One of the elements of the South Sulawesi landscape that really caught my eye were the houses and their architecture, from the curved rooftops of Torajan traditional homes to the stilt houses that line the road around Bira on the … Continue reading
A friend’s opinion that Bira was the most beautiful beach in Indonesia secured my decision to visit as the endpoint of my South Sulawesi trip, which had taken me north to Tana Toraja and to the city of Makassar.
Bira Beach, a few hours drive from Makassar, has become one of South Sulawesi’s most popular traveller haunts, with domestic and international tourists coming to enjoy the powdery white sands and crystal clear waters.
Unfortunately, as happens in many places that become tourism’s new best friend, the main part of the beach, where the road finishes abruptly at the seashore, was covered in litter. Plastic bags, food and drink containers and other random objects had been churned up by the waves and dumped on the beach, and the situation did not change during our three-night stay.
A Changeable Sea
On our first day the sea was relatively calm; people buzzed back and forth on banana boats dragged by speedboats. Other boats anchored near the beach, with passengers from nearby islands alighting. I swam in the sea, and as long as I avoided the boats, it was pleasant for swimming.
On day two, however, the waves were bigger and it was impossible to do proper swimming. Sunsets along the beach were beautiful, but not of the sun-dropping-into-the-ocean type.
I found that walking further along the beach, away from the hubbub of Bira with its souvenir stalls and rubber ring hire shops, led me to cleaner sand with fewer people, and I swam there on day three.
Not a Peaceful Idyll
So, Bira is definitely not the peaceful idyll that some guidebooks and people would have you believe. It’s a small but bustling tourist place, with plenty of places to stay and eat, and lots of shops to buy your Sulawesi t-shirts.
With this kind of under-planned tourism, where places just sprout up to cope with demand, there is often a lack of thought for keeping an area clean and pleasant. I hope that this issue will be addressed by the local businesses who rely on a steady stream of beach-going visitors. And for the time being, I suggest avoiding Bira – there are plenty of better beaches in Indonesia (here’s one example).
Having quickly moved hotels after a ghastly experience at Bira Beach Hotel, we found Hotel Sapolohe just up a side road, away from the Bira’s main drag, but right near the beach.
The hotel itself was a massive house on stilts, which instantly appealed to me because of architecture alone. We paid Rp. 350,000 for a deluxe room with sea view, a TV, air-conditioning and hot water, but not including breakfast. We bargained to get this price, which we considered on the expensive side, down from Rp. 420,000.
The room was tastefully decorated and we stepped out on to a communal veranda looking out to the beach. There were no other guests during our two-night stay, so we had the veranda to ourselves. Set up on a cliff and upstairs in the stilt house, our position was high above the beach and we enjoyed looking out to sea. The hotel has direct access to the beach through a gate at the bottom of the garden.
The bathroom had a bathtub with a shower over it, but there was no plug for the bath or the sink, although we tried to request one. The bathroom fittings, unlike the bedroom, were quite old and worn but perfectly usable.
There was no housekeeping or room service of any kind. Since the hotel wasn’t serving breakfast for guests, there was nowhere to buy food or drinks at the hotel, but it was only a short walk to find a range of eateries. (Of particular note was the delicious freshly cooked food at Salassa Restaurant, along the main road going away from the beach.)
We were told that a new owner had recently bought Sapolohe and was planning to redevelop it, but it wasn’t clear what would happen or when.
Overall, Hotel Sapolohe is a good option for a quiet break, away from the central area of the village and overlooking the sea. I enjoyed the feeling of staying in a stilt house and the sea view from up above everything was fantastic.
Bira’s hotels are a mixed bunch with many friendly options up the main road away from the sea. If you’re intent on a sea view while still being close to the village, and you don’t mind paying a bit more, Hotel Sapolohe is a good choice.
We had phoned ahead to confirm our late arrival at Bira Beach Hotel at Pantai Bira, South Sulawesi, and were assured that someone at the hotel would be up. However, on leaving our rental car in the midnight darkness, the hotel door turned out to be locked. We knocked and banged for a while and tried phoning the hotel number. Eventually someone woke up who sleepily showed us to our bungalow.
We were exhausted from our long journey all the way from Tana Toraja, and just wanted to have a shower and go to bed. But there was no running water. A sign informed us that during the night there was indeed no water, and that guests should save some water in the large plastic bucket provided. There were only a few centimetres of water in our plastic bucket.
