I swear, I didn’t even want to visit Bali after hearing all those tales. Some were predicting Apocalypse Now: “Bali is overrated, a Benidorm for Aussies, an Eat Pray Love theme park!” Others were promising Heaven on Earth: “A tropical paradise, with smily people and amazing sites.” What to do? Who to believe? Only one way to find out. We went straight to the spiritual heart of Bali: the sacred city of Ubud. And Lord, have mercy, for I have sinned.
- Considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins: the source of the others.
I can’t deny a certain vanity when booking Biyukukung Suite & Spa. Two blue pools are popping up in green rice fields. Our room is spacious, the bathroom covered in marble. Hello ego trip. Not featured on booking sites is an ugly Berlin Wall surrounding the rice fields. On the side, new bamboo bungalows are being built. Thank goodness, the project is nearly finished, so grinding wheels only scream occasionally.
The idyllic Monkey Forest is only a 10 minutes scroll away. After 2 years in Malaysia, the aggressive macaques have lost their comical appeal. Careless tourists are easy prey for these pickpockets of the animal kingdom. The monkeys are simply fearless and attack anything that looks, smells or tastes like food. Make sure they don’t take a bite of you, as they might have rabies. Selfie fundamentals - smiling, showing teeth, eye contact - might be seen as signs of aggression in the monkey world. Say Cheeeeese. NOT!
The park itself oozes an epic romanticism. Mystical dragons are guarding a bridge crossing a narrow gorge. The ancient monument is covered in a giant web of lianas. I recognise the same architect who created Angkor's signature look: nature. Tomb Raider needn’t look further for a sequel.
- Overindulgence and overconsumption to the point of waste. Includes the obsessive anticipation of meals, the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods.
There’s no shortage of food in Ubud. And the good news is: you can eat as much as you want. In this Bobo-land of eating, restaurants serve nothing but bio, macrobiotic or vegan. If your body is your temple, then worship it here:
In Jalan Monkey Forest, Watercress is one of those ‘m’as tu vu’ places with great coffee and clean food for a clean conscious.
Closer to the Royal Palace is Cafe Soma. The owner likes to compare Bali to the liver of the universe - referring to its ability to cleanse and regenerate itself. He sure cleansed my wallet of cash. One vegan cake, 1 coffee and 1 juice? That will be 125K. Namaste!
Better value and karma can be found in the parallel Jalan Sugriwa. Here you can eat without 10’000 scooters destroying your inner peace. A popular stop is Dayus Warung. Daya’s culinary journey took her from diabetes to health. The Red Rice Tropical salad and Quinoa Veggie Temple salad are excellent. The veggie burger is ‘revisité’ and ‘re-inventé’ into different piles of paste. The cakes have zero sugar, butter, fat and … taste.
A little further up the road is Warung Sopa. Vegan chefs broke their heads to turn tomatoes, beans and cucumber into je-ne-sais-quoi sushi. It’s like drinking non-alcoholic beer or smoking e-cigarettes. What’s the point? Just serve a salad.
If you had your share of Sun Energy juices, Satellite porridge and Green Dreams salads, there are still places where a curry egg sandwich is simply called curry egg sandwich. And even tastes like one. Harry is one of those brave souls who just dug out 8000 dollars to start his own restaurant: Coffee Bali Harum (Jln Raya Pengosekan). It’s a simple place, saved from hipster bull, new age kitsch and Ersatz-food. Heaven.
- Very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions.
To enter the Ubud Market, is to enter temptation. It’s amusing to see tourists checking sarongs they’ll never wear, chopsticks they’ll never use and music they’ll never listen to. My better half soon falls under the spell. For the next 3 days we try every possible sarong: traditional prints, modern patterns, psychedelic colorscapes, bright, dark, thick, thin … you name it. The selection process soon takes Anna Wintour proportions. Humanity is saved when the winning fabrics are found, just minutes before the deadline. I am close to committing another sin: wrath. But hey, a girl can never get enough bags, shoes … and sarongs.
- Physical and spiritual laziness. Has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do.
I’m becoming slow. I can’t be bothered to visit zillions of places. It’s already late afternoon when we pass by the Royal Palace. The setting sun paints a magic glow over the ancient walls. The courtyards don’t impose royal power, but are rather intimate and cosy. 200 meters further, 2 lotus ponds lead us to the Water Temple. A labyrinth of courtyards, gardens and statues takes us into a Balinese trance. It’s like walking into a postcard. Over the next couple of days, we’ll pass many of these places. In business lingo, they’d say the architecture is very ‘consistent’ - in normal language: ‘the same old thing.’
- Uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger, also known as rage.
We decide to book a private taxi (475K/all day - 150K/person with bus) to visit a number of classic sites. And soon I’m confronted with the wrath of the 21st century: road rage. It takes us 1.5 hours of tiny roads to reach the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. The scene is spectacular but the long journey left me with a Santiago de Compostela feeling. I was once told that most pilgrims expect the cathedral to be bigger after that endless Camino. I share a similar disappointment. I wish we had booked a guesthouse here to fully grasp the scale of this magnificent Unesco site.
It’s another hour’s drive to reach the next Kodak Moment: the Mengwi Royal Temples. Click-clack! 20 minutes later we’re back on the road for what I expect to be the ultimate tourist trap: Tanah Lot at sunset. There’s no escape. It’s like the Mermaid, Leaning Tower and Manneke Pis statue. If you go, you’re disappointed. If you don’t go, you’ll feel guilty for the rest of your life. I expect the worse. And yes, the temple itself is tiny, but the natural setting is mind-blowing. I soon ignore the thousands of tourists sitting like ants on the beach. Big waves crash against the rocks. The sunset is spectacular, the scene almost serene. I love it so much, I forget we still have another 1.5 hours back to Ubud ahead. Ahhhh.
- I’m sure you know what that means.
One hour of spanking and rubbing, while wearing transparent knickers? No honey, it’s not what you think it is. We simply have signed up for a Balinese massage session (75K/one hour). It’s supposed to be a combination of “gentle stretches, acupressure, reflexology and aromatherapy - creating a full-body, deep-tissue, holistic treatment.” Basically, a lot of fancy words to describe a bit of poking and rubbing, while listening to some new age muzak. It’s not unpleasant. But totally un-memorable.
Apart from the faux lingerie, obviously.
- Similar to jealousy - feeling discontent towards someone's traits, status, abilities, or rewards.
I’m overwhelmed by envy as we drive to the airport. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better introduction to Bali. The best way to end 18 great days in Indonesia. How I wish we had an extra week. I envy my German friends traveling for 6 months. I envy all those bloggers who can travel forever. I envy all the students who still have an entire life in front of them. But I’m also happy about the trip. I may have committed 7 deadly sins in Ubud. But the biggest sin would have been to skip Bali.