Ubud, the cultural centre and core of Bali. And largely a salvation. Hoping off the flight from Lombok, we were ready to do Ubud justice in the two and a bit days we had there. Ubud is the gem of Bali, and is the focus for the Bali Bible- Eat Prey Love. It’s full of cultural promise, ex-pats looking for spiritual salvation and healers ready to step up to that particular task. Staying in another warm and inviting homestay we were ready to eat and see what Bali had to offer. And so we spent the first night eating, and sleeping. Well, I had to sleep for sure. I was wrecked. The food we had next to our homestay was exceptional. This was full of entree based Indonesian dishes with tender cooked meats, sprightly salads and the fascinating Brem wine, a rice wine which tasted in some ways what you’d imagine petrol to taste like but at the same time, like a rich, full-bodied exceptionally sweet wine. On the next day we took Ubud by storm beginning with an elephant safari. This was naturally geared and designed for the tourists’ consumption, yet how often can you say you’re riding on an elephant? Starting off with the elephant museum you then hopped on an elephant and waddled slowly around their reserve. You got a tour guide who gave you specific facts about the elephant compound whilst later on watching the elephants bath and thereafter feeding them almost never-ending branches of bamboo. The whole trip was short, sweet and pleasingly Asian. It could have been a tad more animated in parts maybe, as everything was a bit too formulaic, but at the same time, it was easily a must do when in Bali.
From there we had a hugely expensive buffet (under western standards as well), which one of my friends rather unfortunately vomited straight back up, and then ventured to the monkey temple to the bottom of Ubud. The monkey temple is a must see when in Ubud, especially because you know the monkeys are being cared for. They also don’t steal everything in sight and seem to get on with humans. It’s fairly easy to have a monkey climb on your shoulder just because he wants. Also at the temple is, unsurprisingly a temple, which looks like it’s decaying in a dignified way; an art gallery with some wonderfully delicate images of Balinese life, as well as myths and legends from Bali’s history; and some waterfalls, bridges surrounded by acres of tangled veins and large sections of abundant parkland. My friends and I mutually agreed that this sort of earthy, sprawling snapshots of nature were exactly what we expected of Asia and left the site completely satisfied.
And from there we went around the popular market areas in Bali, experiencing more aggressive shop keepers, more junk and some hidden gems. Perhaps the easy access to Asian goods over Europe is why I was wildly underwhelmed by these markets, which were so cramped, generic and lacking in ascetic goods. Having said that, I still enjoyed the dialogue from the market holders and the tourists, who would try to use literally anything to sell their below-par stock to a fairly bemused public.
For the final day in Ubud we went around Goa Gojaja, which was a temple from the eleventh century. There wasn’t a great deal to see itself, although what we did see was undoubtedly atmospheric. The experience was somewhat hampered by a guide who gave a presentation to us about the temple, with at least 80% of what he said shooting right past us. We then gave a tip, even though we were obviously unhappy by the guide’s performance, to which he then asked for more. At a sacred temple no less. And as we left the sacred tranquility of the temple was further flouted by more square inches of absolute junk all around the entrance to the site. Perhaps it makes sense in some ways to have numerous shops selling Bintang singlets, but with the whole of Bali open for business, a better location might have been more advisable.
Satisfied we had seen plenty of magic all around Ubud we had a massage and then settled in for our final meal. Somewhere along the line we ended up talking to an incredibly repetitive girl from England and an obsessive stoner from California. After a rather uninvolving interpretation of the Beach, and the power of mushroom shakes in Thailand, Somehow we agreed to go to a club in Ubud. Now Ubud is known for healing hands and traditional dances, but it’s not known for nightclubs… and this one definitely wouldn’t have made it on to a Lonely Planet list of places to visit. The highlight was definitely not a discussion based on how many people you could crowd on a bus in Vietnam (told to us about five times by the English girl), it was watching middle-aged Balinese people dancing to a stock tape of vaguely Latin inspired music (think a mexican restaurant mix-tape). The memory seared in to my mind has to be the local man lacking height and teeth attempting to gyrate on my friends, or any piece of tail he could latch on to with his excitement clearly on show. Okay, I lie when I say it wouldn’t be added to a Lonely Planet guide because watching the Mamas and Papas in action was almost a treat, everything about this place was wonderfully weak, from the music, to the crowd to the drinks. And as Ubud melted away, and my friends and I headed to the dimante lights of Kuta, we realised that we were leaving the flash of Bali for the clear trash. Let’s discuss that now.