We went to Bali recently in February end which is considered one of the off peak months but believe me this was the best time to visit as we didn’t find a lot of rain and the days were rather pleasant due to overcast sky and cool breeze. The tourists were comparatively less than other times as per our guide and we are glad that it was this way. It allowed us to absorb the most from its culture, people, food and surroundings. If you are the ones who are looking beyond water sports then read on.Rice terraces in Bali
We stayed in Ubud for the first three days and it was the best decision that we could have taken. Why? Because Ubud is near to many tourist sites and also has the best of things to do in this area. The temperature is also cooler than the other areas. I have not included terraced paddy fields as one of the attractions as I found it over hyped and much commercialized. Moreover, this can be easily seen in north-east India. If you are staying in Ubud, take out time to visit the local city centre which is a hotspot for many activities related to the Bali lifestyle. The city centre comprises of branded shops as well as local shops selling souvenirs, clothes, jewellery, art, etc. The day starts early here as schools and markets start from 7 am. People eat their breakfast by 6 – 6:30 which comprises of boiled rice, lots of sautéed vegetables, curry and some protein in the form of fish/pork/duck etc.
1. Visit the local farmers market/art market
If you are eager to see what all they relish then you should visit the local food market which starts at 5 am near the Royal Palace and later the same place is converted to art market. If you have planned to “learn cooking Balinese style” (many hotels and individuals provide classes for the same) then you will be taken to this early morning market to buy fresh produce. But on your own you can venture out to this local market to see how the locals deal with each other, what food do they eat, which vegetables and fruits they produce. I loved several local fruits including Durian. As our guide said, Durian smells like hell but tastes like heaven. It is a good photo opportunity for budding photographers to capture candid local people and their lifestyle. Later during the day, local artisans come to sell their art. They charge pretty high if they feel you are visiting for the first time. So whenever anyone asks if this is your first time in Bali, simply deny and say that you have been there earlier. This way they won’t quote you exorbitant price.Pig is revered in Bali, considered a sign of life and is offered to the gods. Look at the lively wooden art about suckling pig
2. Eat popular Babi Guling (suckling pig) at Ibu Oka
This popular joint used to be on the main road near the Royal Palace but due to space constraints now it has moved inside an ally further down. And believe me or not patrons and tourists still flood this joint which specializes in serving Babi Guling or Suckling Pig. It has a small wood pagoda inside its premises where you can sit cross legged and eat the local delicacy like local people. Yes, use your hands to eat. It will not be frowned upon. If you prefer, you can get a seat next to the open area from where you can watch the water flow through a small stream. We ordered for a classic plate which had the crusty skin, tender roasted meat, spicy sausage and spicy vegetable mix along with steamed rice. OH still dreams about it sometimes.Babi Guling at Ibu Oka
3. Visit Agung Rai Museum of Art
If you love art and would want to know the history of Balinese art then this is a good place to start. The building though small is very rustic and will transport you to a bygone era. Moss slicken stone statues, courtyard filled with wild plants, intricate Balinese style carvings, it reflects the authentic Balinese architecture and setup. This museum isn’t very big but has enough paintings to reflect the transformation of art from ancient to contemporary. A guide helps you, taking you through the various paintings. He said that local people first create a sketch with black ink on white canvas and later fill it with colours. So most of the contemporary painting have neutral colours. In the past, Balinese art was created on wooden slabs with natural colours. The visit includes a tea/coffee at their café as well as you can visit their book shop for coffee table art prints and their boutique for some unique gifts.Agung Rai Museum of Art
4. Visit unique Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets
You cannot miss this. You just cannot miss this. If you have ever loved dolls and puppets in your childhood, it will bring back all those good memories, refreshing your own interests in these inanimate objects which give life to stories and fables. Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets is located 15 minutes away from the local market. It houses world’s largest collection of masks and puppets, displaying artifacts from multiple regions across Indonesia, many countries around Asia, and even as far as Italy and Africa. It is actually inside a business man’s mansion who has collected these masks and puppets in the last 15 years from across the world. The ever increasing collection already consumes 5-6 different halls made in various styles. One hall is made like a Japanese House, the other hall like a Chinese house, etc. There is a difference in the architecture and the in-house guide will explain you the difference. You will see shadow puppets, roll puppets, stuffed puppets and various types of masks. Masks are an integral part of the Balinese culture as most of the dances held at temples, royal courts, etc. use it in abundance. There is no fee to enter but if you like the collection and would like to donate something for its maintenance then you can give any amount of your choice at the end. Every mask has a small detail written with it. I saw a mask made of real Tiger skin, another used real pig teeth and one mask from Africa had antennae made from wood depicting that our ancestors came in a spaceship. Weird beliefs but interesting masks. It has collection of both old and contemporary masks and puppets. Plus point, you also get to see a real Balinese house.Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets President of US puppetified
5. Stop by at the Bridges
Bridges is a fine dining restaurant in Ubud and serves really good food for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. But the best part about this restaurant is its location. The service ambience and food are all just incredible. The entrance is from a bridge. A small stream flows down along the restaurant. There is an old local temple across the restaurant which is open to the tourists. Not all temples allow tourists in their main worship area. It looks mystic and has a scenic value to it. I found this spot pretty romantic.
