Arriving at Denpasar’s international airport, I didn’t notice much difference since the last time I was on the island some ten years ago.
The homespun style of the airport and warm smiles of the locals, even those touting taxis and money exchange make you realise you’ve arrived on a welcoming island.
I was eager to revisit Ubud, the creative heart of the island. It was during the journey there that i realised there had been a great deal of change over the last decade!
The traffic heading north from the airport towards Ubud, past the commercial and tourist bases of Jimbaran, Seminyak and Kuta was intense! Suzuki mini vans, 4x4s and mopeds all jostled for limited road space. Some of the water ways were contaminated and it was clear the island was struggling to deal with waste disposal, with occasional piles of rubbish along the roads.
Yet once we were 20 kms or so out of this small but densely populated area of the south, the calmer face of Bali began to emerge.
Lining the roads to Ubud are street side retailers selling everything that makes up the Balinese dream for tourist homes and resorts; intricately carved statues; huge Buddhas; fountains; pots; sub tropical plants; exquisite doors; hardwood furniture; daybeds…. the list is endless. The difference now is that almost all of this is available in Europe; we bought our Balinese daybed from the poligono in Marbella!
Ubud is no longer a village; it’s a busy tourist town, its streets packed with designer boutiques, craft shops, restaurants, bars, and massage salons. Its a hub for inland tourism, not just from Australia, Asia and Europe but for locals too who travel from the commercial south to enjoy a long weekend in this bohemian setting.
Ubud has a well established restaurant and bar scene with both informal and upscale venues.
We ate in one of the town’s established institutions; ‘Murni’s‘. Ni Wayan Murni has a gift shop out front and at the back, overlooking the steep river gorge is a restaurant, chill out lounge and bar. Food is excellent and I tried the popular Bali dish of slow smoked Duck with yellow rice.
Bud’s central market is crowded and foul smelling, and mainly sells mass produced rubbish, but the town still has a few genuine craftsmen and artists working and selling, although vintage and antique items are scarce now.
There are one or two fancy boutiques with amazing artefacts, ranging from vintage beaded bags from East Timor to carved statues; but the high prices and hassle of shipping makes shopping for this type if thing easier in Europe.
Parts of the original village remain, such as the complex of temples near the central cross roads; and charming details like the lotus garden pool.
The monkey forest remains and is an entertaining walk. We visited the monkey temple and happened to stumble across a local religious event with community women beautifully dressed bringing gifts in decorated baskets carried on their head.
A Balinese massage is an essential part of any visit and at about 10 euros is a fraction of the cost of the experience in a resort spa.
There are a few luxury resorts up in Ubud, but most stay in villas or stylish B&Bs called HomeStays.
The narrow lane to the villas was lined with small independent kiosks selling everything from snacks to small trays woven from leaves used by locals for placing gifts on the numerous altars.
Also there was the ubiquitous sight of old spirit bottles refilled with motorbike petrol for affordable resale to residents.
Even here rubbish was sadly piling up in streams and on river banks. In the past this was not an issue when everything was biodegradable but now with plastic bags and aerosols its a sad sight.
I was told that most rubbish is burnt by families – I saw some one burning their rubbish in the gutter.
Overtime surely this will be an issue with the environment – this certainly something the government has to sort out.
The island pace is slow and relaxing and everything revolves around respecting the gods they believe inhabit the intricate carved statues found everywhere. Homes, businesses and hotels all have altars and temples for daily offerings and regular rituals.
Even immigration officials each had a small basket on their desks with gifts for the deities, some more sophisticated than others.
This visit to Bali is all about relaxing; for an indulgent ten days in some wonderful resorts.
Let’s hope we’re sufficiently recharged for the next experience – India’s rich and colourful Golden Triangle.
(For this blog entry I used my iPhone for pictures using the Instagram filter – I hope makes it more interesting after the glossy brochure type pics of the resorts).