Feeling Good in Ubud

The perfect itinerary for spending a day in Bali’s spiritual centre, Ubud.

Ubud, Bali, is probably Indonesia’s most famous spiritual centre. As Julia Roberts discovers in Eat Pray Love, (which bookshops in Bali show, is still a huge plug for the destination) the town is an idyllic getaway from the stresses of everyday life. Massages are cheap and plentiful, good food in abundance, and the focus on traditional arts and crafts allows you to explore a hobby you may never know existed.

My boyfriend and I visited Bali last month, staying in the resort town of Seminyak. However, with the island being so small, many destinations are easily reachable within a couple of hours. So, one day, we decided to escape the sandy beaches (!) and head into Bali’s heartland: the idyllic uplands of Ubud.

Getting There

Getting to Ubud is relatively easy. If you’ve got money to spare, most tour companies will arrange transport and perhaps even a guide for you too. However, if you prefer to explore the town on your own (or are penniless students, like us), there are other, cheaper ways to get there. Taxis cost a fraction of the price they do in the UK, so this is always an option too. We opted instead to use the Kura-Kura bus, a shuttle service that operates its mini-van-like buses around the main tourist areas of Bali – Seminyak, Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua, South Nusa, and Ubud. For just a trip to Ubud, the ticket price is 120K IDR, however we worked out that it was actually cheaper and more benefical to get a 3-day pass for 150K IDR. This way you don’t need to worry about getting a ticket to the bus bay, which is where most of the lines (excluding Seminyak) start and end. It also means that you can have another 2 days to explore the rest of Bali hassle-free!

The Kura-Kura buses have wi-fi and air-conditioning, and as far as we can report, were relatively on time. In fact, the early bus to Ubud goes from Seminyak at 7:15, so was perfect for our trip. Be warned though – looking through the companies twitter did show that a lot of their buses can be late or diverted due to religious festivals. Luckily, this never affected us, but is something worth checking if you are sticking to a rigid schedule.

Monkey Forest

The first stop for us in Ubud was the popular Holy Monkey Forest. Filled with hundreds of adorable monkeys and many spectacular Hindi temples, it’s no surprise that this place is a hit with tourists. Thanks to previous research we knew to get there early, which is a tip that I strongly pass on. We got there about 9am, which may sound too early for some, but by the time we left around two hours later the forest was definitely a great deal busier. It was rather relaxing to share the forest with just a handful of tourists in the early hours…not to mention the heat and humidity of the forest that only increases as the day goes on!

Entrance to the forest is 50K IDR and is well worth it. You will also get chance to purchase bananas from local vendors inside to feed to the monkeys, however I’m not sure entirely how I feel about this so we opted not to. Whilst having a monkey crawl all over you may make a great photo, you need to remember that we are invading their natural home. My boyfriend and I chose to keep our distance from the monkeys (especially the baby ones, as hard as this was!) and observe from afar. My prior research also unveiled some horror stories of people getting bitten or scratched by angry monkeys, a chance we were not keen to take. From what we observed, if you didn’t have food, a visible water bottle, and kept your distance, the monkeys paid you no attention whatsoever.

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Coffee and Shopping

By the time we left the Monkey Forest it was just the right time for a mid-morning beverage, and thankfully Ubud is famous for its coffee. If you follow the road round from the forest, you will soon find yourself immersed in the best that the town has to offer in terms of food, drink and shopping, along a road heading directly to its beautiful temples.

We escaped the muggy morning and headed for a cosy looking cafe, ordered iced coffee, Indonesia’s famous black rice pudding, and granola and fruit. Cafe Maha was reasonably priced, and the whole lot came to (the equivalent of) under £7 in total.

Next…shopping! Of course, Ubud has the usual tourist-aimed stalls filled with postcards, patterned trousers, and key-chains galore. However, it really is legendary for its arts and crafts, and this is what I wanted to buy. Thankfully, the Ubud art market has an abundance of handmade and unique art pieces that are a small dent to even a students wallet. I managed to pick up a beautiful hand-painted scene for about £12. I probably could have haggled the price down, but after playing with the stall-owners adorable children I was happy to pay the asking price.

Temples, temples, temples, museum

The art market is ideally located just across the road from the Ubud Palace, and a short walk from the towns other temples and the Museum Puri Lukisan. Whilst the Palace wasn’t open when we were there, I am told that some beautiful dance performances usually take place there if that is something you are interested in.

The temples however, were available, and are also free to visit. Both men and women are required to be modestly dressed before entering them though, but if you do forget then complimentary sarongs are provided. The temples are a great place to embrace fully the serenity of the town, and a chance to appreciate the detail that goes into creating such a beautiful place. This was definitely the place where I took the most photos, that’s for sure!

