Monday, June 9, 2014

Ubud, the Sacred Center

Before I returned to the states from my one year contract in Singapore, I decided to take a relaxing vacation in the center of Bali, Indonesia in a town called Ubud. 

Ubud is unlike the party and surfer vibe of Kuta, or the luxury resort feel of some other towns in Bali. To imagine it, think of the novel and movie Eat Pray Love. The small town is a spiritual hub for meditative yogis, hippies, anyone seeking to get away and to get reconnected with themselves. I believe the town itself experienced a surge in tourist numbers because of the novel! What great unintentional marketing for the tourist industry. In some ways, it feels extremely cliche, but I can't deny that the various amenities offered in Ubud do support this holistic lifestyle quite well. 

The town is almost entirely made of businesses to support these lifestyle tourists - resorts and hostels, massage, yoga, and holistic health centers, raw restaurants and vegan cafes, fair trade boutique shops and temples around every corner.

The local art scene is also thriving, and there are numerous museums and galleries dedicated to showcasing some of this talent.

There are three main streets (Jalan Monkey Forest, Jalan Hanoman, Jalan Raya) in the town, crammed with shops and businesses, but it is still possible to find a bit of nature in Ubud. One morning, I walked through a small side alley from Jalan Monkey Forest to a parallel road named Jalan Bisma. Rather than a busy paved street, I was greeted with rugged dirt roads and lovely rice paddies.

Unfortunately there was a fair bit of new development occurring alongside this road - new resorts, villas, and inns to add to the tourist industry. I'm guessing in a few years it will look completely different. It's a tough ethical point - tourism completely changes the landscape of the area and the lifestyle of the locals, and makes them completely dependent on foreigners, yet the industry is very profitable and helps maintain some parts of the local culture, though of course in a commercialized and simplified manner.

On a less serious note, the food in Bali was great! Affordable, healthy, largely organic, and well-prepared. Many of the restaurants and cafes had cool ambiances and design concepts, made to promote relaxation. It's strange; because there is such a large number of businesses, at any given time, all but the most popular ones will be mostly empty, with many staff members lounging around waiting for customers. I'm not sure how they manage to stay in business! Most of them are experts in the tourist industry though, and facilities are clean and service is friendly.

For example, one morning I went to a lovely restaurant for brunch called Maha on Jalan Monkey Forest. It was completely devoid of customers but I decided to give it a shot, having passed by it a few times before. It has a lovely interior, with a nice garden in the back and patio seating.

This whole brunch, including a latte, was only around $6 USD.

Ubud is definitely a health foodie paradise - crammed full of cafes and restaurants offering fresh blended juices and smoothies, raw chocolates and desserts, big colorful salad bowls. Again, it does cater to a specific clientele, and they can't get enough. I don't think you can go wrong with a meal - everything I had was delicious.

I prefer the relative peace in Ubud to the craziness of the beach town of Kuta, though the main town is quite bustling. There isn't too much to do if you are an active tourist who is always on the go, but it is a nice place to relax, let go, and get some affordable massages and nice food. 

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