Paradise Found in Ubud, Bali’s Spiritual Heart

My last exhausting journey in Asia was a painful full day of jostling across a vast distance. I left Gunung Bromo in the mid morning and did not lay myself to bed in Bali until the late hours of the evening. Our trip would involve a mini bus down the mountain to the next largest city on the main highway where we hopped on a national bus service which drove us to an eastern port city where we then embarked on a ferry which took us to a small town on the western tip of the island of Bali where we hopped on our bus again headed to the main terminal in Denpasar.

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I convinced my French buddy to share a cab to Ubud with me and spend a few days with me there relaxing and sharing a hotel room. Once we found a driver the journey to Ubud was only 20 minutes. It was so late the small town seemed deserted and we couldn’t find our hostel anywhere. We eventually just grabbed our bags out of the car and walked up and down the street looking for a reasonably affordable hotel.

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I ended up knocking on the door of a small guesthouse and woke up a young man on night watch. He showed us their only available room which featured two queen beds, overhead fan, comfy furniture, front porch and an open air bathroom with adjacent pond. This luxury had me in shock and after such a long day it almost seemed as though I had fallen into heaven. We settled on 8 USD a day including breakfast and I was out like a light.

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I spent my first morning taking in the magical ambiance of heaven on earth. I walked across the entire town, took in all the buzzing restaurants, stared at the various Hindu rituals which seem to take place like clockwork several hours a day. The streets are covered in little woven baskets filled with flower petals, cookies and crackers, rice and decorative ornaments. These parcels are placed at the door of every home and business to welcome good spirits.

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I came to Ubud to relax and it seems like the best place on earth to do so. I met countless tourists who have been back to Bali 5, 6, 7 times! They come here for the serenity which is avidly promoted throughout town. People come here to find peace through spirituality and wellness. There is a famous yoga studio called The Yoga Barn where many tourists spend each morning after eating at their fave granola organic fair trade cafe up the street.

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My hotel was located just a few minutes walk from Ubud’s most famous tourist attraction. The Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a patch of forest inhabited by a troop of cheeky, ever-hungry, long-tailed Balinese macaques. The monkeys are both consummate comedians and pathological kleptomaniac’s so be sure to hold onto your camera tightly. Within the sanctuary enclosure there are three distinct temples.

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The main temple of the site requires visitors to wrap a traditional blanket around your waist in reverence of the sites deities. Near the exit there is a small temple which is used for funerals (and features some seriously scary looking statues which I assumed were reminding us of what we may encounter in the afterlife). The most magical spot is down a little dirt path. You have to walk across a bridge which is covered by the thousand year old vines and roots of massive trees which jet into the blue sky above. To the right is a beautiful waterfall and a fresh water river passes on the left. There are several beautiful Komodo dragon statues covered in damp moss and a beautiful mist forms a cloud where rainbows shine in the mid morning sun.

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Ubud is also the arts and crafts capital of the country. The town is teaming with antique-art shops full of masks, paintings, sculptures and ornaments. I spent an entire day just walking to all of the best shops taking notes on their best price for each item. Once I had gotten a sense at which shop owner would give me the best deal I bought an entire box full of Balinese art which I shipped back to Canada.

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Ubud’s popularity offers great accommodation for the most pampered “gold spooned” tourists. It was a bit odd to walk through the market and local shanty towns in the morning to spend my evenings at luxury hotels and restaurants – an odd dichotomy. I ate at a beautiful Italian restaurant which featured a large river and fish pond which weaved its way through the entrance and lobby. The dinning room was effectively in a rice paddy dotted with tea lamps. I will always remember my collection of experience in Bali and without a doubt recommend it as the most romantic place I have been on earth. A perfect honeymoon destination!

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Once upon a time, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Ubud but dabble in the arts, and wander whimsically through the bottle-green paddy fields. Now the beating heart of a thriving cultural scene, Ubud is an overgrown village where Bali’s Hindu heritage is at its most vivid and there’s a temple on virtually every street corner.

My last indulgence during my week in Ubud was Bali’s must-see fire dance show. The Fire Dance is performed in the evening around 8pm at one of Ubud’s largest temples. Chairs are placed around a large square performance space in front of a glowing temple facade. An older woman arrives in the centre of the space to light a large candelabra.

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Over the next two hours the audience is wooed by the humming and clucking of over one hundred male performers who act as a choir, recounting a beautiful Balinese chant. Thinking about the experience still sends shivers down my spine and goosebumps spring up all over my arms. Throughout the show characters emerge and a Hindu love story unveils itself.

Ubud will forever remain one of my favourite places on earth and one of the few locations I have been that I would love to return. The islands people rely on the tourist trade and have suffered greatly over the past few years due to terrorist bombings. Today the island has begun to flourish again. Fans of the novel Eat Pray Love flock to Ubud as it is in this small town where she encountered the last step of her journey: Love. Everyone falls in love with Ubud!

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