Bali – Tranquil Escape or Just Another Tourist Trap?

After our crazy transportation day from Singapore to Bali, Amanda and I had three nights booked in Ubud, Bali, which is supposed to be the most tranquil, relaxing, and lush towns on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Our room at Nick’s Pension was basic but clean and inexpensive, and the property was a gorgeous setting of rice fields, palm trees and lotus flowers. Small lizards and frogs were constant companions on our walk to and from our bungalow. The pool was surrounded by more palm trees and flowers, and the sound of the fountain trickling into the pool completed the relaxing atmosphere.

Bali temple
Bali temple

Exploring Ubud, Bali

After having our complimentary breakfast, we set out to wander through town on our first full day in Ubud. We passed many upscale restaurants, convenience stores, and shops selling “typical” Balinese items such as sarongs, wood carvings, and bags along with T-shirts, shoes and key chains. We inquired at several restaurants before finding a cooking class that was available for the next day at a place called Bumi Bali.

We tried chili chocolate ice cream, which was so delicious we had more the next day. However, the olive oil and rosemary ice cream was not good. Amanda also enjoyed a scoop of avocado chocolate chip while I had a scoop of caramel to compliment my chili chocolate. For lunch and dinner, we had amazing meals at restaurants set in elaborate gardens and the prices were incredibly cheap.

Is Ubud a tourist trap?

Among all of the beauty were loads of souvenir shops, taxi drivers touting their services every 10 yards, and enough tourists to overshadow any sense of real everyday Balinese life. It felt a bit contrived, though it does help to know how to avoid the crowds in Bali.

The tranquility we’d been told to expect seemed to only exist in the artificial settings of the restaurants we dined in and the spa where we got $10 (not so great) pedicures. We even went to a traditional Balinese dance performance that was so bad we walked out halfway through.

The majority of the town seemed to be set up specifically with tourists in mind, which was kind of disappointing. I understand the appeal of shopping when you travel, whether it’s because of better prices or you want something as a souvenir to remember the trip, but buying things has never been my motivation for traveling.

Bali, Indonesia rice terraces

Rice terraces and coffee

On our last day in Ubud, we decided to try one of the many taxi drivers standing on the side of the street. We told him we wanted to see some rice terraces that were north of town, and then we wanted to go to the port to catch a ferry to Lombok. His charge was 250,000 Rupiah, which is about US$28.

The first set of rice terraces he took us to were really pretty. But then he told us about an agro-tourism place nearby that produces Kopi Luwak. The coffee beans are produced when an animal called a civet eats coffee berries, and the beans work their way through the animal’s digestive tract and come out at the other end. It’s said to be the most expensive coffee in the world.

So our driver took us there, where we tried this rare coffee (I wasn’t a fan, but Amanda liked it) along with several other types of coffee, tea and hot chocolate. As a bonus, there was an absolutely gorgeous view of more rice terraces. It was probably the highlight of our stay in Ubud.

civet - the animal that craps out coffee beans
civet – the animal that craps out coffee beans

I think if I had gone to Ubud expecting to stay at a luxurious resort and be pampered for a few days, I would’ve enjoyed my time there a lot more. But I also think that’s something you can do almost anywhere and doesn’t necessarily show you much of the local culture. I can definitely understand the appeal of all the luxury at a fraction of the cost, so for a different type of trip, this is somewhere I would seriously consider returning.

Have you been to Bali? What did you think of it?

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