In the colourful outskirts of Ubud, you can discover sacred temples of ancient deities, waterfalls and evergreen rice terraces, as well as smiley-eyed locals ready to sell you handmade Balinese goods – think traditional oil paintings, cotton sarongs and wood-carved Buddhas.
Bali doesn’t really do ‘tours’ in the traditional sense – it’s more find a driver you trust (by booking at your hotel, taking a traveller recommendation or having your friend who speaks Bahasa suss them out on the street), hire them for a day or half day, and tell them where you want to go (and don’t forget to take suggestions, as they have all the mad local knowledge). Simple.
So, on my last full day in Bali (I had a red eye flight out of Denpasar that evening), I took off with my two new Californian friends (who, funnily enough, were in Bali because one won the Price Is Right and 6 nights in Bali was one of the prizes) with our trusty driver Nyomen for a day of exploring. I had the sacred water temple in my sights, but first stop was Goa Gajah – the Elephant Cave (which we thought might have real elephants, and for the record does not have real elephants).
Goa Gujah was excavated only in the 1950s, but is believed to date back to the 11th century. The Elephant Cave is covered in many an intimidating demon carving, but inside this dark cavernous space, there is a statue of the elephant god Ganesha, which is where the cave got its name. You are invited to wash your face in the fountains of a sacred pool, and wander through the grounds to see further pools and crumbled Hindu statues.
Inscriptions at Tirta Empul have it dating back to 926 AD. It is believed to have been created by the god Indra and have healing powers and the touch of immortality. The sacred rectangular bathing pools have crystal clear water streaming from a line of fountains, under which devotees have been tipping their heads for over a thousand years. In the waters you will also find flower petals, coy fish and giggling children, clinging to their mothers, fingers reaching for the flowing fountains.
The roads back to central Ubud lead through stepping green fields of rice, fringed by palm trees.
We finished up a steamy day of touring about at famed Ubud warung (meaning small restaurant of cafe) Naughty Nuri’s (located on Jl Raya Sanggingan) – of which Anthony Bourdain says only a few New York establishments have a better martini. Not being one for white spirits though, I had Bali’s premier beer Bintang and enjoyed a delicious chicken burger (ribs are also the specialty raved about here).
And did I mention it was steamy?! The rainy season was still yet to yield any rain. I hope to visit Indonesia next time after the rainy season, as the rice fields post-rain must be so lush and vibrant.
Have you been to Ubud at a different time of year? What was it like? Or did you visit other sites we should know about? Please leave some tips in the comments below!
Want more? Check out my Wanderlust on Bondi Beach Radio Bali Special, which includes loads of great interviews from this trip to Bali and an accompanying soundtrack!