The main memorial site in Kuta, Bali, commemorating the terrorist bombing attacks of October 2002 which killed over 200 people, mostly tourists, especially Australians, and injured many more. It was the worst such incident in Indonesia
's history. There are plans for a larger memorial park but these have still not been put into reality, so the site is comparatively underdeveloped, save for a memorial monument with a wall of names. Another multiple bombing attack took place in 2005, including at a popular tourist beach, but that site is today even less commodified
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
There were two separate instances of bombing attacks on Bali, 2002 and 2005. Both happened in or near Kuta, the main tourism hub in south Bali (and thus of all Indonesia
) frequented mostly by foreign tourists, of whom Australians are especially numerous (naturally, given the proximity of their country
The first Bali bombings took place on 12 October 2002, i.e. just a month after the first anniversary of 9/11
(and it's been claimed that they were originally intended to coincide with that date). That is: at a time when the USA
was tightening up its “war on terror”. And indeed, the militant Islamist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which carried out the attacks, had deliberately intended to target Americans, as suspects arrested after the events openly conceded.
The terrorists' knowledge of the actual clientele at Kuta, however, must have been as dim as their knowledge of genuine Islam (which does NOT prescribe bombing holidaying tourists) – Americans make up only a tiny minority amongst the tourists here. So as it turned out the terrorists actually killed far more Indonesians (i.e. quite possibly including fellow Muslims!), namely 38 in total, than they did Americans (“only” 7 US citizens were killed). The largest group of victims by far was, predictably, Australians (88), and the third largest Britons
The bombings were co-ordinated in typical Islamist terrorist fashion. First a suicide bomber set off his backpack late in the evening (prime party time!) inside Paddy's Pub right in the centre of Kuta on Legian Street. Survivors, many with injuries, then fled out into the street, where a large car bomb was planted in a van waiting to go off outside the Sari Club just opposite Paddy's Pub. This much more powerful bomb destroyed surrounding buildings and left a deep crater in the street. Predictably this bomb also caused by far the largest number of casualties. There was also third bomb, which went off in a small-scale explosion at the US consulate but caused only minimal damage.
Almost exactly three years later, on 1 October 2005, there was a second series of bombings on Bali, this time targeting both a square in Kuta as well as sites near a popular beach in Jimbaran south of Kuta and the Denpasar international airport. 20 people were killed here by at least three suicide bombers and over a hundred were injured, especially at a couple of warungs (food-court restaurants) in Jimbaran. The association with JI was somewhat less clear on this occasion but was certainly at least endorsed by leading members of the group, even from prison.
A number of the terrorists involved in the first bombing had subsequently been tracked down, put on trial, and imprisoned. But others are apparently still at large. Three of the convicted main perpetrators were sentenced to death and were executed in 2008. One JI associate linked to al-Qaida who was captured in Thailand
in 2003 has been held in secret CIA
detention centres and later at Guantanamo Bay (see Cuba
The terror network JI has also since been targeted more widely by Indonesian security forces within Indonesia
with some success (one member associated with the Bali bombings was killed in a shoot-out in Jakarta
in 2010), but JI still remains active, especially in the Philippines
In Kuta, the site of the destroyed Paddy's Pub is home of the main memorial in Indonesia – see below. The site of the former Sari Club, on the other hand, remains undeveloped and empty (used as a parking lot when I was there in 2014), apparently due to legal uncertainties regarding ownership of the plot. The bombing site(s) in Jimbaran are not (yet) commodified in any way, as far as I could see.
Meanwhile in Australia
, a Perth-based non-profit association keeps campaigning and collecting donations for the construction of a proper, larger memorial garden and museum at the Sari Club site under the banner of “Bali Peace Park”. Whether this park will ever see the light of day remains to be seen.
What there is to see: not so much, really, as yet. There's just the one main memorial monument in Kuta itself, right at the site where the former Paddy's Pub would have stood (no trace of which remains). The other locations remain uncommodified, even unmarked.
The main memorial on Legian Street consists of a large black-marble wall of names as its centrepiece, framed by a Hindu-temple-like arch with all manner of reliefs on it and is flanked by a set of flagpoles … all flying the Indonesian flag at the time of my visit – maybe because it was around the time of Indonesia
's national day. At other times, so I had read, the flags of all the nations of the victims are flown.
