Bali (Ubud)

Danny and I visited Bali back in October 2018. I wanted to blog about our travels whilst we were out there but we were too busy having the most amazing time! So I’m going to re trace our footsteps in my mind and tell you all about it. What an incredible place, unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It was a very special trip for us as it was the place of our engagement! So of course it will always have a special place in my heart for that reason, but even so it is magical and completely unique and totally worth the long flight over. We flew first to Singapore, where we visited Danny’s sister and stopped over there for the night which was lovely. The next day we hopped on a much shorter flight direct to Bali.

We landed in Bali about 6pm and I had no idea what to expect. Walking through the airport it felt a little like going back in time, but it immediately radiated charm and I felt very welcomed. I had read somewhere about how smiley people are in Bali and this was evident from the moment we stepped off the plane. We took a taxi from the airport to our first hotel in Ubud, but we had no idea quite how bad the traffic would be! Again I had read this somewhere, how the roads can get very busy as, well, there isn’t many of them and there are so many people darting in and out of the cars on scooters! It was a long drive (about 2 hours) to Ubud, we were fascinated, watching out of the window at the different etiquette of driving in Bali, the constant beeping of horns and seemingly near misses of other cars and scooters! It was dark so we still didn’t really know what the place was like until the next morning.

We arrived at Ashoka Tree Resort, welcomed with a lovely fresh herbal tea and could not believe our eyes when we got to our room. I found the place on ‘Secret Escapes’, only a few weeks before leaving so we got a good deal, but I had no idea quite how gorgeous it was! They say you can get luxury for cheap in Bali and even though we hadn’t set out for luxury we felt immediately spoilt! We were right in the middle of nature and surrounded by a whole new soundscape of birds and other creatures, sometimes the nature was so loud we couldn’t believe it was real! Ashoka Tree was a wonderful place, the staff were very friendly and always smiling. The best part about the place was the view from restaurant where we ate our breakfast. It overlooked the most beautiful rice fields and palm trees, it was just so peaceful.

breakfast with a view!
noodles and veg for breakfast

The next day after our unintentional lie in (jet-lag was real) we went into the centre of Ubud, which was only 10 minutes in our free hotel shuttle bus. We had no real plan, apart from to wander around and explore the place. The town was alive with activity and I felt quite overwhelmed for the first 15 minutes, which I think is quite normal when you are adjusting to a place that is so different from home. But I soon relaxed and was sucked into the colourful market stalls, selling all of the things I am attracted to! The little trinkets, wooden sculptures and harem pants galore, you can lose yourself (and your boyfriend) wandering around here. I knew this was a place with no price tags and that you had to barter for everything, which put me off buying anything at first, I was nervous about doing maths in my head in a confident and relaxed manner! Eventually we did it and we probably paid too much, but it was still very cheap compared to London prices. I could have bought so much, I had to rein myself in and remember about the small weight allowance on cabin bags for the way home.

Ubud Market

In Ubud it’s easy to find your way around, it’s kind of in a big circle and everywhere you go there is something fascinating to look at. There are so many temple-like buildings interwoven between the modern and chic eateries, if you half close your eyes you can imagine what the place would have looked like a few hundred years ago. The colourful flower offerings on the many shrines stood out and the smell of incense could be picked up almost anywhere.

We were spoilt for choice when it came to eating out. I had done a bit of research, but the truth is there are so many options for vegans. On the first day we decided to have lunch in ‘Clear Cafe’ – A really beautiful spot in the centre of town, with an abundance of gorgeous vegan food and a lovely peaceful vibe. We sat cross legged on our pillows and ordered a smoothie, feeling right at home. For my main meal I had a balinese coconut vegetable curry (the first of many I would have!) and Danny had satay tofu with rice. We both really enjoyed our food, it was a great introduction to the amazing food we were going to find in Bali. If we’d have had more time in Ubud we definitely would have come back here, I would highly recommend popping in for a peaceful and very tasty meal.

balinese coconut curry

Later that evening we went to watch the ‘Kecak Fire and Trance Dance’ (Pura Dalem Taman Kaja) one of the many shows happening in the town. As the rabble of open minded tourists settled into the open air space at Pura Dalem Taman Temple and the lights dimmed, we were greeted by the arrival of about a hundred locals in sarongs who together formed the gamelan orchestra of men. A mystical chanting is what followed, peculiar and haunting rhythms of exquisite beauty known as ‘the monkey chant’ captivated and mesmerised the crowd. Truly an audial feast unlike anything I have ever heard in Western culture, it seemed grounded, spiritual and oddly frightening in it’s grace. Once this finished, the chorus of men sat down to form a circle for the elaborately costumed players to tell the ancient story of Ramayana through mask work, dance and fire! The audience were left exhilarated and in moments slightly alarmed as embers flicked, spat and danced through the space. It was an incredible experience and one that no one there will likely forget.

