Many of the travelers I met along the way in Indonesia considered Ubud to be their favorite place, praising the abundance of culture and the hospitality of their homestay hosts. After having visited myself I can certainly see the appeal.
Ubud has that laid-back feeling arising from its large yoga community; it has streets lined with cute cafés and boutiques, and to top it off the town lies surrounded by the lush greenery of rice fields. After my sister joined me on Bali most of our time was spent in this inviting little town.
We began our first day with a visit to Ubud Art Market (locally called Pasar Seni, which translates to ‘central market’), located across from Ubud Palace. The market was bustling with noise and colors, showcasing a large selection of vibrant fabrics, beautiful wooden bowls and cutlery, sculptures and plenty of typical ‘Bali’ souvenirs. As we maneuvered through the narrow paths between stalls, we occasionally stopped to glance at the selections of jewelry and other trinkets. I was happy to find that the market offered a greater selection of artifacts than what can be found at the average souvenir stall, and left very satisfied with a small Buddha statue and a few gifts for friends and family.
In the afternoon we visited Big Tree Farms Bamboo Chocolate Factory. A young woman at the factory gave us a tour of the premises, and guided us through the process of chocolate making. We were permitted to taste the chocolate at various stages of the process, which we happily agreed to. Although the company has expanded greatly over the past years, the approximately 200 employees continue to produce and package all products by hand, thus providing more job opportunities for local Balinese people. The chocolate, in addition to other products such as coconut sugar and cocoa butter, is exported to Australia and other international markets. On the health side, I was pleased to hear that Big Tree Farms produce chocolate using coconut sugar (no refined sugar) and that the cocoa beans are roasted at a temperature not exceeding 45°C (to retain maximum nutritional value). It’s basically healthy chocolate!
We ended our day by talking a walk around the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, one of the main attractions in the town, which is located at the bend of Monkey Forest Road. Having been alerted to the monkey’s lively behavior and interest in anything that rustles or glimmers, we made sure to remove our sunglasses and any other loose items. This evidently made little difference as a rather large monkey (not one of those small cute ones) proceeded to climb up my sister’s leg and attach himself to her, mere minutes after we had entered the sanctuary. With the exception of this unexpected occurrence the rest of our visit remained peaceful. We strolled around the sanctuary, admiring the temples and the mystical greenery, but mostly stopping to take pictures of the monkeys eating (and sometimes fighting over) pieces of sweet potato.
On our second day in Ubud, after a delicious breakfast consisting of pancakes and fresh fruit served on wooden trays and banana leaves (very cute), we rented scooters and headed north out of town. Our first stop of the day was Tirta Empul, the holy spring water temple. Before entering the temple we wrapped our sarongs around us to cover our bare legs, and tied up our hair. While the temple itself is gorgeous, the main reason to visit is without a doubt the bathing pools where the Balinese Hindus perform rituals for purification. We observed as the individuals moved from left to right; they were stopping at each waterspout to splash the water on themselves, rinsing it in their mouths, and immersing themselves under the surface. The beauty of it mesmerized me.
Our next stop was Gunung Kawi, another holy spring water temple a few minutes away from Tirta Empul. There are no bathing pools, but holy spring water trickles through the temple at various points. The main sights at Gunung Kawi are the massive stone shrines; featuring statues that are engraved into the cliff wall, which tower up toward the sky and make you feel rather small.
The final stop of the day was one of my favorites: the iconic Tegalalang Rice Terraces. It was absolutely stunning to stroll through the various levels and witness the lush greenery, with palm trees making a nice aesthetic addition. I was struck by the vividly contrasting behaviors of the farmers: those capitalizing on the tourism by setting up checkpoints where you had to make a mandatory donation to pass, versus those wanting to keep their privacy and re-directing us when we (more than once) took a wrong turn.
The big adventure of our Ubud trip was the hike up Mount Batur to watch the sunrise. We were picked up at 2 am at our homestay in Ubud and drove for about an hour to reach the base of the volcano. Upon arrival we were treated to a cup of hot tea and fried bananas, which was a delight in the cold morning air. We started the hike at around 4 am, and it took about two hours to reach the top. We walked in small groups, with a local guide to lead the way. Our young guide told us that he typically leads a tour every day of the week. He evidently knew his way around, as demonstrated on our return by him skipping down the steep path as if he were walking in flat ground.
The hike was steeper than I had expected, but we made plenty of stops along the way to regroup and catch our breath. If there was every any doubt, the view from the top was absolutely worth it. We reached the peak just before sunrise and sat admiring the sky turn pink above the field of cotton candy clouds that stretched out below us. As the sun came out, so did the very curious monkeys. We had to keep a close eye on our breakfast as more than one monkey was seen skittering off with a banana peel…
Once we returned to Ubud we had breakfast for the third time that morning (it’s acceptable if you’ve been up since 1.30 am, right?) and later hired scooters to explore the area south of the town. We visited the beautiful Tegenungan Waterfall and cooled off in the water. The pressure from the waterfall was so strong that it was impossible to swim too close to it, but it was stunning nonetheless!
We started our final day in Ubud with a yoga session at the Yoga Barn, which took place in the most beautiful studio: a gorgeous wooden barn structure with floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides, displaying the greenery outside. Afterwards we enjoyed a fantastic must-be-recreated lunch at Yoga Barn’s Kafe: Meg’s Big Bowl and green super smoothie for me, and feta + grilled veggies focaccia and tropical juice for the sis. It was the perfect way of saying goodbye to Ubud and Bali; already knowing I would like to return again.