Ubud. When people say the name of this amazing Indonesian jungle town - it brings the happiest of memories into my heart. Not only because I married the love of my life there (ok - it helps), but because it is my favourite place on earth. Yep - thats right. Most people are familiar with Ubud because it was made famous by Liz Gilbert (or Julia Roberts depending on how you look at it) finding love there in the classic memoir/movie Eat, Pray, Love. The movie paints Ubud as a lush, green, cultural and magical place... and I have to tell you - they nailed it.
Ubud is a quiet getaway from the busy and heavily touristed beaches of Kuta & Seminyak on the island of Bali. While the Kuta/Seminyak area is special in its own right - there is something magical about Ubud.
We started our Ubud trip staying in the famous Maya Ubud Resort & Spa. It is simply one of the most beautiful places in the world - and sleeping in a private jungle hut is a beyond surreal experience. There is no feeling quite like swimming in an infinity pool in the jungle that overlooks a breathtakingly gorgeous river bed - but with this incredible scenery comes a steep price tag. We got married at the Maya Ubud, so we were there for two nights. Read all about and check out the pictures from our wedding here.
After our wedding, we switched to the Komeneka at Rasa Sayang that was at the most perfect location in Ubud, and was easily the best hotel experience of my entire life. Not only did our stay include a FREE Bali massage in a world class spa... the food was AMAZING, the pool was AMAZING - but it was the people of Komeneka that set it apart. One experience stands out to me in particular. Kris and I were sitting by the pool and no one else was around. The most sincere and sweet lady who worked at the hotel came up to us and asked if she could get us anything. We said sure, a cup of coffee would be lovely! She brings us some coffee and starts to ask us a few questions. It comes up that we were just married a few days before - and she was SO genuinely excited for us. After showering us with love and well wishes, she went away only to return with a FULL fresh baked heart shaped cake she had the kitchen prepare for us to wish us well on our marriage. We were completely blown away at this sweet gesture - we didn't even know what to do! Apart from thanking her profusely, the only thought was to make sure we tipped extremely well. She REFUSED to take the tip we offered because she wanted us to make sure we knew it came from her heart. This is just the people of Ubud. This is their spirit and their hospitality.
There are so many highlights to the town of Ubud itself. Apart from the amazing spirit of the Balinese, the overall scenery and intense culture of Ubud is unlike anywhere else. It is completely normal to see locals fully dressed for temple, carrying baskets full of offerings. In front of nearly every shop there is small offerings placed in tiny baskets full of everything from rice to cigarettes - the locals honouring their ancestors. Temples are everywhere - and some are so shockingly gorgeous there is a strong need to sit in silence and honour where it is that you are spending your day.
Then there is the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. It is debatably the most famous tourist attraction in Ubud - with over 10,000 visitors coming through a month. It is both a Hindu temple as well as a nature reserve, and it is absolutely STUNNING. There are intricate stone statues everywhere - all overgrown with thick green moss, and shadowed by the enormous trees that roof the sanctuary.
The monkeys run around with full control of the place - and are not at all afraid of the visitors - especially if there is a potential for food. Locals sell bananas for feeding, and when you have a banana, you will have the monkeys jump right on you to sit and enjoy their snack. We were not so open to the thought of monkeys jumping on us, but thought we were safe to bring out our water bottles. A monkey walked right onto Kris' lap and attempted to grab his bottle. Kris refused (brave man...) so the alpha-monkey walked right onto my lap and grabbed mine. I gave it up without a fight - seeing the monkeys get aggressive for food with other tourists was enough to convince me not to put up a fight. The slight sketchiness of the forest was definitely worth it though - the forest is truly magical.
Kecak Fire Dances are another must-see in Ubud. Walking down the street - many temples have representatives selling tickets to tourists - so you won't have any trouble finding one. The dancers and participants in the shows are volunteer members from the temple - and they participate in the performances which brings in funds for their temple. You can trust that your ticket purchase went to cultural preservation - and that makes the fire dances even better. The dance and performance is completely hypnotic, and so utterly beautiful. The dancing is so intricate and enchanting - it is a once-in-a-lifetime, very unique experience.
And last, but certainly of utmost importance, is the cuisine. Oh - the food. There is easily a stand-out restaurant in Ubud, and that is Cafe Wayan. At the time, I was not a vegetarian... and after looking over the huge menu I settled on a simple Tandoori Chicken with Saffron Rice and Naan - served with a savoury yogurt dip. It is certainly a surreal experience having the best Indian dish you have ever eaten in your life, cross-legged on the floor of a Balinese restaraunt in the heart of an Indonesian jungle town... surreal to say the least. Bali is famous for its Satays, Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice), & Bebek (slow cooked duck). Again, I was not a vegetarian at the time, and ate many delicious varieties, always being sure to have a cold beer and making positive the restaurant allowed me to be cross-legged and barefoot while I ate.
I remember one particular dinner at the Cinta Grill on Monkey Forest Road where the food was amazing, and we mentioned this to our waiter. In true Balinese fashion, the head chef had just finished his shift and decided to come join us cross-legged and have a nice long chat before he headed home. This is Bali.
I won't lie to you. The beaches of Bali would not convince me to go back to the island alone. They have been heavily commercialized to accommodate the mass amount of tourists that have been visiting the island. Ubud has accommodated visitors - but it has not lost its heart - nor its genuine richness and authenticity. The warmth of the people of Ubud, along with its simple and understated magic is what would convince me to go back to Bali. I would head straight for Ubud, and never look back. It is easily my favourite place on earth.