Have you ever yearned to go somewhere so badly, visualized it for years, had high expectations, and then became totally disappointed when you realized it wasn't the enchanting place you dreamt of? So, sadly, that's Bali for me, specifically Ubud.
I have a running list of "Do Over Destination" going. A list of places I've gone and would totally go back to again. And then there's the "One and Done Destinations" list. Ubud, and Bali in general made it onto the second list even though I absolutely loved the SCUBA diving in Bali.
Something really, ridiculously amazing would have to come my way to go back there for redemption, like another yoga teacher training course, or a free trip (I can dream, right?). If you're planning a trip to Bali, please don't allow this rant to totally deter you. But please read, and maybe, possibly, lower your Eat,Pray,Love expectations a smidge.
Disenchantment in Ubud
When we arrived in polluted Ubud, I wanted to taste the freedom of the open road and rented a pink scooter right away. And that's when my disenchantment set in. The roads in Ubud are crazy and intimidating, which I was not expecting at all. Most are narrow and one-way only, with motorbikes scooting along the gutters into oncoming traffic.
Unlike Chiang Mai, Thailand, that has wide two-laned one-ways with ample turn-arounds and options for getting where you need to go, in Ubud if you miss your turn you’re screwed. Driving in Ubud fried my nerves a little bit. I’m surprised I only cried once. #winningbutstilllosing
The sheer surprise of my disappointment with Ubud made me feel guilty, like such a stuck up, ungrateful, out-of-my-mind, spoiled California girl. But damn it, I was visualizing something epic, and I'm not a travel newbie.
After reading Eat,Pray,Love and seeing the movie, and hearing over a dozen friends talk about this place and how much they LOVE it (friends who I trust their taste in life), I was expecting something…different. And so it’s true: expectation is the mother of disappointment. Damn it!
Don't worry, I get to what I did like about Ubud a little further down.
Upon investigating my feelings, I came up with two reasons why I feel this way. Number one, I think I’d like Ubud more if I had more money. Turns out there’s not a lot to do here, but there’s a lot to buy.
Shopping is doing, so I guess some people keep themselves real busy when they come here. There are so many art shops, tourist shops, sculpture shops, restaurants, and bars. And the locals are aggressive, which is always a turn off. Not as aggressive as in Kuta thankfully, but not respectful like they are in Rishikesh, India
As a yoga teacher, I was pretty excited to experience the yoga culture in Bali. There’s a few yoga studios in Ubud, and it's a big part of the tourist market. The main studio, and hub of the yoga vibe here, Yoga Barn is run by Americans. Yawn.
Yoga Barn was so incredibly hard to find I missed two classes that I set out for because I got lost, twice! Not their fault, but definitely not a +1 for yoga in Ubud. And the one time we actually got our shit together to make it to a class, a Tibetan singing bowl meditation, we were told to get there an hour early in order to get a spot. The class was worth attending, but not worth the extra one-hour wait, honestly.
The Food in Ubud
Despite a bajillion (that's an exact number) shops everywhere, my biggest disappointment was that there’s virtually no street food vendors. Getting a meal means sitting down at a restaurant and being served. A big part of my desired experience when I travel (and how I keep the costs down, of course) is eating at local food stalls. In Bali, I sure missed the cheap, fresh, and quick street stalls in Thailand!
We were given two specific recommendations of what to eat in Ubud: Crispy Duck and Ibu Oka.
Crispy duck is a specialty of the area and very popular with tourists. The restaurant was gorgeous. Probably the prettiest indoor/outdoor restaurant I've been to. Unfortunately the food was nothing special.
We got their famous, highly recommended dish that turned out to be a single piece of (overly) deep fried duck with cold french fries. It was like KFC, but KFD. There wasn’t much meat for the non-budget price. Oh well, at least we tried it.
We also sought out Ibu Oka upon recommendation from a cab driver we met in Kuta, oddly enough. He spoke very highly of suckling pig (babi guling) soup with fresh pig blood. I was intrigued and really wanted to try it.
The place he told us to go turned out to be a killer location over looking the jungle but when we went they didn't have lawar, the blood soup. I was bummed, but ordered the babi guling sampler plate and was very happy. Lots of crispy pig skin and even a “sausage” filled with organ meat (that was black and gross). Not a budget priced meal, but worth it.
What I Liked About Ubud
Ok, here’s what I do like about Ubud: the artistry. Every corner, every crevice, every structure is built like a piece of art. Every home is a temple. The architecture is gorgeous. It’s lush, even though it's a bustling and polluted city. All the shops sell goods I would love to adorn my home with and look at everyday.
Our guesthouse was also amazing. We stayed at Sharma Guesthouse.
It was a little more expensive than I would have liked to have paid (about $20 a night) as a budget traveler though. The grounds were awesome, and the owners were hospitable. We were very comfortable sitting in our hammock and eating breakfast on the little porch watching the rain.
I liked that there was a monkey forest to visit in town, even as touristy as it was. And because of our experience I don't really like monkeys anymore. They're smart, devious, vicious little shits who will attack and steal from humans.
I've always tried to stay away from them in my travels, but here we were buying bananas to feed them. It's scary when their conditioning causes them to lunge at you with teeth out!
Final thought: Despite my gripes, which I can't help but be honest about, we liked Ubud and are glad we experienced it.