Along the same road is also Museum Puri Lukisan, the oldest art museum in Bali which specialises in modern traditional Balinese paintings and wood carvings. However, at 75K IDR entry, if art isn’t your thing this can probably be dropped from the itinerary. We did get a discount with the Kura-Kura bus ticket, paying 120K IDR in total, and the ticket does get you a free drink each at the cafe. Although, I can’t say that we got our money’s worth. It may have been that we were perhaps tired and the heat had worn us down even more, but I probably spent more time standing in front of the fans instead of looking at the actual art-work! The museum grounds are beautiful though, so perhaps even just a visit to the cafe is advisable. Enjoying an ice-cold lemonade in an expertly designed garden was the highlight of our museum visit, although I’m not quite sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

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For anyone who’s visited South East Asia, you’ll know how much they love to promote a massage. The whole holiday we’d been used to saying no, politely shaking our heads, and carrying on down the street. However, with some time to kill in Ubud, we decided to go ahead and take someone up on their offer…and at £3 for a 30 minute head/back massage, you can’t go wrong. Like most places in Bali, the street-side massage parlors are available pretty much at every other door. Take some time to find a good deal though – for example, shops just outside major attractions will charge more than those just a five minute walk away. After settling on a place, we decided to waste 30 mins being truly pampered. What are holidays for anyway?

Campuhan Ridge Walk

The ridge walk is best done later in the day, hence why we decided to wait a little and get a massage before commencing the trail. Initially getting to the walk is actually rather tricky, and we ended up in the grounds of some resort by accident, much to the delight of one angry member of staff. To get there, you basically need to follow the road down past the museum and keep going until it veers sharply off to the left. Here, there will be a steep driveway which you walk down, and you will see yet another temple. Signs to a cafe and consequently the walk signal the start of the Campuhan Ridge Walk.

Even though we waited until later to complete the walk, we were still pretty tired and hot, so unfortunately did not complete the whole trail. However, from what I’ve researched I’m pretty sure we covered the main section…i.e, the part where all the photos are from. The walk offers some sweeping views of Ubud’s traditional landscape, and the breeze on a hot day is always welcome too. Even if you are short on time, I’d still recommend getting out on the ridge even if for just 20 minutes or so. It shows a side of Ubud and more importantly Bali that contrasts so much with the beach-side resorts which tourists are often used to seeing.

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Hands down, Cafe Lotus is the best place to eat in Ubud. We’d spied the restaurant on our visit to the temple earlier in the day, and I was instantly sold on it’s serene surroundings and the fact that you get to sit on the floor when you eat, Asian-style. Whilst the prices may be a little more than what you usually pay in Bali (and the portion sizes considerably smaller), it’s still a fraction of the price you’d pay for an experience like this in the West.

They offer traditional Balinese cuisine, as well as Western favorites too. I had the chicken satay and my boyfriend had a lamb burger, which we were both happy with. The dining area overlooks the lovely lotus pond and the nearby temple, which also means that the restaurant cannot serve beef. We still only paid around 250K IDR in total, which also included drinks and a tip, and was certainly an ideal way to end a great day out in Ubud. The spiritual town is a place that will always hold a place in my heart, and now also my photo album!

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When Life Gives You Lemons…You Read About Them

With summer well and truly underway, I’ve been trying to catch up on some reading…in between working five days a week of course! Being a literature student means I have to read a lot, very fast; and you can’t always fully enjoy these books knowing that a 2,500 word essay worth 50% of your grade is attached to it. Therefore, whenever I get the chance, I like to read something a little different. A bit more fun, more relaxed, and certainly not related to any sort of meta essay question.

Whilst browsing the library the other week, I came across a book in the travel literature section titled ‘The Land Where Lemons Grow’, by Helena Attlee. It has good reviews from reputable sources, so I decided to give it a chance. Oh, and it’s about the lemon gardens of Italy, a country with which I have a slight obsession with.

I’ve been reading the book for a little over a week now, and I can genuinely say I’m really enjoying it. It doesn’t follow a traditional narrative structure, and each chapter jumps around in different parts of Italy where lemons are the root of their culture. Attlee explores the history, and in a way the future of these special citrus gardens and their importance to Italian heritage. However, she does it in a way that isn’t ‘articly’ or long-winded; an entire book about Italian citrus fruit may sound boring, but Attlee surprises you with connections to the Mafia, WW2, even important scientific discoveries. After just a few chapters, you’ll have a strange new-found respect…for lemons!

Each page transports to the lemon scented gardens of Italy, basking in the beautiful sunshine and supplying endless amounts of Limoncello. The book works well in those days where summer seems to be over here in England, and also for the days where the heat comes blazing back. To all in need of a refreshing, relaxing summer read, I’d definitely recommend. However, be warned – you may find yourself frantically loading up SkyScanner to find the next flight out to Italy!




Understanding the World Through Literature: A Quest We Should All Undertake

Recently, I was watching TEDTalks (for those that don’t know, the popular YouTube channel in which anything and everything is discussed. I was fortunate enough to attend a Local TEDTalks in Tucson last year) when I came across something that really inspired me. Don’t get me wrong, nearly all the speakers inspire or ignite some kind of awe in me whenever I watch their videos, but this one seemed to speak to me on a more personal level. It was titled ‘My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World’, hosted by speaker Ann Morgan. Being a literature student and an avid reader (aiming to get through at least one book a week), the talk really hit a nerve, and made me question just how varied my own reading choices are.

