First port of call in Bali: Ubud.
Known for: Arts & crafts villages Holistic health & nutrition Yoga Temples and Palaces Rainforests Luwak coffee.
My friend Michelle and I decided we would start off in Ubud to get an essence of Balinese culture. As soon as we stepped off the plane, we were blasted with a warm wave of heat – and later ushered into an airconditioned taxi by a lovely Balinese guy. He then proceeded to give us a detailed explaination of all the activities he was going to plan for us at 8am the next morning, referring to his tattered homemade clearfile guide in the seat pocket. We politely declined when we learnt this was a tourist trap* and decided we would hit the streets the following day to get our bearings. However on the way we did stop off at a tea plantation to try some Luwak coffee… I can now say I have willingly eaten civet poo.
*Be wary of tourism deals. Often you can haggle for a much cheaper price, as tourists are seen as easy targets to rip off (not done maliciously, just to make ends meet).
Where to stay:
We started off at Alaya Resort which was absolutely gorgeous – and surprisingly tranquil despite being in the central hub of Ubud.
We then moved on to The Kayon Resort which is where I wrote a blog feature you can read here. Both hotels I would highly recommend all travelers. Alaya is on the cheaper side and closer to the centre so good if you want to explore by foot, and The Kayon is fantastic for a total relax and a shuttle runs daily to nearby villages.
What to do:
Day 1 we woke up at 7am (due to a combination of hunger and jet-lag) – grabbed breakfast and began exploring the streets. We visited the big Ubud market where you can buy crafts, gifts, clothes and food. I was particularly interested in people watching!
Tips for the markets
– Go early for “lucky price” deals. If you are a store’s first customer, it is good luck for both them and you to sell the item to you for a cheap price. Michelle bought a pair of shorts for $2 which the lovely lady then performed a little ritual around her shop to represent the good luck.
– If you are going to haggle, decide how much you are prepared to pay for it and stick to your guns. But also bare in mind how much it would cost to make, and the fact that the person probably needs the extra $1 more than you do.
– You can often get away with 40% off the asking price
– Learn some basic Balinese to show your cultural awareness.
Salamat Pagi ~ Goodmorning! (up until 11am)
Apa Kabar ~ How are you?
Sampai Jumpa ~ Goodbye
Suksma ~ Thank you (not to get confused with Terima Kasih which is Indonesian)
Nama Saya Olivia ~ My name is Olivia
Tidak or Tidak suksma! ~ No, or no thank you (this phrase is handy when being hassled for taxi services*
*In Bali EVERYONE is a taxi driver and they will constantly yell at you “Taxi” or “Transport”.
After 11 hours of exploring Ubud, visiting temples, cafes and meeting locals, we went to see a beautiful traditional Balinese dance. The women (and man) were dressed up in stunning elaborate costumes and heavy stage makeup (including the man who was portraying a woman). The show was approximately 1hr 30 and was held in the palace – a gold gilted room filled with row upon row of gamelan drums and intricate sets.
After the performance we got dinner at 10pm then heard some great music coming from a bar called “Oops” – great name, right? Two local boys were playing guitars and singing covers of Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, and they even got a couple of tourists up for a jam. We sat and enjoyed the music with our one Bintang then strolled back to the hotel. We forgot we booked a Sunrise trek for 1am. 2hrs to sleep later (if that) we were up skulling a quick cuppa and grabbing a chocolate digestive biscuit (thanks mum for planting these lifesavers in my carry on) before racing out the door. It took just under 2 hrs to get there. Pitch black, in the middle of a forrest we met a young boy called Ketut who would be leading us up the rock face of a volcano. Luckily we didn’t tell our parents until we got back safe and sound 😉
Mount Batur is one of 2 volcanos you can climb (Agung takes 4.5 hours so we opted for the quicker option) and it was definitely a highlight of my time in Bali. I must admit I may have missed the sunrise though, due to the distraction of these cheeky little creatures in the following pics….
I was hanging out with the tour guides in the hut when I heard yelps from my friend Michelle being bullied for her breakfast by a monkey!
On the trek we asked Ketut (boy in red) what he knew about NZ. He shouted “John Key” and told us he really liked the western name John. In Bali kids are given two names when they are born. A unique name, and one that alines with their birth order. Ketut means 4th child. Both Michelle and I are the oldest so he named us Putu and Gede (1st born). So we said “right, Ketut can be called John”… then the other boys asked what their names could be. “You are all John” we told them “and Ketut can be John Key!” – which followed with a raucous of laughter!
Where to eat:
The evening we arrived we were absolutely ravenous after pushing unidentifiable food round our tin trays on the plane..
was it a carrot? pumpkin? an apricot?
Heading to the main area of Ubud we stumbled across a restaurant I had seen on Instagram – known for healthy raw vegan salads and the like. We went in and sat with other tourists ordering some noodles and a curry to share, both $2 NZL. When they came out they were not as expected… More like 2 minute noodles, with some dodgy looking meat and odd tasting veggies. The funny part was that as we left the restaurant, Michelle started laughing and pointed at a massive sign outside a beautiful looking restaurant. Turns out the one we wanted to go to was right next door!
The next day we made up for it by going to Kafe, a small cafe down from the hotel where we shared some yummy vegan pancakes.
After about 11hrs of exploring Ubud, we went for a good walk up to the infamous Alchemy. It’s a groovy health food cafe, complete with positive affirmation posters, incredibly friendly service and happy looking diners.
An Australian lady next to us ordered a mango and raspberry house-made sorbet which she absolutely raved about, so after some food envy, I bought one myself and it was incredible!
After my sorbet, and Michelle’s iced tea we decided we needed something substantial. Hunger pangs kicking in we hiked up a precarious but beautiful staircase to a wall-less cafe where you sat on cushions on the floor. It was probably the most peaceful, enjoyable dining space I have ever been in. There were no frills, no pretence – and that’s what I loved most about Clear Cafe. Sadly their previous premisis had burnt down not long before we arrived, but luckily someone in the community donated a temporary space for them to continue serving their delicious food. Michy and I shared the Snapper which came in a light sauce with pineapple, snake beans, rice and lots of interesting flavours. The fish was so fresh and cooked to perfection. The menu also offered a range of raw meals (vegan zucchini pasta, raw sprouted granola etc.) as well as thai curries, nut milk “mylkshakes”, buttermilk pancakes, Mexican nachos, Mediterranean wraps etc. They cook with coconut oil, and the sustainable produce is delivered daily from across Bali. Highly recommend 10/10
For dinner we made a reservation at the ever popular, Melting Wok. This place would seriously give Gordon Ramsay a run for his money. Honestly the most amazing meals I have ever had. The first time we got the beef and ginger noodle dish, and the next day we went back for lunch and had a green noodle curry with fresh snapper. Oh my lord, heaven on a plate. Even if you’re only in Ubud for one night, seek out this place, you will not regret it I promise!
As a born and bred Wellingtonian, a decent coffee was bound to be found at some point. Seniman got the Wellington tick! Rad people, rad coffee.
And at our last hotel (The Kayon Resort) in Ubud, the Thai Beef Salad and Petanu cooler were a hit!
So there you have it, A complete guide to Ubud. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the rice terraces or ride any scooters, but I find when travelling it’s always good to have a reason to go back soon! Please feel free to leave any other tips or suggestions in the comments below, or ask any questions you may have. I look forward to hearing from you. The next location post will be…
Gili Trawangan Island, Indonesia