Contributed in part by Veronica Siwi
Ubud a large town by Balinese standards, located in the center of the Island. It is a musical and artistic village, drawing the best indigenous talent while also being a favorite haven for artists from all over the world. In fact, Antonio Blanco, a famous Spanish painting artist who was former Indonesian President Soekarno's favorite, lived there until his passing in early 2000. Blanco was cremated as a Hindu, in a ceremony called in the Balinese language 'Ngaben', meaning 'burned'.
Ubud is calm, charming, and pretty cheap. Because it is secluded, it is a great place if you want to avoid the tourists congregating in places like Kuta, or escape the hot breeze of the southern beaches. The hotels in Ubud are less expensive than those found in the south, too.
On the other hand, its central location makes it ideal for day trips to other Balinese locations -- especially to the volcanic lakes like Lake Bratan and the lesser-known but wonderful towns of Gianyar, Klungkung, and the grand temple at Besakih.
My friend Veronica and I made several trips to Ubud during our visit, most of it for shopping. Ubud is also a haven for shoppers. Most of the main streets and the market stalls sell objects that are attractive to visitors, and the range of crafts that are represented is unimaginable. The first picture was taken from one of Ubud's larger marketplaces, and you can see the types of goods available -- from textiles to souvenirs to durable goods.
As like nearly all the shops on Bali, there are no fixed prices -- everything is bartered. And it was easily to lose yourself among the digits, after all the ballpark exchange rate for the Indonesian Rupiah is 10,000 to one US dollar, making me feel like I was carrying "Monopoly" money. And since the 50,000 Rupiah bill ($5) was generally the largest found in circulation (the new 100,000 bill was still uncommon), it was hard to go around without a huge wad in my pocket -- making it easy to lose track of my money... "Wait a sec, where did it all go?" was a phrase I recalled uttering a couple times.
Balinese music was everywhere to be found. Many of the shops sold local records (in fact, as I write this, I'm listening to one such record). Balinese music is heavy on percussion -- bells, xylophones, gongs, drums, wood blocks -- accompanied by flutes or whistles. It is a rhythmic form of music, generally continuous -- that is, the percussion accompaniment is steady and rarely interrupted while the flute or whistle plays a cheerful melody. It is therefore also repetitive, which some might not like, however its rhythm was incredibly soothing to me that it makes great background music for doing activities such as writing or e-mailing where I need something that relaxes me and helps me concentrate.
The second photo shows such a band practicing. Most of the instruments shown in the photo were xylophones, and a band routinely had about a dozen such xylophones set to various pitches. The instruments were ornately decorated, and the costumes worn during performances were colorful and lively!
Ubud's city center was built within four main roads formed almost in a perfect square. The third photo shows a scene from one of the roads. Some of the city center appears like a typical artisan town with rows of buildings crammed together selling wares or serving as cafés or restaurants. Ubud was a little different in that the village appearance was more prevalent, so the small storefronts with trees planted in front was common. The store at right sold paintings, painting being a major Ubud industry. Some of the paintings of Balinese scenes were as large as a room wall, and the quality was fantastic.
The best way to describe Ubud's top restaurants and establishments would be to say they were "at peace with nature". The fourth photo shows an example of one restaurant we ate at with a priest friend from Klungkung. Yes, that was indeed a restaurant. The restaurant had about a dozen small covered huts scattered about a beautiful tropical garden, with the hut containing nothing more than a simple table and floor pillows. This particular restaurant, whose name escapes me, had the absolute positive best crispy duck I had ever had, at prices that would make anyone's mouth water -- I think the three of us ate enough for the whole day, for about $20.
The final picture shows the government building in Ubud, showing the common type of Balinese architecture. Almost every house in Bali had this kind of architectural gate (gapura) usually with small door in the middle, designed to fit only one person at a time. The lily swamps at each side of the path were common in the Ubud area.
The liberal use of flowers as decoration was more noticeable in Ubud than other places on Bali. The most common one was the lotus flower, which seemed to be just about everywhere on the island, hundreds of which would fall to the ground on any given evening. Several establishments collected the fallen lotus flowers and placed them in rows across the stairs leading to their store or hotel. It was an attractive form of "welcome" sign.
Although the southern beaches and resorts were difficult to resist, Ubud offers a refreshing alternative for Balinese visitors wanting to experience the island's artistic beauty without the kitsch.
Trip taken 20-21 January 2002 -- Page last updated 28 October 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin