One of the famous spectacles a visitor to Bali should see is the buffalo ( mekepung ) races in Negara, in west Bali. For a mixture of sport and circus nothing beats this.
•What is it?
Pampered bulls are spruced up with accessories, hitched in pairs to makeshift chariots and steered by jockeys who combine their riding skills. Two pairs race at a time around a dirt track that is about half a mile round. Here are some great mekepung photos.
•When is it?
The mekepung races happen on Sundays, every year between July & October in Perancak, close to Negara. The races start 7-8am and go for a few hours. Ask a Balinese travel agent, because the races do not go on every week.
•Where is it?
Negara is located slightly inland from the coast, about a 3 hour drive west of Kuta. Two competing teams of jockeys and buffalos come from either side of the Ijo Gading River. Head west towards Negara, taking the road to Perancak. You might have to ask a local and look out for signs of a bull race.
•What’s good about it?
The mekepung races are a Balinese tradition. The bright decorations, the family atmosphere, the ridiculousness of it all, 2 teams of bulls on a one track course! Its a pantomine mixed with sport and up to this point, it hasn’t been turned into a tourist trap. When I visited a year and a half ago I could not believe how many teams of buffalos there were lining up to race, literally hundreds, it seemed. The jockeys ride in a little cart behind the team, whipping their rear ends with a whip that has a nail in it. A friend told me that the drivers also rub chili powder on the animals rear just before take-off. That is what I call the afterburner effect. I remember seeing dinner plate sized patches of bloodied backside.
Negara is a long way from Kuta, the last thing you want is to drive all the way there, spend a day in the hot sun, then have to drive all the way back. Much better to stay overnight close by, ready for the 7-8am start.
When I saw the mekepung races, a couple of years ago I spent the night in a small local guest house. The one thing I remember about it was mosquitoes, and the large cockroaches in the bathroom. Arriving just before sunset, I asked the manager if he had a mosquito coil, to clear the room. He told me to go back to the room, and he would bring something much better. A couple of minutes later, he shows up with a hand pump, attached to a container of pesticide. Without waiting, he starts pumping the thing, blowing clouds of noxious fumes under and over the bed. “Don’t worry,” he said “this kill everything.” Hopefully you won’t stay in that guest house when you visit Negara.
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•Places to stay in Negara
Wira Pada Hotel
Jl. Ngurah Rai
Negara has guest houses like the one I stayed in, but they are not that nice. The best hotel in town is Wira Pada Hotel. It has fan or AC rooms. Negara has a strong Muslim presence and very few bars or any kind of western nightlife or restaurants.
Another option is staying in Medewi, the surf spot to the east. There are a few hotels there. Medewi offers an alternative.
Hotel Tin Jaya
Has cheap rooms, with attached bathrooms. Also have attached guest house rooms which are cheaper still.
Another budget place, with a shared bathroom.
Medewi Beach Cottages
The most expensive place to stay, call and ask the prices. Has AC, TV, pool, beach view. These 3 place are all located on the beach side of the main road, very easy to find.
All 3 places have a restaurant.
Medewi is 15km from Negara.
Like I said I only saw 2 other westerners at the buffalo races, so unless you have a large group you won’t have to book in advance. I would not really want to drive from Kuta area in the morning and then back again. That would be a 6-7 hour round trip, minimum, not counting the races, much nicer to stay closer to the races, as they start around 7-8am.
Highly recommended to hire a car or car & driver. You’ll have freedom and its better than taking a motorbike. Make sure you have an International Licence. You will most likely get pulled over, the Tourist Police out there pulled me over on a straight highlway, and said ‘You make wrong turn’, which ended with a request for money. There’s really no argument with people like that.
•Things to bring
Bring any special snacks you like as there aren’t any Circle K’s out there. Negara really is a local’s scene and at the races it the same. There are drink and food vendors. Bring a sunhat, sunscreen, camera and a bottle of wine / liquor, if you plan on having a drink in the quiet of your hotel later.