Finding My Oasis In Ubud

I was having doubts about Bali from inside my air-conditioned car as it comfortably shuttled me from the airport through Denpasar and up to Ubud (the 1.5 hour trip cost me US$22, mind you). Billboards advertising tacky tourist traps, obtrusive construction sites taking over major streets, massive piles of planks and sculptures just hanging out on the side of the road – this wasn’t the peaceful retreat I’d envisioned. Bali felt downright commercialized, dirty, and abrasive at first sight.

I kept waiting for the noise to fade away and be replaced by green and zen, but it carried on all the way to Ubud. I recoiled in disgust at the sight of all the shops, spas, and motorbikes lining every meter of the street we took into the town center. This didn’t look like a place I wanted to spent any amount of time in. I mentally sifted through options for a Plan B: Maybe I’d hightail it to the Gili Islands. Or could I justify booking the cheapest flight outta here?

And then we turned onto Sri Wedari and I said JUST KIDDING, because look at this scenery!

Ubud rice fields

This would be my street for a week while I stayed at the Yogalaya Ubud Resort. I booked this particular hotel with the hope that I’d be surrounded by rice fields and sheltered from the noise and exhaust of all the motorbikes, being a fair bit north of town. Suffice it to say that it was everything I’d hoped for! Two steps out my front door and I could see the neighboring rice fields to my left, and the gorgeous resort pool right in front of me.

Yogalaya Ubud Resort
Literal view from my doorway.

At night, I wound down to the sound of crickets. In the morning, I woke early to sunlight and roosters crowing. My days began with the all-important decision: banana pancake or omelet for breakfast? They don’t call the popular Southeast Asia backpacking route the Banana Pancake Trail for nothing! (I surprised myself by opting for the omelet most days – I know, right?). A plate of fresh fruit always accompanied breakfast, filled with slices of whatever happened to be ripe at the moment. Other than the watermelon, I was clueless as to what any of the fruits were. But that’s one of the many joys of traveling in Bali: all of the exotic, unidentifiable, delicious fruits ready to be eaten, juiced, and smoothie-d. You don’t have to know what these foreign fruits are – just try them!

Food in Ubud
Noodles and coconut orange juice.

Properly sated, I’d venture into town by late-morning. I relished my 33-minute daily walk into Ubud and always turned down the numerous locals on motorbikes offering me a ride down. I loved peeking through the entrances to the family compounds: temple-like on the outside, these open air complexes typically house 3 generations of families (and in Ubud, sometimes they’re partially used as a warung (basic restaurant) or homestay). An offering is left every morning at the foot of every driveway, on motorbike handles, in front of temples and statues. Full of color and often accompanied by incense, I couldn’t help but stick my nose (and camera) in them!

House in Ubud

Ubud daily offering

On my daily jaunt down Sri Wedari, I never walked more than a few minutes before some Balinese kids called out “hello!” to me, or a dog barked at me to stop lingering around his family’s compound (oops!). I’d pass by women carrying enormous baskets on their heads, full of fruit and other staples, and men climbing trees or working in the rice fields. Motorbikes constantly flew by me, no matter how far out of town I was; that’s one thing you’ll never escape while in Bali, along with being inevitably drenched with sweat when walking from A to B (hello, swamp ass!).

Motorbikes in Ubud Bali

The quiet nature vibes abruptly give way to a buzzing westernized town near the end of the road, with taxi drivers ready to pounce on every street corner and roads lined with shops selling yoga wear, cheap jewelry, and elephant pants (you know the ones!). Surprisingly, Ubud is not very pedestrian-friendly: its sidewalks are obstructed by parked motorbikes, and slope steeply downwards/upwards whenever you cross a driveway. I found myself walking in the road more often than not (which may or may not have been a death wish).

Ubud market
Ubud Market. Do not go here unless you want to be incessantly harassed by vendors!

But what I thoroughly enjoyed about Ubud is how easy it is to retreat from the commercialized chaos. Whether it’s walking a long ways down a side road, ducking indoors for an uber-affordable spa treatment or yoga class, or holing up at a cozy cafe, you won’t have a problem finding your own little oasis in Ubud.

Seniman Coffee in Ubud Bali
Seniman Coffee Studio, aka my favorite hangout in Ubud.

I’m convinced that Ubud was made for digital nomads and holistic health nuts. And if you’re some hybrid of the two, like me: basically it’s like heaven, minus the beach (Ubud is regrettably landlocked). So many cafes cater to these types, with electric outlets and pillows at every table and menus spouting tempeh-this and spirulina-that (on the Things I Learned list: I don’t care for spirulina). They make it way too tempting to linger all day with your laptop or a good book while chain-drinking various fresh fruit concoctions laced with herbs and natural energy boosters. With so many other foreigners doing exactly the same thing, it’s easy to strike up a conversation and make new friends in this town. On that note, it seemed like every other person was American: I hadn’t heard my own accent this much since leaving NYC nearly a year ago!

Ubud rice fields

Come evening, I’d drag myself away from my semi-westernized oasis and stop into a nearby warung for some nasi gorgeng (the classic Balinese rice dish) or some other cheap eats, before hailing a motorbike taxi to take me back to my hotel. I typically hate hailing motorbikes (tuk tuks, rickshaws, etc) in Southeast Asia because the bargaining process makes me a little anxious, but in Ubud the drivers rarely tried to take advantage of me. Usually they’d ask me how much I’d pay, and I’d always stay firm at 25,000 rupiah – if they wanted more, I’d simply mosey on over to the next driver.

By the end of my week there, I had “my driver”, who I’d always find waiting outside of Earth Cafe (one of my local haunts). The 10 minute ride back to Yogalaya was one of my favorite parts of my daily routine in Ubud. Wayan always wanted to know what I did that day, and I’d blither on from the back of the bike about how I went cycling or did yoga and what my upcoming plans were. It was often the most conversation I had all day, and I quite liked it that way.

Chickens in Bali
Chicken truck in the driveway. Casual.

Have you been to Ubud? If not, is it on your list?