Taman Festival park was once a family-friendly spot packed with thrilling rides, a 3D cinema and laser shows. First opening its doors in 1997 in the popular beach town of Sanur, the park was struck with a series of unfortunate events before having to close its doors in 2000. The sight has been left abandoned ever since. Many locals stay far away out of fear that the place might be haunted. But that hasn’t stopped urban artists from around the world from leaving their mark on the former theme park’s walls. Today, Taman Festival is one of the best places to explore in Bali for both urban adventurers and street art connoisseurs alike.
Taman Festival: A Brief History
Taman Festival began with a whopping $100 million investment. The project was a joint venture between the Balinese government and a local businessman, and was considered to be Indonesia’s answer to Disneyland. The laser show alone supposedly cost $5 million, but it was completely obliterated by a lightning strike. (Here is a rare video of what the extravagant yet eerie laser show looked like)
To make matters worse, the soft opening of the park in 1997 just happened to coincide with the Asian financial crisis. Despite the ambitious project which was heavily promoted and advertised at the time, attendance numbers were nowhere near what investors and developers had originally anticipated. The project was eventually abandoned for good just a few years later.
Taman Festival, it turns out, is actually just one of a number of casualties of ’97’s financial crisis. Other sights that still remain abandoned to this day include Bangkok’s Sathorn Unique Tower and even Bali’s own “Ghost Palace Hotel” in Bedugul.
Nowadays, Taman Festival is far from secret. During my visit, there were at least a dozen other visitors there. The location even seems to be a popular place for photoshoots, with young models posing in front of the decaying buildings in the background.
As we were entering, we even heard from one of the guards at the entrance that the place is finally going to be refurbished and turned into an actual theme park in the near future. While I don’t know how true this is, I did see a few uniformed men on motorbikes riding through the sight – perhaps employees of a company hired to survey the area.
‘The Fountain Lady’ by Voyder
Exploring the Area
Even walking around aimlessly, you’ll likely stumble upon some of the larger, more notable works like Voyder’s stunning ‘Fountain Lady.’ Some of the other art, though, requires a bit more effort, not to mention risk-taking, to discover.
You might see smaller buildings off somewhere in the middle of the forest, only reachable by walking through plants and stepping over large vines, all while trying to avoid shards of broken glass.
Sometimes the end result is disappointment. After all the effort, you may find yourself in an empty structure with blank, crumbling walls. Clearly, there are still plenty of places left for artists to leave their work. Other times, though, the effort pays off, as some of the best art is hiding in the most seemingly random of places.
Beware of Crocodile
Broken glass isn’t the only thing to be on the lookout for at Taman Festival. The most intimidating rumor about the abandoned park is that the crocodiles which once inhabited its “Crocodile Den” were simply left loose upon the park’s demise. Crocodiles, it turns out, have a lifespan of up to 70 years, while the theme park has been vacant for less than 20.
So, did I see any crocodiles during my visit? No, except for a cartoony depiction in a mural somewhere. Some people online, however, have reported sightings.
Until someone provides photographic evidence, though, it’s probably safe to assume that the crocodiles are nothing more than an urban legend.
The Main Building
The largest building of Taman Festival will be hard to miss, and it appropriately contains the most amount of artwork. It gets pretty dark though, so the details can be tough to make out. Throughout the building you’ll also likely find rolls of old film lying around on the floor which are said to be remnants of theme park’s old 3D theatre. As spooky as the dark interior of the main hall can get, it’s also one of the most frequented by visitors, so it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself completely alone.
In one of the main building’s side rooms
As the sun began to set, we made our way to what’s now referred to as “Owl Hall.” This area features what, along with ‘The Fountain Lady,’ could be considered Taman Festival’s most iconic mural: ‘Owlself.’
Painted by the artist WildDrawing who hails from Bali but now resides in Athens, Greece, the giant owl face gazes out at Sanur’s Padang Galak Beach with a stern expression on its face.
As you listen to the sound of the crashing waves, there are plenty of other works to explore around the area, too. In my opinions, this building is home to Taman Festival’s highest quality murals overall.
In total, my visit to Taman Festival only lasted a couple of hours. I felt that there was plenty more to explore, but the sun was already starting to set. And I didn’t want to stick around in case the rumors about ghosts – or crocodiles – turned out to be true.
During my next visit to Bali, I’d love to return for an even longer visit – that is, as long as the sight doesn’t end up getting refurbished as the man at the entrance suggested.
If you’re more into exploring abandoned places than hunting for street art, then you can’t miss the Ghost Palace Hotel in Bedugul. If you’re interested in finding more street art during your time in Indonesia, a trip to Bali’s west coast town of Canggu and the central Javan city of Yogyakarta are highly recommended.
Despite Taman Festival having been closed for so long, it’s still clearly visible on Google Maps. As long as you have a local SIM card then you should be able to find it. If not, try asking locals how to get to Pantai Padang Galak if they haven’t heard of Taman Festival.
If you’re staying in Sanur, you can just reach the area by bicycle or motorbike. Of course, you can also take a taxi.
Some locals may be aware of the park’s existence while others may not have heard of it. Some taxi drivers might try to dissuade you from going, as they can’t quite comprehend why anyone would want to walk around an abandoned park! On the other hand, some drivers in the know might be aware of the park’s current status as an offbeat tourist attraction.
Once you get up close, the entrance to the abandoned park should be fairly obvious. Most people report being asked to pay a small bribe to a “guard.” This is fairly normal in Bali and the fee will likely be very small, at just around Rp. 10,000 or so.
During my visit there were some local men standing by the entrance but they did not ask anyone in my group for payment, even after chatting with us for a bit.
If you can, wear close-toed shoes as there’s some broken glass laying around. If you end up coming in with sandals on then you should still be fine, but be sure to watch wherever you’re stepping.
Some of the abandoned buildings are very dark, so bring a torch or just use that function on your smartphone.
There are lots of mosquitos and other insects throughout the park, so if you’re the type that likes to wear mosquito repellent, bring some.
As far as potential danger from other people is concerned, you shouldn’t have any problems. Bali is a safe place in general and since Taman Festival is pretty well-known these days, there will most likely be a number of other visitors during your time there.
As for the rumors about ghosts, I can’t really say for sure…
Bali only has one airport, which is located in the capital and largest city of Denpasar. The best way to reach your accommodation on Bali island from the airport would be via taxi, which can be arranged by your hotel or simply negotiated at the airport.
The Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar is very well connected. You can find direct flights from all over Indonesia, in addition to plenty of international cities throughout Asia and even Europe.