Tonight we’re on a cliff overlooking one of Bali’s most popular tourist attractions – Tanah Lot rock temple. Hundreds have gathered to watch the sun set behind the 15th century landmark. But the grey sky looks nothing like the postcards. Most of us are here because the guide books claim Tanah Lot is a must-see. They are wrong. The view is briefly interesting. But the experience is underwhelming. Tanah Lot temple is a classic tourist trap. We should have seen it coming.
Most of the island is off-limits. For the best views, you pay an entrance fee to climb the nearby coastline. But to reach the viewing areas, you have to walk through a tourist market packed with souvenir stalls and annoying street hawkers. For the bemused foreign visitor, there is no sense of connection. No understanding of what this place means, and why it is here.
And what of the famous view? Was it worth three hours in traffic? Let’s just say I’m glad I packed a zoom lens.
PS: My lasting memory of Tanah Lot won’t be the temple. It will be the car park. Here, mounted high for all to see, is a shocking billboard. It features a giant photo of the revered Hindu temple. At first it looks quite interesting. But take a closer look, and you’ll discover something awful. It’s an advertisement for instant noodles.
In advertising, nothing is sacred.