Road trip Travels

a week in Bali: exploring Ubud and beyond

October 24, 2016
tegallangang rice terrace

Here is my fourth and last post about Bali (at last!). When Céline mentioned she was going to Bali and offered me to join, I did not think about it very long and said yes! All my Australian friends had always looked at me in a funny way, each time I was saying I had never been there.  Indeed Bali is THE holiday destination for Aussies! It is a mere 7-hour flight from Sydney, like going to NYC from Paris or London! It is a bit of an ordeal coming from Europe or from the States but if you are staying 3 weeks of even a month, it is well worth it. Now I ticked it off my bucket list: I really enjoyed my time over there and already want to go back to explore more of the island. Maybe next year?

Ubud

The program was very simple: yoga, relax, cooking local food and some exploration. We wanted to stay in Ubud, in the lush green part of the island and far away from the beaches. We did not have a car but that wasn’t an issue in the end: so many drivers around town offer you taxi services but we used the driver recommended by our guest house. And to be honest after being driven around the island, I am glad we did not: we did not get lost, some drive like mad and there a few times where crossing other cars was a bit challenging! In Ubud we ended up walking a lot around town despite the tiny sidewalks (when there were any…).

Ubud can be busy and noisy in the centre, especially around the central market and the main shopping streets. But if you walk away from that area, you’ll discover very quiet streets and beautiful traditional Balinese houses surrounded by rice fields. Despite the heat, it was quite amazing to see all this tropical greenery.

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Where we stayed

We stayed at a lovely guest house Ala’s Green Lagoon. It is located in a quiet area slightly away from the frantic activity of the centre but only five minutes walk. Our room was lovely, we enjoyed great breakfast every day, especially the green pancake  (that I am still due to make one at home with Nyoman’s recipe). The pool was perfect for a dip at the end of the day and our room overlooked rice fields and mountains in the distance. Nyoman the owner and Madi his right arm were always very friendly and helpful. I would stay there again and recommend it!

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Madi serving our breakfast: green pancakes!

Our favorite places to eat

We tried a lot of different places for lunch and dinner at local “warungs” (which means small restaurants) and here are our favourite ones:

Warung Local: located in one of the mains streets, Jalan Karna. The food is home made style, simple, tasty and well priced. I loved seating at the bar and watching the animation in the street.

Sari Organik: after a lovely walk throughout rice fields, just on the northwestern outskirts of the centre, you reach Sari Organik where they serve beautiful and fragrant organic food. We sipped delicious fresh juice whilst enjoying the view and quietness away from the town’s bustle!

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Warung Gauri: on the way to our guest house from Jalan Bisma. This warung is a mini one: only one table for two and one coffee table with 3 small stools. Everyday we were passing it and one day I suggested we tried. The owner’s wife prepared our dishes next to us just behind a screen in her mini kitchen. It was like being in her kitchen, the food was really yummy and definitely our cheapest eat in Ubud. We had our last lunch there and enjoyed the owner’s happy face!

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Where we practiced yoga

As for our yoga practice, we wanted to try different types of classes at different times of the day. So we visited the main yoga studios: The Yoga Barn, Radiantly alive, Intuitive flow and one next to our guest house, but we chose the two following studios as we liked their setting and atmosphere much better.

Intuitive Flow: the studio is up the hill and has magnificent view over the rain forest. It is further away from the town center and is much quieter. This one is my favorite!

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Radiantly Alive: Céline really wanted to try the fly-high yoga class when I was not so keen. In the end, I went along and loved the class despite the fact it was quite challenging! You need to trust yourself to let your fears go and not fight gravity. Not to mention I realised I seriously need to work more on my core muscles!!!

 

Beyond: Temples and rice fields

After reading numerous websites and blogs on which temples or places to see, we made our mind to tour the island and see some temples and rice fields. And to be on the safe side on the roads and not to get lost (as you will see, road signs can be optional!!), we decided to hire a taxi driver and we did well! Another thing we read: you need to wear a sarong before entering a temple, so we made sure we took ours with us before our visits to avoid having to buy one each time!

