ubud

Bali Then and Now

In the post-Eat Pray Love world, Bali has lost a bit of its charm. Ubud has become a more congested tourism hotspot, but parts of the island remain a paradise on Earth.

Bali then: Malcolm and Wally at Tirta Gangga’s lotus fountain in 2001  Bali now: The royal water garden has been renovated and is much more crowded

Bali then: Malcolm and Wally at Tirta Gangga’s lotus fountain in 2001

Bali now: The royal water garden has been renovated and is much more crowded

We had been planning the trip to Bali for half a year. And then, less than two weeks before we were set to leave, 9/11 rocked our world. The entire country was in a daze. Americans had been living in a  bubble of isolation, of false protection, thinking that our global actions wouldn’t have severe repercussions. And the idea of an attack on our own turf was incomprehensible. But then the World Trade Center towers fell, and that bubble popped horrifically and unexpectedly that morning in September.

The United States, so often a place of optimism, had turned utterly depressing. I eagerly grasped at the chance to escape the overwhelming malaise. “I’m still going to Bali,” I told my travel companions.

“I reserve the right to back out, even up to the last minute,” my friend Christina told me. It probably didn’t help that she was unnecessarily taking malaria pills at the time, which can induce paranoia as a side effect.

We were able to flee a country at a desperate time, and instead explore a vibrant culture on a tropical isle halfway around the world.

Bali shimmers in my memory as a paradise on Earth.

When the day came, Christina and her then-husband Malcolm joined me at O’Hare in Chicago. The airport had only recently reopened, and everyone still seemed scared to fly. The corridors were empty. I felt fatalistic, numb. It was difficult to care what happened, but I was willing to take the risk.

I decided to bleach my hair before our trip to Bali back in 2001. Here Malcolm and I tried posing as Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice

I decided to bleach my hair before our trip to Bali back in 2001. Here Malcolm and I tried posing as Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice

And here I am, 17 years later, back on Bali, this time making a point to visit the gorgeous Tegalalang Rice Terrace

And here I am, 17 years later, back on Bali, this time making a point to visit the gorgeous Tegalalang Rice Terrace

What ended up happening was that we were able to flee a country at a desperate time, and instead explore a vibrant culture on a tropical isle halfway around the world. It was just what the doctor ordered, and I recall that trip, back in 2001, as one of the best of my life. Bali shimmers in my memory as a paradise on Earth.

So I was eager to share the magic of Bali with my husband, Duke. We had visited other parts of Southeast Asia, our favorite region on the planet, and I decided it was time I returned to Bali.

Here are some ruminations on my experiences on this one-of-a-kind Indonesian island 17 years ago and how it differed on our recent trip.

Bali then: We passed by the Saraswati Temple every time we left our hotel

Bali then: We passed by the Saraswati Temple every time we left our hotel

Bali now: One thing hasn’t changed — the Saraswati Temple is still the centerpiece of Ubud

Bali now: One thing hasn’t changed — the Saraswati Temple is still the centerpiece of Ubud

For one thing, the city of Ubud has grown exponentially. When I was here before, I remember it being a sleepy little town, with one main drag. We would wander into town in the morning, find a driver parked along the side of the road, negotiate a day rate and hop in. We would say, “Take us to a cool Hindu temple and an art village.” I don’t recall us ever having a set itinerary; we put ourselves entirely in our driver’s hands.

We did take some farther-afield trips, tourist attractions two hours or so away. Of course back then it might not have taken so long because the traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as it is now.

Traffic has gotten a lot worse on Bali, from motorbikes to construction vehicles

Traffic has gotten a lot worse on Bali, from motorbikes to construction vehicles

Speaking of traffic, there are certain stretches of the small winding two-lane roads where traffic becomes impassable. A lot of it has to do with the construction vehicles that are all over the place now as the city and the island itself gets built up more and more.

Last time, we stayed at cheap villas with hand-carved teak details for about $15 a night. This time, we went for a luxury resort

Last time, we stayed at cheap villas with hand-carved teak details for about $15 a night. This time, we went for a luxury resort

Beggars now plead for money in parts of Ubud. We didn’t see any homeless in the streets in Ubud on our trip 17 years ago. But there were plenty of signs of poverty in the small city of Kuta, which is popular with Aussie surfers. (This was part of reason I had zero desire to go back to Kuta on this trip. If you’re going to visit a tropical paradise, why surround yourself with the filth of a city?)

You don’t see a lot of people begging for money in Ubud, but we did see about 10 the five or so days we were there. In fact, one homeless woman was holding up her young daughter as she squatted over an open sewer grate to take a dump.

When we visited temples in 2001, there weren’t many other tourists, and locals would dress us in sarongs, sashes around our waists and headdresses

When we visited temples in 2001, there weren’t many other tourists, and locals would dress us in sarongs, sashes around our waists and headdresses

A lot of the handicraft items were no longer anywhere to be found. When I was here before, there were certain items that lined stalls in every market you visited but had, for some reason, vanished: shadow puppets, wooden frog instruments, blow dart guns, hand-carved chess sets, colorful kites in the shape of ships and the wavy ceremonial daggers called kris.

The only time I saw Western toilets on Bali in 2001 was at hotels (usually series of bare-bones but dirt-cheap villas). This sticker showing people how to use them — don’t squat right on the seat! — never failed to amuse me

The only time I saw Western toilets on Bali in 2001 was at hotels (usually series of bare-bones but dirt-cheap villas). This sticker showing people how to use them — don’t squat right on the seat! — never failed to amuse me

Last time I was here, you literally only found Western toilets at your lodging. In fact, they had stickers on them to tell people who are unfamiliar that you shouldn’t squat on top of the seat. This time there was only one bathroom I went into where there was traditional Balinese toilet, which is really ceramic hole in the ground with treads for your feet. You “flush” your waste by dipping a plastic pot or bucket into the garbage can filled with water.

A Balinese cockfight from the late 1950s

A Balinese cockfight from the late 1950s

When I visited last time, Ubud felt more like a traditional village. One afternoon we wandered behind a temple and stumbled upon a cockfight. We had heard about this popular pastime and stopped to watch. A group of men waved bills, placing bets on their favored bird.

Each contestant held his prized cock and tied triangular razor blades to the back of its leg, just above the talons. Everyone gathered in a circle, the roosters were released, and they flew at each other in a puff of dust. In the blink of any eye, one of the poor birds had fallen to the ground and lay there, dead.

It struck us as extremely anticlimactic. I imagined the roosters circling each other like boxers or sumo wrestlers, making parries and retreats. But no. It was over in about a second.

A man told us that we the rooster would be eaten as an offering at the temple. He said this almost apologetically, I imagined, to justify this violent pastime — though I probably imposed that sense of guilt upon him. To him, it was just a way of life. –Wally

Everyone gathered in a circle, the roosters were released, and they flew at each other in a puff of dust.

In the blink of any eye, one of the poor birds had fallen to the ground and lay there, dead.

Weird Bali: 7 Crazy Balinese Customs

Cat poop coffee, temples of death and Balinese names are a few of the unusual aspects of Bali culture.

What makes islands so interesting is that they act as closed environments and often adopt their own distinct cultures. It’s curious that Bali is a Hindu island in the midst of the most populous Muslim nation in the world. Its unique religion permeates daily life.

Here’s a sampling of seven unusual things we observed or learned about on our trip to Bali.

