blissful Ubud

The island of Bali offers a little something for everyone, which is why it attracts every type of traveler, from backpacker surfer to honeymooning couple to seasoned yogis. Recommendations from friends and fellow travelers steered me towards Ubud so that’s where I headed first on my weeklong trip to Bali. I never actually made it anywhere else in Bali. In Ubud I found history, culture, delicious food, beautiful landscapes, great walks, and excellent yoga – attractions and activities that are sometimes hard to find all in one place.

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ubud market

Through AirBnB I found a room with a Balinese family that had a lovely home on Jalan Suweta. Their home was in the traditional Balinese style; it had a central courtyard, family shrine, pavilion, and the main house. Our host spoke excellent English (he worked part of the year on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean) and his wife’s limited English did not prevent us from establishing a friendly rapport. Waking up to see this Balinese extended family in action (grandmothers, uncles, aunts and cousins shared the property) was a real treat. Their early morning rituals were my absolute favorite part of the day.

One of the greatest things our host did for us was suggest that my friend and I attend a traditional Balinese cremation ceremony in Penestanan. We made sure we were appropriately dressed and set off for the ceremony. It was quite the day (we were there for about 7 hours!) and one that I will remember always. It was very moving to see a community come together to honor the passing of loved ones. It deserves its own post (for now I just have this photoblog) and I hope that when I write about it I can do it some justice. It really was one of the best travel experiences of my life.

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starting point of ubud walk

I wake up early, which means that when I travel with someone I’m usually up hours before they are. I often sneak ou
t early, wander for a couple of hours and return in time for breakfast with my travel partner. I love seeing places quietly waking up. If you’re in Ubud, get up early (7am) and go to the Ubud market (consider grabbing breakfast here) and take a walk through the rice paddies (see map). I also have a photoblog from the market and the walk.

One of the main attractions near Ubud is the holy spring water temple, Pura Tirta Empul. However, our host suggested that we go to the less visited Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu and offered to take us (we paid him to drive us around for a couple of hours). Although he wasn’t really a tour guide and we never got more than a two-sentence explanation, we got flexibility and very pleasant company. Pura Gunung Kawi Sebatu was smaller than Pura Tirta Empul, but it was intimate and I got to bathe alongside several Balinese women from Denpasar. Our next stop was Mount Kawi, which was also very well worth the visit. Finally we went to the Tegalalang rice terraces. While I do think they are worth seeing, I am glad we just did a brief stop and spent more time in other places.

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unidentified deliciousness

In Ubud, I indulged in yoga, massages, and alternated between delicious local food and vegetarian/vegan goodies. My personal favorites for yoga around Ubud are: Intuitive Flow and Ubud Yoga House. I had a phenomenal massage and scrub at the Kayma Spa. Some of my best meals were the beef rendang at Waroeng Bernadette, raw vegan desserts at The Seeds of Life, and everything at Dayu’s Warung. We tried a lot of dishes at the market that were delicious but I have no idea what they’re called. The greatest food find was 9 Angels, a donation-based vegan restaurant that was across the street from our AirBnB. The community restaurant provides healthy food at a very reasonable price, the food is served as a buffet but it always tastes fresh and there is also homemade kombucha and Indonesian jamu (the version I had was made with ginger and turmeric).

 

I don’t know when I’ll be back in Ubud, but I hope to not let too much time pass before I return to this spiritual place.

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ethical fun with elephants in Chiang Mai

I was torn about going to an elephant camp in Chiang Mai. As much as I love elephants I did not want to be part of a tourist industry that exploits and abuses elephants for profit. If you have no idea what I’m talking about youtube “phajaan”, the horrendous “training” baby elephants go through in order for the mahout to have complete control over them.

In my research I found Elephant Nature Park (ENP), one of two places in Chiang Mai where there is absolutely no elephant riding and no shows/tricks. The elephants roam the park with their chosen family or herd, and the keepers or mahouts use non-violent positive reinforcement (a.k.a. bribing with food) to keep the elephants and the visitors safe.

It was a heartwarming experience that gave me an even deeper appreciation for these majestic animals. I spent the entire day walking around the park with our guide, Tong, who told us the story behind every single elephant, described the elephant’s personality and shared funny anecdotes about their relationships with other elephants. The elephants at ENP were either rescued from illegal logging, other elephant camps/trekking companies, or street begging. Some were still under special care because they were recovering, emotionally and physically, from the abuses they suffered before being rescued by ENP. Despite their pasts, the elephants we saw were playful and tender with each other. We even got to pet a few!

Below are some of the pictures I took while at ENP. I would absolutely recommend Elephant Nature Park if you’re looking for an ethical elephant camp. If you are doing a trek in Thailand, make sure there is no elephant riding involved (unfortunately, many still do).

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