Eat, Pray, Love? Julia Roberts might have created the tempt to fly across the world to the safe place and beautiful beaches of Bali, but it’s the locals and native energy that makes this place so enchanting. Coming up on my year anniversary at my new PR and marketing company, Chekmark Consulting, I felt a nonstop itch in my body to leap out and seek something new. My routine of work, networking, recommending restaurants to others, work, instagram, finally hit a wall, and I didn’t know where to go. Ironically, I had this Bali trip booked 6 months beforehand for a close friend’s wedding. The universe was waiting for me… Ubud is probably the most well-known village due to the Monkey Forest, proximity to Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud Art Market, Mt. Batur Sunrise Hike, Yoga Barn, and it’s way more walkable than Canggu or Ulutwatu. I owe this amazing guide to one of my best friends, Hyo Jin, aka @NoMeatNomad who moved to Bali after we met in NYC and zipped me around on her wild scooter. She showed me the best ins and outs of the city, and helped me heal my wild, American, overworked self by realizing slowing down and being present is all it takes.
WHERE TO STAY:
It took a little over an hour to drive to Ubud from Canggu, and I waltzed right into my extremely, affordable and laid back room at the Alaya Resort. The open lobby leads right through unkempt rice fields, two restaurants, a pool, and a spa. I had the Alaya Room which had a gorgeous customized, stone bath tub in the center. It made me feel grounded even though I only used the shower (amazing lemongrass bath products). The back door opened up into the jungle with a daybed outside for more resting. Breakfast is complimentary, and you have a buffet option at Manisan or a la carte at Petani Restaurant. The overly frothy orange juice is so unreal you won’t be able to drink it anywhere else after that. Alaya feels just the right amount of luxury and jungle for a modest vacation, and the best part is its location to yoga studios, restaurants, and the monkey jungle. Therefore, you can walk and don’t have to pay for transportation.
This bamboo, sustainable sanctuary is one of the fanciest and healing places I’ve ever been. About 15- 20 minutes from the center of town and owned by John Hardy (his entire business production is in Bali), the beautiful retreat is full of water views, natural pools, rope swings, ponds, an organic garden that they use for the restaurant, and yoga in a beautiful, lifted house structure. Bambu Indah also has a great deal on guest passes if you want to visit for the day, but if you are here with your significant other, 100 percent splurge on a room for true romance. Let me tell you, the underground elevator that takes you from the top level to the lower jungle and pools is a thrilling dive! Everything is so detailed, conscious of the environment, and preserves nature. I absolutely LOVED my lunch at the River Warung, which is open-air and overlooks the natural pools as well as the fast flowing Ayung River. Gallop across a bamboo bridge and walk down a spiral stair “case” to arrive here. It was my favorite meal of my entire Ubud trip especially because I watched the beautiful Balinese older woman grill the fresh fish over coals just for me with chili tomato basil sauce. It came with a garden salad, fresh veggies, and grilled white sweet potato. Nature, greenery, water, and flowers, are what really get down into my soul and make me feel alive. I had done the Mt. Batur sunrise hike at 3:30 a.m that morning and dancing and exploring through this marvelous hotel felt like another part of my morning dream. Don’t miss this sacred heaven!
WHERE TO SELF-CARE:
I felt like I was stealing because of how cheap all the massages, facials, and spa treatments are in this country. Ubud had my favorite spas:
- Nusa Therapy – Offers reflexology, back, and neck massages. I did a half hour of both which actually felt like whole body. They served my favorite JAMU drink that I had my entire trip. It was warm not cold, and made with ginger, turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, pandan leaf, lime, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and palm sugar. $9 for one hour.
- Skin Spa – I’ve never had a facial before. WOW I think I actually got a new face here though. The $20 service starts with tea, a flower bath foot scrub before beginning the face cleanse. I don’t know what happened in there, but I loved the cucumbers lined all over me at the last step. 2 weeks later and my face is still glowing. The Gootama location is walking distance from Alaya.
- Spa at Bambu Indah – This was the best massage I had all trip. While it was the priciest of them all, it was only $30! The massage pods create a relaxing environment and Dewi really knows what she is doing. She uses traditional Balinese techniques but stood out more to me because she also seemed to add in her own expertise.
- Spiritual Healer – Of course, I went to a healer in Ubud! Made poured some holy water on me, touched my pressure points, extracted things from my soul, and told me I’m a good person and he’s not worried about me. The first thing he said to me was “do you have back pain?” which is something I’ve been dealing with the last 6 months. My eyes immediately started watering. I enjoyed the hour experience, rituals, and spiritual attention. Not sure if it’s real, but you must do it! A lot of other friends had a much deeper experience. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Address is Jl. Ki Pasung Grigis Blok IV No. 30 Br. TenkulakKaja, Desa Kemenuh, Sukawati. There is also a cooking class there. I hired a driver for $14 to take me, wait for me, and then headed to the Ubud Market. Here is his What’s App: +62 858- 5744 – 4824.
