After a few days at the beach, Sara and I headed to the city of Ubud, located about an hour north of Kuta. Tourist come to Ubud for the arts as it is considered the cultural center of Bali. Late in the 19th century, Cokorda Gede Sukawati established a branch of the Sukawati royal family in Ubud. His descendants encouraged Western artists and intellectuals to visit the area in the 1930s providing and enormous stimulus to local art and began a process of promoting Balinese culture worldwide.
In recent years Ubud has developed quickly to satisfy the large numbers of visitors eager to experience the ‘real’ Bali. As a result, Ubud feels like an overgrown village where Bali’s Hindu heritage is at its most vivid and the streets are filled with temples and rice paddy fields.
The annual “Writers Festival” was being held in the city during our visit. There was lots to do and see and unfortunately Sara and I could only stay for four days, but we would have loved to have stayed longer! We only got a small sampling of all the wonderful restaurants, cafes, and streets of shops selling good from the regions artisans and craftmakers.
I had heard of a place called Yoga Barn from fellow travelers and told Sara we had to check it out. We attended an evening session and both agreed that Yoga Barn provided the most tranquil setting we had ever experienced in a yoga session.
We took a walk through the “Monkey Forest” where we were greeted and passed by literally hundreds of monkeys in the wild! There were so many different types and sizes of monkeys. Of course I loved all of the tiny baby monkeys! I want a pet monkey!!!
We walked into Ubud Inn & Spa to ask for a list of spa services. We immediately noticed a framed cover of the book “Eat, Pray, Love” on the wall with an explanation that the Inn’s employee Mario was mentioned in the book. We were then greeted by Mario himself who asked how he could help us. We asked him about his involvement with the book and he explained that he met the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, when she was living in Ubud. He had been her motorbike driver until he convinced her to buy her own. Mario was the guy who drove Elizabeth to the medicine man who as a result of the book has became quite a tourist attraction. Apparently people wait in long lines for hours for the chance to speak to him. Mario gave us his card and explained that he is a driver and offers day tours.
We began our day tour by watching a performance of the Barong Dance. The Barong play represents an eternal fight between good and evil spirits. Barong (a mythological animal) represents a good spirit and Rangda (a mythological monster) represents an evil one. The Balinese take these performances very seriously. Birthdays, weddings, and temple festivals are all occasions for the dramatic performances and the dance is linked with Balinese religion.
Dances are performed daily for tourists throughout Bali. I found the dance very interesting while Sara thought it was horrible and it gave her a headache!
After the play, Mario took us to a traditional Balinese house and a silver and textile making factory. We also visited a village filled with many galleries displaying and selling work of local artists. Mario helped me to negotiate the price of a beautiful painting of the lotus flower.
One of our favorite stops of the day was at a coffee and tea plantation in Temen village. We got to sample the worlds most expensive coffee. At $400 to $1,000 per pound, kopi luwak is said to be the most surprising and unique morning wakeup you’ll ever taste. The reason why it tastes so unique is because it’s harvested from the droppings of a luwak, a type of mongoose native to the jungles of South East Asia.
Kopi luwak is made from coffee beans that have been eaten and excreted by the luwak. The flesh of the coffee cherry is digested by the animal, but the bean passes through intact and is deposited in piles of scat (poo) that are collected by hand from the jungle floor. The poo droppings are cleaned, roasted, and packaged. The coffee beans found inside the luwak’s poo is considered to be the best quality beans.
Despite our hesitations to drinking “poo coffee”, Sara and I both sampled a variety of coffees and teas. Our favorite was the coffee made of a blend of cocoa and coffee beans and we each bought a few small packages.
Next, we were off to Bekur to see the lakes, mountains, and volcanos that make up this beautiful region. This volcano is very active and the destruction of the most recent eruption is still evident by the black soil covering much of the land.
We visited Holy Spring Temple in Sebetu.
We finished our day tour at a beautiful rice terrace in Tezellenz.
Mario was great and I recommend him as a tour guide to anyone visiting Ubud.
Mario Cell Phone: +62 81.2395.5152
We could not leave Ubud without indulging ourselves in one of the many cheap spa treatments offered throughout town. We asked Mario to drop us off at Zen Bali Spa where Sara and I were pampered with a 2 hour spa treatment that cost only $15! I opted for the Mandi Lulur- Floral Bath – 17th century Javanese royal treatment. A traditional body massage followed by a body scrub with turmeric, sandal wood and rice powder, and exfoliation of yogurt to eliminate toxins, and a fragrant blossom bath….AMAZING!!!
After spending a week in Bali, we both agreed that the Balinese people were very kind and I believe the sweetest people I have met in Southeast Asia. But I understood that Bali is very different that the rest of Indonesia. The Javanese are the largest and most politically dominant ethnic group. Indonesia is made up of 18,000 islands, 6,000 of which are inhabited. Across its many islands, Indonesia consists of distinct ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups. Most Balinese are Buddhist while the rest of the country is predominately Muslim. With a population of 222 million people in 2006, it is the world’s fourth most populous country and the most populous Muslim-majority nation.
As we prepared to leave Bali headed to the neighboring island of Lombok, we wondered how different the two islands would be from each other?
To see photos of Ubud CLICK HERE!