First the pre-volcano jitters
For days we waited for Mount Agung to erupt (yes, we the terrible people) because, while Mount Agung is some distance away from the main tourist areas, the fly ash from the volcano could cause flights to disrupt. Which means we are stranded in Bali. Which I wouldn’t mind, but not so much my employer.
But weeks and weeks of steam belching and earth quivers led to nothing. So, after much debate, we went anyway. On Diwali weekend. Praying hard, every day.
Please Lord, no volcano.
And…there was nothing. Yay!
Four days at Bali: What did we do?
A couple of us girlfriends had gone to Bali for New Year’s in 2010. Oh, and what a time we had. We stayed at Kuta and partied every day at Sky Garden or Club 666. Wild, hedonistic, amazing. The nights came alive with DJs, dancers, fire eaters, students, all in drunken revelry, and even the staid me partied till the wee hours of the morning. Wondering where to go for New Years? Cheap, fun and happening, Bali it is.
But this time, we were second timers. We picked.
“Not by the sea,” was R’s requirement.
“More experiential, fewer tick marks” was mine.
So, what did we do?
We went to Ubud, the art, craft and cultural center of Bali.
Two nights at Ubud
We stayed at the lovely Tegal Sari. Bali is not short of amazing places to stay, even on paltry budgets, but Tegal Sari was resplendent without making you dollars poorer. It’s fantastically located, right next to the Monkey forest, yet in a quiet, tucked in, interior. The rooms are aesthetically done up and spotlessly clean. We stayed in the suite room (East side) which had a view to the paddy fields (not too lush in October though), later moving to the Nyalian room, smaller but still good.
Things to do in Ubud
Shopping: Jalan Raya Ubud Street, Jl Monkey Forest, and Jl Hanoman are the major shopping areas. I found a lot of stores selling subpar yoga clothes (Yoga needs to be done in breathable, loose, light fabrics). There’s a good choice of organic coffee, handmade soaps, and incense which make good gifts. It’s worthwhile to visit the Ubud art market (Pasar Seni Ubud) to carry home some amazing furniture and crafts. One day I am going to do exactly that.
Yoga at Yoga Barn or Radiantly Alive: Yoga has been bastardized and commercialized in Ubud and how! The original tenets are so muddled. But we reasoned, what the heck! If it works, it works. We enjoyed the Kundalini Yoga class with Greg at Yoga Barn. It was a great experience and recommended. R bawled her heart out at some song that was played and we sang along in the end. Costs about USD 10 for a drop in, and cheaper for packages.
Cafes, of course. Atman, Anomali Coffee, Kafe, Tukies Café (the coconut ice-cream, so yum). Pura Taman Saraswati has a great view, though the food and drinks are passable. The breakfast at Cafe Wayan & Bakery was great. Especially, the black rice pudding. But our top picks were Habitat Café at the entrance of the Monkey forest and Monsieur Spoon on Hanoman road. Both so good! Seniman Coffee Studio is also very popular. Here is a list of coffee shops in Ubud, all really good.
Massages: We spoilt ourselves in a four-hour massage at the Jelatik spa. Time flew and we came out spanking new. This was especially necessary given we had walked into the spa fresh from Mount Batur with cakes of dust and grime on our body and hair. I did not really want to take the effort to clean up and was glad to have someone else do it, with a smile on her face. Cost me around USD 75
A few other things that are popular to do are cooking classes, jewelry making, cycling tours, field walks, and waterfall tours. Find an interesting list here.
And a few unusual things to do.
A night at Mount Batur
This was the unique experience I was seeking, and boy, oh boy, did it blow my mind. We used www.balivolcanotrekking.com, paid 130 dollars per head for a private overnight trek. You could also do a day trip to Mount Batur (start at 2 am return at 12 PM same day) but our experience of watching the sunset, eating freshly cooked fish and soup at 1717 meters, sleeping in the wildly flapping tent, and waking up at 5:30 AM with coffee in our hands, watching the sunrise along mount Rinjini and watch the sky change colors every few minutes while we wait with bated breath, was incredible. What I’d recommend is slowing the experience and actually feeling it rather than rushing because of lack of time.
The climb up Mount Batur is easy enough and takes around 2 hours. You might be the only ones on top and hopefully, you will come across Comrade Tibor, the shaggy dog who wants to play along the steepest inclines, jumping up and down while we protect our dear lives. Mornings on the mountain are busy and crowded when the rest of the tourists come in.
We passed the Tegallalang Rice Terrace and a coffee plantation on the way. Both are lackluster and worth skipping, to my mind. I’m sure there are better coffee plantations to visit. Also, a civet cat in captivity, for display and near dead, did not get me very excited.
Did I tell you I got mauled by monkeys?
Yes, exactly that. Monkey forest is a delight although I wasn’t expecting it to be. But the monkeys can be rowdy! Two young ones grabbed my long dress during my visit to the forest. I escaped them (the trick is to keep walking and not carry or wear anything long and grabbable) But the next day, as I walked home from Jalan Raya, armed with goodies, two of them jumped on me and ran away with a few of my coffee packs. I just about managed to save the rest and narrowly avoided a heart attack.
How Ubud has changed! From lush fields, homestays and temples, to ostentatiously hippie (but trying not to be) cafes and wellness retreats, now the town exclusively caters to foreigners, for better or for worse. You’ll love it, if you’re not a puritan, or haven’t been to Ubud of the past. It takes some getting used to. But if you are not the reminiscing kind, or simply do not care, it’s an awesome place to be.
Visit Ubud Now and Then, for more on the thriving region.