Discover the Heart & Soul of Bali
Located in the centre of Bali, the town of Ubud buzzes with a creative and spiritual energy that beckons travellers from all over into its warm embrace. Its streets are alive with a unique balance of local culture and western boho that the Balinese have so famously perfected, and the eclectic mix of people range from visionary entrepreneurs to open-hearted, culture seeking backpackers to flowing hippy spirits.
It’s definitely a must for anyone visiting this beautiful country, but be warned that it has a habit of keeping you here, so maybe keep your plans flexible! Here are some highlights and must-dos to fill your days and hearts, whatever your spirit animal.
For the activity bunny
Sunrise trek up Mount Batur
This is a tour activity worth doing (and I’m not usually a fan of organised tours), and the 2am start makes it all the more adventurous. The trek up this dormant volcano takes around 1h30min depending on fitness levels, and the views are just breath-taking. Our tour guide even cooked us breakfast at the top over volcanic steam. If this climb isn’t enough, I challenge you to the larger Mount Agung.
Cycle around the rice fields
Just outside of Ubud’s town centre are rolling hills that make up Tegalalang Rice Fields, sprinkled with the slow moving figures of the local rice collectors. If you don’t mind giving in to the stubborn old gatekeeper who sits herself in the centre of the path ready to take obligatory ‘donations’ you’ll be rewarded by the sweet little old man up the path who hands out free mangostein fruits, and maybe even a tour of his house if you’re lucky!
Bali is blessed with an abundance of these natural beauties. The closest to Ubud is Tegenungan waterfall (best travelled to by scooter). Although you have to pay 10,000rp for the entry and turn a blind eye to its touristic tendencies, it’s an adventurous little swim. If you have the time and energy I would recommend taking the longer road trip up North to GitGit (took us 2 hours by scooter). These babies are 40ft in height, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and the pools deep enough to cliff dive into. Just bring a jacket to shield you from the cooler climate.
For the foodie fox
Do it like the locals and try Balinese ‘mud coffee’, sold everywhere. The translation literally means ‘collision coffee’ and is made by pouring hot water straight over the freshly ground coffee beans, leaving a separation or ‘collision’ of the two. The result is a thicker, ‘muddy’ coffee than we’re used to in the west, and for heaven’s sake don’t stir it! Be warned though, its high caffeine content is not to be taken lightly. Try Warung Garasi just off the main strip to go super local.
A health enriching probiotic of coconut water and kafir beans is known for the immune strengthening and Alzheimer’s fighting benefits, and it’s super refreshing. My personal favourite is Yoga Barn’s Juice Bar variation. In fact I’m drinking one as I write this!
Just one of the many delicious local dishes of Bali, fresh and nutritious whilst also ticking the all-important substantial budget option. If you’re not sold on tofu yet, when smothered in peanut butter sauce you can’t really go wrong. My absolute favourite is at the popular hangout Kafe along Hanaman Street.
For the night owl
Now be warned that Ubud is not the pumping party town of Kuta or other Bali backpacker hubs. The vibe is chilled, and the places honour good music and great conversation. But Ubudians still like to get down and dance their hearts out (often sober and in daylight too).
The Laughing Buddha
One of the busiest hangouts for live music, food and drinks. It’s also not far from Jazz cafe which is also usually pretty lively most nights.
Located opposite the football field and rocking the university SU bar vibe, it’s one of the last bars to close and dotted with pool tables to occupy the socially awkward. It’s a great place to meet people and if you choose the right night, has some pretty good DJs to dance the night away to.
Off Monkey Forest Road you’ll hear the Marley melodies before you see it. And it conveniently has one of the most reasonably priced hostels above it (Hostel Ubud) so you can get jiggy with the reggae all the way to your bed.
For the free unicorn spirit
If your heart, mind and limbs are open and ready to throw some shapes, then this is a MUST experience. My first session at Paradisio sprung a little surprise introduction to ‘contact dance’ and the art of moving intuitively to another body, which was an incredibly eye-opening learning curve, so just be aware of what you let yourself in for.
Bali Spirit Festival
Plan your trip right and you’ll catch the incredible annual festival that takes over the town on the first few days of April. As well as music events it’s also a chance to release your inner yogi and be inspired by various meditation and wellbeing practices common in Eastern philosophy that are held across Ubud.
Meditation Gong Bath
This was one of the tons of available workshops I chose that are held at Yoga Barn and it was an incredible experience. As the sounds of the gongs wash over you, it takes you into a meditative state designed for healing. Go check out the notice board at the Yoga Barn to tune into Ubud’s many events, and you never know, you might just discover your true unicorn spirit.
For the busy beaver
If you are in the process of, or thinking about creating an income for yourself whilst you travel, whether this be an exciting tech start-up or a yoga retreat, Ubud is the place to connect, create and communicate.
A co-working space with the best wi-fi and quiet surroundings built to let you do your thing. They hold regular events and workshops for the community, as well as a monthly ‘town hall meeting’ to discuss innovative ways to continue Ubud’s revolution. Although an investment is required to immerse yourself fully in this environment, if you’re simply passing through it’s worth the stop by to see if you can catch a freebie; for example I attended a free workshop on Coding for Beginners whilst here, and it was truly business changing.
If you’re planning on nourishing your life and soul for a longer period of time it’s worth looking into these incredible habitat options. I have found most through word of mouth or by joining Ubud’s Facebook community, and often you will have to apply with details of what you have to offer the space. But they are a raw hub of inspiration and door-opening opportunity no matter your business goal.
If you just need a quiet place to settle and muse (Ubud can be quite intense, believe it or not) take yourself out of the centre and into a retreat village. There are many dotted around the hillsides and each shining with their own creation story and atmosphere.
I spent my time at Michi Retreat Village. Here there is no tourist marketing or obvious display of luxury, but a labyrinth of homes cascading down the hills to the Wos River, each uniquely designed by artists and luminaries that shaped the 20th century. Some of the mysterious rooms are now abandoned and left beautiful in their unkempt state, which just adds to the modest beauty of the whole place. Perfect for rejuvenation, nourishment and writing inspiration.
Katie is currently taking South East Asia by storm, teaching yoga and writing about her experiences as she goes. She travels to seek out authentic places and inspiring people, living off the beaten track and sometimes off grid. Next stop after this adventure will be New Zealand and Australia, and then over to South America, baby! Follow her journey right here on Gapyear.com and on Instagram.