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!