Thinking about visiting Pura Lempuyang aka Heaven’s Gate in Bali? Here’s all you need to know.
Pura Lempuyang is a cluster of Bali temples located high up on Mount Lempuyang. They are some of the oldest, most sacred and well-regarded Balinese temples.
It’s on this mountain that you’ll find the Gates of Heaven in Bali, one of the most iconic and most instagrammable photo spots in Indonesia.
Heaven’s Gate in Bali has been made famous by these images which show people, often in romantic poses, standing between the gates at sunrise or sunset with what looks like a pool of water in front of them.
It’s a pretty magical photo, but it all engineered, as I found out the hard way. I’ll explain more about the Lempuyang Temple photo trick later on.
Spoiler alert: the “pool of water” at Pura Lempuyang is an illusion!
In this post, I’m going to tell you all about my experience at Pura Lempuyang Luhur, what I regret about it and how I would do things differently if I were to visit again.
I hope that this post will shed some light on what visiting Pura Lempuyang is really like so that you can decide how best to plan your visit or if you want to visit at all.
Keep reading for all you need to know about visiting Pura Lempuyang Bali and getting photos at the “Gates of Heaven”, Bali.
When is Lempuyang Temple Open?
Pura Lempuyang is open every day, seven days a week, from 7am in the morning to 5pm in the afternoon. That said, if you’re hoping to avoid huge queues at the temples, I’d recommend arriving at 5am or earlier.
You might think this to be absolutely ridiculous and overly cautious. That was my attitude too when the taxi company suggested we aim to arrive at this time.
And I regretted it.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did.
There will definitely be queues forming before 7am.
Do you need to book in advance to visit Lempuyang Temple?
You don’t need to book tickets in advance to visit the Lempuyang temples, however, as most visitors come from quite far away, you will need to book your car or tour before the day of your trip since, as I mentioned above, you will be leaving very early in the morning.
How to get to Pura Lempuyang
One of the most common ways for tourists to go on excursions in Bali is by ordering a private car for your group. I was travelling in a group of three so this worked quite well for us and it wasn’t too expensive as you pay per car, rather than per person.
Whilst the idea of a private car might seem pretty bougie, the price was roughly the same as booking three individual spots on a big bus tour so it was a no brainer for us.
We hired a private car from Ubud and arranged for it to pick us up at our hotel at 7am in the morning. Pura Lempuyang is located in East Bali so it was a very, very long drive up to Mount Lempuyang and we did not arrive until around 9:45am.
By this time, huge queues had formed, which is why I absolutely recommend that you arrive before 7am in the morning if you’re hoping to visit the temples and get that iconic Bali Gate photo.
This cost 700,000 IDR (£40/$50) in total, which worked out to £13.50 or $16.50 each.
When we arrived at the car park before Pura Lempuyang temples, we paid for a motorbike to take us the rest of the way.
The cars and coaches can’t go right up to the Gates of Heaven so you’ll either have to walk or pay for a short motorcycle ride up. The motorbike cost 20,000 IDR (£1.24/ $1.42) each way and is a set price.
Word of warning: The mountain is very steep so you’ll need to hold on tight. You won’t be given a helmet so please consider the safety implications of this before you choose to hop on.
For me, this ended up being one of the most fun parts of the day as it was rather exhilarating and there are amazing views.
What happens when you get to Pura Lempuyang?
So what happens when you actually reach Pura Lempuyang Temple? We paid a fee of 20,000 IDR (£1.24/ $1.42) to borrow a sarong and gain entrance to the temple complex.
There’s no set entrance fee but from looking at the register the norm seemed to be 10,000 IDR so we donated that sum each and then paid a further 10,000 IDR for the sarong hire
Bear in mind that you must wear a sarong, even if you are already wearing long trousers or a long skirt, so please bring your own or be willing to borrow one here.
After we’d wrapped the sarongs around our waists, we headed to the Bali Gate. And my feeling when I first laid eyes on it was one of… disappointment. The gates look much less impressive in real life than they do in photographs.
For one, there’s no water at the foot of the gates, just concrete. The “water” is a clever phone camera illusion.
The Gateway to Heaven is also not as tall as it looks in images. Most of the images are taken from a very low angle, making the gates look tall and impressive.
Opposite the Gates of Heaven is a set of stairs with dragons and greenery, which is arguably more impressive than the Bali Gates themselves and there are much fewer people taking photos here.
How to get photos of the Gates of Heaven, Bali
By the time we joined the queue for photos at the Gates of Heaven, it was around 10am.
I know that people said the queue could often be 2-3 hours but from looking at it, it seemed pretty short so we decided to give it a go.
I misjudged the size of the queue completely and it did indeed take between two and three hours for us to reach the front. We had our photos taken at about 12:45pm, the sun was beating down on us and it was sweltering.
Thankfully there’s a shelter under which the queue snakes so you are only exposed to the sun when you first join the queue and when you are approaching first place in line.
Since you’re going to be under here for quite a while, I’d recommend bringing a book to read. I managed to read an entire novel whilst waiting to take my photo here. Yes, a whole book.
Since the queue was so long, I watched group after group taking the shots. And, to be honest, this part is quite fun.
You watch groups scrabble into different positions and there’s lots of giggling and laughing from both the people having their photos taken as well as the people queuing.
You’ll have plenty of time to plan your poses in advance.
And you’ll need to.
The way that the photo-taking process is run is really quite militant. There’s a small group of photo helpers, local Balinese people, who take your camera and phone to take the photos.
After each photo has been taken, they shout “next!” so you know when to move into the next pose. There are only about 10 seconds in between each round of “next”.
