Experiencing Bali Culture
- Posted by Stoked for Saturday
Ubud is one of Bali’s major art and cultural centers and was a welcomed sight for some downtime after our intense hike up Mt Rinjnai on Lombok. We spent two days exploring the boutique street shops, enjoyed some of our best meals and toured the famous rice fields and temples just outside the city.
Bali doesn’t always get a good reputation as Kuta’s overcrowded, garbage filled beaches have gained quite a bit of media attention recently, however there are still some beautiful places in Bali that ooze with culture. If you’re looking for a more laid back adventure while still getting immersed in Bali’s culture, check out our favourite activities around Ubud.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
The first activity on my list when arriving in Ubud was to check out the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. A dense pocket of jungle located in the heart of the city, it is home to three holy temples and over 500 grey-haired long-tailed Balinese macaques.
Walking up to the large tree in the centre of the courtyard, there were dozens of monkeys swinging from the vines and munching away on the sweet potato the keepers had thrown for them to eat. My excitement quickly turned to intimidation after witnessing 2 people who had purchased bananas get bombarded by monkeys – one even stole a banana from inside a girl’s purse!
As we walked up towards the main temple, dozens more monkeys were running around the courtyard, many with fresh little babies clinging to their underbelly. Despite the loud screeches and constant paranoia one was going to jump on my back, they were pretty darn cute. Just look into their eyes!
Of course Jordan was adamant I buy a bundle of bananas so he could film me getting molested by monkeys. I was not up to the task, but after his mom, Jeanette, stepped up and did it first, it didn’t seem so bad. That was until I was actually holding a banana above my head and screaming in fear as I felt a set of tiny fingers scrambled their way up to my head to snatch the prize.
I have to admit, I kind of freaked out. I don’t know what it was (well maybe the scary huge screaming male that kept trying to start a fight with another male on my head) that got me all worked up but this was a lot harder than I expected. Jordan of course was laughing away behind the camera as I squirmed and squealed until he got the shots he wanted. Can’t you just feel my anxiety through this photo?
For the sheer entertainment alone though, this was well worth the 30,000 IRD ($3 USD) entrance fee. And if you’re not scared of being bitten by a monkey, shell out the 10,000 IRD for a bunch of bananas and hit the record button on your camera!
Jatiluwih Rice Fields
The Jatiluwih rice fields are a sea of terraced, green paddies that are stepped along a mountain from its peak to where it meets the sea. Although you can see rice fields all over Bali, this one in particular is special as it was named a UNESCO Cultural Landscape as a part of Bali’s Subak System.
Located an hour and half from Ubud, we hired a driver (for $80 USD for a 8 person van all day) to take us to the rice fields. The roads are very narrow and crowded with locals and motorcycles so I advise you to hire a driver with a group or jump on a tour. At times it was scary enough to be a passenger let alone a driver!
Our driver dropped us off at the edge of the rice fields (15,000 IRD fee to enter) and signalled for us to walk through and that he would pick us up at the top in an hour. I think something was lost in translation as we couldn’t seem to find the path connecting us to the other side to meet him, so we wandered through the fields for a bit before retracing our steps and walked up the road to what we think was the actual entrance.
The greens were incredible! It was the most vibrant color and the grass was so tall you could easily get lots in the fields of green. This area has adopted the traditional Subak irrigation system – a centuries old method that has been passed down from generation to generation. We watched as they planted the rice by hand, grain by grain – such a tedious process but it appears to pay off!
There’s no shortage of temples to visit in Bali, and while the ones we visited weren’t actually some of the most popular they were still quite beautiful and offered a peaceful break from the busy streets. We first visited Pura Luhur Batakau just 20 minutes outside the Jatiluwih rice fields situated in the rainforest at the foot of Mt Batukaru. It is a Hindu temple and one of nine kayangan jagat, or directional temples, meant to protect Bali from evil spirits.
It is a sacred place with strict rules you must follow including wearing a saroong (even the men) which they provide. There was a sign outside the temple with a number of other rules (women cannot enter if pregnant, menstruating, etc) which I won’t profess to understand…
Many areas are restricted from tourist, but we strolled around the temple peacefully, sauntering through the walkways taking in the serenity around us. It’s amazing how a place like that just makes you want to stop, not say a word and just enjoy it in silence. Inside there were many of the typical tiered roof towers that are famous in Bali’s temples.
Contrasted to Pura Luhur Batukaru, Pura Taman Ayun is a temple garden, located closer to the city, that was busy and filled with tourists, not offering much serenity. It had beautiful architecture and grounds as well, but after experiencing such a quiet, beautiful place it was difficult to enjoy this one with the crowds.
What made our time in Ubud so enjoyable was staying in a beautiful pool villa in the centre of the city with Jordan’s family. Russell, Jordan’s dad, found this gem on Air B&B and was a great place to relax, take a dip in the pool and was only a few minutes walk to great restaurants and shops.
There were so many restaurants to choose from in Ubud it was a challenge to pick one each night! We enjoyed a wonderful italian meal at Il Giardino (incredible pizza and gnocchi) and some traditional Balinese at Casa Luna. Highly recommend both if you’re in the area!
And if you’re looking to do a little shopping, Ubud’s streets are lined with cute little shops selling handmade clothes, crafts and art that will make a nice souvenir from your trip.
Jordan and I normally get out of cities for our vacations but I really loved visiting Ubud and wished we had more time to explore. It didn’t have that overwhelming city feel and there was something interesting to look at on every corner. I’m really glad we skipped Kuta and were able to experience some of the beautiful Balinese culture!