SUNDAY, APRIL 30, 2006. UBUD, BALI, INDONESIA. After a four hour flight from Bangkok, I arrived in Denpasar, Bali, this afternoon and caught a taxi directly to Ubud, the cultural center of Bali. I opted for a homestay north of Monkey Forest Road, one of the main roads through central Ubud. My large room overlooks a small lush valley.
Tonight I saw the Kecak Fire & Trance Dance, a classic Balinese dance (Rp 50,000, ~$5.50). (When I was here eight years ago, all the shows were only Rp 10,000 and the exchange rate was Rp 12,000 to $1 compared to today's exchange rate of Rp 8,800 to $1.)
The most difficult thing to do in Ubud is deciding where to eat and what Balinese performance to see each night. There are so many great, inexpensive restaurants serving fabulous Indonesian and Pacific fusion cuisine. Every night there is at least a half dozen Balinese performances in and around Ubud, all charging the standard price of Rp 50,000.
Again, my timing is serendipidous. May 2 begins the Galungan and Kuningan celebrations in Bali, a traditional festival that only occurs twice during the Balinese year of 420 days. And Ubud is the place to be for this festival.
TUESDAY, MAY 2, 2006. UBUD, BALI, INDONESIA. Bali is certainly one of the most enchanting destinations in the world. There is no place quite like it on earth. Ubud is the cultural center of Bali, where you can experience all the wonders of Bali: Great and inexpensive cuisine, fabulous art (almost every other shop is an art gallery), elegant architecture, enchanting Hindu dance, colorful Hindu ceremonies, overwhelming craft and clothing shopping, and, perhaps above all, the warmth and hospitality of the Balinese people.
Now is a great time to visit as Bali is still gradually recovering from the bombings four years ago (The bombings occurred at a club on one of the main roads in Kuta Beach, killing just over 200 people including 88 of my fellow Aussies). One taxi driver told me he thought things were back to 80 percent of their pre-bombing levels. This doesn't appear to be the case, at least in Ubud. The streets of Ubud are relatively quiet. There are few tourists. Most restaurants and shops are empty or have just a handful of customers. Of the tourists who are here, roughly half are Japanese and the other half are European or Australian. Interestingly, this is the most Japanese I have seen in my travels to date. Indeed, Balinese keep greeting me with "Kunichiwa!"
I'm staying at Ketut's Place, a homestay about a ten minute walk north of central Ubud and Monkey Forest Road (Ubud's main road). There's a real mix of people at this family homestay: A Dutch couple, an Aussie, a French family, and me, among others. I have a mini-suite overlooking a small ravine at the back of the large property. I've agreed on Rs 220,000 (~$25) for the first three nights, but I've asked the husband and wife owners, Ketut and Wayan, for a discount if I stay longer. I actually plan to stay for six nights and then head to Poppies Cottages in Kuta Beach. I had originally planned to go to Kuta Beach first, but Poppies was not able to confirm my reservation over the Internet. This situation has actually worked out for the better. Poppies confirmed my revised reservation over the phone for $50/night (inclusive of taxes). If they had accepted my original reservation, the price would have been $61 plus 20% in taxes. Moreover, with Galungan and Kuningan Celebrations getting into full swing tomorrow, Ubud is the place to be in Bali. The Galungan and Kuningan celebrations are the primary celebrations of the Hindu Dharma, the religious belief system of Bali. The Balinese celebrations are known for their spectacular displays and colorful scenes. During the eleven days of celebrations, Balinese erect a penjor in front of their homes. The penjor is a large bamboo stick with ornamental leaves and rice, and represents the Holy dragon (Naga Basuki) as well as the Holy mountain (Gunung Agung). Throughout the celebrations, there are prayers, offerings, and visits to close family members' homes. Tourists are welcome to join in the festivities provided they dress in customary attire and bring a small gift when visiting a home. I plan to do so.
If you're interested in the best value accommodations in Ubud, check out the Tegal Sari Hotel. I originally planned to stay there, but decided on a homestay instead. I did, however, inspect the hotel yesterday (It was fully booked). For Rp 550,000 (about $63), excluding taxes, you can get the deluxe suite, a two storey self contained bungalow with private outdoor tub and shower, and a fabulous view overlooking rice fields. As for best overall value accommodation in Bali, my research indicates that it's Poppies. I'll see on Saturday.