The passage of the beans through the civet’s digestive tract, pressed against their anal scent glands makes the resulting coffee to die for.
Kopi luwak, made from the excrement of a cute wild cat, has become a craze. But we recommend boycotting it

Kopi luwak, made from the excrement of a cute wild cat, has become a craze. But we recommend boycotting it

1. A popular coffee on Bali is made from animal poop — and it’s the most expensive coffee on Earth.

Known as kopi luwak, this is essentially coffee beans that have been eaten, digested and shat out by the palm civet, a cute animal that looks like a cross between a wild cat and a mongoose. You’ll see signs for kopi luwak all over Bali, and Duke and I were like, no thank you. The British couple next to us at dinner one night said they quite enjoyed it, though, that the beans were a honeyed color, that the coffee was smooth, and they’d have gotten some if it wasn’t so bloody expensive.

Many poor civets are kept in cages and mistreated to make sure there’s a steady supply of luwak coffee

Many poor civets are kept in cages and mistreated to make sure there’s a steady supply of luwak coffee

Civets are shy, nocturnal creatures that roam coffee plantations at night, eating ripe coffee cherries. They can’t digest the pits, or beans, and poop them out. Somehow locals got it into their heads that the passage through the civet’s digestive tract, pressed against their anal scent glands, somehow makes the resulting coffee to die for.

One of the many places we were offered civet shit coffee. We declined each time

One of the many places we were offered civet shit coffee. We declined each time

What’s sad, though, is that the novelty of kopi luwak has turned into a booming industry, with many coffee farms mistreating the animals. They “suffer greatly from the stress of being caged in proximity to other luwaks, and the unnatural emphasis on coffee cherries in their diet causes other health problems too; they fight among themselves, gnaw off their own legs, start passing blood in their scats, and frequently die,” writes Tony Wild, the man who blames himself for bringing the kopi luwak craze to the West, in The Guardian. Treating an animal like that is just crappy.

There’s a very good chance that half the people in this photo are named Wayan. Seriously!

There’s a very good chance that half the people in this photo are named Wayan. Seriously!

2. All the kids have the same names, depending on their birth order.

As you become acquainted with more and more Balinese locals, you’ll notice something strange: They all seem to have the same name. And it’s not just that certain names are popular, like John and Jennifer in the States — there literally seem to be only a few names on the island to choose from. As bizarre as that seems, that is indeed the tradition on Bali.

In most cases, Balinese parents from the lower caste (that is to say, most of the population) give their children the same names, depending on their birth order — whether or not they’re boys or girls. Firstborns are named Wayan, Putu or Gede; the second-born is Made or Kadek; the third-born is Nyoman or Komang; and the fourth-born is Ketut. What happens if you have five kids? The cycle repeats itself, with the addition of Balik. So the fifth-born would be Waylan Balik, which basically means Waylan Returns.

You’ll meet tons of Wayans and Mades (this last one is pronounced Mah-deh), so how do people know who’s who? Most Balinese add a nickname or middle name. Our driver, for instance, was Made Ada.

Temples of death on Bali feature frightening statues out front

Temples of death on Bali feature frightening statues out front

3. Every village has at least one temple of death.

Known as pura dalem, every village has at least one death temple, often located in the lowest part of town, facing the sea, which is considered the gateway to the underworld. Bodies are buried in the nearby cemetery, awaiting the purification of a cremation ceremony. Pura dalem, not surprisingly, are typically dedicated to the most gruesome gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon: Shiva the Destroyer, Kali, Durga or Rangda.

Many temples of death are dedicated to the demoness Rangda, who has a long tongue, droopy breasts, phallic dreadlocks and a fondness for eating babies

Many temples of death are dedicated to the demoness Rangda, who has a long tongue, droopy breasts, phallic dreadlocks and a fondness for eating babies

Monstrous demonic statues line the entrance — many featuring bulging bug eyes, fierce fangs and large, saggy breasts. Some hold innocent babies in their arms as they stand atop a pile of skulls. These serve as a vivid reminders of what awaits the wicked.



The only thing that would make Duke and Wally even more macho than these sarongs is if they had flowers behind their ears, too

The only thing that would make Duke and Wally even more macho than these sarongs is if they had flowers behind their ears, too

4. Wearing a skirt and tucking a flower behind your ear is thought of as the epitome of masculinity.

At temples on Bali you have to wear a sarong, wrapping these bright cloths around your waist like a long skirt. When I first visited Bali almost two decades ago, I’d wear a sarong every day, and it was common to see local men doing the same. On this visit, though, we only saw one young man wearing a sarong in Ubud (and that’s why I approached him to be our driver for the week).

I’d also pluck a flower and put it behind my ear, having seen temple priests do so. When men on Bali would see me with my sarong and flower, they’d exclaim, “Look at you! You are so masculine!” Bali has got to be the only place on Earth where a man is considered macho for wearing what’s essentially a skirt and a flower behind his ear.

Newborns on Bali are so holy they aren’t allowed to crawl on the ground

Newborns on Bali are so holy they aren’t allowed to crawl on the ground

5. Babies on Bali aren’t allowed to touch the ground for the first three months or so.

Being Hindus, Balinese believe in reincarnation — more specifically, newborns are thought to be the spirit of an ancestor returning to live another life. Because babies are still so close to the sacred realm they came from, they should be venerated. And in a culture where the ground represents all that is demonic and impure, that means newborns aren’t allowed to touch the earth for at least 105 days after birth, and up to 210 in some communities. That’s when the soul officially becomes a part of the child.

At this time, there’s a ceremony called nyabutan or nyambutin, where the baby’s hair is cut off and he or she touches the ground for the first time. It’s often at this time that the child is given its name.

You’ll be a total baller in Bali!

You’ll be a total baller in Bali!

6. In Indonesian currency, you’ll be a multimillionaire.

Literally every time we hit the ATM, we got out the maximum amount: 1.5 million rupiah, which, at the time we visited, was only about $100.

We passed at least four Polo stores in Ubud — and they all seemed to be having a 70% off sale

We passed at least four Polo stores in Ubud — and they all seemed to be having a 70% off sale

Are these officially licensed Ralph Lauren stores? Probably not

Are these officially licensed Ralph Lauren stores? Probably not

7. There are Ralph Lauren Polo stores everywhere.

The preppy look is huge on Bali, at least among tourists. The island is lousy with Polo stores — though they might be of dubious affiliation with the brand. Walking through Ubud, we passed at least six Polo stores. Let the buyer beware: The online consensus is that these deals are too good to be true and are most likely knock-offs. –Wally



Pura Taman Saraswati: The Heart of Ubud

You can’t miss the Saraswati Temple, famous for its lotus pond and dedicated to the Hindu goddess of learning.

The Saraswati Temple is a peaceful oasis in Ubud

The Saraswati Temple is a peaceful oasis in Ubud

On our first afternoon exploring Ubud, Wally and I decided to grab a bite at Cafe Lotus. Our table within the café’s open-air dining pavilion had a lovely view of the pond in front of the temple. There’s an undeniably magical quality to the multitudes of vibrant pink buds rising upon their stems above the murky waters, with the bricks of the temple beyond glowing orange.

Grab a bite at Cafe Lotus and admire the view

Grab a bite at Cafe Lotus and admire the view

The temple is dedicated to Saraswati, who, according to Hindu mythology, is the divine consort of Brahma, the four-faced creator deity. Her name is a combination of two Sanskrit words, “sara,” a lake or pool, and “vati,” to possess. Loosely translated, her name means She Who Has an Abundance of Water. Originally, she took the form of the sacred Saraswati River in India. That river has since dried up, and over time, she transformed to become the patroness of knowledge, literature and the arts, the creative essence flowing within the human heart and soul.

