Bali is a place of magic and wonder. In the uplands of the island, far away from the hustle and bustle of the Kuta and the swanky gated high-end resort community of Nusa Dua, is the tranquil and enchanted town of Ubud. Known for its eclectic art scene, lush rainforests, rice paddies, and Hindu temples, our visit to Ubud was unlike no other.
As we drove through the narrow and crowded streets of the town, we were met by a collection of small shops, from traditional stores selling local arts and crafts to a myriad of Balinese restaurants to one of the most beautiful Starbucks I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Although millions of tourists visit Ubud each year, the town still keeps its authentic charm largely because of the absence of large resorts and chain hotels. Most lodgings in Ubud are quaint villas nestled in the middle of rice fields or tucked away in the lush rainforest with less than 20 rooms at each location.
Pajar House is a family-owned property ten minutes away from Ubud’s main road. Our poolside private villa ran us less than 55 dollars a night which included free transportation around Ubud and complimentary breakfast served right outside our private porch. The service was outstanding and much like the rest of Bali, the people treat you like you’re one of their long lost friends, so they made the effort to not only provide you exceptional treatment but also made sure to get to know you beyond the basic pleasantries. They were very interested about learning who we are and where we’re from. They were particularly intrigued about our background coming from the United States, as most visitors in the Island hail from Australia, Europe, or others parts of Asia.
On our second day, our villa organized a day tour that would take us around Ubud to visit its main attractions for less than 25 dollars per person. Our driver, Putu, is a 25-year old Balinese father of two who has worked for the villa for over two years. He was extremely knowledgeable about Bali, had many questions about the United States, and had an affinity for Rachel Platten’s most iconic work of art, Fight Song.
The most profound experience I had was visiting the Tirta Empul, which means holy spring in Balinese. The temple consists of a bathing structure, known for its holy water, used for ritual purification. Although built by Hindus, visitors of different faiths and beliefs are openly invited to go through the purification ritual. With hands pressed together, you go through a series of gushing water sprouts, bow under it, and fully soaking your head in the process. The experience was deeply spiritual and despite being raised a Christian, I was incredibly thankful and deeply humbled to have the privilege of being part of it.
Religious devotion is extremely central to Balinese culture. You can usually find a canang sari, or a traditional daily offering comprised of betel leaf, lime gambier, prestige, tobacco, betel nuts, and flowers, no matter where you go, from temples to store fronts to even the security lane at the airport. The smell of incense is also prominent throughout the island, adding to its mystic and serene atmosphere.
Bali is an extremely special place. Although our stay was thwarted by the eruption of Mt. Agung and the long flight takes plenty of effort, the warmness of its people and the authenticity of its sights makes the journey worthwhile. If you ever find yourself in this enchanted island, go beyond the glitzy confines of the five-star resorts and the rowdy surf towns, and find yourself in Ubud. It’s a magical world filled with wonder and excitement and I can once again confirm that there is indeed a Starbucks, so you can stay caffeinated while exploring all of its beauty.