Balinese culture and cuisine dazzle amid the rice paddies, writes Louise Southerden.
1 KINTAMANI COFFEE Kick-start your visit with an iced cappuccino at Casa Luna, part of a guesthouse and cooking school run by Australian expat Janet DeNeefe. For a hot, hip caffeine hit, head for Seniman Coffee Studio to sip siphon-dripped creations from recycled glasses. Ubud’s ultimate “coffee temple” is FREAK – Fresh Roasted Enak (“delicious” in Indonesian) Arabica Kintamani (a Balinese mountain) Coffee, which you can have with “cashew, cow or coconut milk”. See casalunabali.com, senimancoffee.com; freakcoffee.com.
2 RESTAURANTS AMID RICE FIELDS
Not far from Casa Luna, step off the main road (Jalan Raya Ubud) and follow a footpath to Cafe Pomegranate. This cafe-in-a-circus-tent, set up by two Japanese brothers, is a serene place to relax on floor cushions overlooking a sea of green. Continue on to the better-known Sari Organik, a timber cottage-restaurant with volcano views. See cafepomegranate.org; sari-organik.com.
3 “EAT PRAY LOVE” FACTOR
For better or worse, Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 bestseller and subsequent Hollywood movie put Ubud on the “spiritual tourist” map, particularly for “women of a certain age”, and you can still find references to it all over town. Kamandalu Resort has an Eat Pray Love package (from $298 a night, minimum two nights) that includes a cycling tour following Julia Roberts’ bike tracks around the movie’s locations and a visit to Gilbert’s palm reader, Ketut Liyer. See kamandaluresort.com.
Ubud is the place to learn and practise yoga, particularly with classes costing as little as 110,000 rupiah (about $10; even less if you buy a multi-day pass). The two main places to bliss out are the Yoga Barn and the more contemporary Radiantly Alive, whose classes include Fly High Yoga (using straps to hang from the ceiling) and Acro Yoga (a blend of acrobatics and Thai massage). See theyogabarn.com; radiantlyalive.com.
5 FOOD FOR THE SOUL
From the “orange amazing healing” juice at Dayu’s Warung to the vegan smoothies at Bali Buda, Ubud’s edible experiences are in an astral realm. Top of the menu is the chic organic Clear Cafe, whose mantra is “Eat the food you wish to be” and where the vegan chocolate “mylk” shakes – made with cashew nut “mylk” and coconut ice-cream – are to die for. See dayuswarung.weebly.com; balibuda.com; clear-cafe-ubud.com.
6 BALI’S MOST UNUSUAL HOTEL
Michi Retreat, built as an artists’ retreat in the village of Jukut Paku, 10 minutes south of Ubud, more than a decade ago, is a traveller’s dream: a sprawling complex of themed rooms and villas overlooking the rushing Wos River, each decorated in the style of a different country visited by Michi’s eccentric, well-travelled owner, known only as “the professor”. There’s a Japanese-style meditation pagoda, a river-view cafe, even a 15-metre swimming pool. See michiretreat.com.
7 GREEN SCHOOL
Imagine a school with “eco” at its core. Now make the whole thing out of bamboo and design it to maximise holistic learning for body, mind, soul and spirit . That’s Green School, an international school that runs free public tours every weekday afternoon to promote green living, as well as green education. You can also visit Green Village, the neighbouring community of architect-designed bamboo houses. See greenschool.org; greenvillagebali.com.
8 COSMIC EAVESDROPPING
Ubud does wacky like few places on Earth. Spend a steamy afternoon at almost any (preferably organic) cafe and you’ll hear something to blow open the windows of your mind – talk of, say, infrared saunas, magic-mushroom shakes, flaming hula-hoop lessons or “miracle coaches”. Maybe you’ll be inspired to get your hair “decontaminated” – or head for the Laughing Buddha Bar on Monkey Forest Road. See laughingbuddhabali.com.
9 BLANCO RENAISSANCE MUSEUM
Manila-born Spanish artist Don Antonio Blanco, who lived in Ubud from 1952 until his death in 1999, was Bali’s Gauguin and Dali rolled into one. Guided tours (included in the $4.60 entry fee) of his three-storey home, now a museum, showcase more than 300 of his paintings. You can see his studio and wander the lush gardens, past fountains, marble arches and stone dragons. See blancomuseum.com.
10 TINY DINING
One of Ubud’s best restaurants is also one of its smallest. The Warung Saya on Jalan Gautama has only three tables (two inside, one outside) and opens whenever Amier, the owner, chef, waiter and dishwasher, feels like entertaining. The one-page menu of Indian, Thai and Indonesian dishes changes daily, but whatever’s on offer, it will be seriously good. Warung Saya looks so pretty at night, with fairy lights framing its open window, passers-by often stop to take photos. Phone +62 857 9259 1969 or book in person on the day.
