Reluctantly, we said goodbye to Lembongan and jumped in a taxi. It was time to head for the hills to our second stop in Bali – Ubud.
Ubud is perhaps best known for its rice paddies, arts scene and yoga. Oh, and for being the “Love” section of a certain Elizabeth Gilbart novel. Whether it is the latter, or word has just got round about the town’s charms, I was surprised by how crowded this little town felt when we arrived.
The centre of Ubud falls across two long, parallel streets which house the same tourist shops on a loop. It reminded me rather of the plant/clock combo you used to get on old Scooby Doo cartoons when they ran down the corridor, but I digress. The top of Ubud is intersected by the congested main road back out – choked up with tour buses and persistent taxi touts who want £5 to drive you the 1,500 metres or so to the other end of the road. Even by London standards they were taking the piss, frankly. The far end of the town centre intersects with the famous Monkey Forest. After tranquil Lembongan, it felt like we had wandered on to the M6.
However, venture further afield and the tranquility and arts scene you came looking for is still there. We stayed the next road along at the lovely Tanah Semujan bungalows – tranquil rooms overlooking a garden which is fairly typical accommodation for the area. If you ever go to Ubud it is well worth the extra five minutes walk to stay a road out.
One of the things I loved about Ubud – more than anywhere else in Indonesia – was the food. We feasted on famous spicy suckling pig, spiced duck and vegan food at the numerous health cafés (Ubud is crawling with healthy types). I don’t think we had a bad meal, and the choice of restaurants was almost overwhelming.
We also booked in for a few yoga classes at Yoga Barn – a huge complex which offered yoga classes (which we enjoyed) and some kind of meditation bollocks involving chimes (which we avoided). However, without meaning to stereotype too much, Ubud so far had been a chicks paradise: shopping, yoga and spas. On my own, I could have amused myself for a good few days. Craig actively avoids two of those, and is pretty indifferent about the third. It was time to get out.
I booked us a tour with the lovely Dewa from Bali on Bike. Our tiny tour group (us and an affable chap called Tom) began with some views over the famous rice pyramids just outside of Ubud. Bizarrely, these were created as a tourist attraction (although they are also functioning paddy fields) so tourists would come to the restaurants overlooking the fields. Very enterprising!
Our next stop was a coffee plantation, where we got to sample some Balinese coffee and teas. I even tried Mongoose Coffee – the beans are consumed by a mongoose and er, passed out before being roasted and ground as usual. Apparently they pick out the best beans or something, so the final coffee is superior to normal coffee. Either way, the “most expensive sheeet in Bali” (as our angel faced but potty-mouthed hostess described it) was surprisingly tasty.
After boarding our mountain bikes – slightly buzzy from the caffeine – we headed into the countryside. It was brilliant. We sped through villages and past temples (happily, it was nearly all downhill), waving at locals and smiling local children. It felt like we were invisible, which was lovely.
We even got to stop at a rice paddy and “help” with them collecting the rice!
The tour ended with a delicious home cooked meal at Dewa’s home. He was able to answer just about any question that popped in to our minds about Balinese life and culture. He explained that the offerings we had seen each morning were to ask for luck/prosperity in the days activities (hence why we’d also seen them in taxis and shop entrances) and the evening offerings were to give thanks. The colours of flowers also had significance (alas, I forget which was which) and they also include food.
They have a day of silence (“Quiet Day”) every year, where everyone gives the earth a rest. No one uses electricity or transport and everyone just stays home, being quiet with their family. It sounds a rather lovely idea, don’t you think?
The day was one of our highlights so far, and it was lovely to get out and see this beautiful island quietly, without feeling like you were adding to the overwhelming chaos of Ubud.