The Heart of Bali

by Anna

Whether you’re an artist, craftsman, yogi, food enthusiast, health addict, nature-lover, adventurer or just in need of some spiritual inspiration, there is something to fulfill your soul in Ubud. Long described as Bali’s cultural heart, this oasis in the rice paddies is bursting with culture and unfortunately a lot more traffic and congestion than back in the day. But Ubud still retains its aura of creativity and spirituality – the strong identity and creative heritage of the Balinese people rise above the growing tourism and traffic.

As we explored the streets of Ubud over our nine-day stay, we discovered eye candy was everywhere – in the smallest Hindu offering of flower petals and rice in bamboo leaves to the immense technicolor green rice paddies. Balinese Hinduism, which is deeply interwoven with art and ritual, could be felt everywhere and at all times of day. We had to be careful where we stepped on the sidewalks as small colorful offerings were all over, fresh each morning, and it was commonplace to see men and women in beautiful traditional dress carrying offerings to the temples or watch huge ceremonial processions stopping traffic along the streets. The moss-shrouded temples were elaborately carved and adorned with intricate statues, which were often decorated with flowers and sarongs. It seemed walking around town that every few buildings would be a temple or a household built around a temple, giving the streets a very unique appearance. And filling the streets were tons of art and craft shops (even when we wandered into small surrounding villages or out in the rice paddies, you could always be certain you’d find an artist’s shop), delicious cafes serving up organic food and juices, family-run warungs serving local Indonesian fare, galleries, yoga studios and boutiques. Just when we thought we were surrounded on all sides by buildings, we’d turn down a side street and find ourselves staring across the expanse of a rice paddy, or walk into a cafe and find a thick Indiana Jones-style jungle on the other side. Talking with some other guests at our homestay, we could only think of one word to describe Ubud – exotic.

Women carrying offerings to the temple
Buddha with a fresh flower Buddha at our homestay
A walk through the rice paddies
Dinner at Bali Buddha Dinner at Miro’s
Women lighting incense on the street
Colors of Ubud Local craftsmanship
One of many cool art shops in Ubud
The market
Action on the soccer field in central Ubud Monkey Forest Road
Strolling down a quiet side street
The Royal Palace

The Balinese people also lived up to their reputation as being wonderfully sweet and friendly. A look in someone’s direction was always returned with a huge smile and “hello!” Our hosts at Nirwa Homestay, Madde and Ayu, were exactly the same way, and we loved waking up to the sound of ducks bathing in the rice paddies around our bungalow and Ayu’s amazing banana pancakes! Madde would always come over for a chat on our veranda in the afternoons, and he and Ayu would always offer us sticky rice treats that they’d bring back from their temple and tell us stories of other travelers who had stayed with them over the years.

The walk to our homestay where we often encountered people bathing in the canal alongside the path
Looking down on Nirwa Homestay Our bungalow at Nirwa
Johnny and Madde chillin’ on our veranda
Ayu’s magical banana pancakes Johnny and Ayu
Madde “gardening”

Some highlights of our time in Ubud included walking through the rice paddies at dusk and watching the sunset over a delicious meal at Sari Organik and then making it back to our homestay by the light of our headlamps surrounded by fireflies; attending a Kecak dance performance where a group of 150 men chanted and sang a cappella while a battle from the Ramayana was re-enacted; visiting the Monkey Forest in the middle of Ubud and being surrounded by hundreds of playful wild monkeys; watching Johnny try the famous local Babi Guling (aka, suckling pig) and deciding whether it compared to the suckling pig we tried with Gustavo and Sarah in Portugal (don’t worry, Goose, I think you’re the clear winner!); indulging at Taksu Spa…can’t beat a two hour-long massage and facial for $30 (!); stretching ourselves out and focusing our chi at beginner yoga classes at Yoga Barn; seeing the morning market in full swing at 6:30am on the way to our 7am ‘early bird’ yoga class; experiencing Nyepi; and hiring a driver for a day to see more of the island (more to come on this in our next post…).

The path through the rice paddies to Sari Organik
The beautiful view on our walk to dinner
Sunset from Sari Organik Trying some homemade snakeskin fruit wine
An amazing sunset over the rice paddies to a soundtrack of chirping frogs
Kecak dance performance
The performance ended with a man dancing in bare feet on flaming coconut shells! OUCH!
The mother monkeys held their babies by their tails so that they couldn’t get into too much trouble
Mama and baby Monkey hangin’ on his elephant
Sneaky monkey
Just monkeying around Monkey see, monkey do
Monkey Forest temple
Babi Guling Johnny savoring his suckling pig
The view from our yoga class at Yoga Barn was pretty awesome
Chickens at the market
Flower petals for offerings Fresh local veggies
The market was the hot spot at 6:30am

Although Johnny and I both spent a few of our days in Ubud fighting off fevers and sore throats (undoubtedly a result of our sleepless travel adventure from NZ!), we still had a wonderful time and could immediately see why Bali holds a special place in many peoples’ hearts. We definitely hope to make it back to Ubud and to see more of beautiful Bali one day!

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2 Comments to “The Heart of Bali”

  1. What a colorful world we’re blessed to live in! Love the Mama monkey’s mothering technique…precursor to the leash?!

  2. Really informative post and excellent photos of your experience!!

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