This pathway bisects the lotus pond and leads to the temple

This pathway bisects the lotus pond and leads to the temple

Who doesn’t love a lotus?

Who doesn’t love a lotus?

It is believed that Saraswati lives on the tip of the tongue and is present whenever words are spoken. She is the goddess of speech, and her blessings are invoked through the mantras written on sacred traditional palm leaf manuscripts, known as lontar. She is often depicted with four arms, seated upon a swan or lotus flower. In her hands she holds a lute, prayer beads and a lontar, representing the intellect, alertness and ego.

The temple is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Saraswati, patroness of learning and the arts

The temple is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Saraswati, patroness of learning and the arts

Pura Taman Saraswati

Prince Tjokorda Gede Agung Sukawati commissioned the temple, which was designed by the Balinese artist Gusti Nyoman Lempad. Construction began in 1951 and was completed the following year. Under patronage of the royal family, Lempad played an important role in the design and construction of palaces and temples throughout Ubud and its neighboring villages. When Lempad died in 1978, he was believed to have been 116 years old.

Wally and Duke in front of the temple and pond

Wally and Duke in front of the temple and pond

There’s a Starbucks right in front of the temple. Grab a venti iced latte on the way out!

There’s a Starbucks right in front of the temple. Grab a venti iced latte on the way out!

The temple is easy to find, sandwiched between Cafe Lotus and a Starbucks off the main thoroughfare of Ubud. To enter the grounds, cross a footbridge that bisects the scenic lotus ponds. The path is flanked by theatrical and grotesque sculptures of Hindu mythological figures, many of which are the original works of Lempad himself.

Grotesque statues like this one are characteristic of Gusti Nyoman Lempad’s style

Grotesque statues like this one are characteristic of Gusti Nyoman Lempad’s style

Lempad carved many of the statues and was the architect of the temple

Lempad carved many of the statues and was the architect of the temple

Wally and I were only able to explore the front platform of Pura Taman Saraswati, as the inner courtyard was closed to visitors. The temple exterior is a traditional assemblage of orange-red bricks embellished with gray volcanic stone ornamentation. A towering central gate known as a paduraksa stands at its center. A pair of intricately carved wooden doors functions as a symbolic boundary marker between the outer world and the temple’s sacred interior.

The central gate into the sacred interior of the temple was locked every time we visited

The central gate into the sacred interior of the temple was locked every time we visited

Gold detailing on the temple doors features heads of guardian spirits

Gold detailing on the temple doors features heads of guardian spirits

On either side of the main gate at Pura Taman Saraswati are two tall frangipani trees whose gnarled branches and dark green leaves grow outwards and upwards like a pair of wings. When in bloom, these trees produce small, fragrant white flowers with yolk-yellow centers. The flowers are called jepun in Bali and are commonly used in the daily devotional offerings to the gods known as canang sari.

People leave offerings of flowers for Saraswati

People leave offerings of flowers for Saraswati

As Saraswati is associated with the arts, it’s fitting that the courtyard serves as an open-air stage for nightly kecak performances, traditional stories depicting the constant struggle between good and evil, told through dance.

W is for Wally

W is for Wally

Duke branches out at Pura Taman Saraswati

Duke branches out at Pura Taman Saraswati

On a platform in front of the temple, a spiny-backed turtle flanked by two dragon-looking creatures emerge from below

On a platform in front of the temple, a spiny-backed turtle flanked by two dragon-looking creatures emerge from below

On the couple of occasions we visited, we entered directly from Jalan Raya, the main street that runs through the center of Ubud. The water temple is apparently also accessible from Jalan Kajeng, which runs perpendicular to Jalan Raya. No matter how you arrive there, it’s a peaceful oasis amid the throngs of tourists and worthy of a quick visit. –Duke

The Saraswati Temple in Ubud

The Saraswati Temple in Ubud

Pura Taman Saraswati
Jalan Kajeng
Ubud
Kabupaten Gianyar
Bali 80571
Indonesia

Goa Gajah: An Easy Ubud Day Trip

The so-called Elephant Cave has an iconic and demonic gaping cave mouth.

When staying in Ubud, make a quick stop to see the monster mouth at Goa Gajah

When staying in Ubud, make a quick stop to see the monster mouth at Goa Gajah

Balinese words can be so fun to pronounce. You’ve got the water palaces of Klungkung and Tirta Gangga. And just outside of Ubud is a small temple complex called Goa Gajah that dates from the 9th to 11th centuries.

Turns out Goa Gajah has been mistranslated to Elephant Cave, but you won’t find even the remotest hint of a pachyderm anywhere on the small temple complex — aside from a stone statue of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh inside the cave. And, perhaps, the tusk-like fangs that adorn the demonic mouth that forms the cave entrance.

Those bulging eyes and elongated mouth are a familiar sight in Indonesian temple architecture.
Flights of stairs lead down to the Goa Gajah complex

Flights of stairs lead down to the Goa Gajah complex

The first thing you’ll come across are these ruins

The first thing you’ll come across are these ruins

Goa Gajah’s a good stopover to pair with other sites. Excavated in 1954, there are a few buildings in the complex, but it’s really all about the giant mouth cave. Wait for the tourists to clear out, snap the money shot — and you’ll be good to go.

Those bulging eyes and elongated mouth stretching into an entrance are a familiar sight in Indonesian temple architecture. As scary as they look, they’re depictions of Bhoma, a nature god who symbolically cleanses visitors as they enter the most sacred part of holy sites.

What mysteries await Duke and Wally inside the Elephant Cave?

What mysteries await Duke and Wally inside the Elephant Cave?

Inside the cave, a narrow T-shaped passageway forks to the left and right, the walls blackened from incense smoke. You can make out small niches in the darkness, some with worn-away statues, including a trio of phallic linga wearing black, white and red skirts. The adorable palm-woven square offering baskets I love so much are placed at the base of the statues.

Inside the cave are three phallic linga in honor of the Hindu deity Shiva the Destroyer

Inside the cave are three phallic linga in honor of the Hindu deity Shiva the Destroyer

The only elephant you’ll see at the Elephant Cave is this statue of Ganesha

The only elephant you’ll see at the Elephant Cave is this statue of Ganesha

Statues fill a niche. Compared to other holy sites on Bali, Goa Gajah is quite small

Statues fill a niche. Compared to other holy sites on Bali, Goa Gajah is quite small

At the back of the complex are colorfully decorated shrines

At the back of the complex are colorfully decorated shrines

It’s thought that Buddhist monks would meditate in the quiet confines of the cave.

The other notable site at Goa Gajah is the bathing pool, where water pours from the urns held by statues of busty Hindu divine spirits. The holy site was chosen because it’s the spot where two rivers converge.

Female Hindu spirits form the fountains

Female Hindu spirits form the fountains

Wally bathes in the holy water

Wally bathes in the holy water

Get to Goa Gajah as early as possible to avoid the inevitable tourist buses that show up later in the day. It’s a fun place to visit, and you can be in and out in about half an hour. –Wally

goagajahwally.JPG

Goa Gajah
Ubud, Bedulu
Blahbatuh
Kabupaten Gianyar
Bali, Indonesia

Gaya Ceramic: Italy Meets Bali

If you’re interested in handmade pottery, stop in this charming Ubud boutique.

An Italian couple took their native country’s dedication to quality and paired it with Balinese craftsmanship

An Italian couple took their native country’s dedication to quality and paired it with Balinese craftsmanship

It's true, Wally and I have a shared fascination with folklore, history and handicrafts which ultimately drives most of our travel destinations, and is why we decided to stay in Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. The island has a special energy all its own, but if you want to enjoy it and have only a few days, you may find that seeing everything you would like to on your itinerary is logistically impossible. However, one of the places I refused to cut was the Gaya Ceramic showroom.

