Monday, September 15, 2008

The Cultural Capital of Bali: Ubud - Part 1

Destination: Ubud, Bali
Number of Days there: 6
Our Best of: Awesome hotel, cheeky monkeys, Kecak Fire and Trance Dance
One thing unexpected: Hawkers and touts can be anywhere, even on countryside walks and on motorbikes pulling up next to your motorbike while driving!
Times we took the: Bus: 0 Train/Subway: 0 Taxi/Car: 2; Motorcycle: 1
Estimated KM walked: 25 (two long hikes around the countryside of Ubud area)
Where we stayed: Hibiscus (; phone number 0361-970475) - Rp 160,000 (US $18) including a huge breakfast and coffee/tea all day long

*HIGHLY recommended, this little hotel has 5 rooms that are in the Balinese house style. For $18 per night you get a huge room with Balinese furniture & a bathtub big enough for 4 people (not that we tried), your own private terrace with unlimited coffee & tea throughout the day AND a free breakfast with a massive plate of fresh local fruit and your choice of pancakes, eggs or french toast. It's located 5 minutes walk from town in the middle of a quiet rice paddy with a nice view! It is situated next to Ala's Hibiscus in the Lonely Planet book (run by the same family). Just bring a flashlight if you're out late at night because there are no lights in the paddy.

Favorite Restaurant: Roda's Restaurant - chicken curry or mixed rice with meat - RP 15,000 (US $1.50) & Our hotel - banana pancakes, banana shakes & fresh fruit (free breakfast with room) & Warung Babi Guling - roasted suckling pig (around 10,000 RP - US $1 - located on the road on the way to lake temple - not in Ubud)

Day 1 - Lekong Dance

We took a shuttle from Kuta to Ubud (RP 55,000 per person - roughly US $6) which took about an hour. Naturally the shuttle dropped us off at the furthest point in Ubud from our hotel so we trekked through town with our packs to our hotel. After relaxing on our lovely porch with complimentary tea we went out to explore town. Ubud is located in south central Bali and is the other main tourist mecca in Bali outside of Kuta. Lining the hillside all around the town of Ubud are artisans selling their handmade goods. Silver, woodcarvings, paintings, and textile items (sarongs mostly) seem to be the most popular made goods here, but you could decorate your entire home inside and out no problem with handmade goods. The town of Ubud itself is crowded, busy, and full of the same hawkers lining the streets of Kuta (Transport? Taxi? How about tomorrow?). It's best to stay just outside of town and spend your days exploring the neighboring towns and countryside. Often times, the items sold in the stores in Ubud are made by a shop out in the hills and resold at a much higher price in town. Not only do you get a better price, but the artist gets more of the money plus you get the added bonus of seeing the items made!

After walking around town for a bit, we had dinner at the lovely Rodo's Restaurant. Located above a fair trade textile store, the restaurant shares some of the same philosophy - vegetarian mainly (many tofu and tempe options, but also had some chicken meals) with organic, fresh local items on the menu. It ended up being the place where we spent most of our dinners and the owner went out of his way to say hello with a big smile and a few friendly words. It also happened to be quite a bit cheaper than most restaurants in town. After dinner, we decided to see one of the many traditional dances that are performed on a nightly basis. The Legong Dance is actually a collection of dances based on traditional Balinese mythical stories. All of the dances are set to the beautiful music of the gamelan, a collection of drums, symbols and a xylophone style instrument hit with tiny hammers. The dancers move with the music in precise and dedicated movements. The combination is quite beautiful. For a small clip of the dance, click here (we will upload when we have a solid Internet connection). The setting for this performance is in the Royal Palace of Ubud, a collection of older temples, one of them being the private temple for the royal family. Located right in the heart of Ubud, it's hard to miss and makes a good place marker when you might get turned around a bit. After the dance we retired to our quiet little room and prepared for the next day's trek around the countryside with the first stop: The Monkey Forest.

