Ubud, Bali: A Yogi’s Paradise
On the mystical island of Bali in southern Indonesia is a town shrouded in jungle mist and good karma. You can’t throw a purple spiky dragonfruit without hitting a yoga mat, and you’d be more likely to find a Wall Street banker than non-vegan food. “Om”-printed harem pants and blessed crystal necklaces are on display in every shop window, and the restaurants have names like “Namaste” and “Atman”. This is Ubud, the mecca of all yoga lovers. Throw in the annual Bali Spirit Festival, and the town had more dreadlocked and tattooed yogis than a Lululemon sale.
I came to Bali searching for some of the best yoga in Southeast Asia, and Ubud did not disappoint. Home to the yogi-world-famous Yoga Barn, Ubud fits the bill of the ultimate zen retreat: lush rice terraces overrun with waterfalls, jungles filled with monkeys, and endless amounts of local organic health foods. Luckily my trip coincided with the Bali Spirit Festival, a five-day event filled with yoga workshops and music performances. I caught the shuttle out to the grounds on opening day and excitedly asked how much a one-day pass would cost. When they told me “$145” I thought surely they were telling me in Indonesian rupiah, but unfortunately not. It costs a lot of money to be above the material world and achieve Spirit Festival nirvana, it seems. Needless to say, I did not attend, but opted for the free crafts area instead.
If you aren’t into yoga, there’s plenty more that Ubud has to offer. One afternoon I went to the Monkey Temple, which allows tourists to get up close and personal with the macaques you typically see roaming the streets. The wishing well and several temples set amongst banyan trees and waterfall ravines made it a beautiful and peaceful recluse from the busy streets and markets just outside. Be careful though – the monkeys can be quite cheeky and will steal your food! Sometimes they’ll steal it after biting you, and not even give you a good photo op. How rude.
One of my favorite activities in between filming yoga classes was exploring the rice terraces. You could wander off a busy main street and ten minutes later be in the middle of rice paddies with no one around. I would aimlessly walk along the footpaths underneath coconut trees, stepping over creeks crossing from one paddy to the next and stopping for $2 lunches at tiny bungalow cafes along the way. It was so picturesque, no wonder Bali is the “Love” of Julia Robert’s “Eat Pray Love”.
Ubud is also known as the arts and culture center of Bali, and it definitely lives up to the reputation. Woodworking, batik printing, dancing, and painting are all in abundance here; driving down the roads, you’ll pass workshops with giant stone statues carved with precision, sleek Balinese wood furniture, and ornate canvas paintings. If only shipping from Bali weren’t so logistically difficult and expensive, I would get into the import business immediately and make a fortune in US home décor.
One night I attended a traditional “fire dance” called Kechak, or the Ramayana Monkey Chant, which retells an epic battle story from the Hindu text the Ramayana. It’s sung by a chorus of over 100 men sitting around a giant lit candelabra while chanting “chak” over and over. The entire play is in Balinese so it’s better to know the storyline beforehand otherwise you’ll be pretty lost!
Although I originally planned on staying in Bali only two weeks, I ended up staying one whole month; there was too much to see and do! I met up with some friends and family there as well, so it made sense to stay longer. But an even bigger reason for my lingering was definitely the charm and mystique of Ubud, hands down my favorite place on the island of a thousand temples!