After the show we went for dinner at ‘Taman Taksu Garden Cafe’, another lovely spot hidden down one of Ubud’s many charming snickets. The stand out dish of the meal was the macadamia nut stuffed beetroot roll, truly delicious and very pretty! Danny had a balinese coconut curry for his main and I had a sweet potato and bean dish, both very wholesome and huge portions.

Thrilled with the salad in a little glass box

The following day we had booked a private tour with our hotel to see a few of the tourist spots near by. First stop on the tour was ‘Goa Gajah’ or as it is locally known ‘Elephant cave’. We loved wondering around here and especially walking through the dark and mystical cave itself that definitely had a special energy about it. They say it probably dates back to the 11th century and was rediscovered in 1923, but the fountains and bathing pool not until 1954. There were lots of corners to discover here, it was so peaceful. We found a little waterfall (I love waterfalls) and we were amazed at how many huge trees there were, hugged in a special blanket which marked them as a sacred tree. The trunks are enormous and the roots, all twisted and entangled draw you in to touch them.

These beautiful trees are everywhere
Goa Gajah

Next stop was the ‘Tirta Empul Temple’, a Hindu Balinese water temple famous for its holy spring water. Worshippers and tourists alike come from far and wide to bathe in the blessed spring waters and take part in this ritualistic purification. We popped our valuables in the lockers provided, changed into our swimsuits and joined the queue. At first we weren’t exactly sure what to do, but by watching those ahead of us and talking to people in the pool, we soon understood that we were about to be cleansed and we were excited at the thought! The water was pretty damn cold and it got deeper the closer you got to the spouts, where we were soon to be dunking our heads under and washing our faces. I felt bad for the people smaller than me! But this didn’t deter us and we watched on in anticipation for our turn to experience something so ancient and sacred, there was a feeling of joy and peacefulness in the water and also a certain apprehensive playfulness. My hope at least was that I’d finally rid myself of that jet-lag! When it was finally our turn it was exhilarating, something truly special that Danny and I shared together but also with our inner ‘daemons’. We came out feeling awakened, alive and cleansed. Excellent. We needed that!

Just when I thought the day couldn’t get better… the next stop was the famous ‘Tegallalang Rice Terrace’, surely one of the most beautiful sights in Bali. The views above the rice terraces were breathtaking. It almost didn’t look real and we were convinced we were witnessing a whole new shade of green! It really was dream-like. Shortly after we’d entered the terraces and climbed/stumbled down into the valley we were about to cross this very cute little wooden bridge to make our decent upwards to explore further. Danny took a picture of me on the bridge, here I am, very excited but not knowing what was about to happen…

He tells me to come back off the bridge and take a picture of him, which I thought was a little out of character but I’ll go with it… he stepped onto the bridge and swung quickly around and asked me to MARRY HIM! Without going into too much soppy detail (or maybe that’s what you’re here for?!..) I was utterly taken by surprise and fell into his arms feeling so overwhelmed with happiness and love and for a good few minutes I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming after all! I think the first words I said were “Is this real?!” followed shortly by a “Yes of course I will!”. Those who know me will know I’m a true romantic and I DID NOT WANT TO LEAVE THAT SPOT for ages! Lots of happy tears (and pictures taken by strangers) later… WE WERE ENGAGED.

This trip was about to get a whole load more fun and we were having an incredible time to begin with. We practically skipped up the path to the top of the terraces and as if by magic a little hut appeared selling beers – perfect! We sat together hand in hand starring out at the wonders of Bali with permanent smiles on our faces, so excited for the next leg of our journey and subsequently our lives.

