Arriving in Ubud, Bali, the first thing I noticed was the quiet. In the rainforest, there are no obnoxious taxi drivers honking you incessantly trying to get a fare, or spruikers on the streets shoving cheap bracelets and sarongs in your face, like we experienced in Seminyak a few days earlier. No, Ubud was quiet. I could hear the birds in the trees, the water in the streams, and the low hum of chatter between the locals. It was relaxing, calm, and so different from the Bali we’d experienced that it felt like we’d entered a different country altogether.
THE VILLA CATASTROPHE
The serene calm of Ubud shattered almost instantly upon arriving at our villa. Booked through Airbnb, the villa was a sight to behold. A huge pool, plenty of tropical greenery and large, spacious bedrooms welcomed us with open arms. Despite the pouring rain (it was the wet season, after all), our Balinese home for the next few nights looked absolutely perfect. That was until we actually got into the bedrooms, of course, where we discovered an ant infestation like no other. Hundreds of small, red ants were teeming behind the large cupboards, some crawling through the cracks in the skirting boards to join their friends in causing havoc to our beautiful new home. Horrified, we contacted our Airbnb host immediately, and after sending him photos of our new friends, he kindly gave us the option of a full refund if we didn’t want to stay. Given it was late afternoon and it was too late to find a new place to sleep, we agreed to stay one night; if we still weren’t happy the next day, we’d accept the refund and book somewhere else. Needless to say, none of us got much sleep that night. I should probably mention that the reviews for this villa were all excellent; the Airbnb host was truly shocked at the state of the place, and couldn’t have been nicer about the situation. It was a gorgeous villa, and I wish we could’ve stayed there!
BRUNCH WITH A VIEW
After waking up the next morning and realising that the ants weren’t going anywhere, we booked a resort in another part of town, and decided to go grab some brunch in the rice fields while we waited to check in later that afternoon.
Café Pomegranate is a tiny café/restaurant located in the middle of the rice field in central Ubud, and the 15-20 minute walk through the small lane amongst the rice fields was almost as good as the restaurant itself. A cultural experience like no other, we wandered up the path with wide eyes, admiring the strength and dedication of the workers in the fields, and laughing at the wooden sculptures for sale at the little stalls along the way (they were very well-endowed and we were very immature). There’s nothing quite like the work ethic of the Balinese people; they word so hard, both physically and mentally, yet always have time to smile and wave at the foreigners walking past.
To be honest, the food itself was nothing special, but it was cheap and the atmosphere of Café Pomegranate was incredible. With endless views of the surrounding rice fields, the tiny café/restaurant was peaceful, and we happily sat in silence with our drinks simply staring into the distance, observing a way of life so unlike our own.
LIVING THE DREAM
After wandering back from brunch past the many Ubud markets along the main road, we packed up and said goodbye to our little ant friends and left the Airbnb villa for good, en route to the Bali Dream Resort.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by the friendly staff, who immediately showed us to a nearby table while they checked us in. After seating ‘Miss Courtney’ and her group, we were offered hot ginger tea to enjoy during our wait. It was at this moment that we nearly burst into tears of gratitude at the incredible service we’d experienced in a matter of minutes, and after nearly being eaten alive by ants* while we slept at our previous accommodation, it was a welcome change!
*This may or may not be a slight exaggeration.
The Bali Dream Resort was, in fact, a dream. The staff were incredibly friendly, but not in the ‘I work here so I have to be nice’ kind of way, more the ‘I care about my industry and my job, so I want to be nice’ kind of way. We were then given a tour of the resort, including the two outdoor pools, on-site restaurant where we would go on to enjoy our delicious free breakfasts, and the villa itself.
The two-bedroom villa, complete with incredible views of Mount Batur, was beautiful. The surrounding grounds arounds our villa were almost as spacious as the villa itself, giving us privacy from other guests. In fact, we hardly saw any other guests the whole time we were there, except a few here and there in common areas such as the pool. It felt secluded; like we had the entire resort to ourselves, which was great, and the staff were always bending over backwards to ensure we were having a great stay. Plus, they called me ‘Miss Courtney’, which made me feel important. In fact, I still feel important. Please refer to me only as ‘Miss Courtney’ from now on.
A DAY IN UBUD
Although the Bali Dream Resort was so perfect we could’ve happily lived there for the rest of our days, it was time to explore beautiful Ubud; so the next day, we organised an epic day trip with our friendly driver, Tu De. We were picked up after a delicious complimentary breakfast at the Bali Dream Resort, complete with scrambled eggs, more toast than you can ever imagine, and the freshest juice in all the land. Seriously, the free breakfast was better than the breakfasts I usually have at home, and trust me, they’re pretty epic themselves.
TEGALALANG RICE TERRACE
The first stop on our day of adventure was the famous Tegalalang Rice Terrace, and the incredible view took my breath away at first sight. Vast and open, the rice terrace stretches across a huge space, offering an almost panoramic view of the area. We arrived quite early in the morning, meaning there were few others there at the same time, which gave us the opportunity to enjoy the view in a serene, peaceful setting. Although it was early, the heat was intense – a sign of the day to come. We stood for a while, in silence, watching over this incredible landscape before us. I imagined the lives of the people who worked in the terrace, and how hard they must have to work. It humbled me, and made me feel grateful for the life I am able to lead. I didn’t envy the jobs of the Balinese workers down in the rice terraces, but I envied their spirit, and the size of the smiles that decorated their happy faces.