Gaya Ceramic has formed a perfect marriage of Italian design and Balinese craftsmanship.
Stop by Gaya Ceramic to pick up some gifts for family and friends — and treat yourself while you’re at it

Stop by Gaya Ceramic to pick up some gifts for family and friends — and treat yourself while you’re at it

The boutique is located on Jalan Raya, the main thoroughfare that passes through the center of Ubud, in the village of Sayan. If you’re hiring a taxi or driver, make sure to let them know that it’s not the smaller branch of the road, as our driver took us to the Ceramic Arts Center by mistake. While this educational division with classes, workshops and a residency program for artists from around the globe is certainly interesting, I wanted to see the goods for sale at the shop.

The duo behind the craft are husband and wife Marcello Massoni and Michela Foppiani. Both passionate creatives who caught the attention of Gaya Fusion's director, Stefano Grande. After meeting with Stefano, they made the decision to move from Italy to Bali and established Gaya Ceramic. It should come as no surprise then, that their aesthetic is the perfect union of Italian design and Balinese craftsmanship.

One of the first things we noticed when we arrived at the showroom were exotic, climbing vines with pale lavender blooms. The dense growth framed and partially concealed the façade, lending the exterior an air of curiosity, as if letting you know you’re about to enter somewhere enchanting.

Marcello Massoni, the CEO of Gaya Ceramic, still throws the original prototype for each new piece

Marcello Massoni, the CEO of Gaya Ceramic, still throws the original prototype for each new piece

The Gaya Ceramic shop is like walking through an art exhibit

The Gaya Ceramic shop is like walking through an art exhibit

Inside, a rich, jewel-tone malachite green tile covers the floors. The boutique contains an array of luxurious, refined hand-crafted objects. Gaya’s designs include sculptural porcelain and lava sand mortar and pestles, to more elaborate ceramic coral wall art, bowls, plates and one of my personal favorites, “tattoo” vases embellished with a deconstructed pattern of twining cobalt blue chinoiserie flowers, all handmade in Bali.

What’s most impressive, though, is the relationship Marcello and Michela have fostered within the village of Sayan, where the company is based. Villagers who have mastered the intensive hands-on apprenticeship program have gone on to become fully vested employees, ensuring that these skills live on for generations to come.

Gaya makes up to 9,000 pieces a month!

Gaya makes up to 9,000 pieces a month!

Intricately patterned Raku ware pottery pieces are grouped together

Intricately patterned Raku ware pottery pieces are grouped together

A couple of the delightful employees who work at Gaya

A couple of the delightful employees who work at Gaya

Every element, from the wireless radio — they even have a Spotify playlist — to the small circular clay tokens with their logo stamped into them that adorn their shopping bags, has been thoughtfully considered.

Visit their showroom and take your time to admire the beauty of each piece. And if your suitcase isn’t big enough, they ship.


Q&A with Marcello Massoni, owner of Gaya Ceramic

How has your cultural background been incorporated into Gaya?
We always put a bit of Italian flavor into our ceramics. The innovation and attention to detail that Italians are well known for is embedded in all our creations.

 

How has the culture of Bali influenced you?
Balinese culture helped us to reach a high level of craftsmanship and inspires us every day with its architecture, nature and ceremonies.

 

Tell about us your process. How does a lump of clay become a beautiful object?

All of our pieces begin their life in the studio. I still throw the original piece from which a prototype is made. For our hospitality projects, we custom create ceramic collections based on a client’s functional and aesthetic needs. We use different clays, glazes and diverse firing techniques (gas, raku, wood firings). All of our processes are handmade.

 

On average, how many pieces are produced per month?

Between 7,000 to 9,000.

 

Now for a few fun non-business related questions. What are a couple of your and Michela’s favorite local restaurants?  

Locavore or the restaurant at Bambu Indah.

 

Where’s the best place to get a cup of coffee?  

My house.

 

Favorite place to visit on Bali?

Pura Gunung Kawi or Geger Beach in Nusa Dua.

 

Best place to get gelato (and we know you’re biased)?

Gaya Gelato :)

gayaubud

Gaya Ceramic
Jalan Raya Satan No. 105
Sayan, Ubud
Bali, Indonesia 80571

Alila Ubud: A Luxury Resort Nestled in a Jungle Valley

Can we just talk about the amazing infinity pool at this Bali hotel? And the amazing food? And the monkeys scurrying about?

This was the breathtaking view we awoke to every morning

This was the breathtaking view we awoke to every morning

By the time I began looking for places for Wally and me to stay in Ubud, Bali, I was faced with an overwhelming amount of choices. I wanted to be close to the town’s cultural center, temples, shops and restaurants, but far enough away that it would feel like a retreat from the inevitable throngs of tourists. One look at an image of the epic infinity pool overlooking a landscape of tropical jungle greenery on the Alila Ubud website and I was hooked.

The infinity pool consists of a slim rectangle of water whose edges disappear into the terraced jungle hillside.
The resort is comprised of groups of villas scattered throughout the compound

The resort is comprised of groups of villas scattered throughout the compound

When we landed at the Ngurah Rai International Airport, it was well after midnight and buzzing with new arrivals. Apparently we weren’t the only flight to reach the isle of Bali so late at night — or early, depending on how you look at it. After collecting our luggage, we met our chauffeur outside the terminal and asked if the airport was typically this crowded. He replied with a smile, “Yes, always.”

The pool really is the star of the show at the Alila

The pool really is the star of the show at the Alila

Alila Ubud

Our base for our Bali trip was the Alila Ubud, which is just over an hour’s drive from the airport. Located high up in the mountain village of Payangan, our real adventure began once our driver turned onto a private meandering road that led to the resort. It was well after 2 a.m. when we checked in, following a nearly 24-hour journey from Chicago. The concierge warmly greeted us at the reception pavilion, offering us cold towels and jamu, a traditional Indonesian healing tonic.

The open-air lobby at Alila, where helpful staff are always on hand

The open-air lobby at Alila, where helpful staff are always on hand

The concierge escorted us to our room and instructed us to secure the patio doors leading to the balcony to prevent a wild monkey infiltration. “Does it have a name?” Wally asked. To which the concierge replied, “No, there are many.”

This group of monkeys gathered on the wall outside our room

This group of monkeys gathered on the wall outside our room

Alila, formerly the Chedi, was conceived by the acclaimed firm Kerry Hill Architects. The sprawling, tranquil complex is surrounded by rice terraces and is roughly 15 minutes from Ubud, the enclave that exploded exponentially after Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir and subsequent movie, Eat, Pray Love.

There’s lush tropical foliage in every direction you look

There’s lush tropical foliage in every direction you look

The hotel’s layout was inspired by traditional Balinese hillside villages and has been adapted to the site’s topography. Paths meander past the property’s rooms and private treehouse-like guest villas. Stepped walkways evoke the surrounding terraced rice paddies. Paying respect to traditional Balinese architecture, local materials have been thoughtfully incorporated into its design, including hand-cut volcanic stone, alang alang grass thatch and coconut wood. Stones from the Ayung River were used in the steps and exterior walls. As a result, the Alila’s earthy palette harmoniously blends with the landscape surrounding the resort.

The neutral tones of the buildings at Alila blend in well with the natural environment

The neutral tones of the buildings at Alila blend in well with the natural environment

The elongated open-air dining pavilion, Plantation, is located beneath a grass canopy supported by soaring palm pillars and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The executive chef behind the signature restaurants creations is Erwan Wijaya, whose menu features regional Balinese and international cuisine using locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Service was friendly and impeccable. We had the pleasure of being attended to on more than one occasion by the lovely Marianthi.

The Plantation restaurant pavilion

The Plantation restaurant pavilion

A typical breakfast at Alila: fresh baked goods, a trio of smoothies, coffee and nasi goreng (pink sunglasses Wally’s)

A typical breakfast at Alila: fresh baked goods, a trio of smoothies, coffee and nasi goreng (pink sunglasses Wally’s)

Exotic fresh fruit, including snakefruit, starfruit, pomelo and pineapple

Exotic fresh fruit, including snakefruit, starfruit, pomelo and pineapple

Wally likes pink drinks best

Wally likes pink drinks best

Breakfast options changed daily and we were always excited to try the trio of shareable juices and smoothies, tropical fruit plate, assorted pastries and varieties of nasi goreng. Plus, the coffee was excellent and brewed to order. We tried to exclude Western fare, but one morning we did cave. I tried the bostock brioche French toast with almond cream and Wally the eggs Benedict, which were equally delicious.

Our room at Alila. Wally particularly loved the mosquito netting

Our room at Alila. Wally particularly loved the mosquito netting

A Room With a View

We stayed in an understated superior room, which was cozy, with its vaulted thatched ceiling and limestone floors. Our king-size bed was shrouded in netting, which Wally loved to close in the evening, picturing himself, no doubt, as a Victorian-era naturalist traveling through the tropics. Also sharing our room was a gecko who chose to evaluate us from afar, perched high upon the wall. One night, we were awoken by a couple of monkeys fitfully skittering across our rooftop.

Curious George pays a visit to our balcony

Curious George pays a visit to our balcony

Our room included small touches with a big impact, including refillable glass bottles of water that were replenished daily and eco-friendly reusable bamboo straws.

After sightseeing and wandering Ubud, the private balcony attached to our room was the perfect perch to unwind and enjoy a quiet moment to read. We were happy that our room was centrally located, near the pool and restaurant. The complex, which seems to stretch for miles, required a few guests to be transported in golf carts to reach their rooms.

We hired a driver and ventured out daily, but if you decided to stay on the resort grounds, the Alila offers bikes for exploring the outlying area, an art gallery that features regional arts and crafts, a small boutique and a spa.

Every morning before breakfast, Wally and Duke had a swim in the pool as the sun rose

Every morning before breakfast, Wally and Duke had a swim in the pool as the sun rose

Duke leans on a wall near the resort’s spa

Duke leans on a wall near the resort’s spa

To fill in time between meals and relaxing, the Alila offers complimentary afternoon coffee and tea with an assortment of bite-size desserts. They even offer nightly entertainment, including movies by the pool.

The stairs are lit at night

The stairs are lit at night

The Cabana Lounge opens to the infinity pool

The Cabana Lounge opens to the infinity pool

The bar in the lounge — also where they set up tea, coffee and nibblies in the late afternoon

The bar in the lounge — also where they set up tea, coffee and nibblies in the late afternoon

The hotel’s shuttle service has fixed arrival and departure times, but we found it fairly easy to hire a cab for about $6 to return us to the resort. The staff was personable and always wished us a good morning. When we would return after a day’s exploration, they welcomed us back, addressing us as Mr. Duke and Mr. Wally.

A group of chaises longues at the edge of the valley

A group of chaises longues at the edge of the valley

To Infinity and Beyond

The infinity pool consists of a slim rectangle of water whose edges disappear into the terraced jungle hillside. Our room’s proximity to the pool made it easy to have a quick swim every morning before breakfast, steam rising from the water as the sun rose.

Morning yoga classes overlooking the pool were held at the Cabana Lounge, where guests can take in views of the forest while holding a warrior pose.

The infinity pool seems to flow out into the valley beyond

The infinity pool seems to flow out into the valley beyond

A minor criticism is the internet system, which required entering a complicated code for every use. This is particularly irritating on a smartphone, when you are logged out every time the phone goes idle. On top of that, the signal was weak at every time but the middle of the night. Our jet lag-induced insomnia was the only time we were able to use wifi.

The Alila is surrounded by gorgeous, green rice terraces

The Alila is surrounded by gorgeous, green rice terraces

Paths wind throughout the complex and its environs

Paths wind throughout the complex and its environs

Maybe it’s because Wally is a Taurus, but Duke is obsessed with the Nandi bull

Maybe it’s because Wally is a Taurus, but Duke is obsessed with the Nandi bull

Looking out at the mist-covered tropical greenery as we left on our final morning, Wally and I reflected upon our stay, knowing we had been somewhere special, a place we wouldn’t soon forget. –Duke

Our rooms were conveniently located near the restaurant and pool

Our rooms were conveniently located near the restaurant and pool

alilaubuddetails.JPG

Alila Ubud
Desa
Melinggih Kelod
Payangan, Gianyar
Bali 80572
Indonesia

The Picture-Perfect Tegallalang Rice Terrace of Bali

Your photos of these gorgeous rice terraces will make your friends green with envy.

If you’re in the Ubud area, make a stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terrance

If you’re in the Ubud area, make a stop at the Tegallalang Rice Terrance

Chances are if you’ve ever done an Instagram or Pinterest search and entered the keyword “Bali,” you’ve seen more than a few images of the terraced rice paddies of Tegallalang and tourists posing beneath the multicolored Love Bali sign.

This highly photogenic and popular tourist destination is located about 30 minutes north of Ubud.

We gazed out, awestruck by the sea of emerald green terraces whose sinuous lines follow the contours of the hillside.
Get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day

Get there as early as possible to avoid the crowds and the heat of the day

Wally and I hired a driver and left from our hotel early enough in the morning to (hopefully) avoid the throngs of tourists. When we arrived at the large parking lot, we were not entirely surprised that it was already beginning to fill up. I was confused at first if we were in the right place, as there are large printed banners for Ceking Rice Field. I later learned that this is the name of the village where Tegallalang is situated.

Duke enjoying the beautiful setting

Duke enjoying the beautiful setting

Wally’s excited for the adventure to begin!

Wally’s excited for the adventure to begin!

Even though you can’t see them, there are paths to follow through the rice paddies

Even though you can’t see them, there are paths to follow through the rice paddies

It’s amazing to think that this rice is gathered by hand

It’s amazing to think that this rice is gathered by hand

Rice Rice Baby

Rice is a staple food for the Balinese, reflected in the endless regional variations of nasi goreng, and a small amount often appears in traditional woven palm leaf offerings. Cultivation adheres to a well-organized cycle initiated by ritual observance at water temples — the nearby Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple is dedicated to Dewi Sri, the goddess of rice and fertility.

Bali’s tropical climate allows for rice to be grown year round, and the terraces of Tegallalang were lush and green on our visit in late April. It’s humbling to learn that the harvesting process is done completely by hand. The sheaves are thrashed in bunches to release the grains, which are then washed and laid out in the sun to dry.

The undulating green hills are iconic of Bali

The undulating green hills are iconic of Bali

It Takes a Village

As consumers, when we think of rice, we may only see it as a pre-packaged commodity to be purchased off the shelves of a grocery store. We don’t imagine how it came to be there — namely, the result of a sophisticated agrarian community dating back to the 8th century, whose shared labor, known as subak, encourages farmers to work together to preserve the traditional egalitarian irrigation system passed on from generation to generation. This practice follows the Balinese philosophy Tri Hita Karana, in which humans, spirits and nature are intertwined in a harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship.

