After Italy, we had about 24 hours to prepare for our trip to Southeast Asia. I’ve never experienced such a hectic day; multiple loads of laundry and bittersweet goodbyes later, we found ourselves again at Pearson Airport headed for Malaysia.
I was born in Malaysia and lived there for four years before coming to Canada, so going back to visit Kuala Lumpur is generally personal. I get to see my grandparents and entire extended family on my mother’s side. What I’m trying to say here is that I don’t have a lot of touristy experiences from Malaysia to share here because I’ve mostly already done them all at a younger age and lack updated photos.
However, this trip was a little different, because we took a girls’ trip to Ubud, Bali. Yes, I had an Eat, Pray, Love summer minus the praying. That’s for another day. Bali, though, was magical. It’s certainly touristy and certain areas are fairly whitewashed, but Ubud creates a fusion of both Southeast Asian and Western cultures that results in a marvellous melange of food, tradition, and experiences. That is what Bali is known for. Ubud, in particular, is known for its hippie vibe, and the Ubud Market really emanates this. As the only Hindu island in Indonesia, yoga seems to be a popular part of the Balinese experience, and Ubud seems to be the hub of all things yoga.
Although my trip was nearly three months ago, I think the brink of fall really makes me nostalgic of the few days I spent in Bali. Here are my favourite places/things to do to visit in Ubud.
Where I stayed: Maya Ubud
Maya Ubud Resort takes the definition of 5-star hotels to an entirely new level. Favoured by influencers and celebrities that enjoy a more off-the-grid Balinese experience, this place seems to go on forever. We were greeted with tropical fruit drinks and towels (super appreciative of that, because the drive to the resort took over two hours). Some (just some) of its features include:
- two infinity pools (one of them adult only) overlooking the backyard jungle
- a backyard jungle
- fitness center/golf course/tennis courts
- AN OPEN AIR YOGA STUDIO (with complementary beginner yoga classes in the morning and the opportunity to have private lessons)
- there’s a waterfall on the resort (about a mile trek away but there’s guided hikes that lead you there)
- dancing shows to accompany your dinner (traditional Balinese dance, of course)
- the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever had (the coconut yogurt was so good I can’t even eat it in North America anymore because nothing compares)
- beautiful hotel rooms (you can also get villas)
- the most hospitable staff I have ever encountered: on our day trip to Tegenungan/Tegalalang/the Kopi Lewak plantation, our driver treated us to a visit to his village and was more than happy to tell us all about his culture, religion, and customs. More on that later. The convenience of the drivers at the hotel is that you have fixed hourly fees (no need to bargain for taxi prices!), AND you can leave all of your stuff in the car knowing that it is safe and secure!
If you’re looking for a luxury getaway, Maya Ubud is my #1 recommendation. I would absolutely come back here in the future, and this is my [non-sponsored] opinion.
If you’re looking more into affordable options/yoga retreats, I would check out Yoga Barn. Keep scrolling down to find out more!
Where to Eat
My family lives by this: we may not remember exactly what we did or where we went, but we will never forget or fail to tell you what we ate and how amazing it was. My mother’s side of the family laughs at my sister and I because we are “failed foodies” (apparently if you cannot eat nonstop all day, you qualify!). However, I still like to think that we have impeccable taste in food and are a bunch of food snobs when it comes to travelling. That doesn’t mean we eat at Michelin star restaurants, but we can tell you where to go.
Eating in Bali can be so affordable for Western tourists (this is true of most of Southeast Asia; the living costs are cheaper and people can afford to eat well for less. If only North America adopted this principle). Eating at the Maya Ubud was, honestly, really expensive. Yes, it was all you can eat, but you can get fantastic food in Bali for an average of USD$10 or less per meal if you do it right.
A note on currency in Bali: it is SO easy for CAD-rupiah price conversions to have an initial shock factor. It takes some adjusting, but 1 rupiah is about 0.000092 Canadian dollars, and you will never see a single ‘1 rupiah’ anywhere. Just keep in mind that 10000 rupiah is about a dollar (0.92), and 1 000 000 rupiah is nearly $100 (about $92).
Here are some of my favourite places that we ate at:
Soma Cafe (Jl. Dewisita, Ubud, Gianyar, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80515, Indonesia)
I saw this place recommended on TripAdvisor, and we stumbled upon it while exploring Ubud town. It’s got amazing vegan friendly food (and I’m not vegan). I tried noni and jamu juice, ayurvedic cuisine, and learned to love tempeh! The flavour on the ayurvedic food was a little mild for my taste (I guess that’s a part of the cuisine; it’s supposed to be mild on your stomach), but everything that my sister and mother ordered was divine. I would say that trying Ubud Raw Chocolate, available at Soma, is a must. You can find it at multiple places on the island as well. The vibe at Soma is like a lounge/cafe meets restaurant meets treehouse. Check them out here.
Ātman Kafe (38 Jl. Hanoman Ubud)
This is a picture of my sister absolutely overjoyed at the prospect of drinking a coconut (which we did every day, at least once). I lack better photos of the actual food at Ātman because I was too busy enjoying the food. This is definitely my favourite place that we ate at. It’s nice because it has traditional Indonesian cuisine AND fusion food, so there is something for everyone. This place is another yogi hub, so expect it to appear a little more on the Western side, but that does not mean that they compromise flavour! I love Southeast Asian street food – I was raised on it. I recommend the Nasi Goreng and Nasi Campur (pronounced ‘champoor’). I recommend anything with ‘nasi’ in front of it (it means rice!)