After we left the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, we made our way through the gorgeous green rainforest of Ubud, stopping for the second time after about half an hour to admire another incredible view – Gunung Batur, or Mount Batur, is an active volcano over 5,500 feet tall. As I mentioned before, we had a great view of Mount Batur from our villa at the Bali Dream Resort, and we now had the chance to see it a little closer. This was great news for me, because I’m pretty blind (anyone with a contact lens prescription of -6.5 will understand). If you’re up for it, you can actually do an early morning hike up Mount Batur; a trip worthy of the incredible sunrise views, I’m sure. Unfortunately, we chose not to experience the hike for ourselves, but when I return to Ubud, I’ll definitely give it a go! After our driver, Tu De, insisted that we get out and snap a few photos, we got back on the road; en-route to the Elephant Cave Temple.
ELEPHANT CAVE TEMPLE
Upon arrival, I was immensely disappointed at the lack of elephants at the famous Elephant Cave Temple in Bedulu Village. Despite this, the temple itself was quite interesting. After donning our sarongs (which were 95% sweat at this stage of the day – the heat was ridiculous), we entered the sacred temple, ready to learn more about the ancient history within the rock walls.
After descending the stone steps, we quickly found ourselves in the company of a kind Balinese man, who offered himself as a tour guide. Now, you are free to wander around and explore the relics and wall carvings that adorn the spacious temple, but it won’t be easy for you to understand any of the history without a guide. Viewing the temple with a local gave us a completely different insight into the incredible history of the area, and allowed us to appreciate it so much more. Although it was an interesting and enlightening experience, I believe that unless you have a solid interest in the history and religious significance of the temples, visiting one is more than enough.
LUWAK COFFEE PLANTATION
After a delicious lunch overlooking a beautiful rice terrace, the next stop on our day trip was the Satria Luwak Coffee plantation. The civet cats, a small, possum-like creature native to Indonesia, create the expensive coffee by consuming coffee cherries. After being partially digested and pooped out by the civets, the droppings are gathered before being washed, dried, and eventually roasted. Luwak coffee is known to be the most expensive coffee in the world, but the price paid is much more than simply cash trading hands.
We were assured by our driver that the animals were treated well, which is why we agreed to enter the plantation. It was lush, green and looked like a great environment for the creatures to live. When we saw them in small cages sleeping, we were assured that they were nocturnal, and in the evenings they were let loose in the plantation to consume as many coffee cherries as they pleased. Although thinking about it in hindsight, this makes little sense. We took it at face value, and continued to explore the plantation, eventually tasting and purchasing the coffee as souvenirs. This is something that I regret, as I later did some research and discovered that my naivety had lead me to contribute to a cruel system that takes advantage of innocent creatures.
The civet cats were likely kept in those small cages for their entire lives, being forced to eat as many coffee cherries as they could in order to produce as much Luwak coffee as possible. I felt sick at this realisation, and am ashamed that I went to the plantation at all. If you visit Ubud and your driver suggests visiting a Luwak coffee plantation, I urge you to avoid going there and contributing to the industry. I know I’ll never go again, and the pain of knowing that I helped those poor civet cats live a horrible life will be something I will never be able to shake.
The final stop on our epic day trip was the Tegenungan Waterfall, one of Ubud’s most popular attractions. This was very clear as we waded through the hordes of tourists to the steep staircase leading down to the falls, muttering obscenities under our breath at all the ignorant people who didn’t know how to walk on a path. Despite the masses, the waterfall itself was quite impressive. Although not being the largest waterfall I’ve ever visited, it was powerful; the sound of the water gushing down at a rapid speed was loud, and it reminded me of the intensity of such a seemingly simple element.
We were absolutely drenched in sweat by this point of our day, so we stripped off our damp sarongs and jumped in the refreshing water, careful not to swim too close to thundering falls itself. The temperature was perfect, especially considering the heat, but the moment wasn’t quite there; the crowds of people took away from such a beautiful place, and I think without the tourists it could have been quite a serene experience. However, when you visit tourist traps, you’ve got to accept the tourists themselves!
We finished our day with dinner at the incredible Elephant Restaurant, not far from our resort in central Ubud. Disappointingly, there were no elephants here either. This was quickly forgotten as our food was delivered to our table; delicious vegetarian fare that tasted even better after such a long day. The restaurant overlooks Tjampuhan Ridge, offering spectacular views, excellent service, and a relaxing atmosphere that reminds you that Ubud is a world of its own.
DREAMING OF UBUD
Our time in Ubud was wonderful, and despite the torrential rain, abundance of geckos, ant infestations, and sweltering temperatures, I absolutely loved it. The peaceful, calm atmosphere combined with the green, natural surrounds makes Ubud the perfect place to find peace, solitude and pure serenity… just don’t drink the poo coffee!