As some of you might already know, my awesome trip in Bali was completely unplanned and was the result of a very last minute visa cancellation (From New Zealand to Bali: When Your Visa Gets Cancelled Mid-Flight). Stuck in Dubai with little time to study my options, I ended up taking a flight to Jakarta, were I met Jarel. We soon realized that Jakarta wasn’t exactly our cup of tea and, after a couple of days suffocating in the unattractive capital, we ran off to Bali where we spent about 10 days in Ubud and other 10 in Seminyak.

IMGP5671Ubud turned out to be one of our favorite places in Southeast Asia. Its beautiful landscapes, luxuriant vegetation, ancient temples and remote feeling were exactly what we needed.

In the 8th century a Javanese Hindu priest stopped in the area, that today is Ubud, to meditate. Over the years this same area became a center of natural medicine and always kept a top position in the Balinese culture. Even though the rest of the country is mainly muslim, Ubud maintained a Balinese Hinduism worship.

Before the hit of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, Ubud was mainly visited by intrepid travelers and hardcore backpackers, but the tourism increased quickly in the past 10 years and today is a particularly popular destination for all sorts of tourist. This means that more and more rice paddies and rural villages are disappearing to make space to five star hotels and restaurants, with increasing problems of rampant urbanization. For sure Ubud is not an off-the-beaten-path destination anymore, but its cultural heart is still intact, people are still genuinely nice, food is great, art is vibrant, temples amazing and the rice terraces astonishing.

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Many expat and digital nomads choose the city as their more or less temporarily base, and this doesn’t come as a surprise: the zen landscape clear up your mind and the cultural hint makes you feel more motivated. Ubud draws honeymooners seeking for a spa retreat, backpackers touring Southeast Asia, famous people hiding away, yoga addicted, creative, art collectors and people looking for a body and mind detox. If you feel low in productivity you should really consider to spend few days in the Balinese cultural capital, recharge and find new motivation. If you do head to the city not just for holidays, you should check out the Hubud coworking space.

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Our days in Ubud passed in what felt like an heart-bit but, within working and reconnecting with nature, we still managed to do some exploring.

The Secret Monkey Forest Sanctuary

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monkeyThe lush forest, inhabited by monkeys, host some beautiful Hindu temples where often religious ceremony take place and is a beautiful exemple of human and natural coexistence. Walking through this natural reserve, where ancient monuments and building are integrated and partially covered by vegetation, is surreal. The real stars though, are the monkeys. From what I read there are 5 groups of monkeys in the forest, for a total of about 600 of those animals!

I honestly haven’t decided if I like monkeys yet; one second they are nice and quiet and all of a sudden they start to run and fight with each other, using you as a three while running screaming. What’s the matter with them? I have to say that they can be really photogenic though, so I decided to cope with it and use them as my models.

Remember to not wear flashy accessorize and hide your water bottles because they will try to steal them.

Temples

Ubud is not short on temples: every house  has its own private temple, then there is a temple for each village and the city temples. People pray offering flowers and burning incense to their private temples everyday; this is why Ubud is very colorful and it feels very mystic. Apart for the individuals and smaller temples, there are some bigger one that are a must see.

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The Tirta Empul Temple is the one I was looking forward visiting but I was actually a bit disappointed. In this temple there is the sacred spring that was created by the God Indra and people have been coming here when felt the need to be purified or healed. Unfortunately it was way to busy when I visited, with buses packed with tourists stopping by and the holy water being difficult to reach due to the wall of people around it. I know, I’m a tourist myself, but I felt like if it lost its ‘power’.

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Gunung Kawi is built along the river and surrounded by rice fields. It’s important in the Balinese tradition because it shows the gods house structure, which is the same that is used today. To get there you will go down about 400 steps within rice terraces and bridges through the forest. The temple complex is one of the oldest in the area and with the carves on the side of the valle, it’s a very scenic workout.

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Pura Taman Saraswati is probably the most scenographic one. The temple, right in the heart of the city, is dedicated to the goddess of wisdom and arts. On the front there big pool covered with lotus blossoms and inside you find suggestive statues. The access to the temple is a bit hidden: you have to go through the Lotus Cafe.

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There are many bike tours you can choose from in Ubud. We did the one with Bali Eco Cycling which include an early stop to see the rice terrace, breakfast overlooking the Mount Batur and a long cycle all the way back to Ubud. The tour is almost complitely downhill and you speed between rural villages and rice fields. There are several stops on the way down to see gigantic spiders, typical balinese houses and to enjoy a traditional lunch. The tour was fun and interesting, we had been told about balinese family traditions and ritual and had a very nice and almost effortless ride through countryside. Overall, I would do it again. You can check our short video if you like: Biking in Ubud.

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Balinese Coffee


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Every taxi driver or tour guide wants to take you to a coffee plantation, so, sooner or later, you will go to one. Once at the coffee planation, they take you around the property explaining you everything about the different coffee beans and the process of roasting and grinding in the traditional way.

It’s also possible to taste a Balinese special: the Luwak, made with the help of civets. The civet will eat a coffee cherry leaving the coffee bean intact which goes through the digestion system of the animal and is then taken from its feces. The enzyme that is in the stomach of the civets gives a more sour taste to the coffee. Definitely worth a try but I still prefer more traditional coffee.

Of course there is a shop that sells local coffee and other local products like teas, coconut oil, chocolate and spices.

At the coffee plantations you get offered a taste of different coffees and teas while enjoing the beautiful setting overlooking the surrounding vegetation. Tour of the plantation aside, it’s very nice to go in one of those cafes to enjoy a cup of coffee and the beautiful scenery.

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Eat, Eat, Eat

iPhone image on 2014-08-19 at 22-49-57I never tried Balinese food before going to Bali and I have been missing out, big time!

I’m not big on spicy food, which sometimes can make things difficult in Asia, but in the Balinese kitchen the hotness is well balanced with lemongrass, coriander seeds and other spices creating an explosion of different flavors for each bite. I have been really loving the food in Ubud and within my favorite places there is Semesta Warung, Tropical View Cafe (which has a beautiful view on the paddies as well) and, to be honest, any other place in which I found lemongrass on my plate.

In Ubud you can find very intersting options when it comes to western food as well, in particular if you are looking for an healthy diet. There are many organic restaurants and cafes to choose from which serves both local and western food. There are juice place offering detox and generally healthy drinks as well as many vegetarian and even vegan options.

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Rice Fields

Paddy fieldThe bright green rice fields with water reflections are one of the thing that makes Ubud so special. Due to the growing number of new buildings, the paddies are not as many as theyused to be in the city center, but you need just a couple of steps out of town to get lost in this deliciously green ocean.

If you want to take an easy walk through them you can go through Tegallalang area. Following the directions for the Sari Organik, you find a small trail that crosses a couple of guesthouses and organic cafes with beautiful gardens and dipped in the middle of the fields. I went there on an early morning, there was barely anyone around, the light was warm and the reflection within the grass and the water was incredible. I couldn’t get tired of this view and I would run back to that peaceful landscape in a second!

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For me Ubud was a peaceful, natural, cultural and tasty experience. Because it’s so quiet but yet dynamic and creative, it’s the kind of place where I would love to settle for a while, and I understand why so many people do that.