After getting a great first-taste of Bali with our tour, we decided to explore a little closer to home and see what the city of Ubud has to offer.
A leisurely morning stroll through Ubud’s hidden rice fields was a great start to the day. It was amazing how secluded and remote the countryside felt despite only being about 15 minutes from the city’s bustling main streets.
We also had a quick look around at the many boutique shops and craft markets, but it seems if you don’t have the budget for splurging, there’s not much in the way of souvenirs besides the general novelty bottle-openers and fridge magnets.
After a long morning of walking, we wanted to try and give our bodies a bit of a rest by sampling something that Bali (and Ubud in particular) is famous for – it’s massages.
Now, maybe we chose a bad place (or maybe I’m just not a massage kinda person) but it seemed that for every nice thing about the massage there was something not so nice that followed… After lulling me into a false sense of security with a soothing leg rub, I suddenly heard a great ‘thwak!’ and felt the sharp slap of pain as the masseuse gave a swift punch to the sole of my right foot. It brought me right back to earth with a thud. “Why is this woman hitting me??” I thought to myself. “Is this meant to be relaxing??”
I almost thought she’d lost it, until I heard an answering “thwak” across the room from Dale’s table. Then I couldn’t stop the giggles from bubbling out of my mouth, imagining what must be running through his mind too. Thankfully Dale managed to keep his composure (or had fallen asleep)…
Apparently Balinese massage is one of the more relaxing varieties – but it does include elements of reflexology and acupressure (that’s stretching and poking in layman’s terms). Besides yanking my shoulder blades, punching the soles of my feet and pulling my hair it was a nice experience and I did feel more calm and relaxed afterwards!
Something we were lucky to see while exploring the city was the preparation of the annual ceremony for Ubud’s Saraswati temple. We found out later that ceremonies like these are done every year to celebrate the ‘birthday’ of the temple.
That evening, we managed to get a seat in the Palace to watch the legong and barong dance, performed with the accompaniment of traditional Balinese Gamelan music. My favourite was definitely the legong dance – I’d never seen dancing like this anywhere before.
It was refined and understated, with the dancers using every part of their body to make the strict and precise movements. From their expression and eyes right down to their fingertips and toes, every move was calculated and rehearsed. At times, the minute movements looked deceptively easy but I’m sure the training for this form of dance takes years.
Although it doesn’t have sandy beaches and flashy nightclubs of Bali tourist hubs like Kuta, it is clear to see that Ubud is a busy tourist town. It’s hard to imagine it without all the spas, shops and trendy cafes, but when talking to locals, we were told how Ubud has changed drastically (and relatively recently) with the boom of tourism.
‘Before it was very small’, we heard time and time again. ‘It was a village with mainly dirt roads and not much traffic’.
I wondered if the people here were unhappy about the change in their environment (thinking about how development and change often brings out the worst in people at home), but this concern was greeted with smiles and we were told: ‘In Bali we are positive people. Yes the city is bigger, there is more traffic and more people, but there is a good side to everything bad. The tourists share their money with us – tourism has given many a new life. We also get to share our traditions, so everyone can learn about Bali and our culture. We are thankful for this.’
Obviously we have a lot to learn from the genuine positivity of the Balinese.