Ubud: A feast for the senses

See our gallery of photos tagged with “ubud”.

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When we landed at the Denpasar airport in Bali, all I could see when looking out of the window from my aisle seat was water. Bali’s main airport sits on a spit of land that stretches out into the sea, so you really feel like you are landing on an island. Despite this watery introduction, our first stop in Bali would be the inland town of Ubud — also recognized as Bali’s cultural heart.

Our one hour taxi ride from the airport to Ubud served as our first introduction to the wild ways of Balinese driving. My mental image of Bali had always been comprised of idyllic beaches and voluptuous fruit trees, so the swarms of motorbikes took me a bit by surprise. The motorbikes, as well as cars and trucks, weave around each other with no apparent recognition of what I was taught in Drivers Ed about “right of way” or “lanes.” Since the roads are very narrow, any slow-moving bike or double-parked car (of which there are many) presents an immediate lane obstruction. The solution: pull into the oncoming lane to pass. The horn is used all the time, but mainly as a cautionary or informational way of letting another car know that you are next to them or making a move to pass. And oh how the Balinese can load up a motorbike … Stay tuned for another post dedicated to that subject.

Ubud is known as the cultural capital of Bali — and for those of you who have read Eat, Pray, Love, it is also where Elizabeth Gilbert made her home in Bali for four months. From the moment we arrived at our small room in a family-run guesthouse overlooking a field of rice paddies, we were in love. The people were amazingly friendly, the colors so vibrant, and the sounds of nature and music were everywhere. All of the town’s streets are lined with art galleries, small temples, and funky cafés. And as noted in the most recent installment of What Is It??, it was very common to see offerings left outside of shops and homes, with women stepping outside to sprinkle them with water and perform some sort of brief blessing throughout the day.

We spent our first full day in Ubud just exploring the town on foot, eating really fresh fruit, and getting ridiculously cheap pedicures (I can’t tell you how needed those were after two months of tromping around in our Chacos). On our second day, we joined a tour group to get a better view of the outlying areas. We had a wonderful guide and enjoyed getting to know our fellow tour-takers. On this very full day trip, we visited an old temple called Elephant Cave, an orchard/garden where they grew everything from white pepper to avocado to pineapple to cacao, and a still-active volcano. But the two real highlights were our visits to the Holy Springs temple at Tirta Empul and the Besakih temple complex. Our tour was over the weekend, so the holy springs were quite busy with Balinese bathing in the traditional pools and it was absolutely fascinating to be right there with them. The Besakih temple complex is a magnificent sight, although we were unlucky enough to see it in the midst of an absolute downpour. We were still blown away by the graceful architecture of the temples and how beautifully they are positioned against the hillsides. Despite the rain during our visit, we saw two ceremonial processions heading up the stairs into one of the prayer areas.

Another highlight of our stay in Ubud was where we stayed in Ubud for the final two nights. We decided to splurge on a small cottage that we had spotted on the other side of town during one of our walks. Each cottage at this place is set back in the foliage and has a completely open downstairs floor, with a lovely deck and sleeping room above. A delicious breakfast was included each morning, which introduced me to watermelon juice — my new obsession. Although this was a splurge by Balinese standards, I must note that it was cheaper than any hotel room we stayed at in Europe — and even competitive with the hostel room rates. All in all, it was a wonderful place to lay our heads for two nights where we woke up to roosters each morning before walking downstairs for breakfast on our open patio.

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The lower floor of our cottage

After four soul-pleasing days in Ubud, we hopped in a taxi and headed for the beach town of Sanur. Our first stop would be the Thai Airways office, where we would extend our departure date by three more nights. We simply could not bear the thought of leaving Bali after only five nights.

Here are a few pictures we took during our stay in Ubud. (note: low resolution photos have been replaced with full-resolution ones)

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