After a quiet week in North Bali, the car ride into Ubud foreshadowed what lay ahead for the next leg of our trip: crowds and crowded streets. There’s an abundance of yoga studios, juice bars and trendy coffee shops filled with “tech nomads“. For regular tourists, there’s a Starbucks on the main drag a block away from the Ubud Palace, along with an array of farm-to-table plant-based dining options to fit any aspiring yogi’s diet.
Taking it all in after days of rustic, small-town ease was a shock to the system. On the surface, Ubud – Bali’s cultural center – was fashionably dressed in all the trappings of the ‘conscious’ Western lifestyle, but if you know where to look, you’ll see that the character and culture of the place remains intact despite the hordes of tourists and Westerners who’ve settled there. Case in point: the Ubud Market. Depending on the time of day, you’ll either be presented with fellow tourists looking to score bargains on art pieces or get swept up with hordes of locals haggling with vendors as they shop for the day’s groceries. You could also spend your days browsing the endless rows of shops in the heart of town, punctuating the schedule with massages and spa treatments, or rent a scooter and head out of town to explore historic temples. If you do, I highly recommend a pit-stop at Pura Tirta Empul in Tampaksiring. Constructed around a sacred spring that is believed to be of mythical origins and it’s still an active temple despite being practically ancient.
Our time in Bali taught me a valuable lesson when it comes to travelling: even highly popular tourist destinations have surprises lying beneath the surface if you’re willing to take the unconventional route and carve out your own itinerary. The time in Ubud revealed a vibrant culture firmly rooted in tradition and history, yet flexible and accommodating of foreign influences. Quintessentially Balinese.