We have to be completely honest with you all here, we have always wanted to explore Indonesia but Bali had never really been on our travel bucket list of places we felt we wanted to visit. It seemed oversaturated by mass tourism and insta babes looking for a so-called spiritual awakening. Yuck! Not exactly the kind of place Ray and I really like to visit, and if it hadn’t been for me doing some work for a good friend’s wedding, I don’t think we would ever have come at all.
Cut to 5 weeks later and I must admit we have slightly changed our views on this beautiful part of Indonesia, and we are really happy that we decided to not run off straight after the wedding and actually took the time to see what Bali is all about.
After what seemed like an eternity waiting to get through customs and airport security, we were finally outside trying to find our Grab, we were welcomed by the hards of touting taxi drivers trying to usher us… quite forcefully into their cars. Strike 1 Bali.
30 minutes later, after beating the taxi drivers off with the proverbial stick we finally found our Grab driver. It was late at night and we had been awake since 3am and all we wanted to do was get to our villa, unload and crash out.
We were staying at D’Wina Villa Canggu and this place was beautiful. Big 2 bedroom villas with lush tropical gardens, great pools and the rooftop terrace was great for relaxing and working on the tan.
We were told to stay in Canggu on the advice that it had a good mix of modern amenities, whilst still upholding its essential Balinese roots of culture and endless rice paddies.
The next morning, we decided it was time to go exploring the area and get some breakfast. We asked the receptionist where’s best around the area to get some Masakan Padang (traditional Indonesian food) and she laughed. She then went on to inform us that to get some traditional food we’d have to drive a good 30 minutes to find something, but if we wanted poached eggs and kombucha then we could find that everywhere here.
Ray and I just looked at each other, and thought she must be wrong and decided to just go walk the streets and find our elusive Masakan Padang … she was right though. It was hipster cafes and acai bowls as far as the eye could see. Strike 2 Bali. So if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and we found a great café overlooking the rice fields and settled in for our $10 eggs on toast and $5 coffee. I must admit, traveling through Asia and not having a well-made brew for months, our flat whites went down like a dream in coffee heaven.
Refuelled and caffeinated we found a bike rental place and went scooting around the area. Canggu is a beautiful place, lush and green with beautiful rice fields but we were taken a bit aback by how much development is taking place. It was just villa after villa, and the first signs of any local life and what seemed like proper Bali was after driving out into the countryside, 40 minutes from the coast.
Stopping at one of the roadside stores we got talking to the storeowner. He was so warm and welcoming and we asked him whether the locals really liked the amount of development going on, and the overwhelming answer was no. He continued on saying that Canggu used to be a very local area and just all farmland. Now it is all villas and tourism eating up the area like a monster, like it has in other popular parts of the country.
We left feeling saddened and like we were being a part of that mass tourism monster that’s eating Bali alive and not quite sure if we should stay or leave. But we had commitments here and we had paid for all of our accommodation, and we wanted to see if we could find the real Bali away from all the tourists.
After a week of eating and swimming, (we did end up finding that elusive Masakan Padang in Canggu link here) and just enjoying our incredible villa, it was time to bid Canggu goodbye and head for the hills.
On the drive to Ubud we were feeling more and more relaxed as the open spaces got wider and the jungle got thicker. Wayan our driver was such a great guy, growing up and living in Ubud his entire life he had nothing bad to say about the place. He continued to tell us all the great things that he loves about the area and his favourite places to eat, things to do, places we should see and the best thing to do is to get a scooter and just get lost… Things were starting to look up!
An hour and a half later we arrived at Wayan’s family warung in Penestanan, on the outskirts of town and welcomed with an ice-cold Bintang while they transferred our bags via motorbike out to the villa. We were already impressed by how lovely and authentically Balinese Ubud felt compared to Canggu. Little family-run warungs, temples and shrines on every corner, kids playing in the streets and just a way more relaxed atmosphere.
Our villa was out in the rice fields and only accessible by scooter or about a 10 minute walk from the main road running through Penestanan. Cruising down the tiny lanes and out into the fields we were so happy to see farmers going about their crops, to hear the sounds of roosters crowing and just local life going on around us.
Penestanan is about 2-3 kms out of Ubud town proper and feels like how Bali must have been 20 years ago.
Arriving at the villa was so beautiful, so much more than what we’d expected. Amazingly landscaped gardens, beautiful pool and an open-air living space with just the bedroom closed off (link to Villa Ulun Mertha here). After settling in for a while and just taking in our surroundings, we knew we’d made the right choice coming here.
Ubud has been crowned the cultural heart of Bali and we now understand why. Over the past 100 years or so, Ubud has evolved into a melding pot of international artists, authors, collectors and those seeking that good old spiritual awakening; whilst still holding onto its cultural identity and old world charm that we have been so desperately seeking whilst here in Bali.
Take a walk around any of the streets in town and you’ll come across beautiful traditional buildings like the Puri Saren Royal Palace, intricate temples new and old, museums and art galleries, local and international art studios, the Ubud Art Market, countless artisan coffee shops and some of the best local and international food we have eaten in all of our travels.
Apart from everything in town, Ubud has some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Bali. So we decided to take Wayan up on his advice of renting a scooter and just getting lost in the countryside. This place is a photographer’s dream. Rice terraces in every direction, fruit plantations, amazing nature walks through rolling hills covered in dense jungle and valleys filled with raging rivers. It’s truly breathtaking and really something we would recommend doing while here in Ubud.
We’re not going to lie, Ubud town centre can get quite busy with tourists towards the end of the day with all of the day trippers coming up from other parts of Bali but in the morning and night time, this place just has a sense of calmness and peace about it. Maybe it has to do with there being a temple on almost every corner, or all the yoga barns and eat-pray love fans around town searching for their spiritual awakening. But it really does. Pair all that with the amazingly warm and hospitable locals going on about their daily life, the lush green jungle engulfing the entire town and the smell of incense from the canang sari in the air.
Ubud you really have a special place in our hearts.
We just hope that it stays that way for a long time to come and that next time we visit Bali we can find some more places that remain just as authentic like Ubud whilst still embracing the ever encroaching tourism monster.
Namaste Bali, it’s been fun.