Day 2 - Cheeky Monkeys and a stroll around the countryside

The monkey forest is known for its cheeky monkeys and cheeky they are. There are about 300 of them in this small temple complex. Although the monkeys seem to serve as a tourist attraction mainly (the signs for this place are all over south Bali) the area also serves in a religious capacity as well. In the Balinese culture, there are temples everywhere. Every family has a temple, every community within a town have a temple, and each town has at least three temples. The Monkey forest has three within it's area, with the main one being the town of Ubud's Temple of the Dead. The monkeys are sacred in their culture and are there to protect the temple from the evil spirits. Non-the-less, the monkeys are well trained to accept feeding from visitors, and the locals are happy to oblige, selling bananas at every entry point, and even some within. If you do decide to feed them, don't expect to get too far with your treats as the monkeys are keen to find them no matter what, including jumping on you if they even think you have anything for them. If you get past the first 100 meters with them, you have either run or hid them really well! After getting our fill of monkey and temple time, we made our way to the other side of the forest and began our walk through the little villages that are around the area of Ubud. The walk was about 8km total and it passed through sleepy, far less touristy towns, across rice paddies and back up the hill to Ubud. Once outside of Ubud, most of the touts for various services and goods stop. We only had one offer for a "guided" tour of some rice paddies, not quite sure if we really needed one so we declined. We did stop half way through the walk at a little nameless road side warung and had whatever she was making for only 2000rp (about 25 cents!). We have yet to actually find out what it was but it sure was tasty and consisted of peanut sauce over some kind of potato type vegetable (Cassava or tapioca we think it's called) and other mixed vegetables. On the way back to town, Tracy got in some shopping time, strolling through the various shops that line the roads. After crossing back over the river we decided to have dinner at Wary's Restaurant, a sprawling "complex" complete with a gift shop and 5 levels of dining areas, one being close to the river for an ok view (not really worth the inflated price of food in our opinion but the meal itself was pretty good and the Storm Beer, made in Bali, is actually a good beer!). Tired from walking, we went back to the room and called it an early night.

Day 3 - "I see you come and climb tree just for you! Fresh Coconut?!": The Campuan Ridge Walk

We started the next day with another walk around the area. The first walk lead to the south and this walk headed north of Ubud via a steep climb to the top of a ridge that straddles two rivers. One side of the hill is mostly undeveloped with a few rice fields and the other side looks out to the other side of the river where there are luxury hotel after luxury hotel. It was a pleasant, if not somewhat hot (no shade on top) even despite coming across a little man that yelled out as we approached "Hello! I see you coming, but you not see me! I climb to top of that tree and yell hello(he points all the way to the other side of the hill at a coconut tree at the bottom of the ravine) and cut down coconut just for you! Fresh coconut?!" We declined but you have to admire his ingenuity. He certainly has a monopoly on the fresh-coconut-in-middle-of-nowhere-after-a-hot-walk business. After another twenty minutes or so past the coconut man, you come back into the villages. After browsing the shops and catching our breath for a bit we continued our hike until we reached the main road back to Ubud. The first part of the road is a grueling, straight uphill climb. After reaching the top of the hill, there was a little Wartel (the name commonly associated to what I would call a convenience store) where we stopped and chatted with another traveler, Sterling, an expat living in Guam at the moment, while we enjoyed our rest. Continuing on the road, you pass mostly homes until you come to the decidedly more upscale area of Campuan. Filled with fine art galleries and home to supposedly one of the best restaurants in all of Asia, Mosaic (a bit expensive for our budget), it's still a nice walk checking out all the artwork on display in the shops. We stopped for lunch at Morney's Warung, certainly catering to the tourists (but then again most things around here do) with beef on the menu (Hindu's don't eat beef) in the form of burgers and ribs. The place was certainly hopping, all tourists of course, and the burger was not that great (Not sure what I was thinking ordering a beef burger in a place that does not eat beef!), but it was convenient and in Lonely Planet (the bible of travel guides) for a good burger. After lunch we continued to make our way back to Ubud where, tired and exhausted, we crashed at the room and ordered food there. Calling it a night, we decided that the next day we needed some wheels - Motorbike style!

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