11 THE GREAT OUTDOORS
The mountains and rivers around Ubud offer adventures galore. Ayung River Rafting has half-day trips down the Ayung River that end with a massage. Bali Eco Cycling has all-day tours that include stops at homes, farms and temples. Treks range from two- to three-hour ambles through natural and rural surroundings to the challenging sunrise hike to the 3031-metre summit of Mount Agung, Bali’s highest peak: you’re picked up at 11pm, start trekking by 2am and reach the top by 6am. See ayungriverafting.com; baliecocycling.com; nakbali.com.
12 SACRED MONKEYS
The long-tailed macaques in Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary are believed to be descended from Hindu monkey-god Hanuman – and they know it. Prepare for your visit by taking off any jewellery, watches and sunglasses, hiding water bottles in your bag and, er, ensuring your rabies vaccinations are up to date. Monkeys aside, the forest and its mossy temples are serenely beautiful, particularly in the morning; the park is open 8.30am-6pm daily. See monkeyforestubud.com.
13 THE HANGING GARDENS POOL
Hanging Gardens Ubud boutique resort, clinging to a forested hillside 30 minutes from downtown Ubud, has 38 villas and suites (starting at $517 a night), each with its own heated granite infinity pool. But the resort’s piece de resistance is its two-tiered forest-green infinity pool, which makes you feel as if you’re swimming in the treetops. Non-guests can spend the day there for about $10. See hanginggardensubud.com.
14 BIRD SPIRITS
Every evening, just before sunset, thousands of cattle egrets (aka white herons) descend on the village of Petulu, 10 minutes out of Ubud, to roost in the village’s tall trees. Because they started coming in 1965, after a massacre of anti-government protesters, locals believe the birds are the spirits of those killed, who now protect the village. Ubud also has a bird park, where you can see one of the world’s rarest birds, the Bali starling, and 250 other species, flying free and in walk-through aviaries. See bali-bird-park.com.
15 ART CLASSES
Museum Puri Lukisan, the oldest art museum in Ubud, runs one-hour to one-day workshops on everything from batik and Balinese painting, to gamelan-playing and Balinese dance. Bali Centre for Artistic Creativity has three-hour art classes from 600,000 rupiah as well as outdoor painting, life drawing and kids’ classes. Or create your own jewellery at one of Studio Perak’s half-day silversmith courses. See museumpurilukisan.com; baliartclasses.com; studioperak.com.
16 ECO LODGINGS
Step back in time as well as into nature at Bambu Indah, created by Green School founders John and Cynthia Hardy. The “rooms” (from $133 a night including breakfast and afternoon tea) are 100-year-old Javanese teak houses; there’s also a sustainable black bamboo yoga “house” and a restaurant, spa, garden and natural swimming pool. See bambuindah.com.
17 LITERARY LUMINARIES
Australian author and longtime Ubud resident Janet DeNeefe started the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings, and it has been growing ever since. Last year’s 10th anniversary of South-east Asia’s largest and best known cultural event featured more than 200 writers, performers and artists at 220 ticketed and free events (in English) in 53 venues. This year’s festival runs from October 1-5; tickets go on sale in July. See ubudwritersfestival.com.
18 BALI’S BACKROADS
Rent a scooter (available at many hotels and roadside rental places), ride outta town and you’ll soon find yourself on quiet roads flanked by lurid green rice terraces, elaborately decorated gates of family compounds, food stalls and people flying kites. If you’re lucky, you’ll ride right into a village festival. Be sure to wear a helmet; Ubud’s roads are often steep, winding and potholed.
19 ELEPHANT CAVE
One of Ubud’s unsung attractions is the World Heritage-listed Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave, on the outskirts of town. The 11th-century Hindu-Buddhist cave itself – which you enter through a stone demon’s gaping “mouth” – is only part of the experience. The extensive grounds also contain ancient baths excavated in the 1950s, small temples, enormous trees and a forest track that leads steeply down to Elephant River. Entry costs 15,000 rupiah.
20 SPA HEAVEN
From fish-nibbling foot massages to five-star treatments, Ubud can pamper you like nowhere else. Bypass the back-alley “spa” centres off Monkey Forest Road (their massages are cheap but the therapists often untrained) and treat yourself to a volcanic ash mud-bath at Ubud Sari Health Resort or an Ayurvedic crown massage at Bali Botanica Day Spa. Or spend a day at Maya Ubud Resort’s award-winning spa. See ubudsari.com; balibotanica.com; mayaubud.com.
The writer travelled at her own expense.