It’s simultaneously impressive and horrifying. Impressive that the locals have devised such an efficient system and horrifying that such a meaningless Instagram exercise takes place at a temple.
These helpers stand out in the boiling sun all day to take these photos so tip them generously for doing so. There’s no set fee, they’ll accept whatever you give them.
You’re allowed do around 3 or 4 different poses before they tell your group to move on. If you keep going, there’s nothing they can really do to stop you though.
You’re also allowed to do individual shots and then come back together at the end for some group ones.
How are the Bali Gate photos faked?
I’m sure you’re wondering at this point how the Bali Gate photos are faked.
The reason that the cameramen take both your phone and your camera is that using your phone (whatever smartphone you have), they can use a reflective tool pressed up against the camera lens to create the illusion of a reflection.
This is how it the Lempuyang Temple photo trick works and how it looks like there’s water at Lempuyang. The reflected blue is actually just the blue sky.
NB. The photo helpers will need to take your phone case off to do this so make sure your phone is one that can be easily removed from its case when you reach the front so there’s not too much faffing.
As the photo helpers are sat on very low stools, the angle from which they take the photos is very low.
This means that you cannot see anything between the gates but blue skies, which creates the illusion of the gates floating in a pool of water in the sky. It’s very clever but very disappointing.
How to get photos at the Bali Gate without queueing
If you want to get a photo of the Bali “Gates of Heaven” without queueing for hours, you can do so by standing close by the photographers in the centre of the square and being prepped to start clicking as soon as one group moves off.
You’ll have a very short window between groups to take pictures (honestly less than a minute) but if you’re ready to snap away as soon as one group moves off, you should get an unobstructed photo of the Bali Gate.
You might even be able to get one of yourself with the Bali Gates of Heaven in the background if you stand just ahead of the group of photo helpers and get a friend to snap a well-angled pic very quickly. Your body will probably block anyone standing between the gates in the background too.
In between groups, you can also hurry forwards to go down the steps on the other side of the gate
The third way to take pictures with the Bali Gates is to take a photo from the other side of the gate. To do this, you’ll need to run forwards when there’s a gap between groups and make your way down the stairs on the other side pretty quickly.
Once you’ve got down a few steps, your head should be out of sight of the people from the other side and you can take your photos in peace.
There might be one or two other groups down here but generally, people are much more concerned about taking photos from the other side of these steps so this bit remains quite quiet!
From here, you can then take photos from the bottom of the steps, looking upwards to the gate. Obviously, this is a different and less desirable angle, but it still looks nice and, crucially, you don’t have to queue for 3 hours to get it.
Should you visit the Bali Gate of Heaven?
I suppose now the question to ask yourself is whether or not you should visit the Bali Gate of Heaven. If you want to avoid the most tourist-ridden areas of Bali, then I’d say you should give this one a miss.
I thought that it was a cultural experience coupled with amazing photo opportunities but unfortunately, it is simply the latter.
It really dismayed me to see people at the most sacred temple in Bali, blatantly disrespecting the rules for a photo opportunity.
For example, they discourage yoga poses here, especially those where the feet are held up high. This is seen as disrespectful and yet people do it anyway.
The photo helpers will shout at you to stop if they see you doing this and wait for you to move into a different position.
The photo opportunity here is certainly not an experience I’d ever repeat and not one I’d recommend. If you want to come for a tour of the temples, that’s a different story, and will require your own research.
Silver linings from my experience at Pura Lempuyang Bali
My experience at Pura Lempuyang temple was a great learning experience for me. It was a stark reminder to thoroughly research what an experience offers before booking it, especially when it’s in a place as touristy as Bali.
As an Instagrammer, I love beautiful images and work hard to get “the shot”.
However, driving for several hours and then queuing for several hours more for a few seconds of photo taking is definitely not the sort of activity I want to participate in or promote.
Another positive is that since Pura Lempuyang is so far away from where most tourists stay, I was able to get a glimpse into what I think is “real” Balinese life on the drive up the mountain.
At least, it seemed more real than what I saw in the centres of Ubud and Seminyak.
I saw locals washing in the river (even a man fully naked from the roadside!) as well as locals washing clothes in the river and hanging them out to dry.
I also saw locals out working in the rice paddies, which seemed much more authentic than anything at Tegalalang.
When I visited the latter, there wasn’t much rice around as it had just been harvested so I suspected that the men wandering around with baskets on their shoulders were doing it for the donations.
I also managed to read half my book in the queue proving, once again, that you should always carry a book with you.
I still remember finishing Still Me by Jojo Moyes in this queue, silently crying my eyes out and hoping my friends wouldn’t notice.
Of course, I’d have much rather been reading that book by the pool at my Bali hotel though. Desperately clutching for positives here.
What’s the best way to see Lempuyang Temple?
I’m not saying don’t go to Pura Lempuyang at all. But I am saying don’t go and queue for that photo.
It was hugely disappointing for me to find that Bali’s oldest temples are simply a tourist hotspot now and I regret that I did not discover this in advance so that I could either plan a more meaningful trip or avoid it altogether.
I don’t think the other temples on the mountain are anywhere near as touristy and I imagine that a day trip to this region to visit all seven temples with a good guide would be quite interesting.
I believe you have to be quite fit for this and it takes around 4 hours to see all the temples.
Quick tips for visiting Pura Lempuyang
- Book a car for your group in advance
- Get to Pura Lempuyang before 7am if you want a photo of yourself between the Bali Gates
- Bring a book to read or something to do if you decide to queue
- Consider simply taking a photo of the Bali Gate, without you in it to avoid queueing
- Be respectful – this is a temple, not just a photo opportunity
- Make a plan to visit a number of the temples in this region
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