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Think of this as the British Museum or the Smithsonian of Balinese culture. It's all here, but unlike those world-class institutions, you have to work at sorting it out – the museum could use a dose of curatorial energy (and some new light bulbs). Most displays are labelled in English. The museum comprises several buildings and pavilions, including many examples of Balinese architecture, housing prehistoric pieces, traditional artefacts, Barong (mythical lion-dog creatures), ceremonial objects and rich displays of textiles.
Museum staff members often play music on a bamboo gamelan to magical effect; visit in the afternoons when it's uncrowded. Ignore 'guides' who offer little except a chance to part with US$5 or US$10.
The main building has a collection of prehistoric pieces downstairs, including stone sarcophagi, and stone and bronze implements. Upstairs there are examples of traditional artefacts, including items still in everyday use. Look for the intricate wood-and-cane carrying cases for transporting fighting cocks, and tiny carrying cases for fighting crickets.
The Northern Pavilion is built in the style of a Tabanan palace. It houses dance costumes and masks, including a sinister rangda (widow-witch), a healthy-looking Barong and a towering Barong Landung (tall Barong) figure.
The spacious verandah of the Central Pavilion is inspired by the palace pavilions of the Karangasem kingdom (based in Amlapura), where rajas held audiences. The exhibits are related to Balinese religion and include ceremonial objects, calendars and priests' clothing.
In the Southern Pavilion there are rich displays of textiles, including endek (a Balinese method of weaving with predyed threads), double ikat, songket (silver- and gold-threaded cloth, handwoven using a floating weft technique) and prada (the application of gold leaf or gold or silver thread on traditional Balinese clothes).