Singaraja (which means 'Lion King') is a fairly good-sized city (which is a good way of saying that I'm not sure what the population actually is) and Bali's second-largest, but it's orderly - even quiet - compared with Denpasar. With its pleasant tree-lined streets, Dutch colonial buidings and charmingly decrepit waterfront area, it's worth wandering around for a few hours.
It was the centre of Dutch power on Bali and remained the administrative centre for the Lesser Sunda Islands (Bali through to Timor) until 1953. It is one of the few places on Bali where there are visible reminders of the Dutch period, but there are also Chinese and Muslim influences. The port of Singaraja was for years the usual arrival point for visitors to Bali but is no longer used as a harbour because it offers little protection from bad weather - shipping for the north coast now uses the port of Celukanbawang, while visiting cruise ships anchor at Padang Bai.
They have been repairing things in Singaraja over the past few years and it definitely has a clean, open feel to it. The main shopping area is on Jalan Diponegoro and Jalan A. Yani. There is not much here in the way of tourist goods (masks, paintings, jewelry) but you can buy supplies for your stay in the north here - juice, boxed milk, diapers, toilet paper, cigarettes and beer are much cheaper than if you buy them in the tourist area to the west.
What is it that is unique about this place, or what is it that draws me to it? Maybe it's because Singaraja isn't really all that unique - just another friendly town in Indonesia where you can bop around, find some things that you need, meet some fine folks and live your life the way you want without interference from people that are convinced that they know how you should live your life.
I could live in Singaraja which reminds me a little of my old stamping-grounds in Malaysia, Penang and Port Dickson, with just a touch of Malacca. A friend, the well-known art photographer Tan Sioe Lay, lives in Singaraja.
He has his previous house in upmarket Jimbaran, south of Denpasar, for sale. At just R.1,250,000,000 (about AUS$140,000) is seems like a bargain but I prefer the wide streets and friendly folks of Singaraja.