Where to start.
We arrived in Ubud with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. The latter stemmed from the photos that google enticed us with when we searched the place. Only after we had booked our stay did we realise that this little town was the philosopher's stone to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love. As such, expectation; a peaceful, rural, distinctly cultural village nestling in an abundance of rice terraces, was soon replaced by reality.
The Ubud that is described in blog entries from a couple of years back, or the one that Eat Pray Love makes out to be, is gone. In its stead we have a tourist Mecca. A plethora of souvenir stores, restaurants, cafes, galleries that charge local artists 70% commission, more souvenir stores and an avid (and never tiring) amount of taxi drivers hoping to give you a ride.
I'm sorry if this all sounds very negative, but we've never quite been the type to get stuck in a tourist trap, especially one we did not expect. In hindsight I should have done more research and put one and one together, but the fact remains that Ubud, at least Ubud central is a hub mirroring the likes of Cancun.
The Sacred Monkey Forest.
The forest is a sanctuary for several troops of Balinese long-tailed monkeys. It is walking distance from virtually anywhere in Ubud and the entrance fee is a mere IDR 30 000. Upon walking in you'll be greeted by vendors selling bananas, but in our experience we didn't need to entice these little guys any further. Take a minute to sit next to a youngster and their curiosity will take over. Under the supervision and more importantly, the approval of mommy, you have just become the baby's new playground. Watch your stuff though, because it took Alix not even a minute to get her sunglasses snatched. It took one even less time to unzip my bag and steal my hand sanitizer, which was monkey-appropriately titled "Maybe you touched your genitals". We went to sanctuary twice, each time was in the morning when it had the least amount of tourists. We loved it every time.
The rice paddies.
Take a five minute walk out of the bustling streets of Ubud and you will find small but plentiful rice terraces cultivated by smiling farmers. The real beauty is the serenity, the peace that stems from walking from paddy to paddy. You'll bump into friendly locals offering to cut you a coconut, smiling artists that have turned the front of their house into galleries and a well hidden river that you'll find by walking through a farmer's cottage . The best thing; it's all free. You should end your walk at one of the many restaurants that offer fresh and organic meals and have a drink while you watch the sunset and think to yourself "I love Bali."
It's great. It's full of flavour, fresh, incredibly delicious and all so varied and let's not forget cheap! A plethora of cafes, bistros, restaurants, artisanal gelato cafes and pizzerias make up Ubud. You can literally eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at a different place for a month. Just be sure to pack your chequebook.
There almost seems to be an abundance of artists in Ubud. Bali in general is a host for many different forms of art. The fact that every house requires a shrine or temple ensure that stone masonry is still alive and well. Wood and bone carving is as popular as it's intricate. Beautiful handmade pieces are etched into almost minute pieces of wood to make up exquisite jewellery. The most unique pieces were made out of mammoth tusks. A by-product of gold mining in certain parts of North America. With great logistical difficulty the tusks are shipped to Bali, distributed to master carvers to produce stunning pieces of jewellery and souvenirs. Photography galleries and paintings are a dime a dozen. Even the street vendors sell pieces of beautiful art, however, it all starts to feel very generic and mass produced, never mind expensive and borderline exploitive. To get the real deal venture into the rice paddies and find fantastic local artists that work from home. Take the time to chat with them even if you end up not buying anything they still appreciate your visit.
I guess Ubud is what you make out of it. At the end of the day it's up to your personal preference.