On the wall the names of every victim who perished in the 2002 bombings are listed, grouped by their country of origin, some lists are short others long, especially of course the Australian list. But there are also single entries (for Poland
, Ecuador, Portugal
At the bottom of the wall of names people often leave offerings (in traditional Hindu fashion) and there were also a few “private” memorials/mementos added, dedicated to individual victims. The site is surrounded by a small garden of sorts and at its southern end is an official inscription in stone that laments the “humanitarian tragedy” of 12 October 2002.
The site of the former Sari Club, which was the main target of the 2002 bombing, remains completely uncommodified and unmarked as far as I could tell. It's now just an empty plot of land (and that in such a real estate gold mine) simply used as a car park. Plans to convert this into a proper memorial site have still not been realizable (see above
What I found a bit out of keeping with such a tragic location was the banner above a police post next to the site that almost proudly proclaimed to be the “Strong Point Ground Zero”. Couldn't they have found a less provocative designation?
The site of the second Bali bombing of 2005 is even less commodified. In fact I didn't even spot any sort of marker at all, let alone a proper memorial. I only knew it was here because the local company which organized by explorations in these parts (see Indonesia
and also Komodo
) had arranged for a lunch at one of the seafood cafés by the beach specifically because it was one of the targeted places back then. You would never have got the slightest indication of that tragic bit of history at the Menega Café itself. Instead it was just a very good seafood restaurant – in fact I had one of the very best meals there of my entire trip around Indonesia.
All in all, unless you have a specific connection to the Bali bombings, the memorial sites alone would hardly make a specific trip or even a detour here worth your while. As long as the sites remain so poorly commodified
(if at all), you could just as well give them a miss. That could, of course, all change should the great ideas of the Bali Peace Park ever come to fruition.
in the heart of the clubbing and tourism centre of Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
, namely on Legian Street, and near Jimbaran beach further south between the big international chain resorts Four Seasons and Intercontinental.
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: The memorial is easy to find and freely accessible. The other sites are more obscure.
Details: The main memorial site on Legian Street in the heart of Kuta is very easy to find, in fact it is almost impossible to miss it when walking along this street. It's about a third of a mile (550m) up the street from its southern end (i.e. from the corner of Jl Pantai Kuta), near the intersection with Jl Poppies II.
The memorial is freely accessible at all times, including at night when it is even illuminated.
The other bombing sites are not so easy to track down. The former Sari Club site is just opposite the main memorial, but is these days merely an empty plot used as a car park.
The 2005 bombing site in Jimbaran is a bit more out of the way (unless that's where you're staying – many tourists do) and thus requires some form of transport to get there. A taxi would be the simplest and most convenient.
Hitching a motorbike ride may not be the ideal choice in this case when coming from Kuta or Seminyak, as you'd have to get past the airport with its hectic traffic, especially at the main roundabout. I am serious about this: motorbike accidents, including many fatal ones, are an almost daily occurrence here in this busiest part of Bali. I only saw one accident site myself (with a body by the road under a white sheet, while the police were busy making notes for their report!). But I've been told by people who used to live and work in Bali that they encountered on average one such accident on their way to or from work every single day!
As far as getting accommodation in or around Kuta, the choice could not be wider than here. Every category is amply represented, from grubby hovels to world-class luxury and more than plenty in between to suit absolutely every taste and budget (though not necessarily all at the same time).
Similarly on the food & drinks
front: the range of eating-out options is nowhere wider than here in the whole of Indonesia
. That's one welcome aspect of this being such a tourism hotspot. On the other hand, it makes the choice more difficult. And in between the really good places there are also many black sheep serving substandard fare. Doing some good research ahead of time will pay off if you want to experience good food. Simple grub, local or international fast food is ubiquitous.
As for imbibing – if there's one place in Muslim Indonesia
where alcohol flows freely without practically any restraint it is right here. It may be helped by the fact that Bali is mostly Hindu, but in practice it's more to do with the fact that this is such a tourist enclave. Prices are a bit lower than in many other places in the country, but not necessarily cheap either. At least here ordering and publicly consuming alcohol won't be frowned upon (except by the fundamentalist Islamists, of course …).
