Ubud, the royal town of Bali is also the island's cultural centre, with temples, museums, rice paddies and five star hotels built next to simple yoga centres. I wouldn't call it a town of contrasts though. The ambience is very relaxed, the poverty well hidden in the back alleys as to not to be an eyesore to the eco-friendly, yoga-pants wearing, earth-loving tourists. I'm being a little sarcastic because it seems as though the Eat Pray Love book, by many referred to as "that damn book", resulted in an influx of a very defined demographic to Ubud and probably shaped its current expat-led cafe culture. Places such as "Sacred Scoops" (raw, local, vegan, organic, low-glycemic, gluten free ice cream) seem to grow like mushrooms on every corner, which makes me chuckle a little.
Nonetheless it's a very pleasant, culturally rich place; and for us it was a perfect starting point to explore Bali.
For the first week or so we stayed in a small village around 15 minute drive from Ubud in a cosy hotel among rice paddies. It was just like I imagined Bali before we came here: peaceful, green, lush and simple at the same time. The first thing that hit my nostrils when we arrived was the scent of ever-present incense and rice. The little offerings consisting of a bamboo or banana leaf tray, flowers and something to eat (from rice to Kopiko and mint sweets!), signs of local Hindu religion were scattered everywhere. In front of your room in the morning, on the desk in the hotel reception, in the shuttle to Ubud, on the car dashboard, in shop entrance, on pavements, tucked behind the registration plates of motorbikes. You could always expect a procession or a practice temple dance to break out of nowhere in the middle of the street and halt human and bikes traffic for half an hour. It was one of the aspects which we noticed everywhere in Bali, which makes me think it was genuine and not staged with tourists in mind.
Our time in Ubud was close to perfect in my opinion. We explored the temples, museums, sat in cafes and made friends with baristas. In the evening we went out for dinner, listened to live music, watched the sun go down around 6 PM and were back at home for 9 to sit on the terrace and listen to the frogs singing on the rice fields. Bali is located only 8 degrees south of the Equator, so the days are always 12h long, the sun rises around 6 and sets 12 hours later, dictating the rhythm of life both for locals and for tourists.
After one week it was time to head north to see the countryside and the elusive real Bali, so sought after by many visitors. I felt so comfortable in Ubud I didn't want to leave. But being too comfortable usually means it's time to move on. And on we went, to the other side of Bali to Munduk.
More on that soon....
Here is a little taster of who we encountered: