There are some places in the world that captivate you beyond your control, luring you in with their scents, their tastes – even their sounds. Whether it’s the culture, the scenery or simply the way they make you feel, these places take hold and beg you to stay. When you’re forced to go, they send out their whispers in the wind telling you to return again soon. And like a faithful sailor, you always will. The allure is too strong to even slightly consider not going back for more.
Ubud, Bali is one of those magical places for me every 20-something white girl that’s read or seen Eat, Pray, Love. Ha, but as cliché as it’s become, there’s still an undeniable energy to this town that forces you to slow down and get in touch with your spiritual self. Most of my Bangkok girls have done a solo trip to Bali at one point or another and we all come back with the same glow that this otherworldly oasis delivers.
As the cultural and spiritual center of Bali, read on to discover what makes Ubud so alluring…
The Yoga Barn
Overlooking a lush green garden and Balinese-style thatched huts, The Yoga Barn is an open-air yoga studio focused on holistic healing practices. Built up on wooden stilts, it is a sanctuary full of incredible people focused on bettering their minds, bodies and spirits. Here you can discover everything from Tibetan bowl meditation to ass-kicking vinyasa flow classes.
Want to learn how to make your own probiotic and fermented foods or unravel the secrets to inversions? The Yoga Barn’s got you covered with a range of monthly workshops. And if that wasn’t enough, the in-store merchandise supports local products and designs, while the whole staff is Balinese besides some foreign instructors.
The on-site Garden Kafé offers more health foods than I’ve ever even heard of, so head here for all your raw, macrobiotic, Ayurvedic, vegan and vegetarian needs.
Beyond yoga and meditation classes, The Yoga Barn is most famous for its Ecstatic Dance classes. Forget structured choreography and get ready to dance your heart out in this free-form movement class. Offered every Friday night and Sunday afternoon, this class invites anyone and everyone to let loose and set the soul free through dance.
This was one of the most liberating activities I’ve ever been a part of. Sometimes I felt self conscious, but then I’d look over and see the others letting their bodies go so freely and completely ~ the white-haired grandma getting it in teal pants and matching sports bra. The primitively beautiful woman breastfeeding her baby on the dance floor. The bald man with ballet moves like a boss. The wacky dreadlocks guy humping the air in tight purple striped shorts. It pushed me to dance even harder, connecting with the strangers around me through song and dance with no room for judgment.
As our instructor Charlie said, “Just dance with each other! It’s not like you have to snog that person. You don’t have to marry them or have them be the carrier of your unborn child. You’re just connecting for a moment in time.”
At the end, we all sat in a circle and held hands. Charlie was at a loss for words from the magnitude of it all, so instead we sounded our voices together for one resounding Om ~ the perfect, the completion. ॐ
Good-For-You Food Everywhere
Even when you’re outside the healthy bubble of The Yoga Barn, it’s easy to find good-for-you food all over Ubud. Fresh-pressed juice, massive salad bars and kombucha are the norm, while vegan sweets are everywhere when you need to indulge your sweet tooth.
If you try just one health-food café, make it Alchemy. The raw breakfast bar (7am-11am) and salad bar (11am-9pm) are absolutely insane, offering all the superfoods you need to jumpstart your day. Other great options include: The Seeds of Life, Betelnut Cafe (get your acai bowl fix here), Seniman (for coffee lovers), Kafe Ubud, Wayan’s Juice Bar, The Elephant and Sari Organik (you can even pick your own vegetables straight from the garden at this restaurant in the rice terraces!).
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
You can’t think of Bali without picturing its vibrant, sprawling rice terraces. Located just 30 minutes north of Ubud, Tegallalang is a great place to get lost in a sea of green. Follow the zig-zag paths through the rice paddies and feel the awakening energy buzzing from the plants surrounding you. In my experience, it’s best to go in the late afternoon to avoid crowds.
If you go by motorbike, you can also stop off at the art shops along the way to get an overview of the local handicrafts and pick up some of your own artsy adornments.
Balinese Temples and Shrines
I found myself so entranced by Bali’s stunning Hindu structures ~ also known as puras. The country has more than 10,000 religious compounds to discover, all much different than the Buddhist structures you find throughout the rest of the region.
To fit in as many puras as possible, motorbike really is the best way to get around (everywhere in Asia in my opinion!), especially since the villages surrounding Ubud are home to some of the most beautiful ones. Most puras are free to visit and usually offer sarongs for cover if you aren’t dressed in temple attire.
The name Ubud itself comes from the Balinese word Ubad, which means medicine. The area has long been thought to hold extraordinary healing powers ~ an idea that stems from an Indian man named Rsi Markandya, who was said to have discovered these healing properties in a vision on his journey through Ubud. Today, many foreigners flock to the island for their own wellness journey ~ a task that’s made all too easy with the abundance of spa treatments, holistic health practitioners and mystical workshops.
For traditional Balinese and other types of massages, Starchild is your one-stop shop. Often touted for having the “best massages in Bali,” you’re sure to find ultimate relaxation here. Nur Salon is all about the art of herbology and traditional herbal medicine, while Liyer’s Spa offers everything from palm reading and Balinese astrology to regular beauty and body treatments and Ayurvedic rejuvenation.
Check out Bali Spirit for everything there is to know about holistic Bali.
Next time I go to Ubud, I’ll be sure to have an entire budget for shopping. The boho boutiques lining the streets are my sartorial dreams come true. Monkey Forest Road is scattered with more high-end shops, while Jalan Dewista and Jalan Honoman offer more budget-friendly options with a mix of market stalls, unique independent stores and quiet, shaded cafés.
Some of my favorites included women’s clothing boutique Live To Love, essential oil heaven Blue Stone Botanicals and Ganesha Bookshop. And don’t miss the Ubud Art Market to discover the heart and soul of the town. Just be sure to have your bartering skills ready!
WHERE TO STAY
Made famous as one of the healers Elizabeth Gilbert visited in Eat, Pray, Love, and again by Julia Roberts in the movie adaptation, Mr. Liyer is an aging medicine man with a gorgeous homestay just outside Ubud’s city center. I didn’t really want to give into all the hype of the book/movie, but after looking through the photos on Airbnb, I knew Liyer House needed to be my home base in Ubud.
I loved catching the sunrise over the pool and palms every morning before yoga and enjoying leisurely breakfasts in the little cabanas while catching up on work. Although it was a little out of town, I highly recommend this place to anyone looking for a quiet respite and peaceful place to just be. As always, I suggest getting a motorbike, but you can also catch the free shuttle twice a day to get around.
Situated next to The Yoga Barn, Ubud Aura Retreat Centre is a combination hotel and spa that offers retreats in association with Ubud Bodyworks Centre and Ashram Munivara. The tranquil grounds instantly make you feel at peace, while the pool, yoga room and spa invite you to relax and unwind with pure healing energy. At $60 a night, it’s a bit more expensive than other options in town, but the charming décor and soothing ambience confirm it’s money well spent.
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