Taman Festival, the Bali you haven’t seen
As it was our 7th visit to Bali we wanted to see something beyond the beautiful beaches and sacred temples on this exotic island. Yoga at a wellness retreat in a secluded area wasn’t what we were looking for either. We know Bali has some unique sights and wanted to find something obscure, unusual and maybe even a little weird. We wanted to see the Bali you haven’t seen and heard about.
That’s when we came across Taman Festival in Sanur. Built in 1997, this ambitious project set on 8 hectares in Sanur was planned to be a theme park with Bali’s largest swimming pool, 3D Turbo Theatre, nightly laser show, a man-made volcano, hotel, amphitheatre, roller coaster and other amusement park rides and animals, including crocodiles.
We’re going into a theme park, but this is no family day out and definitely no Disneyland.
When it was first proposed to build a theme park in this area locals were apprehensive due to spirits.
Many of the rides were never completed and in 1998 it all came to a halt when struck by lightning causing irreparable damage. Taman finally closed its doors in 2000 due to lack of funds and decline in the number of tourists visiting the park and has been abandoned ever since. Or has it?
When Taman Festival was abandoned, Mother Nature moved back in. Today, twenty years after it was built, Taman Festival is still a place many Balinese won’t go to. Due to its abandonment, state of disrepair and rumoured that someone died on one of the rides when it first opened, many locals strongly believe it was taken over by evil spirits.
Is there any wonder they still don’t want to go there? Isn’t this a great concept for a horror movie?
Not only do we have a concept for a horror movie, we have the scene. This place is rundown and swallowed up by a jungle. We’d heard all the stories, bats taking over the buildings, cannibal crocodiles inhabiting the park, evil spirits, etc. Fortunately for us, we didn’t encounter any of these. We are going to attribute them all to urban myth. After all urban legends and modern folklore are usually based on fictional stories with macabre outcomes.
But it wasn’t desolate and void of life, the first thing we noticed in these buildings was the presence of art.
We go into a large amphitheatre, no roof, just open blue skies and a photo shoot is taking place. Once inside, looking back towards the entrance we see a huge painted owl watching over us all.
Many of the walls were popping with colour, evolving with new life through the imagination of some incredible artists. These derelict buildings were now an artists’ playground and urban tapestry. These walls were a blank canvas for quirky talented artists to express themselves.
We follow abandoned paths through the complex, coming to derelict, dilapidated buildings… and more artworks. All the buildings today are disused, very gritty and have an eerie vibe. Care must be taken when exploring here. Not only because the locals believe long-abandoned sites lure evil spirits to take up residence, but also due to the failing structures.
There are collapsed roofs, broken windows and trees growing into the buildings. Because of the decaying walls the buildings creak and the sagging roofs are under threat of collapse.
In the midst of the lush vegetation we come across some crumbling, decapitated statues. They have an unconventional beauty and are quite intriguing. Sitting under a huge banyan tree is a swing made from intertwined vines. Mother Nature is taking over, thick tropical vegetation, overgrown trees and paths covered with a thick layer of leaves.
Each building is a mysterious hidden attraction and we feel compelled to explore. They are now an artists’ paradise. It’s like we are on a scavenger hunt for art. But not all of it is good art. There are some outstanding pieces of artwork amongst a fair share of vandalism. There is a lot of debris from broken glass and leaves. Everything is becoming reclaimed by nature, vines wrapped around pillars and creeping through cracks in the walls.
It was fascinating to see the how the concrete walls have been transformed by the hands of some creative minds whilst being slowly engulfed by Mother Nature. What was once intended to be a thrilling, well equipped recreational facility is now a derelict, decaying art gallery.
One thing that has a strong presence in this deserted place is the plague of mosquitos. They just add to the creepy allure of this quirky attraction. Then I remember the rumour some who have entered Taman Festival have never returned, eaten by the starving crocodiles left behind to fend for themselves.
I struggled to delve too far into some of the buildings, which I am pleased about, as I later learnt many are home to hordes of large bats.
Fortunately we didn’t discover anything gruesome or grizzly in these deserted buildings. What we did find was walls filled with colour and life.
Sadly, the show is over. Creating this attraction turned into a waste of both time and funds. 20 years on the decaying walls are being bought to life with colour through spray cans, paint brushes and artistic hands.
This really is the Bali you haven’t seen. Off the beaten track, beyond the beer and beaches, this theme park will give you an adrenaline rush of a different kind and you’ll know when you’ve reached the depth of your bravery.
Strangely this place doesn’t get a mention in any tour operator’s list of must see places in Sanur. Haunted places with creepy legends are always mesmerising and I’m surprised this abandoned theme park in Bali has not become a tourist spot with some enterprising guide charging for tours.
Would you have the courage to seek out the spirits and if so would you return to give your recount of your experience in this intriguing ghost town? I guess there’s only one way to find out…
Are you a scaredy cat or would you love to visit this off the wall place that many never get to visit? Would the rumour of supposed crocodiles put you off? Does the mystical aura of this place make your skin crawl?
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