Magical Ubud. The cultural center of Bali, rich with artists, non-conformists, health enthusiasts, yogis, spiritual seekers, wanderers, eccentrics, mystics, gurus and everything in between. There’s no denying that since Elizabeth Gilbert penned “that book” (as the locals refer to her bestselling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love), the streets have become a bit more chaotic. But don’t let the increased attention dissuade you from visiting. The bewitching power of Ubud is very much alive. Those “in the know” will set aside as much time as possible to slow down and take in everything this captivating destination has to offer (check out the Top Three Cooking Experiences in Ubud). And, as the ever-expanding expat community suggests, you might end up staying much longer than you ever intended. Will you find love in Ubud like Ms. Gilbert? Perhaps not in the form of Javier Bardem, but you are certain to find love all around you in the warmth of the Balinese people and in the palpable spiritual energy. Culinary explorers will be spellbound by the abundance of fresh produce and exotic spices. From spicy chili sambal to rich coffee, fresh tropical juices, and spice-laden spa treatments, Ubud offers sensory experiences not to be missed.
Puri Sunia Resort is an ideal base from which to explore Ubud. Located in a tranquil village about ten minutes outside the hubbub of the city, Puri Sunia is a special slice of Balinese paradise. Nestled among the rice paddies and towering coconut trees, this stylish boutique property offers superb service, beautifully manicured grounds and spacious guest rooms. Start the day with a classic yoga session in the open air pavilion perched among the tree tops, followed by a complimentary breakfast. The chef goes all out with a 3-course offering. Don’t miss the dadar gulung – thin, crepe-like pancakes scented with tropical pandan leaf and filled with sweet grated coconut – and the nasi goreng (fried rice) topped with a delicate ribbon of egg and served with spicy chili sambal and savory prawn crackers. A courtesy shuttle runs to Ubud on the hour, but the more adventurous can grab a seat on the back of a zippy motorbike for a few rupiah. Spend a day (or three) at the exquisite spa, which offers indulgent multi-hour treatments that incorporate local Indonesian herbs and spices. Take advantage of fun activities like morning trekking through the rice fields and nearby Abangan Village; a market tour and cooking class with the hotel chef; and daily afternoon high tea. Personal touches like homemade gingerbread cookies at Christmas make Puri Sunia one of those rare finds that leaves you misty-eyed when the staff hugs you goodbye.
Coffee shops are ubiquitous in Ubud, but for an exceptional java experience head over to Seniman Coffee Studio, tucked away on Jalan Sriwedari just off the main road. Seniman specializes in high-quality house-roasted coffee, prepped by knowledgeable baristas using funky devices like Taiwanese siphons. But the brilliant coffee is only part of the fun. Take a seat at the communal table in one of the comfy “bar rockers” (an ingenious design that outfits a standard plastic chair with a reclaimed teak wood base, transforming it into a gently swaying seat) and strike up a conversation with a fellow journeyer – never in short supply in Ubud.
Although Monkey Forrest Road and Jalan Dewi Sita have a fair share of shops peddling standard tourist tchotchkes, there are some unique locally-owned boutiques worth checking out. Yogis, hippies and bohemians will love the beautifully crafted gold and silver jewelry in designs inspired by nature and ancient symbols at Yin Jewelry for the Soul. Kou Cuisine specializes in handmade soaps, jams and sea salt. The soaps, made from a base of pure coconut oil, are infused with flowers and herbs like sweet orange, frangipani and vanilla bean. The 20g squares are wrapped like fancy candies and make great gifts. Toko Paras is a treasure trove of enticing bath and body potions in gorgeous glass vessels. Try the Organic Lulur body scrub – a fragrant blend of frangipani flowers, sandalwood, pandan leaves and turmeric – and the Organic Chocolate body scrub – a confection-like mix of honey, coconut cream, chocolate and cinnamon. Stop into Juice Ja Cafe for a fresh pressed juice (pineapple, turmeric and ginger is a favorite) and browse the section of local products like raw cashews and cacao beans, and cold pressed coconut oil infused with vanilla bean pods.
Feeling refreshed, grab your walking shoes and head West (away from Ubud Palace on Jalan Raya Ubud) for a 15-minute walk to the Ibah hotel where you can access the Campuhan Ridge. This walk offers stunning views from atop the ridge, which is flanked by two sacred rivers, and winds around peaceful villages, organic farms and tiny art galleries. If you buy a painting or a piece of art here, you will likely make a friend for life. Continue to the top of the ridge to Karsa Kafe, a family-run outdoor eatery with sweeping rice field views that is the definition of “off-the-beaten” path. This is the kind of place adventuresome travelers dream of. Snag a seat under one of the stilted overwater pavilions and enjoy a freshly opened young coconut and Balinese dishes like nasi campur and charcoal roasted sate.
After lunch, indulge in a luxurious spa service at nearby Karsa Spa, one of the best spa experiences in Ubud. The gifted therapists are highly professional, and the outdoor treatment rooms are spectacular. Try the “Spicy Balinese Boreh,” which includes a massage with fragrant Ayurvedic oils; a piquant body scrub of cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander; a hydrating mask of fresh tamarind and Borneo honey; and a warm spice bath. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself booking your next appointment before you leave.
While there is no shortage of healthy dinner options in Ubud, Bali Buda is credited with spearheading the organic food movement in Bali. A member of Slow Food International, and supporter of sustainability and Fair Trade practices, Bali Buda serves uber-healthy farm-fresh fare in a treehouse-like hideout. A gado-gado salad of steamed organic veggies and spicy peanut sauce, fresh lemon ginger soda, and homemade coconut ice cream is the ideal end to a day exploring Ubud. Om shanti shanti shanti.
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– Taste of Adventure