Bali is one of those incredible places that I've always wanted to visit. Although Bali has amazing beaches, awesome nightlife and beautiful luxury resorts, it was the culture that I wanted to experience.
I was lucky enough to be treated to a four day trip to Ubud, Bali with my Mum and Dad where we experienced Monkey Temples, paddy fields, local markets and people with warm hearts and open arms.
Arriving in the airport was pure madness. There were sellers of all kinds and taxi men everywhere attempting to lure and sell to overwhelmed travellers. Luckily my parents had the foresight to book a transfer to our accommodation ahead of time and we were able to steer through the crowds to our driver. The traffic in Bali is notoriously bad with our drive to Ubud taking over two and half hours. I guess the roads simply aren't built for the swell of tourism in recent years!
We stayed in a beautiful villa around a 20 minute walk from central Ubud in a small village which had a few cafes and small shops. Our villa was part of a complex and was absolutely stunning. After months sharing rooms with people, having a whole villa to ourselves was amazing! We chose our rooms and settled in. That day, having just flown into Bali, we took a taxi into the town and explored. Ubud is renowned for its intact buildings and heritage, with temples dotted all around the town. It also has a lively cafe culture and many massage and yoga companies for those looking for some zen to take advantage of. There's also the impact of Western culture here with many shops carrying holiday style clothes and cafes offering brunch with even the addition of a Starbucks!
We had a relaxed meal out this evening taking advantage of the amazing Indonesian food on offer and exploring Tempeh, a beautiful soybean alternative to meat which I quickly became obsessed with.
The next morning we met the wonderful man who would prepare our breakfast each morning. He made us a choice of omelette, toast or pancake each morning, complete with a beautiful fruit salad. He was useful in terms of offering us advice on tours in Ubud and was so friendly we couldn't help loving him. He recommended a bike tour of the area which we booked for the following day.
On our first full day in Ubud we decided to go the Monkey temple and walk through the town to visit the temples. The Monkey Temple is a popular tourist attraction where semi-wild monkeys live on the grounds of an ancient temple. The Temple itself is inaccessible to those not wishing to pray however, the grounds are accessible for a small fee. The Monkeys are everywhere, and if you have food, will not hesitate to jump on you. There are many guides throughout the grounds which will gladly give you a banana or some grain to entice them onto you. Neither of my parents would do it so I took one for the team and had three monkeys jump on me. I even got the added bonus of a Monkeys bum and tail right in my face!
After spending a few hours at the temple we then walked back up through town to visit some ancient palaces and temples. . Ubud is the site of a lot of previous kings and princes palaces and although many of them you weren't allowed to go into without proper formal dress or without intention to workshop, they were beautiful to view from the outside.
We also strolled past a local temple where they were selling tickets to a Balinese dance show that evening. We bought tickets and came back that evening to attend. The Balinese dance evening was great. It was all performed by locals who were supporting the local school and library. The music was repetitive but authentic and the dancing was beautiful. Its a combination of small foot and hand work and using the face to really tell the story.
I was so amazed by how precise and delicate the dance was and at the end of the performance they chose members of the audience to come up on stage. The lady originally chose my Mum, but when Mum was too embarrassed to go up I had to step in. They encouraged me to join in the dancing and I had no clue what I was doing but they said I was practically Balinese which is high praise indeed!
The next day we took a cycling tour of Ubud and the surrounds. This was a tour that our host recommended to us. It was a fantastic day. Our first stop was at a lovely cafe in the countryside to have our second breakfast of the day. We met the rest of the people on our tour and were soon on our way to collect the bikes for the tour. This was not before a small detour to a coffee plantation and cafe where we were shown the process of making authentic Balinese coffee. Despite not drinking coffee they gave us a sample of every drink they made and I really liked the mocha they had, maybe I could be converted!