Time required: not long, really – just a few moments at each location for contemplation. But nothing at these sites requires prolonged study.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
A maximal contrast to the Kuta bombing site(s), in almost every sense, can be found at Lake Batur in the north-east inland of Bali – the Trunyan basket burial sites
, an enigmatic, somewhat disturbing, but strangely captivating (in atmosphere) place far off the well-trodden path. Opposite this there is also Bali's most active volcano Mt Batur.
Apart from these sites, Bali's role as the main tourism hub means that many destinations all over Indonesia and beyond come into fairly easy reach by air, e.g. Komodo
. This is also one of the best places to catch flights to East Timor
from (in addition to Singapore
or Darwin, Australia
). In the other, western direction, Ijen
can be reached by road and ferry within a day's journey.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Kuta is Indonesia
's and Bali's absolute hotspot with regard to mainstream beach-and-clubland tourism, brandishing exactly the type of tourism 'infrastructure' and clientele that I absolutely hate being caught up in (though not enough to approve of it being bombed, I hasten to add). That is to say it's packed with nightclubs, bars, restaurants, shops selling all manner of tack, and screamingly garish adverts everywhere. In short, it has all the hallmarks of what Islamists, with some justification, perceive as representing “Western decadence” – and thus you can see why this must have seemed a suitable target for the terrorists. (Again, I hasten to add: that does not mean that I think the bombings were in any way justifiable!)
But then again, if that's the sort of tourism that the majority of people really want, then let them have it. And Kuta is the place for it, especially if you like it loud and lairy.
A somewhat more subdued, classier, and upmarket version of a Bali-tourism-for-Westerners-only enclave can be found a bit further up the main road in Seminyak. That's where I stayed during my (thankfully) short stopover in South Bali. Even there, where the sensual tourism impact is at least a bit more restrained, I didn't feel in the right place. OK, there are some really nice restaurants that provided me with a chance to get some, by then much needed, respite from all the ubiquitous mie goreng dinners that dominate in the rest of the country. But window-shopping along the main streets left me feeling very alien and out of place – much more so than in the truly exotic parts of South-East Asia in fact.
Apart from the nightlife and shopping, the main draw for the millions of tourists that descend on Bali every year are, of course, the beaches. Don't ask me to judge whether they are any good. The ones at Seminyak and Kuta I never even got to see (and I feel zero regret about hat), and the one I did see at Jimbaran looked to me just like any tourist beach. OK, the sand was yellow and the sea blue, there were beach bars/cafés and people were bathing in the waves of the sea. So I guess it's alright. I have my doubts that the water is really super clean, though, given all the infrastructure around, but so what.
One thing that had a certain off-the-beaten track appeal to it without being overly dark was a visit to the fish market in Jimbaran. All the colourful fish and seafood do really fit the “exotic” expectations for such a place – but so did the lack of hygiene. People with a sensitive sense of smell should perhaps avoid this place. But it was certainly an interesting insight.
Walking out onto the pier that pokes into the bay with its colourful fleet of fishing boats you also get to see an incongruous juxtaposition you don't get to behold very often: just beyond the postcard-picture-perfect fishing-boat bay with its cliché-blue water the runway of the neighbouring international Denpasar airport reaches about half a mile into the sea. So an endless string of planes landing and taking off forms the unseemly backdrop to the beach and fishing tranquillity that this place may once have had.
Of course, away from Kuta and other tourism hubs on Bali, this island does have its unique and undeniable charms. The impossibly green expanses of rice paddies may seem too much a cliché, but they really are beautiful. And the inland of Bali offers lots of unexpected beauty spots too, including picturesque lakes, mountains, waterfalls, and of course countless Hindu temples and ceremony sites … and the ceremonies themselves are also a common sight. Bali Hindus really do love ceremonies!
- Kuta 01 - Bali bombing memorial
- Kuta 02 - site of the former Sari Club, now a car park
- Kuta 03 - list of names
- Kuta 04 - privately added bits
- Kuta 05 - offerings
- Kuta 06 - official inscription
- Kuta 07 - somewhat cynical name for a police post at the site
- Kuta 08 - busy main street
- Kuta 09 - large-scale kitsch for sale
- Kuta 10 - site of the second Bali bombing
- Kuta 11 - Menega beach cafe
- Kuta 12 - seafood BBQ
- Kuta 13 - fishing harbour and airport runway
- Kuta 14 - fish market
- Kuta 15 - mahi-mahi
- Kuta 16 - guy making some fishy sambal of sorts