This is a guest post by the lovely Barbara (pictured here looking particularly zen) who works with me at Fleewinter (a boutique London tour operator that offers Asia holidays). She’s our resident Bali expert and has written this excellent guide on how to spend 24 hours in Ubud… warning: reading might result in purchasing flights to Bali!
Luscious green rice paddies, a zen vibe and dozens of funky little restaurants and cafes are the name of the game in Ubud. A mecca for yoga-junkies, boutique hotel lovers and anyone who just wants to ‘get away from it all’, Ubud attracts people for so many different reasons.
Just being in this cultural and spiritual capital of Bali, seems to energise my soul, it’s addictive. Fortunately for me, my work takes me there quite frequently, and I always pencil in a non-work day to re-boost my batteries and soak up this gorgeous town. So if you are wondering how to spend 24 hours in Ubud, take a peek below to see how I chose to rejuvenate my body and soul with just 24 hours to spare…
6am – Start as you mean to go on… this morning started with a delicious intake of vitamins in the form of a fruit juice which was delivered to my room, followed by an early morning yoga class. I love watching people doing yoga – they all look so healthy and flexible – they make it look oh, so easy – just a stretch here, a salutation there, easy right?! I went in with a determined gusto and ready to ‘om’ my way to Nirvana. Sadly I don’t think I was designed for this kind of stuff. Desperately trying to keep my balance, I think I resembled a tree exposed to tornado-strength winds more than the internal yogi I was trying so hard to be (I really need to check if there is a position for that in yoga – I’m sure to master it!)
After an hour of so of feeling like a windswept tree, all sweaty and aching, I took a brisk shower and felt fabulous. I guess that’s the thing with yoga – even if you don’t think you’re any good at it – it’s a wonderful way to start the day. The morning got even better as I tucked into my delightful plentiful and healthy breakfast served by the friendly Balinese staff who are always full of smiles. A smile will never fail to put me in a good mood.
8AM – Time for the legendary Ubud Market! I went early in order to be the first customer, which guarantees the best price, as it brings good luck for the day! It only took me 15 minutes to spot an armful of lovely, colourful, soft local-style dungarees. Haggling time! I might not have mastered yoga, but this is another matter. It always give me a buzz if I manage to beat the asking price down to down by at least half but I’m not the kind of person that will haggle for every penny.
At the end of the day it’s not really a question of the money itself but of the fun of. Taking pardon the ritual of haggling with the stall owners. Of course , as a result, you end up with something quite unique, a beautiful work of art typical for the region. Also, there is the well-deserved respect for the wonderful skills of local artisans and Balinese handicraft in general. After about 15 minutes we nailed the deal and I made my way into town, happy with my purchase. The lady on the market was also smiling, which is important too. Good luck for both of us I say! I cast a look over my shoulder as I walked away and saw her shaking the wad of money over every item in her shop, while saying a blessing to make sure the good luck holds. I absolutely adore this spiritual aspect of Balinese people.
I often hear that Bali is too touristy. Quite often, these comments come from people who haven’t even been to Bali. Yes, I admit that especially the Southern part attracts many sun worshippers and people who dream of having villa in Bali. However, this doesn’t mean that Balinese people have changed. They cultivate their culture for themselves, not for the tourists. The colourful daily offerings, so perfectly prepared each morning by Balinese women, the numerous processions and holidays – all are for the Gods – not for the entertainment of foreigners.
10AM – I dropped off my bags at my conveniently located hotel (there are a number of Komaneka hotels in Ubud, all of them splendidly run by Balinese people – the service is exceptional and for years the hotels have been voted the best in Bali) and took a short walk to The Monkey Forest to visit the sacred residence of… you guessed it, the monkeys! Top tip: The morning is the best time to visit as the monkeys have just been fed and so are less likely to jump on you and nab your hat and specs. Seriously, despite the fact that the monkeys appear quite lovable and sweet, make sure that you take caution and keep a reasonable distance.
I stayed at the gorgeous Komaneka at Monkey Forest Hotel. Rooms start from £200 per night on a B&B basis and the yoga class was run at the hotel.
