Don’t listen to the trend of Bali bashers, the tedious tales of uninspired travel experiences, the airy-fairy yawnings of so-called experienced travellers. Fact is Bali is and always will be one of the most magical and awe-inspiring destinations this world has to offer. If your plan is to bum around on beaches and talk loudly in generic backpacker bars then the surrounding Lombok or Gili islands may be the better option. For a truly unique island experience, rich in culture, mysticism, wildlife and ceremony, then it is hard to look further than Bali. An intoxicating, therapeutic and hypnotic mix of everything you can ask from an island destination. The only reason Bali gets bad rap is because of its popularity where shunning the well-known has almost become prerogative to the seasoned traveller. Arrive with preconceptions and leave with enough information to back them up… “Bali is far too touristy”. As with any multifaceted destination Bali does bring the ugly aspects of tourism, as the beach resorts are beach resorts, and tourist attractions are touristy. But instead of turning up, to point out the obvious, get out of the tourist spots and discover the real reasons that Bali has captivated such worldwide recognition. You honestly don’t need to go far and the best route is north to escape the tourism in surroundings of Ubud the cultural capital of Bali.
Escape Tourism in Ubud, Cultural Capital of Bali
Ok stop screaming… I know Ubud is touristy but it is also a great starting point when exploring the island. To be specific I am talking about Ubud district rather than the central town. The reason I love this area is its accessibility to local and rural life. This is where my fascination with Bali begins. Get a driver and explore the island (around $45 / 10 hours). Vivid colours from one street to the next, extravagant architecture, scents of incense and sounds of gamelan, celebrations seemingly endless, Gods peering from every canopy, even the rice cultivation is fascinating.
Temple Offerings and Ceremonies
The first temple celebration I witnesses was 7 years ago and I was speechless. Completely out of this world and not a tourist in site. It was the Odalan (Birthday) of Batur Temple (Pura Ulun Danu Batur). Hindu devotees make offerings to appease Dewi Danu (the Water Goddess). On my recent return to Bali (April 2013) we manage to stumble upon something similar just outside Ubud. An offering ceremony at Tirta Empul Temple (Holy Water Temple). To find temple or local ceremonies in Bali ask hotel staff, drivers or locals if there are any on the island. Then go. Getting there often follows the same scenario; “Want to see wood carving?”, “No”. “Painting?”, “No”, “Coffee Plantation?”, “No”, “Rice Terraces”, “…If it’s on the way…”.
Religion in Bali – Balinese Hinduism
The depth of Religion and mythology in Bali is mind-boggling. I wouldn’t know where to begin and to try would make me look embarrassingly clueless. In short Bali is a haven for Hinduism within Indonesia (the world’s most populous Muslim country). It adheres to Balinese Hinduism a combination of local beliefs, myths and Hindu influences from outside. It’s rich cultural identity is celebrated and showcased on a daily basis celebrating Gods, Goddesses and Demigods, hence Bali dubbed “Land of the Gods”.
Where to Stay? Ubud District
A convenient location for exploration is the Ubud district surrounding Ubud town. Landscaped rice paddies, tropical wildlife and an enchanting local life. Our recent visit takes in three boutique resorts ranging from $40 / night Spas to $300 / night pool villas. All idyllic settings with their own individual qualities. Bliss Spa Ubud Hotel ($40) with balcony views of neighbouring rice fields. My personal favourite Alila Ubud Hotel ($150) an impressive Indonesian brand where in the space of 24 hours we enjoy breakfast with monkeys, have a visit from a draco flying lizard and at night are held up by a (harmless) snake. How is that not amazing? The third resort, a local Balinese brand, Komaneka at Tanggayuda ($300) where we hide away in a beautiful local hardwood and batik Balinese styled villa with private pool. There is just a lot of options, and the top 7 Best Value Hotels to Relax in Bali is worth checking out on the HotelsCombined blog, for more tranquil stays in Bali. And pretty much every hotel offers free shuttle to Ubud Town.
Exploring Ubud Town
Ubud Town is the better known ‘touristy’ area. Monkey forest, a central market for tourist trinkets, streets littered with art. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea but for me it serves an important purpose. Food. There is some great food to be found in Ubud Town; Babi Guling Suckling Pig at Ibu Oka Warung or Bebek Betutu Slow-Cooked Duck at Bebek Bengil. A personal favourite is Cafe Lotus with top notch food and free viewing of the evening performances at Taman Saraswati Temple.
19 thoughts on “Escape to Idyllic Ubud (Bali)”
“The only reason Bali gets bad rap is because of its popularity where shunning the well known has almost become prerogative to the seasoned traveller. ” Seriously? That’s some condescending nonsense. Bali (and Ubud) is dramatically different from pretty much all other backpacker destinations. It is absolutely saturated with retail and tourist-focused spots, so much so that it’s actually difficult to find local food made for local people in some places. To play it off as just the cool thing for “seasoned travellers” to say is absolutely absurd. There are plenty of legitimate reasons that people who love traveling in Asia might not love Bali.
How can an island of 5,780km2 be completely depleted of culture, local life, and be overrun by tourists. You even said it yourself. “Retail and tourist focused spots” and “some places”. It doesn’t take a total genius to avoid them. Ever take a walk through Denpasar for example. https://ikimasho.net/2013/09/01/the-day-i-saw-a-body-being-burned-in-denpasar/. Seriously Rob. There maybe legitimate reasons to hate Bali, but you’ve completely failed to share any of them. Other than the touristy spots being too touristy (note this post is 5+ years old, but the idea still stands).
You are misunderstanding and misrepresenting the thrust of my comment.
I said nothing whatsoever about any place being “completely depleted of culture,” nor would I ever say anything so ignorant. I have no interest in sharing “legitimate reasons to hate Bali.” I do not hate it, and if I did, I don’t know why I would want to persuade anyone else to hate a place that they might otherwise enjoy.
The point of my comment was that tourism has so saturated Bali as to change it fundamentally, and that this has given rise to some pretty legitimate reasons that a traveler might not like it or want to go there. In the post, you repeatedly assert that “the only reason” people complain about Bali is that it’s popular. So it’s just de rigueur among some jaded, “seasoned travelers” to find something wrong with it. That’s flatly untrue and it’s unfair. If you want to say, hey, there are some great things about Bali or I really like Bali—great. Share your experience.
But the way that you chose to frame it basically invalidates the experience and opinion of anyone who disagrees with you. That isn’t cool. That is the point of my comment.
You do think a lot… but interesting all the same. The purpose of this post (at the time) was to go against (troll) a string of travel bloggers who continually slated Bali for ridiculous reasons, like seeing a monkey with an aerosol, not living up to the “Eat Pray Love” experience, before plugging Lombok, which really doesn’t host the same culture as Bali. So validation was never my worry.