6. Barong dance at the Puri Salen Royal Palace in the evening
If you want to witness just one dance which depicts Balinese culture and art then this is the one. Every evening a cultural show is set up by the royal dancers and musicians which depicts stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. The stage is lit up with flood lights and the backdrop is the Royal Palace itself. The whole programme is divided into five acts and the programme goes on for an hour. The event is very interesting as the dancers appear in full Balinese costumes and makeup and play authentic local music. It is rhythmic and sweet. The costumes are bright and colorful. It is a treat to your eyes to watch them perform. Tickets are sold at the Royal Palace entrance. If you want to get the best seats, reach an hour early. Or be ready to sit on the floor even after paying the big fee. But the dance is interesting and very entertaining.Dance at the royal palace
7. Ubud Monkey Forest
I know, not many will get excited to watch a monkey forest. India has no dearth of monkeys moreover stories of aggressive monkeys in Bali forests discourages many to visit this place. But if you want to witness few of the best relics in this area then you should visit Ubud Monkey Forest. It has two temples inside the premises which has rather unique carvings and statues. The temple of death has some dark depictions on stone and might intrigue you.No monkeying around in the monkey forest – image via Yukpegi.com
8. Indulge in Balinese spa
After a long day, you can always indulge in some exotic spa treatments across Ubud at less price compared to other areas. I had experienced one of the best couple spa rituals at our hotel Komaneka at Tengayudda. It was a 2.5 hours session which started with massage, scrub and ended with herbal bath. We felt absolutely relaxed and rejuvenated after the treatment. They used natural oils, spices and scrubs with Balinese style massage. I think the tired souls would love it.Balinese spa
9. Help the needy patients by eating at Fair Warung Bale
Ok, don’t just go to Fair Warung Bale to help the local needy patients. But go there if you want to experience a café run by doctors and medical staff. Go there, if you want to eat some good food at decent price. Go there, if you want to see a cute little café which is decorated with small pebbles that have messages from innumerable visitors that ate at this joint. Isn’t this a unique concept? Every meal you buy finances two doctor consultations for the poor local farmers. If you need more information about Bali Sari Foundation, do visit www.fairfuturefoundation.org We ate local food there and absolutely enjoyed our meal. I even tried their local wine whereas OH was happy with the local beer called Bintang. The staff are very friendly and try to teach local language and customs. You can sit there late and take a taxi to your hotel in case you miss your hotel shuttle service. Most of the hotels provide shuttle service from Ubud city centre and back.Fair Warung Bale – a small restaurant full of pebbles with visitor messages on them
10. Explore locales on a bicycle
Last but not the least take a bicycle and go around the city especially early morning. Most of the hotels provide a bicycle to their guests. I know Elizabeth Gilbert made this popular through her novel Eat Pray Love but there is no harm in trying. If you have a GPS enabled phone then no way can you be lost in the quaint little allys and narrow roads of Ubud. There is a lot of scenic beauty to be consumed in Ubud. Every house looks like a temple with tiered thatched roofs and wooden pagodas. There are many small temples on a crossing as people believe that an open road should not face a house as it brings bad luck. There is a lot of greenery around, especially near the paddy fields. You might find a street cart selling local snacks which is nothing but tofu, gravy and steamed rice. But you need to stop by to know what is in there. Try not to eat from unknown places as it might upset your tummy.
What do you think about these suggestions? Do leave a comment below.