Ann Morgan highlighted the obvious problem with today’s modern world readers: that nearly all books consumed are by writers in developed countries, mainly the UK and the USA. Now, I’m an American Literature student, so take pride in trying to read as much of the diverse American literature that I can get my hands on, but I had to admit that Morgan had a point. Following this, she undertook a mission to read a book from every single country in the world. Of course, some books were easier to obtain – namely those from European countries. However, she spoke of the struggle of trying to track down English-translated copies from poorer parts of the world, places where their literature had previously never been translated into another language. Nevertheless, her stamina and ambition to finish what she started is inspiring, and she even contacted local translators when this problem arose.

I won’t say too much else about the video, as I believe it really is worth a watch and something you should muster your own conclusions on, but I will say this: The comments on the YouTube were surprisingly critical, saying that Morgan could not possibly learn about an entire country through one book, that she picked the wrong piece of literature, etc. It seemed that people set out to challenge her efforts to simply expand her readings and give other world literatures a place in her bookshelf. Sure, she cannot learn everything about a place from one 500 or so page book, but is it not commendable that she is even attempting to delve into the unsung chapter of ‘foreign’ literature – that is, literature published outside the usual North American/British spectrum? Personally, Ann Morgan’s challenge is something that I have always wanted to undertake, as I truly believe a piece of literature can shape your understanding and identity in one way or another. It is true that other countries are not given full recognition for their works, whilst English-speaking writers thrive worldwide. We would certainly all benefit (and contribute to the global book market) by picking up say a Filipino, South African, or Argentinian novel and connecting ourselves more so with the global community.


Understanding America and its European Roots

Before coming to America, I had never seen so many people so keen to show off their European heritage. Sure, people from Europe are happy about where they come from, in a general sense, but I’ve never heard it said with such pride. This is also despite the fact that a lot of American who state this, have never been to Europe themselves.

Here, being ‘European’ seems to mean something very different, and people are quick to tell you where their ancestors come from. Their grandparents nationality becomes their own, even though they are American citizens, have been raised in America, and sometimes have never visited their ‘home’ country. Being from Europe, this is baffling for me, as I’m sure it is for many other Europeans alike. For example, my grandparents are Spanish and I have a Spanish name, but I do not identify as Spanish…why would I? I cannot speak the language, have never lived there, and know only a limited view of the culture. Yet, if I were American, would be I saying something different?

After living here a couple of months, and being used to hearing the ‘Oh you’re from England? My uncle once visited London’ comments, I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of an average American, and understand their strong grip on European culture.

We all know that the America we see today is a ‘young’ nation, compared to the long stretching history of other places around the world. It made me wonder how I would feel if all my relatives, and all my friends relative were from other countries, and you knew you were still at the beginning of a race of ‘pure’ Americans, whatever that may mean.

Having discussed this with my European friends here in the States, it seems I am not the only one to have noticed the American’s fondness for a European connection. I have many people in my classes that label themselves as German or Polish, when they are clearly not, at least not in the way that I would recognise anyway. This concept of being patriotic and proud to be an American, whilst also boasting of being Polish, European descent is very confusing to an outsider like myself. Whilst I do not know many Polish people, I am sure that if I were to place a person from Poland next to an American saying they is ‘Polish’, the differences in culture would be vast and they’d actually have little in common. The person from Poland may also be offended that a technical American is claiming to be Polish.

Again, however, I do not know how it feels to live in country where so much of the history originates outside of the nation. And I know enough to understand that whilst someone may be an American citizen, this does not mean that they disregard their French or Italian or German ancestry. Perhaps, in a way, most Europeans ‘have it easier’. Most of us are clear in our lineage, and the place we call ‘home’ has always been home for most of our family line. The fact that I have Spanish grandparents is somewhat a rarity in England – in the town where I grew up in, most of the third generations were born there too. However, this is not the case for a lot of Americans. You get a ‘melting pot’ of many different cultures in a lot of big cities, combining their traditions to get the diverse American identity.

In response to those American’s who I meet who tell me that they ‘once visited Manchester’ (which, in case you didn’t know, is many many miles me…in fact I’ve never been) when I reveal my British accent, I’ve come to learn that this is mostly to do with the size of our country. In comparison to the U.S.A., the U.K. is tiny – to an outsider everything must look so close together and in that case why hasn’t everyone visited Buckingham Palace or Stonehenge? Reverse the roles, and we’d probably get a strange look if we told a new Californian acquaintance that we went to New York last year on a city break. Anyone that knows the cities will know that they differ dramatically, so the statement would be somewhat irrelevant.

The European connection is just another one of the many things I am learning about American culture. Being an American Studies student, I would have thought I would have heard something about their views on this before, instead of just about how patriotic the country is. However, I suppose a European professor cannot teach a class of Europeans how Americans feel about their roots here. They have never stood in their shoes and felt what means to be part of a ‘new’ nation and its pioneering attitude, even today. We all need something ‘familiar’ to hold on to, and for many Americans, that ‘familiar’ is also ours – Europe.