Culture and Peace in a Tropical Haven

Travel Article for the Trip Advisor website:

Traveller Article: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Culture and Peace in a Tropical Haven

Ancient culture, friendly people and multiple levels of fun, food and relaxation are to be found in this rural mountainous area only an hour from the popular Bali beach resorts. Take a motor scooter ride through the Ubud countryside and see what real Bali is all about.

Unlike many Australians who visit our close neighbour Bali on a regular basis, I really had no idea what it would be like. Funnily enough, upon arriving in Ubud comes the realisation many Aussies never leave the beaches of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, and the Bali I was about to experience was a lot different from the Westernised resort atmosphere of the popular coastal towns. Ubud is only an hour’s drive from the beach in a $10 taxi ride, but in terms of culture and spirituality, it’s a lifetime away.

Ubud town has grown a lot from the original village, which was started when a wandering priest felt sanctity in the area, and decided to put down roots. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world, Bali’s inhabitants are 90% Hindu and 10% Buddhist. During the day the narrow streets of the town are packed with cars and motor scooters, but just beyond lay mountains, valleys, temples and rice paddies. The town at night is more subdued; when the electricity went out whilst eating at a restaurant, candles were casually lit, the darkness a soft enveloping calm.

We rented motor scooters, no license necessary, and after getting the balance of riding, decided to get lost in the Ubud countryside. This was the real Bali. Riding past small houses with children relaxing along the side of the road, a cool breeze took the edge off the heat and humidity that endures all year long. Up and down hills, we suddenly would find ourselves in a new village, this one specialising in wood carvings, and that one in silver jewellery. Art and craft is the heart of the Balinese economy and tourists are one of the main sources of income. Our money is worth a lot and for a fraction of what it costs back home, all kinds of creations can be bargained for. Do be careful of some persistent sellers; to a few, Westerners are walking ATM’s.

Balinese Hindus bathing in Tampak Siring's holy waters
Balinese Hindus bathing in Tampak Siring’s holy waters

For a couple of dollars you can pick up some local road-side cuisine, then ride on past skinny lackadaisical dogs and scurrying chickens. Women bathe and wash clothes in roadside creeks, then turn a corner and a sacred temple awaits you. Upon entry you have to borrow a sarong to wear, like we did at Tampak Siring where the local Hindus wash themselves in holy water, which comes from underground springs.

Tegalalong's rice terraces defy imagination
Tegalalong’s rice terraces defy imagination

North of Ubud town we found the picturesque rice terraces of Tegalalang; they’re simply amazing. We filled our bikes up on local petrol sold by the bottle, and realised after currency conversion that our 50,000-a day rupiah motor scooter cost the equivalent of $5.80, whilst petrol for an entire day of riding equated to $1.40. I decided it was no longer worth haggling for 10,000 rupiah (bargaining is an essential, fun, but sometimes frustrating part of your journey).

Eat traditional food at Café Wayan, visit the Elephant Cave, meditate with the new-agers at Yoga Barn, buy arts and crafts at local Ubud Market, give small bananas to ravenous monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest (don’t hold on to your fruit too long or they’ll take it themselves!), and experience culture like the Kecak Fire Dance in the evenings.

Enter the demon's mouth known locally as the 'Elephant Cave'
Enter the demon’s mouth known locally as the ‘Elephant Cave’

Ubud is a place where culture is alive, the people are poor, but happier than most you’ll see in Melbourne, and offerings to the Gods keep a constant reminder of the magic that life truly has to offer. Did I mention the $10 one-hour, full-body massages at the Sang Spa?

Enter the trance of the Kecak Fire Dance
Enter the trance of the Kecak Fire Dance

Note: All images in these two articles are used with permission of the copyright owner, the photographer, Ms. Chun Yin.