The leftover sachet from someone else’s shampoo littered the bathroom and this rubbish, along with the ants and hairs in the bed, suggested that the room had not been cleaned. We used our limited water to wash our faces and brush our teeth before quickly retiring to bed. There wasn’t even water to flush the toilet.
It was nearly 1am and we were so tired. Just as I was nodding off I was woken with a start by a scuttling sound beneath me—a rat’s footsteps! We got up again but couldn’t find the culprit and so returned to bed. I was almost ready to believe that my mind was playing tricks on me. Then suddenly there was a much louder noise. We immediately leapt out of bed and saw a large rat in one of the two holes above and below the air conditioning unit.
Although not scared of rodents, we didn’t want to wake up to find holes chewed in our bags, let alone have rats running across our bed in the night. We expected better from a hotel that isn’t the cheapest in the area.
We returned to reception and after much banging and several tries at phoning we finally succeeded in rousing somebody who agreed we could move to a different bungalow, without a word of apology.
We were offered no assistance in moving our luggage to the new room; indeed we were just given the new key and the staff went away. While we were moving our belongings there was a power cut and we were plunged into pitch black. Slowly and carefully moving by moonlight we moved to the new bungalow.
It was similar; a double bed, wooden veranda area with chairs, a cold water only bathroom with no running water at night, and an air conditioner. The new room was possibly slightly cleaner, with only one obvious piece of rubbish, a half-empty water bottle on the veranda. We were relieved that there were no rat holes.
Unfortunately the bathroom door was on its last legs and wouldn’t close. The smell from the bathroom permeated through the bungalow. When the electricity at last came back on we turned on the air conditioning to try to get rid of the bathroom smell. When we woke up in the morning it had mysteriously switched itself off.
Excuses and Apologies
The next morning we were given towels, toilet tissue and soap. When I asked why we didn’t receive them upon check-in, I was told that the hotel had run out of towels at that time. I explained our complaints, from poor service to rats, but the member of staff seemed disinterested and did not offer an apology.
A while later, another staff member came and heard our complaints. She did apologise and said she would make a note that the bungalow with rats should not be used until the problem was fixed. She offered us a discount, which she honoured when we checked out later that day. We had had enough of Bira Beach Hotel and nothing would make us stay there again.
We had been told there would be a buffalo fight in the village of Londa, Tana Toraja, and sure enough, hundreds of spectators lined the grassy bank watching the buffaloes face off in the mud below. Driving north to Batutumonga … Continue reading
These journey times and costs are accurate from my June-July 2012 trip. At this time the Makassar–Toraja road was being renovated and resurfaced. This made the journey slower, but once the roadworks are complete, the smooth, wide road should speed everything up.
For the Makassar-Toraja and Toraja-Makassar legs of my trip, I took air-conditioned executive buses, which were very comfortable. Litha & Co has buses departing throughout the day, with the last departure at 10pm; you should arrive at the terminal in plenty of time to ensure you get a ticket because the buses do get full. Bintang Prima’s buses were slightly more luxurious than Litha & Co, but both buses had powerful air-con, reclining seats and adjustable footrests. Both stopped for lunch and a few other times along the journey.
If you want to travel from Tana Toraja all the way to Pantai Bira in one day, you can either hire a car for the whole journey, for which I was quoted prices over a million rupiahs, or you can do as I did and rent your car from Makassar. My rental car with driver met me at the bus terminal on my arrival in Makassar and we arrived at Pantai Bira later that night. If you don’t want to fork out for car rental you’ll have to break your journey with a night in Makassar.
Travelling anywhere by public car, expect to squeeze into half a seat as they normally take ten passengers. From Pantai Bira to Makassar, ask your hotel to book seats in a public car a day before you want to leave.
|Makassar airport to city centre||Under 1 hour||Rp. 100,000 fixed price to Zone 1 destinations|
|Bus Makassar to Tana Toraja (Litha & Co)||9 hours including stops||Rp. 90,000|
|Public car Makale to Rantepao||Under 1 hour||Rp. 5,000 (shorter journeys cost less)|
|Bus Tana Toraja to Makassar (Bintang Prima)||9 hours including stops||Rp. 100,000|
|Private car hire Makassar to Pantai Bira||6 hours including stops||Rp. 600,000|
|Public car (kijang) Pantai Bira to Makassar||6 hours including stops||Rp. 50,000|
|Taxi Mallengkeri bus terminal to central Makassar||–||Rp. 36,000|
|Taxi central Makassar to airport||Under 1 hour||Rp. 80,000|