When you think of Bali, the first images that probably come to mind are the busy streets of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak. Scooters and taxis whizzing by, bars and nightclubs gearing up for big parties, long stretches of beaches and lots and lots of Bintang. But there’s another side to Bali too, where healthy food, arts and crafts, nature, spirituality and history are all celebrated.
Jump in a car, drive an hour or two north of Kuta and you’ll find yourself in Ubud. In place of local stalls selling sunglasses and Bintang singlets, you’ll find artists preparing wood and stone carvings, silver jewellery, paintings, furniture and more. In most cases, these skills are passed down through families from generation to generation and the artists are well respected in the communities. When festivals, like Bali’s Saka New Year celebrations, come around, it’s the local artists that are called on to supply large Ogoh-Ogoh statues for the parade.
When you arrive into the main streets of Ubud, the whole vibe of Bali somehow changes. Things slow down and become more peaceful and relaxed. You won’t find shop owners calling out to you to come inside, just small boutique stores with their doors open and their locally made wares on display. From yoga clothes, jewellery and goods made from 100% recycled products to woven bags, sundresses and hats, these stores sell just about everything.
Ubud has a back-to-nature feel about it. Most hotels and homestay’s offer views of dense jungle or rice terraces, where everything is a brilliant shade of green. The humidity and rain make it the perfect climate for the lush rainforests to grow and Balinese cats to prowl around, popping their heads into your hotel window from time to time, hoping to share your food.
Take a break away from the main streets and wander along a small winding path, between wide open rice terraces and the locals farming them. It’ll lead you to local cafes like Sari Organic and Cafe Pomegranate, where you can sit and enjoy a delicious, healthy meal while gazing across the lush green terraces over to the towering mountains in the distance. If you feel fit enough, you can take a 2am wake-up call and hike to the top of Mount Batur, an active volcano, to watch the sunrise.
The food in Ubud is something to behold. You’ll find the usual kind of spots offering Mexican and Italian fare, but you’ll also find many local cafes using freshly grown, local, seasonal produce to inspire healthy menus that nourish your body from the inside out. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’ll be spoilt for choice when you open up the menus of places like Bali Buda and Kafe. Hearty lentil stews and vegetable based options for local favourites like Nasi Campur pop up on menus. It’s the type of food that leaves you full, but never sickly.
Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle here is easy. You can drop into local yoga studios like Radiantly Alive and Yoga Barn, for meditation, yoga and more or visit a local Balian healer. Hire a bicycle and explore the rice terraces around the area or take hikes like the Campuhan Ridge at sunset, winding your way along the top of the terraces and jungle.
Perhaps the best way to explore Ubud is to discover its rich spiritual history for yourself, by visiting ancient temples, like Gunung Kawi, built in the 11th Century. It’s hard to describe this place in any way other than ethereal and peaceful, a lost connection to Bali’s spirituality that has to be experienced to believed.
While parts of Bali may belong to parties, sunburns and rubber thongs, there’s another side that belongs to art, culture, health and spirituality too.
So, next time you’re looking for a holiday to recharge and reconnect, put Ubud on your list.