Wally and I paid a donation fee of 10,000 rupiah each (about $1) to enter. Standing at the top of hill, we gazed out, awestruck by the sea of emerald green terraces whose sinuous lines follow the contours of the hillside.

Wally saw a small cave and crawled through it until he came out this end

Wally saw a small cave and crawled through it until he came out this end

There were a few other tourists captured in our photographs, but it didn’t bother us and added scale and color to our images. We hiked down mud steps to the valley floor and walked up the other side, meandering the narrow footpaths that cut through the paddies.

To prevent birds from eating the grain laden stalks, farmers have employed an ingenious technique using bamboo poles and strings. One version creates horizontal movement when the string is tugged and another activates a set of empty aluminum cans that loudly rattle.

A lotus pond we stumbled upon

A lotus pond we stumbled upon

You’ll marvel at the sheer scale of what you’re seeing

You’ll marvel at the sheer scale of what you’re seeing

50 Shades of Green

We spent a little over an hour wandering through the terraces and footpaths. Make sure to bring comfortable footwear, suitable for moderate trekking, bug repellent, sunscreen and bottled water, as the landscape is fairly exposed and open.

At one point, we were at the far end of the valley and couldn’t find our way out. Instead of following a group of equally baffled tourists, we backtracked past the swings, where you can swoop out over the terraces for that perfect Instagram photo or video. I refused to do this, as it seemed like something only basic bitches would do. Wally argued that it’s a requisite shot for all the influencers, so I told him he could take one if he wanted.

These stepped terraces are a marvel of ancient engineering

These stepped terraces are a marvel of ancient engineering

There’s no clear way to go, and we had to backtrack to find our way out

There’s no clear way to go, and we had to backtrack to find our way out

Atop one hill, a hen and her chicks toddled around

Atop one hill, a hen and her chicks toddled around

We went back down the valley and took a different fork in the road, eventually ending up on the other side by the road we had originally come from, passing hikers going in the opposite direction.

There are small shops selling I ♥ Bali tote bags, clothing, cold drinks, coffee luwak (which is basically green coffee beans that have been partially digested and defecated by a mongoose) and other assorted souvenir fare along the way. We picked up a couple of Bintang Radler, but we’re still kicking ourselves that we didn’t purchase one of the ubiquitous penis-shaped bottle openers we saw here and in Ubud. They’re available in various sizes, have a set of balls and come in light or dark wood.

Tegallalang has much to offer, though some travelers visit Jatiluwih instead

Tegallalang has much to offer, though some travelers visit Jatiluwih instead

Why We Chose Tegallalang

Prior to adding the rice terrace to our itinerary, I had weighed the pros and cons of Tegallalang and Jatiluwih. Jatiluwih, although recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, was over an hour from Ubud and a bit problematic when plotting out an efficient route using Google Maps that included the other places we wanted to visit.

Wally’s never met a hammock he didn’t try out

Wally’s never met a hammock he didn’t try out

I understood that Tegallalang would very likely be more touristy and read reviews where some people had negative experiences and had felt like they were perpetually being asked for donations as they wandered through the paddies. This was not something we encountered, but after learning more about the cooperative subak system, it does make sense, as these are working fields and there’s a lot of creativity and hard work that goes into maintaining the terraces. My advice is to carry a few small bills with you in case a farmer requests payment if you want to take photos and try your best to stay on the designated pathways.

Even though our time in Bali was all too brief, I’m grateful we were able to check Tegallalang off our list. And in case you’re curious, Wally didn’t end up doing the swing by the Love Bali sign — he took one look at the dropoff and his vertigo prevented this from happening. –Duke

tegallalang6.JPG

Tegallalang Rice Terrace
Jalan Raya Tegallalang
Tegallalang
Kabupaten Gianyar
Bali 8056
Indonesia

The Dangers of the Ubud Monkey Forest

The Monkey Forest is worth wandering, but perhaps not with children. It’s fitting that the Great Temple of Death lies within this sanctuary, where people get bitten by monkeys every day.

Gorgeous stonework and mischievous macaques abound in the Monkey Forest

Gorgeous stonework and mischievous macaques abound in the Monkey Forest

Things might have been much worse if we hadn’t had a somewhat scary encounter the night before we planned to visit the Monkey Sanctuary in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

We were wandering down Monkey Forest Road, right at the turn, near one of the entrances to the forest. A large macaque monkey scampered down a power line and stopped a few feet in front of Duke.

He was looking up at another monkey on the roof of a shop and I snapped a photo. And then, in a flash, the monkey jumped onto Duke, grabbed his water bottle, hopped off of him and scurried down the road a bit. It all happened so quickly, Duke didn’t even have time to react.

The monkey opened its mouth and sank its teeth into the girl’s shoulder, before darting away.

The girl screamed and screamed, yet her banshee-like wails failed to draw the attention of any staffers.
The moment right before the monkey jumped onto Duke and stole his water bottle

The moment right before the monkey jumped onto Duke and stole his water bottle

We watched in astonishment as the monkey unscrewed the lid, poured some water out onto the street and scooped it up with its palms to drink.

As cool as it might be to get a selfie with a monkey, we can’t advise it

As cool as it might be to get a selfie with a monkey, we can’t advise it

The last time I visited Bali, 17 years ago, I let a monkey crawl onto my back, and that picture became a now-legendary Christmas card. I might have done so again — but this incident was enough to put the fear of God — or perhaps the fear of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god —  into me.

The statue by the Monkey Forest entrance hints at what could happen to unsuspecting tourists!

The statue by the Monkey Forest entrance hints at what could happen to unsuspecting tourists!

Entering the Monkey Forest: It All Starts Innocently Enough…

So it was with a newfound sense of caution (and, let’s face it, downright fear of these creatures) that Duke and I wandered into the Monkey Sanctuary. The setting is epic: a glen of primordial trees, bridges that criss-cross a ravine with a river below and not one, but two pura dalems, or temples of death.

The setting, with banyan roots, bizarre statues, lush foliage and wild monkeys, is quite epic

The setting, with banyan roots, bizarre statues, lush foliage and wild monkeys, is quite epic

We headed to the right, down a path that leads to one of the bridges that span the chasm below. There are a few landings here, with metal railings where monkeys like to hang out. This is a good spot for photos. The monkeys here seemed to know they’re models, and you can snap some shots at a safe distance.

Down the path to the right is a landing where monkeys strike a pose

Down the path to the right is a landing where monkeys strike a pose

Hindus, like those on Bali, revere monkeys, in part because one of their main gods, Hanuman, is simian

Hindus, like those on Bali, revere monkeys, in part because one of their main gods, Hanuman, is simian

According to the park, there are about 600 monkeys in the area!

According to the park, there are about 600 monkeys in the area!

A path winds along the rock face at the edge of the river. It’s narrow and crowded and ends abruptly without a payoff. You might as well skip it.

Banyan roots have taken over parts of the sanctuary

Banyan roots have taken over parts of the sanctuary

Wally, who was scared the entire time he was in the forest, thought these were real lizards at first

Wally, who was scared the entire time he was in the forest, thought these were real lizards at first

Following the main path takes you over another bridge and walkway above the ravine before leading you to a temple. Duke and I were delighted to notice the strange, monstrous statues out front. We had arrived at Pura Dalem Agung Pandangtegal, or the Padangtegal Great Temple of Death. Demonic sculptures, including those of the witch Rangda, adorn pura dalems.