The Monkey Forest is a great place to wander around – not only because of the monkeys, but the amazing, life size, moss-covered stone carvings which makes this place very mystical (my favourite are the carved Komodo dragons which help guard the springs.) The sanctuary is also a great shelter from the heat, many tourists come to Ubud for a day trip only, therefore it is best to pay a visit before it gets too busy. Feeling thirsty, I stopped to cool myself off with a refreshing drink on the other side of the Monkey Forest, at Coffee and Copper Bungalows and Cafe (which is another lovely place to stay and one of my favourite cafes in Ubud, run by the very lovely Wayan). Shortly after, I found out that there was a big ceremony taking place at the Pura Dalem Agung – The Great Temple of Death – and would be going on for the next few days. I made a note to check it out tonight – I do love a good festival! Just another thing I love about Bali – you do not need to pay for the traditional Balinese performances – just ask people if there are any holidays in the upcoming days and if it’s ok for you come and have a look. Please note – you will need to wear a sarong and cover your arms.
12AM – I said farewell to Wayan, promising to meet him in the evening and took a short walk through the Monkey Forest, which brought me back to Ubud centre. This afternoon I planned to head out to Sideman, which takes around 1.5 hours, but is absolutely stunning. It’s worth it for the drive alone as you pass so many pretty rice terraces – this is rural Bali at its best!
The countryside in and round Ubud is a wonderful display of brilliant greens – lush hills, palm trees, exotic fruit groves and vegetable patches. Farmers who manually work the fields use cows to till the land and just a short cycle or walk out of town will give you some stunning, photogenic images.
The drive out to Sideman is a windy one – however you will be treated to gorgeous views around every bend, and get a taste for local life as you pass family temples and children in uniforms on their way to school. We stopped for a trek in the rice fields. The views are amazing…
I highly recommend visiting Sideman to anyone who wants to see a quieter and more tranquil side of Bali.
4PM – Time to travel back to Ubud (normally I would recommend staying in Sideman longer but because this is a working trip I don’t get to allow myself the same amount of chill out time I recommend for customers!) Prior to heading back to the hotel, we stopped at Petulu Village. This little town is known for the flocks of white herons which fly back to their nests each day around 5-6pm. The origin of this ritual is locally attributed to a strange, tragic story. In the mid 60s, Indonesia suffered a terrible period of mass murder, when members of The Indonesian Communist Party were systematically slaughtered in a devastating massacre, resulting in a death toll reputed to be around 5% of the population. Official reports have, of course, been lost in time and politics has brushed the whole affair under the proverbial carpet… but word of mouth reports indicate that many bodies were never found or given the respect of proper funerals.
The tiny village, just north of Ubud, held a ceremony to cleanse the village of the evil energy that lingered after the massacre. One week later, a flock of Kokokan birds arrived in Petulu for the first time, and have remained there ever since. Legend has it that wandering souls took these birds as vessels and returned to this peaceful town.
6:30PM – Back in Ubud and it’s time for a bite. I was on the lookout for something simple yet delicious. Together with my friend, we found a great place, located within the gate of the high street itself. It is actually someone’s little garden courtyard, transformed into a tiny restaurant called Warung Boga Sari. It is run by a cruise chef who, after many years at sea, decided to settle on dry land. The result is this small restaurant. The food is scrumptious and the place extremely cosy… and sooooo cheap. However, if you are a hygiene freak, you might want to give the loo a miss… 🙂
7:30PM – Belly full. And it was time to get ready for the evening ceremony – but before that I was desperate for a good massage and believe me – Balinese massages are amazing, I would encourage everyone who comes to Bali to have at least one massage a day… because you’re worth it! 🙂
9PM – I met my friend Wayan at the entrance of the temple, he’d brought an extra sarong just in case I had forgotten. The temple is packed with locals – whole families come here to celebrate and the performances last long into the night. There were many stories and for someone who is not familiar with the different Gods it gets quite complicated. I was thrilled to be part of this wonderful ceremony – the atmosphere was extremely relaxing and, as always, Balinese people are super friendly.
So… next time you end up wondering if Bali might be worth a visit, do not hesitate! You will be up for a treat…. just make sure you save at least 24 hours in Ubud 🙂
I would love to hear more from you, please email me if you want to pick my brains or would like me to help you organise your holiday to Bali and the nearby islands of Java, Lombok & Komodo
Love Babs x