Look, Listen, Reflect… in Bali

October 1, 2011 § 17 Comments

Eat, Pray, Love. These three simple verbs have reached linguistical stardom thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert, the author whose literary memoir was recently adapted into a movie featuring Hollywood actress Julia Roberts. In Eat, Pray, Love the protagonist spends one year travelling to Italy (Eat), India (Pray), and Indonesia (Love) in search of self-discovery. Since its publication in 2006, the popularity of Eat, Pray, Love continues to entice tourists to the rural town of Ubud where fans of Elizabeth Gilbert attempt to re-create the author’s four-month voyage into this cultural and spiritual heart of Bali.

For decades, the Indonesian island of Bali has long been the destination of choice for R&R seekers—and Ubud, in particular, a haven for creative minds and yoga enthusiasts. Amongst some of the earlier visitors to Bali were comic actor Charlie Chaplin, artist Johan Rudolf Bonnet, and anthropologist Margaret Mead. Once in Bali, it becomes easy to understand why this little island paradise stands out from the rest of the Indonesian archipelago. 

From Singapore, Bali is a short 2.5-hour flight and therefore a popular weekend getaway for many locals, residents, and long-term travellers alike. With a bit of leisure time to spare during the semester reading break at school, I was convinced that I needed to recharge my batteries with a short trip to Bali! 

Accompanied by my mom (aka Gramsy to Miss Maple), we spent three insightful days wandering and exploring the idyllic community of Ubud. Coming from a fast-paced metropolis like Singapore, Ubud proved to be a wonderful contrast! Located in the centre of Bali, Ubud offers a quiet respite in amidst rice paddy fields and natural forests.

Surrounded by small self-sustaining villages and steeped in traditional customs, Ubud appears to have retained, for the most part, its old-world charm in spite of encroaching tourism. In Ubud, the simple and relaxed way of life compels you to stop for a moment to Listen, Breathe, Reflect.

The Balinese start and end their days early in sync with the rising and setting of the sun at 6:00am and 6:00pm, respectively. Ubud Market, the ‘commercial’ hub in the centre of town, opens before the crack of dawn at 3:00am for trading and bartering of fresh produce and goods. During the mid-day, Ubud Market transforms into a colourful scene filled by vendors touting their wares and tourists bargaining for souvenirs.


When it comes to food, Ubud has a surprisingly wide array given its relatively small population size. There are contemporary eateries specializing in pizzas, pastas, sushi, and everything fusion in-between. What you won’t find in this town, however, are fast-food establishments—they’re banned (and, wisely so). We opted for a local dish called nasi campur (IDR$41,500) which consists of rice, an assortment of meats, a side of vegetables, and topped with a generous sprinkling of fried peanuts and anchovies. A hearty meal!

Exploring the outskirts of Ubud is as easy as dropping into one of the many tour operations dotted along the main streets of Ubud, or engaging the tour services offered by your hotel/guesthouse. Alternatively, you could hire a freelance guide with transportation for the day. If you’re really adventurous, you could even rent a scooter and explore at your own pace. My mom and I happened to stumble upon an independent tour operator while walking in Ubud and decided to sign-up for a full-day excursion (IDR$100,000 per person). We were joined by a young couple from Germany and a solo traveller from Taiwan—the five of us managed to squeeze quite comfortably, with some room to spare, into one vehicle. Our tour captain, Kamun, brought us to several places of interest but the one that most impressed me was the ancient site of Pura Gunung Kawi (IDR$15,000 per person).       

Traditional dance and theatre is another aspect of Balinese culture not to be missed. Barong is one type of performance that unfolds as a story about good and evil both of which are represented by mythological animals by the name of Barong and Rangda, respectively. Accompanied by a gamelan (orchestra) of musicians playing a medley of local instruments, the theatre ensemble—clothed in their vivacious costumes—come alive. There are several villages on the outskirts of Ubud with Barong troupes that perform on a daily basis. We particularly enjoyed the Barong & Kris Dance performance in Gianyar located on Stage Chandra Budaya (IDR$80,000 per person).      

Our time in Ubud was far too short for us to fully comprehend the rich and complex Balinese culture. Perhaps this means another trip is warranted in the near future. Until then, I have another post coming up with a focus on the dogs of Bali. Stay tuned for that! 

