Ubud injects realness into Bali holiday
whole wedding possible – http://www.batiksolo.city/. There’s nothing like a rowdy sacrificial rooster and some fat squealing piglets to wipe thoughts of poolside cocktails from your mind.
After a week immersed in Bali’s sun-drenched coastal club scene, we have escaped to the island’s cultural capital Ubud for a healthy dose of real local life.
Just two hours after unloading our bags at Four Seasons in Sayan, we’re scrambling through the jungle with hotel guide Wayan, not a Bintang t-shirt or infinity pool in sight.
Ubud, a one-hour drive from the heaving streets of Kuta and Seminyak, offers much that the busy coastal centres cannot.
First up, it’s positively peaceful.
From our lush Four Seasons villa, we see nothing but a vista of tropical jungle nestled against the Agung River. There’s not a smelly scooter or tourist bus in sight. Instead motorised golf buggies quietly whisk guests between their ultra private abodes and the grand stylised pavilion that is the resort’s central hub.
Then there’s the cultural exposure. Without the city bustle, it’s easier to get a taste of real Balinese life, as the hotel’s free village tour makes immediately apparent.
Just a few turns into the jungle and we encounter a row of roosters crowing fiercely inside cages.
“For eggs?” I ask naively, not seeing the cockerels’ spiky red comb between the bamboo bars.
“Cockfighting,” Wayan says brightly, before describing the ancient religious purification ritual still popular in Balinese Hinduism.
Flicking his fingers upwards to depict splurting, our guide explains how the blood lost from the weaker rooster is an offering to keep evil spirits at bay.
“Their blood keeps us safe,” he says matter-of-factly.
We cross to a rutted village track where our close encounters continue, this time a stall of piglets being fattened for Babi Guling, the region’s famed dish of whole roasted suckling pig.
We find a cacao tree, the source of all things chocolate, and watch in awe as monkeys leap through the vines above our heads. Stray dogs shelter from the heat and a group of men gather to cut down young coconuts.
This morning stroll has shown us far more real Bali life than a whole week spent poolside in Seminyak.
On the return leg, we stop by a local house where an elderly woman toils over a huge pot in soot-smeared kitchen.
“Rice and curry,” she says when I ask what’s on the menu. Wayan laughs. “No surprise there. Rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, rice for dinner. And dessert, rice pudding!”
Indeed, rice is not just a food staple but an integral part of the Balinese culture. And there’s nowhere better than Ubud to see that on show. Beautifully-sculpted rice field terraces are never far from view, each ceremoniously planted, perfectly irrigated and harvested in an age-old system dating back to the 11th century.
Back at our resort, we try our hand at planting, digging our bare heels into thick mud and bending down to press clumps of young stems into the paddy. Ketut, a local farmer-turned-guide, smiles encouragingly at our wobbly rice rows. He’s being polite, of course. He plants with a stealth-like speed and artistic flair that makes our efforts laughable.
With creativity on full display in the rice fields, we weren’t surprised to see it offered up in other guises everywhere else we looked in Ubud.
Arts and craft are the region’s other big drawcard, with lovingly-decorated shrines and handicraft stores dotted streets around the town.
Galleries tout the wares of local artists, while other artisans offer classes to tourists keen to learn their trade.
For our arty fling, we enlist the help of batik artist Nyoman to try our hand at creating a colourful sarong in the traditional Balinese style.
It’s quickly apparent we’re not creating any masterpieces here but the process of scraping out a design and carefully tracing it with hot wax melted over a small fire is one of our most memorable yet. Nyoman’s wife offers an encouraging “you good”, occasionally tut-tutting when I veer off track.
I might be making beachwear but this experience, like the rest of our time in Ubud, couldn’t be further from sun-baking and cocktail-swilling. And our Balinese holiday is all the better for it.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: The flight time between Sydney and Denpasar, Bali, is six hours. Virgin Australia offers 45 direct flights each week departing from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Port Hedland and Sydney. Visit virginaustralia.com.au. Ubud is a one-hour taxi ride from Denpasar airport.
STAYING THERE: Four Seasons at Sayan offers luxury accommodation. A family of four can stay in a one-bedroom duplex suite for $US490 ($A530) per night plus taxes. Visit website
PLAYING THERE: The hotel can organise a free tour of local Sayan village. Visit Batik artist Nyoman for a sarong painting lesson for 200,000 rupiah ($A18) per person per hour. The resort is a 15-minute shuttle from Ubud town. Visit Mozaic Restaurant, on Jalan Raya Sanggingan, for the best fine dining experience in town. The Elephant Safari Park is well worth a visit. Feed, ride and observe 30 Sumatran elephants in a lush tropical park. Phone +62 361 8988888 for details.
* The writer travelled as a guest of Four Seasons at Sayan.