.

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  7. Sorry for my bad English. It is nice to read different point of views as many people replied to you. BESAKIH is NOT a normal place in Bali: as you know it, it is the Mother Temple for a religion very different from other religions. In Bali, the Hindus have to follow strict rules and expect that visitors do the same things in sacred places, specially in the sacrest one. Many decades ago, Besakih was widely open like most of the temples in the island. Then tourism’s invasion brought a lot of desagrements like in Tanah Lot, Mengwi or Uluwatu. Tourists from western countries just seen temples as a Disneyland where they can do everything, wearing clothes for swimming or acting without any consideration of the sacrality of the places. Quickly, most of those temples where closed: Tanah Lot is forbidden to the tourists just like Mengwi or Uluwatu. Tourists can take pictures just outside the holy places. It was a protection for the Faith. In Besakih, there is another thing to know. Sure, tourists have to respect more this place due to its importance BUT, like the area of the Batur, people living around are ‘Mountainers’ and you know what I mean if you have climb the Batur! Tourists have to pay an intrance fee which is not expensive. THEN, it is not money to the temple. It is money for the people who wants to work. Of course, they are more agressive, even violent like many people from the mountains (try to visit some parts of Corsica!). It is NOT priests or even government employees. Temples in Bali donnot belong to the Government, donnot make confusion. It is nice to read some comments from Balineses (taxi drivers, guides…) probably from other regions, they are confused and disappointed by the reactions of the locals. So, what to do? I am not a good exemple because I live in Bali and my wife (so my village) is balinese. I never have a bad experiences in Besakih when I am as a pilgrim with my family in law. BUT, as few balineses told you, it is better to visit the temple WITH balineses, they will help you and be like body-guard! Many tourists in Bali are now staying with balineses, in a family: that is a good way to be more integrated. They will explain you that Besakih is not a common place, that rules are for everybody, sarong needs sometime another one over. For men, head have to be covered: that is the rule. In conclusion, not going to Besakih is not bad, for you and the prayers. There are very nice pathes that allow a perfect view without disturbing local ceremonies. In the same time, you probably know that many mosques, hindu temples (specially in India like Bhubaneswar) or even churches are closed for non-muslims, non-hindus or non-prayers. I am sure that you will probably understand what I mean because you have travelled already a lot. Sometimes, it is better to avoid some placeS
    unless you are decided to ‘swim’ on it like a fish. If you donnot want to be a fish, you will met some troubles. Congratulations for your very nice pictures and sorry for your bad experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your message and advice. 🙂 Your English is very good! 😀 It is interesting that a lot of Balinese people have good experiences, yet only tourists have the trouble. Maybe temples like Besakih in Bali need to stay just for the locals, and not a tourist attraction? Yet if this happened, and tourists were not allowed to visit, there would be less money in the local community. So it’s a double-edged sword.

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      1. Thank you for understanding what I mean because it is a reason of misunderstandings which make angry sometimes! You are a clever person! As I told you, and as you have seen it, entrance fee is NOT expensive and I can say that the Besakih Temple donnot need expressly this money. This temple receive so many donations from pilgrims! By the way, you can watch on YOUTUBE the highest ceremony of Eka Desa Rudra in order to have an idea of the holiness of this place. I agree with you when you say that this temple is “not a tourist attraction”. It is more than that. I donnot want to say that it should be close to all tourists, but tourists need to have a real interest, a strong curiosity. that is why they should be accompagnied by a guide, may be a tour guide waiting for them by languages at the entrance like in many other sites, historical or religious. By this way, they will not disturb people who pray and they will not be disturbed by all those parasits you have sadly met! Again, avoiding Besakih is not important, specially if it save people to came back from Bali with a bad point of view. I am sorry for you bad experience and happy to read so many Balinese persons on your page saying the same thing! All Balinese are not like the bad ones you have met specially there! Forget it and keep in mind all the wonderful memories this island gave to you! All my best!

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