It was getting dark by the time we arrived at Kenari Guesthouse on the outskirts of Ubud’s bustling centre, but we had a warm welcome by our hosts. Ubud has grown rapidly in recent years and some central parts are creaking under the strain of its popularity. That said, you don’t have to venture far to appreciate the terraced rice fields where quiet village life continues relatively undisturbed. At Kenari Guesthouse we were able to reap the benefits of being just a 15 minute walk from Ubud’s bustling centre, while enjoying peaceful atmosphere and unspoilt views of rice paddies at breakfast time.
On our first night we dumped our bags in the room and headed for dinner in the drizzling rain. Naomi was still struggling with stomach aches and didn’t have an appetite so we kept things simple with a pizza. We never normally eat Western food when travelling, preferring to explore the local cuisine instead, so this was a real exception, but 2 slices was all Naomi could muster after eating nothing else all day.
An early night didn’t do much to help Naomi’s condition and she woke the following day feeling drained and unsettled after regular trips to the toilet all night. We ventured into Ubud regardless and decided to take things easy, exploring the streets, cafes and boutique shops the Ubud is teeming with.
The town sprawls for several kilometers in all directions but it’s still easy enough to get around on foot. The narrow streets in Ubud can’t handle the volume of traffic that funnels through, making renting a moped more of an inconvenience. There’s a near-permanent traffic jam clogging up one of the main roads and lot of tourists, however it still felt more ‘Balinese’ than the likes of Seminyak.
There were plenty of lovely art and craft shops selling a variety of handmade products, yoga gear and some more high-end designer boutiques. Once again, we were spoilt for choice with healthy eating joints selling vegan and raw dishes galore. The arty, creative and spiritual atmosphere of Ubud reflects the local zeitgeist drawing in a distinctly hippy brand of tourist. Yoga classes and retreats are advertised on every street, and we felt compelled to jump on the bandwagon and purchase a dreamcatcher or Tibetan singing bowl for our meditation sessions. Much of Ubud’s popularity has stemmed from the bestselling ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ novel (currently being read by Naomi) but we fear Ubud will one day crumple under the weight of all these tourists, unless something changes soon.
We had some beautifully rich coffee at Ubud Coffee Roasters (or rather Lawrence did while Naomi sipped on some herbal tea) and bought some beans to take back to Mark and Silvia. There were too many well-reviewed cafes to choose from in Ubud that we wished we had longer to explore.
We explored Ubud’s art market selling an array of sarongs, woven bags, kites and other hand crafted goods. Lawrence haggled a pair of shorts down from 180,000 IDR to 60,000 IDR. It was a steal, witnessed by Naomi cringing in the background pretending she didn’t know the audacious bearded man. But the woman selling the shorts seemed happy enough with the final price so we legged it before she changed her mind.
For lunch, we ventured into one of the many tempting vegan cafes called ‘The Seeds of Life’, where Lawrence scoffed the most amazingly presented smoothie jar. This ‘SOL Jar’ consisted of dragon fruit, mango, berry yoghurt, chai pudding, cacao nibs, a muesli bar, and dried banana. Naomi, still tenderly nursing a dodgy stomach, looked on in envy, but she got some enjoyment out of just watching Lawrence devour it.
We popped in to a couple of temples situated in the hustle and bustle of Ubud’s centre. Pura Taman Saraswati features a beautiful pond, overflowing with lotus blossom. Carvings honour the goddess of wisdom and the arts, who clearly gave her blessing to Ubud.
The Ubud Palace was another quick pit stop, a historical building complex smack-dab in the centre of the town.
While the Monkey Forest is one of the most popular attractions in Ubud, we decided against visiting. The forest is a nature reserve and Hindu Temple complex home to over 600 macaque monkeys. The park feeds the monkeys three times a day, with the addition of bananas bought by tourists wishing to feed the animals themselves. We’d read that the park attendants carry slingshots to intimidate aggressive monkeys in addition to providing onsite emergency rabies vaccinations if tourists are bitten. We didn’t fancy taking the risk as our experience of macaques is fairly extensive, as well as negative on the whole. They’re overconfident and hostile creatures, trying their luck at stealing anything within their reach, whether it’s edible or not. We didn’t regret our decision to avoid Monkey Forest.
We ended our first day at the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) showcasing works by well known Balinese artists, as well as international artists who made Bali their home, such as Walter Spies. The ticket price included a free hot drink, which we enjoyed at the end of our wander around the buildings, overlooking a tranquil rice terrace.
Naomi’s stomach cramps and nausea came in waves throughout the day but by later on in the afternoon things were looking a bit better, after nibbling on a banana and some biscuits. As dinner time approached, Naomi finally managed to eat her first meal after almost 48 hours of fasting. A raw vegan lasagna and charcoal infused water at ‘Sayuri Healing Foods’ did the trick (so very Ubud).
We rented a moped from Kenari Guesthouse the following morning and made our way to Tengallalang rice terrace early on in the morning to beat the crowds. The rice terraces are famous for their beautiful scenes of traditional irrigation systems and Tengallalang is one of closest remaining spots to enjoy what’s left of Ubud’s countryside. While the rice terraces were picturesque, they did feel like a token plot of land amidst the noise and development in the surrounding area.
Our photos create the impression that we were more or less the only visitors there, in the middle of the Balinese countryside. However behind us, a busy main road roared with buses and bikes, and the numbers of tourists drastically increases as the day progresses (we arrived at 10am so were lucky to beat the crowds).
While we still had the moped to play with, we made our way back into Ubud’s centre, battling through the grid lock traffic, and towards the Campuhan Ridge Walk. We parked the bike outside a mini-mart and towards the hiking trail. Campuhan Ridge Walk is a free and easy nature trek providing a nice retreat from the hectic town centre. Views of the gorgeous green hillsides made the initial half hour walk a very pleasant activity, however we eventually came across hotels, cafes and restaurants, spoiling the serenity of the trail. We turned back in search of some coffee in Ubud’s centre instead.
Naomi was feeling much perkier today as the worst of her bout of sickness appeared to be behind her. We both had coffee at ‘Freak Café’ before scouting out a light lunch. We finally ate some authentic Indonesian food at Puspas Warum as the afternoon rolled in.
The plan was to attempt a yoga class at the Yoga Barn, a popular destination for seasoned yogis and newbies alike. But it was now Lawrence’s turn to fall ill. We were pretty astounded as to how both of us came to be ill in one of the most wholesome, healthy and nourishing places in the world. We’ve tackled many dodgy looking street food joints in Vietnam, eaten insects in Cambodia and watched in horror as our beer glasses have been ‘cleaned’ with a quick swilling out in dirty water. Yet Ubud is the place our immune systems decide to give way.
Lawrence spent the afternoon napping, feeling feverish and achy, so yoga was off the cards (Naomi is still determined to drag him along one of these days) and the role of nurse and patient reversed. At least we coordinate our sicknesses so one person is always well enough to look after the other!
We decided to walk to ‘The Seeds of Life’ that evening when Lawrence had risen from his power nap, so Naomi could get her SOL Jar fix. It was here that Lawrence received yet another comment about his curly hair, a real talking point and cause for entertainment to Asians. Apparently the waiter thought Lawrence was Valentino Rossi, the Italian MotoGP legend, who also sports a head of curly hair but otherwise looks nothing like Lawrence.
Lawrence was struggling to walk back from dinner that night feeling very low on energy and enthusiasm. While we both really enjoyed Ubud, it’s a shame the majority of our time there was tainted by ill health. We made sure to get another early night to prepare ourselves for our departure to the Gili Islands in the morning.