Travel

We Got to the Bottom of Bali's Abandoned Plane Mystery

What's it doing wedged between houses in Kuta?
17 July 2018, 6:00amUpdated on 17 July 2018, 4:30am
All photos by the author

There are two abandoned Boeing 737s in Bali, and no one seems to know why. They sit on the same end of the island, about five kilometres apart, both on vacant scraps of land and holed up behind fences. And for too long I’ve been reading articles that offer zero explanations for either.

"No one seems to know for sure how a Boeing 737 ended up in Kedonganan," says Atlas Obscura, while Zoom Bali says pretty much the same. "The reason it has been left incomplete without any single hint of ongoing development remains a mystery."

Obviously no one had bothered to ask questions, so I decided to do just that. One plane and one article at a time.

I started with the plane next to the Dunkin’ Donuts, which is a big disheveled thing with no engines, parked among houses. It sits along the island’s biggest highway, but nowhere near the beach or the shops. It’s close-ish to Denpasar airport, but it's hemmed in by buildings so it seems unlikely they landed it there or got it taxied in. Apparently someone moved go it there via truck—but why?

I approached some men at a nearby coffee stand and in broken Bahasa (with lots of Google Translate) I managed to learn that a guy named Sulaiman was in charge. The rest of the guys were technicians at an elevator and escalator shop next door.

I followed Sulaiman back to the plane where he proceeded to kick off his thongs, and climb up a precarious-looking steel beam with his bare feet. He removed a hatch, which was possibly once the luggage compartment, and disappeared inside. He came back with a large bamboo ladder, motioning for my girlfriend and I to climb inside. Then, just as we were poised to enter, Sulaiman explained that it would cost Rp 50,000 to come in. It seemed a fair deal.

Sulaiman and my gf Kayla

We paid up and climbed in, along with one of the escalator repairmen who seemed hyped about being in photos. Since they worked next door, I can only assume that the repairmen had been over hundreds of times. Still, they seemed stoked to stand on the wing, posing as traffic whizzed below.

Sulaiman explained that a guy from Jakarta named Arif owned the plane. Bizarrely, he bought it in Jakarta and had it dismantled, then loaded into four shipping containers and transported it here in 2015. It’s been sitting up on stilts ever since.

The long-term plan, according to Sulaiman, is to eventually turn it into a restaurant and flight simulator. Apparently Arif has a 10-year lease on the land but he needs an investment partner before he can start renovating the plane.

Sulaiman is the plane’s fulltime security guard, which seems to involve a lot of sitting around, drinking coffee, and charging tourists five bucks to get selfies in the plane. When I asked him how many people visit the plane a day, he said about 30—though added the number fluctuates depending on season.

Me

Whipping out the bamboo ladder and charging an entry fee for people to get inside seems like a tidy way to supplement his income, though Sulaiman’s certainly not rich. He was helpful and polite, but seemed a bit bored until his daughter arrived and helped translate.

Sulaiman

“Take her to Australia,” he joked when he found out where we were from. I asked Sulaiman how long he thought it would take until the plane was converted into a restaurant but he just shrugged. “The lease is for 10 years,” he repeated.

As long as the tourists kept rocking up, paying the entry fee and causing no trouble, it wasn’t his business to care. So there's probably no rush, now you've found a reason to visit.

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This article originally appeared on VICE AU.

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