I first read about the tiny island of Bali as a child. It fascinated me even then – a distant land with beaches and jungles, coffee plants, exotic spices, flowers, monkeys and temples. My husband and I had a chance to visit this past fall; it was everything I had imagined and more.
The Indonesian province is predominantly Hindu – there are temples on every corner. The reverence the Balinese people have for life is palpable. Nowhere have I ever felt more welcome. It is an island paradise waiting for you to explore.
The Jungles of Ubud We focused our visit on two areas – the jungles and cultural center of Ubud (about 90 minutes north of the airport) and the southern coast overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Ubud is filled with art, paintings, carvings and dance. The area’s wide green rice paddies are intersected by rivers and jungle-filled ravines. Our remarkable journey began the moment our guide met us at the airport.
The roads, like those in most developing countries around the world, were filled with a cacophony of motor scooters, cars, vans and buses creating five or six traffic lanes on every winding two-lane road. I was thrilled someone else was driving.
Luxurious Mandapa Reserve Our stay in Ubud was at the newly opened Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, with 35 suites and 25 private pool villas. Mandapa reflects a traditional Balinese village with the customary temple, rice paddy and walled homes.
When our driver turned down a side street in the middle of Ubud, I could not imagine we were approaching a luxury resort. As you pass through the split gates, however, you know you have arrived someplace magical.
Our exquisite villa sat on the edge of the Ayung River, the massive bedroom decorated in traditional hand-painted Balinese artwork. Its full-sized pool became our favorite spot to relax. At the edge of the pool, only the occasional rafter interrupted our view of the river and the jungle beyond.
Exploring Ubud’s Culture and History Although tempted to spend every moment at Mandapa, we hired a guide to help us explore Ubud. We watched children learn traditional Balinese dances at the Ubud Palace. We wandered past blooming lotus in the ponds at Saraswati Temple. The street market buzzed with locals and visitors shopping for everything from tourist knick-knacks to fruits and vegetables. We wandered past grand stone carvings that my husband only half jokingly tried to figure out how to ship home.
A bit outside Ubud, but well worth the ride, is Tirta Empul Tampak Siring, or Holy Spring Water Temple. Built in 962, this is a place of spiritual rebirth for people from around the globe who bring food offerings and line up to make their way through a series of 12 cleansing fountains.
Back near Ubud, we visited Bali Pulina, where a guide pointed out some of the local agricultural specialties, including snakeskin fruit, ginger and cocoa. In addition to growing and roasting rich Balinese coffee, Bali Pulina is also home to the infamous Luwak coffee. The buzz is that this drink is made from the excrement of civet cats, but there’s more to it than that: our guide explained the complicated process of collecting the untouched beans, and then washing, shelling and roasting them over an open fire. There is also a chance to sample specialties such as ginger tea and pure cocoa.
Our final stop in Ubud was at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Located in the center of town, this is a protected jungle home for hundreds of Balinese long-tailed monkeys. You can walk the path leading through the sanctuary and past temples to watch monkeys in their natural habitat.
Relaxing on Jimbaran Bay After a few days in Ubud, we made our way back south to the joint destination resorts of RIMBA Jimbaran Bali and AYANA Resort and Spa on the island’s southwest peninsula. The resorts are fewer than 10 miles from the airport and offer some of the most breathtaking vistas in the world. We stayed in a villa at AYANA, where a butler answered our every request.
There are multiple restaurants, pools and shops, but the one spot you must not skip is Rock Bar. Getting to it is an adventure. You take an “inclinator” down the side of the mountain, about a half dozen people at a time, to a series of ledges perched more than 45 feet above the crashing waves. The sunsets from here are breathtaking.
For a more traditional Balinese evening, visit Kampoeng Bali at RIMBA. The open-air theater is the perfect setting to experience the island’s culture and food. A sunset ritual kicks off an evening of celebration, complete with a massive spread of authentic dishes – be sure to sample the gado gado salad with peanut dressing and the nasi goring fried rice – followed by a musical performance of a traditional Balinese tale.
Bali is captivating. It offers a unique culture defined by a friendliness unlike any I’ve experienced elsewhere, along with breathtaking tropical vistas, rich flavors of local spices, smells of incense and flowers in the air and plenty of luxurious pampering.
► Before You Go
EVA Air, based out of Taiwan, flies from Houston to Bali via Taiwan: evaair.com
Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve: mandapareserve.com
AYANA Resort and Spa: ayanaresort.com
RIMBA Jimbaran Bali: rimbajimbaran.com