Later that day, we went out for a lovely meal to celebrate our engagement. We treated ourselves to a meal at a great restaurant called ‘Kismet’. One of the many great things about Bali is, there is so much gorgeous food around but also it doesn’t cost the earth. We started with a platter of onion rings, garlic mushrooms and fried “chicken” –  all of which were really yummy. Then for mains, I had a delicious Pad Thai which was a flavour sensation! Danny had a pie, because Danny finds it hard to resist a pie. He wondered if he’d made a mistake not opting for something more authentic to Bali or south east Asia, but he loved his pie and many more balinese curries would come his way on this trip. We had a lovely evening at Kismet, it had a cosy yet cool vibe and the food was excellent.

The next day, after a relaxing morning in the paradise of our hotel, we visited the Ubud Monkey Forest. I had researched whether it was a “cruel” or “un-ethical place” and as I found out the monkeys roam free (which became evident in the streets!) we decided it was worth a visit. We were quite nervous at first and didn’t know what to expect, but we eased into it and loved seeing the monkeys up close. The forest is home to around 600 Balinese long tailed monkeys (Macaques). The forest was beautiful and was laden with temples and amazingly tall and twisted trees throughout. The monkeys seemed happy and very chilled to us, going about their daily business, sleeping and cleaning each other. We were warned not to feed them, or touch them and to just be very respectful which of course we did. I had read somewhere that the monkeys are so used to humans in the forest they are known to jump on people! Of course Danny said “I really hope one jumps on you!” Thanks Danny… I obviously made absolutely certain that we had nothing on us they would want and tucked all of our possessions very neatly in our bags. I worried for a few minutes that somehow the monkeys might want to steal my engagement ring off my finger, which Danny found hilarious and I figured I could take the risk and keep my fist clenched at all times!

We wandered through the very peaceful surroundings and always kept watch of where all the monkeys were. They are such wonderful and cheeky creatures… and then out of nowhere BAM! A monkey has jumped on Danny’s back! He remained very calm considering and I talked him through what the monkey was doing (whilst quickly getting my phone out to film of course… This had us in hysterics later on!) It turned out the monkey wanted his water bottle! He wasn’t interested in Danny and didn’t at all harm him but he didn’t stop until he got a drink of that water. He jumped down and we both breathed a sigh of relief. That’s Karma I thought! There are a few horror stories on the internet about the monkeys biting people and so on, but if you use your common sense and just be respectful and definitely don’t bring any food into the forest then you will be absolutely fine. It was an amazing experience. I love monkeys.

For lunch we stopped at a very modest community run place, called ‘Wulan vegetarian Warung’. To be honest, we stopped here because there was wifi and I wanted to call my family for a quick catch up. But we were pleasantly surprised that the food was great. Really cheap but authentic tasting Balinese food. I had another Balinese coconut curry and Danny had a tofu curry, both full of flavour and colour.

Later that day we went back to find a gorgeous restaurant called ‘Soma’ that we’d seen earlier. The food there was excellent. It felt a bit like we were snuggled into a massive tree trunk all decked out with cushions. We treated ourselves to a three course meal today, as we just couldn’t resist the temptations on the menu! I think we began to get the sense that we didn’t want to leave Ubud and we definitely didn’t want any regrets when it came to tasting the foodie delights on every corner. So for starters we had: a selection of mini pizzas, which were healthy but zingy and fresh and also some delightful summer rolls of veggies wrapped in lettuce.

For our mains, Danny opted for the ‘Shitake burger’, which to our surprise was actually a take on a vegan fish burger. Danny said it was amazing. It was so good, he had to check it was definitely vegan! I had a ‘Jicuma stack’ which was beautiful to behold, a unique and colourful tower of veggies that did wonders for my soul. It was really yummy.

For pudding we had the blueberry buckwheat crepes and the porridge. The crepes were wonderful and we took the rest home for breakfast the next day (eyes bigger than our bellies). The porridge may not be to everyones taste, we nicknamed it “tasty-paste” – it had a melted sugar caramel on top that was great, but the texture was, well, pasty! It didn’t ruin the meal however and we had a really lovely evening. After dinner we wondered around the town, taking in the nightlife and found a bar with some live reggae music – perfect.

We spent the last morning in Ubud, soaking up the facilities of our peaceful hotel, sunbathing, swimming, reading and having a complimentary massage. We had our final meal at the hotel before setting off on our journey to the south of the island. We were reluctant to leave as we loved it so much and we were just beginning to settle, we were excited for the next leg of the trip but if we had more time we would definitely have come back to Ubud. What a truly special place.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Keep your eyes peeled for Bali Part 2 (Legian) coming real soon…Thank you for reading! x