WHERE TO YOGA:
- Yoga Barn – Favorite yoga! Grab a spot at Paul’s Power Yoga who was trained at Brian Kest’s studio in LA. He plays the guitar, knocks some spiritual sense into you, and provides an all-body workout. They offer all kinds of classes and breath work here.
- Intuitive Flow – Sensory overload with the beautiful scenic views and windows overlooking endless green trees. Check out Esther’s hatha class who is from The Netherlands, and the great gift shop. After, walk around to Yellow Flower Cafe for breakfast or a Turmeric Drink Lite which is made with coconut water. I regret not trying the Yummy Date Banana Caramel Coconut Shake.
WHERE TO EAT:
- Sayuri Healing Food– All diners must take shoes off before entering this cute yoga-like cafe. You’ll find products and juices for sale on the walls, swings to sit in, and an outdoor area. I loved the raw vegan lasagna and choked up at the bakery viewing Berry Crumble, Mint Chocolate Cake, Caramel Banana Bread Pudding, Snickers Bar, Nutella Fudge. I obviously dove for the Chocolate Chip Cookie made with coconut sugar and oil. It’s definitely more of a protein bar tasting, and I loved it but I don’t know if you will…
- Puspa’s Warung– A warung is a small family owned cafe or business, so be sure to check on the locals here and support them! This tiny shack empowered me with delicious guacamole, fried rice noodles, the winning yellow curry. P.S. The tempeh here is the only one I’ve ever liked. $12 total, so $6 for each of us.
- Hujan Locale seemed to be the most popular restaurant from the local’s perspective. While more upscale than a warung, the menu is full of traditional Balinese food and ingredients. I ate here on my last night solo so wasn’t able to try everything I wanted but make sure you sit upstairs! It’s important to know they use a lot of peanuts on this island and here they offer a nut-free menu. Dishes include: Tuna Betel Leaf with Lemongrass Green Tomato, Beef Sate, Crispy Whole Fish, Green Papaya Salad, and I had the “Tipat Blayag” which is a Smoked Chicken simmered in coconut with egg, chicken skin, and rice you have to unwrap out of bamboo.
- Tukies Coconut Shop– I didn’t have as much dessert in Bali as I do at home, but the one spot everyone said to go I found had an amazing banana chocolate cake even though it was known for its coconut ice cream concoction/toppings. Get both! Coconut butters and cookies for sale, too.
- Confiture de Bali– Right down the same street lies this all-natural, no sugar added jam spot. Perfect for gifts and delicious. I like the Banana Vanilla and Mango Cinnamon. Bring me back some! They also sell nut butters.
CLASSIC “CAN’T MISS” ACTIVITIES:
- Ubud Art Market – This is your typical barter market where you’ll get lost and run by the same vendors multiple times. They all sell the same stuff but there are definitely gems. From mini bronze buddah’s, earrings, weaved bracelets, coconut bowls with golden shiny insides (that’s what I got), soaps, oval purses (below), mosaic coasters, beaded boxes, and scarves, give yourself at least an hour here and bring cash!
- Monkey Forest – I had a really hard time understanding that the monkey forest was only a 5 minute walk from my hotel. The jungle is right there! The entry fee is 80,000 rupiah so about $6. Frolic along this huge “park,” take a look at the monkeys, temples, and make sure not to look them in the eye or bring any food!
- Tegalalang Rice Terrace – Endless views of bright green terraces. Get lost for hours walking through here and beware if you go to late in the afternoon it’s super hot! Wear walking shoes in case of mud, and say hello to the hard workers!
- Campuhan Ridge Walk– Beautiful winding paths overlooking more lush greenery and not far from the center of town. Photo below.
- Mount Batur Sunrise Hike– Hiking to the top of a mountain, out-of-breath, and receiving a gorgeous view as my reward while my heart non stop pumps, is my ideal vacation day. Now with a 2:30 a.m. wakeup call and pick up to Mt. Batur, a volcano hike 1 hour outside of Ubud, was a new adventure for me. I booked my tour for $95 on Tripadvisor and a 22-year-old guide greeted me at the bottom. Talk about over the top service!! He held my water bottle, handed me a walking stick and flashlight (remember it’s 3:30 a.m. at this point), carried my breakfast in his backpack, and even held my hand up the rocks during the last 20 minutes of the uphill hike. Listen, you are climbing up this mountain, above the clouds, where you wait an hour to see the sunrise shine in and through the pink sky, so YES, it’s uphill the whole 4 KM. It took us 1 hour and 40 minutes, and kicked my ***! We were the first ones to the top, I blame the 22-year-old stamina that I tried to keep up with. He made me a grilled banana sandwich, hot chocolate, hard boiled eggs, and we watched the earth’s beauty with about 100 other people. If you can’t make it up the climb, they have scooters offering rides to the weak– jk! This strength was the best last day before I hoped on my 30 hour plane back to Texas!