The main temple of death in the forest is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva

The main temple of death in the forest is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva

Rangda personifies evil — and loves to eat babies

Rangda personifies evil — and loves to eat babies

What are these naughty babies doing?!

What are these naughty babies doing?!

Statues of demons surround the temple of death

Statues of demons surround the temple of death

A young macaque with a mohawk posed on a ledge near the temple’s entrance, nibbling on what appeared to be a yam. While we were taking some pictures, a big lug came up beside us and smiled. “Cute,” he said, before telling us that he had just been bitten on the arm by one of these critters. He was just standing there, and a young monkey jumped onto his shoulder, supposedly unbidden. Before he knew it, she had sunk her teeth into his arm.

This little macaque was hanging out on the temple entrance

This little macaque was hanging out on the temple entrance

I could tell by his accent that he was French, but I still spoke English to him. “You need to go to the doctor!” I told him. He just laughed, and I said, “I’m serious! You could get rabies! You could die!” But he just kept chuckling like I was telling him the funniest bit of nonsense he’s ever heard, before wandering away.

There supposedly haven’t been any cases of rabies from monkeys in the sanctuary, but I don’t think it’s worth the risk — especially since my doctor told me that rabies is 100% fatal. If you get bitten at the forest, don’t take any chances and get rabies shots at the Toya Medika Clinic down the street.

They might look innocent — but they’re not

They might look innocent — but they’re not

Reality Bites: It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Bit

Not long after the French guy told us about how he been bitten, we saw a family allow a small monkey to crawl onto their young daughter for a photo op. It was like a train wreck — we couldn’t look away. When the girl wanted the monkey to get off of her, she tried to shake it off. Sure enough, the monkey opened its mouth and sank its teeth into the girl’s shoulder, before darting away.

The girl screamed and screamed, yet her banshee-like wails failed to draw the attention of any staffers.

We also saw a monkey grab a stack of cards from a woman’s open bag. The man with her literally pounced at the monkey and tried to retrieve the cards from it. We shook our heads in disbelief. It seemed wiser to let the monkey grow bored with its prize and drop it, once it realized it wasn’t edible.

Statues in the Monkey Forest tend to be grotesque — which Duke and Wally love

Statues in the Monkey Forest tend to be grotesque — which Duke and Wally love

It’s no exaggeration when I say that I was in a mild state of terror the entire time I was at the sanctuary. Any time we passed by a monkey, I’d freeze up and scooch past it as quickly as possible, my heart pounding through my chest.

Down from the temple is a bathing pool, and it was fun to watch the monkeys swing into the water and splash about — from a safe distance, of course.

Delightfully horrific statues pair nicely with the monkeys

Delightfully horrific statues pair nicely with the monkeys

Beyond this is a ring trail that’s more sparse. The trees aren’t as tall and I felt more exposed. We hurried along the path, horrified, when, at one point, we saw a monkey that had stolen a bottle of sunblock from some tourists. It unscrewed the top and was trying to drink the thick white liquid. The couple watching this were laughing, but we didn’t find it amusing.

At the end of the ring path, we saw a small building with a group of the sanctuary’s staff just hanging out smoking. We couldn’t help but think they should be in the more populated areas, stopping people from doing stupid things and attending to the kids who have been bitten.

You can skirt around the exterior of the pura dalem and admire the bas reliefs

You can skirt around the exterior of the pura dalem and admire the bas reliefs

Frieze frame

Frieze frame

We circled back to the Great Temple of Death, bummed that tourists aren’t allowed to enter the temple grounds. We skirted around the exterior, though, peeking over the wall to see the courtyard within.

The Great Temple of Death inside the Monkey Forest isn’t open to tourists

The Great Temple of Death inside the Monkey Forest isn’t open to tourists

Another trail leads away from the temple, and we followed this down to another area of the nature preserve.

En route, we passed a woman squatting down to allow a monkey to climb onto her lap. When it started tugging at her braid, we had to go. We weren’t in the mood to see yet another person get bitten.

When you’re ready for the monkey to get off you, it might not be — and if you force it to move, you’ll probably end up getting bitten

When you’re ready for the monkey to get off you, it might not be — and if you force it to move, you’ll probably end up getting bitten

We ended up walking through a creepy tunnel lit by an eerie purple and green light. I kept praying we wouldn’t encounter any primates in that dark expanse, and thankfully, we did not.

The entrances to the tunnel by the parking lot sport giant faces

The entrances to the tunnel by the parking lot sport giant faces

The tunnel led to a parking lot, so we had to double back and head through it again. We followed a sign that pointed to a cremation temple and found ourselves at another end of the sanctuary, wary of a pack of monkeys nearby but eager to explore the small pura dalem. We couldn’t enter this temple of death, either, but admired the demonic statuary, while keeping an eye out for roving macaques.

The cemetery near the smaller temple of death is where bodies remain before a mass cremation, which takes place every five years

The cemetery near the smaller temple of death is where bodies remain before a mass cremation, which takes place every five years

At this point, we figured we had seen everything we could and decided to leave the Monkey Forest the same way we had come. We were on the home stretch, the exit about 100 yards away, when a particularly brazen monkey made a jump for Duke’s tote bag. He turned away, clutching it tightly to his body. The monkey made some rude noises and gestures to show its displeasure. But we were safe at last, having emerged from this ordeal with a healthy fear of monkeys. –Wally

Monkey see, monkey do

Monkey see, monkey do

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Jalan Monkey Forest
Ubud, Kabupaten
Gianyar
Bali 80571, Indonesia

I was in a mild state of terror the entire time I was at the sanctuary.

Pura Dalem Ubud: The Temple of Death

Looking for things to do in Ubud? Wander among the demons — and attend a kecak dance — at Desa Pakraman Ubud.

The Pura Dalem lies on the outskirts of Ubud

The Pura Dalem lies on the outskirts of Ubud

NSFW: The temple is covered with depictions of bare-breasted demonic women

NSFW: The temple is covered with depictions of bare-breasted demonic women

As we drove out of town our last evening on Bali, I glimpsed a temple atop a hill on the outskirts of Ubud. There was something that called to me, and I made a note to investigate it the next morning. So after we had packed up our bags and our driver Made (pronounced Mah-day) picked us up, I directed him to the temple.

Duke and I were delighted to discover that it was a pura dalem, or temple of death. These temples always have the craziest statues and carvings depicting Balinese demons out front, menacing visitors with bulging bug eyes, fangs, long tongues and breasts that sag down to their stomachs.

These dramatically sliced gates are common at Balinese temples

These dramatically sliced gates are common at Balinese temples

Motorbikes are ubiquitious on Bali

Motorbikes are ubiquitious on Bali

Many Hindu temples have balustrades that run the length of staircases in the shape of snakelike naga

Many Hindu temples have balustrades that run the length of staircases in the shape of snakelike naga

Snarling lions and hosts of demons line the entrance stairs. Duke and I couldn’t help smiling.

This is our Disneyland.

Pura dalems are dedicated to Rangda, the Demon Queen. She is the personification of evil, often depicted with pendulous breastes, fangs and unkempt hair. We passed a statue of her holding a baby in her arms — her favorite snack.

Rangda, the Demon Queen, loves to snack on innocent babes

Rangda, the Demon Queen, loves to snack on innocent babes

Many creatures in Balinese mythology — good and evil — have bulging bug eyes

Many creatures in Balinese mythology — good and evil — have bulging bug eyes

Balinese temples are composed of numerous open-air shrines

Balinese temples are composed of numerous open-air shrines

This was pretty much the only statue at the Pura Dalem Ubud that wasn’t monstrous

This was pretty much the only statue at the Pura Dalem Ubud that wasn’t monstrous

Monkeys, skulls and babies, oh my!