This place is inside the Yoga Barn complex. Fresh juice, fresh ingredients, AND Ubud Raw Chocolate. That is all.
Tukies Cafe (Jl. Gootama No.13, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia)
I LOVE ICE CREAM. It is my favourite food group. What do I love more than ice cream? Gelato. What do I love just as much as/potentially more than gelato? Vegan coconut ice cream. It is not because of the healthy connotations. There is nothing healthy about it, except that coconut cream is not dairy. Everyone who visits Ubud will want to beat the heat, and there’s no better way to do that than at Tukies Cafe, renowned for its coconut ice cream sweetened with palm sugar. This is Asian dessert heaven. AND it comes with a little coconut and palm sugar sprinkled on top.
What to do
Visit a Kopi Luwak plantation
There is a lot of controversy surrounding this activity, and reasonably so. Luwak coffee is produced from the coffee cherries eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet; they have an enzyme in their digestive system that ferments the beans. People take issue with the living conditions of the civet cats and how they are treated. There’s also controversy over the fact that the coffee is quite hyped up, which leads people to feel disappointed when they’ve expected something above and beyond and end up with a simple cup of coffee. Therefore, I highly recommend doing your research. I did not do that prior to this trip, and will leave the place I visited unmentioned because I do not officially know how humanely they treat their animals. I recommend searching on TripAdvisor forums and other travel blogs before doing this. I did have a pleasant time sampling all different types of regular coffee as well as luwak coffee on my trip, and hope there’s an ethical method of luwak coffee production! When authentic coffee beans (WARNING: lots of fake beans out there) are properly brewed, it’s much smoother than regular coffee.
Visit the Tegalalang Rice Paddies
This place is as magical and breathtaking as it appears on the Internet. It’s a fantastic hike, and not too far from Maya Ubud. It’s usually free to enter if you find the right gate (our driver was kind enough to help us with this). Crossing paddies does require a small donation (no more than 50 000 rupiah per person) to support the fields and the families that own them (they are, after all, letting you walk all over their property). The irrigation systems in this field structure is fascinating and worth a visit. Wear shoes that you don’t care about. It’s muddy.
Visit Tegenungan Falls
This was a magical experience, and SO MUCH FUN. It’s not far from Tegalalang, so both can be visited within the same day. It’s a long way down a hill, but there are steps that help you get there (they are a bear to climb up later, but consider that your workout). Make sure you swim in the water close to the falls, but watch where you swim so you don’t bump into a middle aged guy wearing a speedo. There’s quite a few of them. Washrooms ARE available by the falls, but you have to donate to use them. I also recommend eating in one of the little restaurants just up the stairs. It’s more local food without the health food emphasis (a.k.a. delicious).
Take a class at Yoga Barn
This place is the mecca for yogis. A beautiful yoga resort, if you will. People come from all over just to experience the atmosphere that Yoga Barn cultivates. It’s a little tricky to find because it’s slightly off the beaten path, but once you get there it’s as if the complex just keeps going forever. You can sleep, eat, dance, and practice there. It’s a yogini’s dream. I took class with Murni, and she’s an absolute enigma. It’s certainly an environment worth experimenting, open to people of all levels and experiences. Next time I visit I will definitely be going to an ecstatic dance. People line up hours in advance just to score a ticket to an ecstatic dance at Yoga Barn. Check out their website to find out more, because no description or pictures can captivate the overwhelming and amazing experience I had here.
Shop at Ubud Market
This place is nuts. There’s Ubud’s downtown core and then there’s the Ubud market. The actual market area is marked off and takes a little figuring out to find it, but I consider the downtown core just as fundamental a component, though unofficial, of the market. This is where you shop. Bali is known for its artisans and craftsmanship, and the market is the hub of where Bali-made products and goods congregate. Popular items include sterling silver jewellery, crochet tops, rattan bags, textiles, coconut shell products, and macrame. Remember that prices (unless in a commercial boutique) are ALWAYS negotiable in the market, and you have to be slightly relentless. To the locals, bargaining is a game! A regular visitor told me to start bargaining at 25% of the original price they give you. You won’t get it, but work up in increments until you find a price that you both settle on.
A few bargaining tips:
- do not show commitment to anything
- don’t have your heart set on anything. It’s hard to hide
- know that walking away can have a profound effect on price settlement, and don’t be afraid to walk away.
- never look at the actual product when giving a price rebuttal. Always look the vendor in the eye.
Ubud Market is also a really great place to find inexpensive massages. I read on an Indonesian blog somewhere that massages are simply a part of life, which explains why they are so affordable. I found one for a total of CAD$22, which is absolutely unheard of in North America. Some places will let you bargain prices, but they’re already pretty affordable. Make sure you go to a place with a TripAdvisor owl sticker on the front of them, and be sure to read any information/pamphlets available. Most places are reliable when they are TripAdvisor certified!
I’m already trying to plan when I can visit this beautiful island next. Bali is so charming.