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§ 17 Responses to Look, Listen, Reflect… in Bali

  • totomameee says:

    Bali is really beautiful but we have yet to go there! But each time when we want to go for vacation, we are always tempted away by Thailand cheaper alternatives! :p

    • Bali is indeed beautiful but some parts of this island have transformed dramatically into tourist hotspots especially in districts like Kuta, Seminyak, and Nusa Dua. Affordable accommodation and dining options can still be found in and around Ubud, but it does take a bit of searching. Thailand is a wonderful alternative and has an equally rich culture, too. The next time I have a chance to travel to Thailand I’ll be sure to seek your advice and recommendations!

  • Bassas Blog says:

    Beautiful pictures and very warm and interesting commentary. I have learned a lot about Ubud from your post! Thank you 🙂

  • toemailer says:

    We would love the post the second photo up from the bottom, on the left, if you do not mind?


    • Hi Toemailer! That particular photo does receive quite a bit of attention. Most definitely, I will send you a copy of the image via email and some background information. Thank you for sharing it on your blog 😀

  • Bali is a wonderful place and I myslef blogged about it when we went there http://chaithra-naveen.blogspot.com/p/travel.html

    But you see the thing is its become more commercialized now and in some places we really felt that we were being asked to more price just because we were tourist.If you ignore that then a trip to Bali will leave you wanting for more.

    • How great to read another traveller’s experience of Bali! Thanks for sharing your link. It sounds like you and your hubby had a lovely anniversary celebration. Wow, you two saw so much of Bali and your photos make me want to go back and explore other parts of Bali.

      We stayed in Ubud but drove through Denpasar in the daylight as we headed to the airport for our flight back to Singapore and, you’re right, there are definitely signs of modernization and commercialization all around. The tourism industry has really caught on in Bali and this becomes very apparent when you walk along the main streets and store owners try their best to entice you with their products and services. We ventured into some of the residential neighbourhoods by foot and found them to be a lot more tranquil and authentic, which was enlightening.

      By the way, I think we watched the same Barong show in Batubulan!

  • Kas says:

    Beautiful! Your posts help me travel the world! 🙂

  • raisingdaisy says:

    Great to see you back! What a wonderful tour you’ve given us here, I enjoyed every second of it, especially the photos of the ancient village. I love the idea of self-sustaining villages – in today’s world especially, that’s the safest way to be.

    I was shocked to hear they have pizzas and pastas! I like the look of the dish you had, it sounds very interesting.

    Great post!!

    • Thanks for your insightful comments—they give me a chance to elaborate further on the self-sustaining villages. The socio-economic structure of Balinese villages, from what I’ve learned through our tour captain, is quite an interesting contrast against today’s modern communities. Each village has a competitive advantage because each one specializes in a particular activity or trade, whether it be wood-carving or stone-carving or silversmithing or agriculture. It is common for goods and services to be exchanged through bartering. Neighbours are always available to help one another, and tasks are often achieved through division of labour. It sounds romanticized, but these aspects of community life still do exist in Bali… at least for now amongst the older generations.

  • Novroz says:

    aw…you visited my country 🙂
    tho I live in Indonesia, I never been to Bali…maybe one day.

    those are great pictures and you sound like you had lots of fun. hehe that nasi campur is too expensive, I guess being in tourism island makes things become more xpensive

    • Hi Novroz! I was hoping you might see our post 😀 Similar to Indonesia, Canada is a large country with many places that I have yet to encounter as well. I’m sure you’ll find your chance soon to visit Bali. Our wanderings around Ubud did make me wonder where locals go for their daily ‘makan’ as prices in restaurants can be quite steep—if we were living in Bali, I don’t think we would be dining out very often at all… with so much fresh food available, it would make more sense to cook at home (probably healthier that way, too) 😉

  • charlywalker says:

    “Feed, Spay. Love”…..LOVE this post!

  • Novroz says:

    As far as I know, most locals cook their own food…and if they need to buy food, they will go to warung near them. Warung often cheaper than big restaurant.

  • Such colorful, vibrant pics! You look like you visited paradise! Oh and the picture of the food made my mouth water! I think it’s great that fast food is banned, I think it should be banned everywhere most especially in the states. It’ll never happen but I would imagine the obesity rate would go down.

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