After this short tangent, we set off on our bikes through small villages and paddy fields. Our guides showed us the long and gruelling process of growing rice. The land has to firstly be carefully put on a gradient so the water runs down the fields. Then, the crop is grown until the farmers beat the crop to loosen the rice from the grass. However, the rice at this moment still has an outer shell which cannot be eaten. The rice is dried out and then sorted to get the end product. After learning about the drying process we saw loads of rice on the roads where the Tarmac makes it dry quicker. Halfway through our tour we stopped at the roadside snack truck where the lady had fried tempe and fresh coconut. It was delicious
I asked the guides throughout the tour about the temples. There seemed to be so many beautifully ordained homes in these small villages and I wanted to know where the houses were. He told me how the Temple outlook is simply the front and behind the temple is the family home. I was so interested in this setup that he stopped the tour and took us to his compound where we could see the whole family living.
From the front of each home it looks like a temple, covered in beautiful carvings of gods. When you step inside there are a number of old buildings which make up the shared quarters of the compound. In these you will find the kitchen, living room, pantry and elders bedroom. Moving further into the compound, for our guides house it seemed to get more modern. At the back of the compound were a number of modern style houses which is where he said him and his brothers live with their families. In Balinese households, the girls of the family move in with their husbands families whilst the boys continue to live with their parents. It was so interesting to learn about and so lovely of the guide to take us into his home to teach us more about their culture. His family was so welcoming and gave us lunch which was delicious.
After the tour we took advantage of our lovely pool until the evening where we headed in the town again and found another spot to eat in Ubud. This time I think we took a backstreet and found a real backpacker haunt where everyone took their shoes off at the entrance. I was in my element here and loved the spot and food, I think Dad was just more amazed at the price of the meal! I think in total for three people to have a meal each and a drink the grand total was 30 AUD! We enjoyed our evenings spent in the town as it was cooler and therefore the perfect time to browse the shops and see more of this stunning spot. The temples that dot the street are lovely and all the eateries looked amazing, there really is so much choice!
The next day we spent the day in the villa, chilling by the pool and relaxing. Since Mums birthday was the day after and I was itching to go on a solo adventure, I walked into town and went shopping. I love haggling so headed to the markets to get a good deal. I found some soap and oil bundles for Mum and a tacky stick on tattoo - we had been joking that it was time for her to get a real one. In the market I also found a lovely dress but when it came down to the bargaining it was a pretty simple no. I had only brought so much money out with me and didn't have enough to even go half of what she was offering it for. Aw well, you've got to try!
I was successful in getting Mum's stuff though and headed back to the villa. Ubud is such a friendly and safe town that I felt fine walking through the streets on my own. I love the hustle and bustle so whenever I'm in these towns I feel right in my element! I was tempted to get a motorbike taxi back but didn't haven't enough on me for the ride. That evening we headed down the hill to a lovely little restaurant overlooking the river and a waterfall. The food was good and the atmosphere lovely.
The next day was April 9th, Mums birthday! We had booked a daring activity to mark the day, white water rafting. To start, we had to climb down a really steep hill to reach the river, the boats were taken by cables down to the rain forest floor. From here it got fun. We took to the boat and our instructor made sure the whole thing was hilarious. From slapping the water screaming 'snake!', to carrying me under a waterfall, the whole morning was so much fun and I think Mum enjoyed her extreme water sports activity!
After climbing back up that huge hill we were given lunch and taken back to the villa where we relaxed until the evening where we took Mum to a beautiful restaurant in the town. It seemed as if someone had converted their compound into a restaurant with intimate dining areas and the place seemed to go on and on. It was a perfect day for Mums birthday and such a treat to spend it with her in such an amazing place.
We left for Gilli Air the morning after, but not before bidding our host and villa goodbye and looking forward to the next time we would explore Bali. I thoroughly enjoyed our short stop in Bali and Ubud especially. The locals really made the place beautiful with their friendly smiles and relaxed demeanour. I felt like I could really talk to them and learn more about their culture as well as have a good laugh. The town of Ubud is special as it still seems authentic which is why so many flock there. Although Bali is renowned for the beaches, Ubud is worth the drive inland for the culture, food and atmosphere, it really is a very special place.