Day trip 1

Tegalagang rice terraces

These rice fields are the closest from Ubud (only half an hour drive). They are set into terraces and involve the Unesco-recognised subak system (the traditional Balinese cooperative irrigation system). We decided to be there early to avoid the crowds and to get a light not too harsh. But the light ended up being very bright. However the walk throughout the rice terraces was lovely (despite the heat) and we enjoyed very much the view without too many tourists. The scenery is just splendid!

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rice crops drying

Pura Tirta Empul

The temple is a water temple famous for its holy spring water where Balinese go to for ritual purification. The temple grounds are quite vast and constructions are beautiful. There is a pond with a spring which provides fresh water regularly. When we visited, the temple was quite lively as there were some celebrations that day and people were queueing to get into the water and do the purification rite. Despite all that, you could still feel a sense of quietness. Try to avoid the tourist trap loop at the exit where you are taken into a maze of souvenir shops.

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Pura Gunung Kawi

You walk down a steep stone stair way to reach these ancient monuments which stand by a lush green river. It is one of the oldest and largest monuments in Bali. The memorials cut out of the rock face in imitation of actual statues are quite impressive. As you wander around the site you feel a certain ancient majesty here. However I was quite disappointed by how the temples were poorly cleaned and the too many tourists shops along the stairway (which you end up passing twice). The hike back to the village is tough under the sun.

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We finished that first day at the weaving factory Tenun Ikat Setia Cili where we discovered the Ikat textile art. You can read more in my previous post here.

 

Day trip 2

For this day trip we picked another itinerary to the northeastern part of the island to visit two other temples and another rice terraces site which is also part of the Unesco heritage list.

Pura Luhur Batukaru

Lost in the jungle, this holy temple is hard to reach: the journey took us a bit more than 2.5 hours to get there. The drive was a bit hectic especially towards the end where you can hardly cross other vehicles… very winding and narrow…but once you wander around the temple grounds you feel a real sense of serenity. It is well taken care of and protected from the tourists’ shops invasion! There were also some celebrations that day bringing some liveliness to the place. People were smiling and friendly with us. We enjoyed a little walk around the pond which honours the Tamblingan lake’s gods. Although the steps towards the island in its middle were inviting, there are solely used by priests. The light was not easy to manage so I did not get a good shot of the entrance doors. This temple is definitely my favourite one.

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Jatiluwih rice terraces

The Jatiluwih Rice Terraces are not as accessible as other parts of Bali (on the way to Pura Luhur Batukaru), but are well worth the effort for their beauty. Behind this beautiful scenery is also a great deal of ingenuity and high levels of technology. Indeed the irrigation system has been listed as ‘cultural landscape’ by Unesco on its heritage list. We were not very lucky with the weather but the big clouds offered us some interesting light and contrast. As we were a bit short in time we took the shortest walk among the rice paddies, but it was quite enchanting. You feel really small in such a vast and complex system.

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Pura Ulun Danu Bratan

This temple is located by the Lake Bratan and was built on small islands. It is an important Hindu-Buddhist temple founded in the 17th century and dedicated to Dewi Danu, the goddess of the waters. Pilgrimages and ceremonies are held here to ensure that there is a supply of water for farmers all over Bali. We wanted to see it for sunset to get some nice sunset shots with the lake and mountains in the background but this did not happen! We were very unlucky with the weather: it was pouring rain and it felt almost cold. So we did not even spend much time in the garden around it. We went back to the car and headed back to Ubud (the drive back took about 1h30).

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Balinese spirit

Balinese people are very friendly, open, helpful and they laugh all the time. Our chef at the cooking school was laughing and making jokes all the time! One of our yoga teachers explained to us that Balinese laugh very hard to stay positive and expel any bad spirits…in the same way they put offerings outside their house to keep bad spirits out. This positive attitude is so refreshing!  They also love to bargain and always with a smile so be sure to keep the same spirit and the bargaining will be fun! 

 

More about Bali

Hope you enjoyed the journey and please share your tips about Bali here!

 

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