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  • Writer's pictureSarina Harper

Indonesia ↣ Part 7: Unique Ubud

Updated: May 23, 2020

After a terrifying ferry ride to Nusa Lembongan, we now needed to head across the charged sea once again. Due to Gunung Agung’s eruption a few weeks prior, the sea swells continued to cancel ferries and strand passengers. So we decided to depart a day prior to our original plan to be sure to get across. An hour later, we arrived at the final island of our month-long travels around Indonesia: Bali!

Just a quick ride north from the docks and we were in steamy, vibrant Ubud. We stayed at a beautiful Airbnb close to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, tucked in a tranquil garden behind the main road. In fact, we were in such proximity to the Sanctuary our room came with a slingshot to deter monkeys from dropping in!

Upon arrival, our hostess proudly gave us a tour of her lush garden, overflowing with exotic tropical growth I’d never seen. Excitedly, she explained how she built the property after falling in love with the island.

Our bungalow's garden
Our bathroom

Our handcrafted bungalow was designed around an ornate door she happened upon in Ubud years ago.

We freshened up, then headed out to dazzle our palates with the first of many fantastic meals we’d share in magical Ubud.

That night we treated ourselves to the tasting menu at Locavore, ordering one veggie and one meat version - with paired cocktails of course. As we sampled, we rated the dishes - obviously, my ratings were determined by smiley faces! The highlights were lobster with chocolate, a dish with garlic seven ways, and the perfect plate to convince you there’s no need to eat meat again: coconut barbequed jackfruit.

With a sprinkling of palate cleansers nestled between courses we almost didn’t have room for the multiple desserts - well, until the following night when we treated ourselves to tasting menus at Room For Dessert!

After only eight bites of dessert the night before, we felt we could indulge in Will Goldfarb’s tasting menu of seven sinful desserts - and we, of course, opted for drink pairings there too.

In the evenings we caught local dances performing at various temples around the tiny city. Passionate men and women moved to Balinese instrumental songs, emotionally expressing their stories to the audience whilst ornately carved backdrops illuminated them from behind. Legong Dance interested me the most - women trained for years to master seemingly impossible finger movements, complicated footwork, and shocking facial expressions.

The next morning we grabbed flat whites and the best croissants outside Paris from what quickly became my favorite breakfast spot in town: Monsieur Spoon.

Then, while Adam worked for a few hours, I lost myself wandering Ubud’s magical streets.

Ubud’s a truly unique place; the small city seems so lively, yet feels peaceful and serene at the same time. Beautifully carved temples greeted every turn of my head (there may be as many as 50,000 temples in Bali alone). The Balinese have shrines in shops, offices, and their houses. Bigger temples are in villages throughout the island. Spicy aromas from incense burning in doorways filled my nostrils, calming me as I explored. Hundreds of beautiful offerings - which women make each day, crafted out of coconut leaf baskets and filled with fruits, flowers, rice, and more - dotted the streets, creating a beautiful spirituality that was felt throughout…

A typical entryway to a Balinese home

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is seek the unique - in addition to experiences, stays, and foods, I’ve slowly built an international wardrobe which I love adding to. Bali’s fashion was right up my alley. Dainty jewelry, good quality printed dresses, vibrant beads - I was in shopping heaven. But I was also limited to fitting a month’s worth of traveling and shopping in a large suitcase. Enamored I was, so I assured myself these things could all be worn on the plane.

In addition to the myriad of tempting boutiques, Ubud has quite the central marketplace. While more appealing than the average Asian market, it’s still mostly aimed at tourists. However, sift enough and there are certainly gems to be found. Gorgeous pieces woven from local materials bursted from stalls, tempting even the stringiest of browsers. Smooth wooden serving ware caught my eye, reminding me I could properly cook Asian foods now - what better way to serve them than with these natural goods? Behaving, I just snagged those and some local home decor, bringing pieces of Bali home with us forever.

And possibly a new bag. But that’s it, I swear.

Under the blazing sun, off I went to reunite with Adam for lunch. I wondered how long it would take my husband to notice the newly adorned pieces on my finger and around my neck...

Realizing it had been two weeks since my last Balinese massage (gasp!), we remedied that with no-fills but expertly given blind massages. In Bali, government-sponsored schools train many of the blind in reflexology and massage. Afterward, kinks worked out, we meandered towards the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary to say a proper hello to our friendly neighbors.

The Sanctuary was a treat to experience - there are thousands of monkeys living (mostly) within the park - you’ll know you’re nearing it when you see monkeys hanging above your head, dropping down next to you to check you out. There are various trails to follow once inside, and we happily wandered through the lush forest exploring various paths. Walking hand in hand, incredible trees and stunning flowers surrounded us - oh, as did hundreds of monkeys going about their daily lives.

Still in vacation mode three weeks into our adventure (we were really getting the hang of it), we enjoyed the experimental restaurant scene Ubud had to offer. An eclectic mix of restaurants serve dishes prepared with local spices and produce, with a twist of Western and Asian influence. It was a stark contrast to the simple meals we’d enjoyed while staying on Lombok previously. Seemingly every dish offered a new blend of spices that had never before graced our palettes. Spicy, sweet, tangy, fiery, deliciousness. My favorite was Bebek betutu - duck prepared with a spice mixture unique to the region.

Bebek betutu

Feeling like a princess at The Palace!

After three nights in Ubud, it was time to experience what drew me to visiting the island the most: it’s stunning, natural interior. After much initial research, I crafted a packed itinerary to make the most of our remaining three days on the island. Ornate temples, wild jungles, towering waterfalls and rural villages awaited!

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