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Travel Article for the Trip Advisor website:

Traveller Article: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Culture and Peace in a Tropical Haven

Ancient culture, friendly people and multiple levels of fun, food and relaxation are to be found in this rural mountainous area only an hour from the popular Bali beach resorts. Take a motor scooter ride through the Ubud countryside and see what real Bali is all about.

Unlike many Australians who visit our close neighbour Bali on a regular basis, I really had no idea what it would be like. Funnily enough, upon arriving in Ubud comes the realisation many Aussies never leave the beaches of Kuta, Legian and Seminyak, and the Bali I was about to experience was a lot different from the Westernised resort atmosphere of the popular coastal towns. Ubud is only an hour’s drive from the beach in a $10 taxi ride, but in terms of culture and spirituality, it’s a lifetime away.

Ubud town has grown a lot from the original village, which was started when a wandering priest felt sanctity in the area, and decided to put down roots. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world, Bali’s inhabitants are 90% Hindu and 10% Buddhist. During the day the narrow streets of the town are packed with cars and motor scooters, but just beyond lay mountains, valleys, temples and rice paddies. The town at night is more subdued; when the electricity went out whilst eating at a restaurant, candles were casually lit, the darkness a soft enveloping calm.

We rented motor scooters, no license necessary, and after getting the balance of riding, decided to get lost in the Ubud countryside. This was the real Bali. Riding past small houses with children relaxing along the side of the road, a cool breeze took the edge off the heat and humidity that endures all year long. Up and down hills, we suddenly would find ourselves in a new village, this one specialising in wood carvings, and that one in silver jewellery. Art and craft is the heart of the Balinese economy and tourists are one of the main sources of income. Our money is worth a lot and for a fraction of what it costs back home, all kinds of creations can be bargained for. Do be careful of some persistent sellers; to a few, Westerners are walking ATM’s.

Balinese Hindus bathing in Tampak Siring's holy waters

Balinese Hindus bathing in Tampak Siring’s holy waters

For a couple of dollars you can pick up some local road-side cuisine, then ride on past skinny lackadaisical dogs and scurrying chickens. Women bathe and wash clothes in roadside creeks, then turn a corner and a sacred temple awaits you. Upon entry you have to borrow a sarong to wear, like we did at Tampak Siring where the local Hindus wash themselves in holy water, which comes from underground springs.

Tegalalong's rice terraces defy imagination

Tegalalong’s rice terraces defy imagination

North of Ubud town we found the picturesque rice terraces of Tegalalang; they’re simply amazing. We filled our bikes up on local petrol sold by the bottle, and realised after currency conversion that our 50,000-a day rupiah motor scooter cost the equivalent of $5.80, whilst petrol for an entire day of riding equated to $1.40. I decided it was no longer worth haggling for 10,000 rupiah (bargaining is an essential, fun, but sometimes frustrating part of your journey).

Eat traditional food at Café Wayan, visit the Elephant Cave, meditate with the new-agers at Yoga Barn, buy arts and crafts at local Ubud Market, give small bananas to ravenous monkeys at the Sacred Monkey Forest (don’t hold on to your fruit too long or they’ll take it themselves!), and experience culture like the Kecak Fire Dance in the evenings.

Enter the demon's mouth known locally as the 'Elephant Cave'

Enter the demon’s mouth known locally as the ‘Elephant Cave’

Ubud is a place where culture is alive, the people are poor, but happier than most you’ll see in Melbourne, and offerings to the Gods keep a constant reminder of the magic that life truly has to offer. Did I mention the $10 one-hour, full-body massages at the Sang Spa?

Enter the trance of the Kecak Fire Dance

Enter the trance of the Kecak Fire Dance

Note: All images in these two articles are used with permission of the copyright owner, the photographer, Ms. Chun Yin.

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Travel Article for the Trip Advisor website:

Hotel Review: Gardenia Suite, Alam Indah, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

The Suite You Want To Make Your Home

Dreaming of a hotel that defies how hotels are supposed to be? Alam Indah and its Gardenia Suite take holiday relaxation to a higher level. With local gods and spirits carved into doors and walls, one can’t help but ponder the more important aspects of life.

My partner and I booked our accommodation well ahead of time at the Gardenia Suite in Alam Indah, a truly Balinese style cluster of villas on the edge of the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest. Accommodation is the one thing worth spending a little extra on in Bali (everything else is so cheap), and for around $125 Australian per night we stayed in a two-story villa with two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one of which was open-air, looking over the rainforest) and two outdoor verandas, all right next to the swimming pool. This is a place for quiet contemplation and if so desired, romance. Indeed, nearly every other couple we met from the USA, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany or New Zealand were on their honeymoons. Booking early is a necessity, as this is a very popular destination for those who want to experience peace, culture and a feeling of rejuvenation.

The view from Alam Indah's Gardenia Suite: Majestic
The view from Alam Indah’s Gardenia Suite: Majestic

To get to the ‘hotel’ (it hardly fits this generic moniker) one drives down a long path through rainforest; at night the drive is lit-up by candles sitting inside sacred statues of Hindu Gods. One is constantly reminded of the people’s dedication to their religion here. Several women at the hotel are employed to make beautiful offerings to the good and evil spirits. Bunches of flowers, foods and incense are scattered everywhere you go; be careful or you will step on one!

After taking an outdoor shower (perfectly situated so you can see the forest, but people can’t see you), saunter over to the restaurant where pancakes, omelettes or traditional black rice pudding are served up to order. Plates of local exotic fruits like rambutans, snake fruit and mangosteens will keep you feeling fresh and energetic.

Alam Indah's pool is never over-populated
Alam Indah’s pool is never over-populated

The people serving you are genuinely nice. Most Balinese men are named Wayan, Dewa, Komeng or Ketut, in order of their birth from first child to fourth, and they’re all helpful if you have queries. After breakfast, which can be brought to your room, you can go for a massage at Alam Indah’s affiliated spa, Alam Wangi, just a few minutes walk up the road. For journeys further afield, the hotel provides a free shuttle, which will take you and pick you up from any attraction in Ubud town.

The Gardenia Suite: You’ve never seen anything like it. Downstairs, the entry doors are hand-carved wooden masterpieces, and there are actual carvings of gods in the marble walls. This is not Western pre-fabricated accommodation; this is a building built by people who are extremely proud of the quality of their workmanship. There are three showers and two baths. The main bed is a massive king size, the other a tropical L-shaped couch conversion.

There’s a bar fridge and air-conditioner, but the latter is usually unnecessary, because of the cool mountain breezes and ceiling fans. There’s no TV and no telephone in your room. A free-use computer and phone are in the lobby, but in your room you’re to leave these modern distractions behind.  The only things you’ll want to watch from your veranda are the lizards, birds, and frogs, floating clouds, green hills and giant Balinese kites flying through distant skies.

Truly artistic accommodation -  carvings everywhere!
Truly artistic accommodation – carvings everywhere!

Note: All images in these two articles are used with permission of the copyright owner, the photographer, Ms. Chun Yin.

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