Monkeys, skulls and babies, oh my!

The entrance to the pura dalem has creepy creatures everywhere you look

The entrance to the pura dalem has creepy creatures everywhere you look

I’ve read that pura dalems are usually built at the lowest part of a village, as demons are associated with bhur, the underworld (some elements are consistent across religions). But this temple rises on a hill above Ubud. Maybe the Great Temple of Death in the Monkey Forest is the one situated at the lowest point.

Snarling lions and hosts of demons line the entrance stairs. Duke and I couldn't help smiling. This is our Disneyland.

Parts of the façade were being renovated when we visited

Parts of the façade were being renovated when we visited

Pura dalems are associated with bhur, the underworld, where demons reside

Pura dalems are associated with bhur, the underworld, where demons reside

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that this is a temple of death

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that this is a temple of death

Ferocious beasts populate the entrance to the temple

Ferocious beasts populate the entrance to the temple

Wally loves himself a lion

Wally loves himself a lion

Downward-facing demon: a new yoga pose?

Downward-facing demon: a new yoga pose?

Sneaking Into the Temple of Death

We wandered around the temple complex, and I was surprised to see a large courtyard off to the left, for dancing. I wondered what kind of performances would take place at a temple of death.

After a bit of research, I learned that this temple hosts the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance, which sounds like an intense experience I’m bummed we didn’t see. I’d like to imagine the environment becomes charged with a mystical energy as the flames dance to  the dissonance of the native music. Perhaps the statues themselves come to life to join the dance.

The music pavilion near the dance performance space

The music pavilion near the dance performance space

Balinese musical ensembles are called gamelans

Balinese musical ensembles are called gamelans

Wood and bronze xylophone-like instruments are common on Bali

Wood and bronze xylophone-like instruments are common on Bali

The instruments are intricately carved with creatures from Balinese mythology

The instruments are intricately carved with creatures from Balinese mythology

At the back of the dance area is a pavilion filled with row after row of the bronze instruments, many resembling xylophones, that comprise a gamelan ensemble.

Which is Garuda and which is Duke?

Which is Garuda and which is Duke?

Mischievous Wally likes sneaking into temples

Mischievous Wally likes sneaking into temples

The interior of the temple was gated off, but Duke and I skirted around it until we found a gate we could stick our hand through and unlock from the other side. We opened it as quietly as possible, trying not to capture the attention of the construction workers nearby. The gate let out painfully loud squeal, and Duke and I slipped in quickly.

Lichen covers Balinese temples, lending an ancient air to even the newer ones

Lichen covers Balinese temples, lending an ancient air to even the newer ones

Maybe this is where you sacrifice your babies to Rangda

Maybe this is where you sacrifice your babies to Rangda

The interior courtyard of the pura dalem was locked — but that didn’t stop us from finding a way in

The interior courtyard of the pura dalem was locked — but that didn’t stop us from finding a way in

Shrine towers in the most sacred space of the temple

Shrine towers in the most sacred space of the temple

These woven baskets contain offerings to the gods

These woven baskets contain offerings to the gods

Various shrines rise jaggedly skyward in the interior courtyard, bright orange brick and pale stone carved into monstrous creatures. The ground, like many temples on the island, is striped, alternating bands of stone and grass, a dichotomy I imagine symbolizes the balance of good and evil so prevalent in the Balinese religion.

Like many temples in Bali, the interior courtyard features rows of grass and stone

Like many temples in Bali, the interior courtyard features rows of grass and stone

Could the alternating stripes on the temple floor symbolize good vs. evil?

Could the alternating stripes on the temple floor symbolize good vs. evil?

A holy banyan tree grows off to one side, its roots dangling in clumps like Rangda’s matted dreadlocks.

Banyan trees, with their roots that grow from above, are amazing works of nature

Banyan trees, with their roots that grow from above, are amazing works of nature

Many offering tables are covered with black and white checkered cloths

Many offering tables are covered with black and white checkered cloths

The gnarled roots of banyans pair nicely with demonic depictions

The gnarled roots of banyans pair nicely with demonic depictions

When someone dies on Bali, they’re temporarily buried, and their spirit resides in the pura dalem, according to Murni’s in Bali. It’s not until a cremation ceremony has taken place that the person is free to be reincarnated.

Despite the demonic depictions scattered throughout the pura dalem, I wondered if death isn’t something to be afraid of, amongst a people who believe in reincarnation. –Wally

Many temple statues get adorned in sarongs

Many temple statues get adorned in sarongs

A bit of heavenly light shines upon one of the demons of death

A bit of heavenly light shines upon one of the demons of death

Pura Dalem Ubud

Jalan Raya Ubud, No.23
Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar
Bali 80571, Indonesia

Taksu Spa: A Wellness Wonderland in Ubud

Try the Esalen massage at this gorgeous spa that offers healthy meals, yoga and other treatments.

Wally relaxes on the bridge at Taksu, after his amazing Esalen massage

Wally relaxes on the bridge at Taksu, after his amazing Esalen massage

Like the wardrobe that leads to the magical realm of Narnia, the unassuming building at the end of the lane doesn’t even begin to hint at the wonders that lie behind it.

Then came a massage unlike any other we’ve experienced.

It was as if a Balinese dancer (or, more appropriately, a four-armed Hindu goddess) was moving her arms in all directions at once.
The buildings at Taksu are nestled in lush greenery

The buildings at Taksu are nestled in lush greenery

The Quiet Stretch of Buddha Street

The night before our appointment, Duke and I found ourselves wandering around Ubud. It was still new to us, each street opening up like a flower, revealing its own personality. We had just crossed Jalal Dewisita, strolling down Jalal Goutama, which I nicknamed Buddha Street. Suddenly we were filled with a sense of calm. The restaurants that were open didn’t blast music. Conversation was subdued, respectful. Everyone seemed to have come to an agreement that this stretch of the street would offer a quiet oasis.

I turned to Duke and said, “I feel like this is where Taksu will be.” Sure enough, about five steps farther, we saw the sign for Taksu off to the right. As my dad, who tends to get words adorably wrong, has said, “ESPN runs in the family.”

There’s a very zen feel to the spa

There’s a very zen feel to the spa

Taksu Spa: A Hidden Oasis in Ubud

Once you step beyond that unassuming façade at Taksu Spa, you enter another world. The grounds are situated in a small valley, which a river literally runs through. The rains were so intense recently, the spa had to raise the bridge that spans the ravine.

Statues of the Buddha are tucked into various nooks on the spa grounds

Statues of the Buddha are tucked into various nooks on the spa grounds

Paths wind through zen gardens, ending in a small copse with a Buddha statue. Go off in another direction and you’ll pass a building that houses one of the two yoga schools or the Hindu shrine for the staff to worship at.

These poles are part of the hydroponic garden, growing herbs and veggies

These poles are part of the hydroponic garden, growing herbs and veggies

Enjoy a quiet meal or snack at the café

Enjoy a quiet meal or snack at the café

Other trails lead to a hydroponic garden growing basil, lettuce, mint. Then you’ll come to the chill out zone and café, meandering past water features and an affordable all-you-can-eat salad bar in front of the open kitchen, where the smiling chef waves amidst his culinary creation.

Namaste

Namaste

Taksu is one of those foreign words that has no direct translation. It acts as a linguistic suitcase, packing in a lot of meaning into those five letters. One way of defining it is as the essence of the spirit, explains Jero, the spa’s marketing advisor, who took us on a tour of the complex. It’s often a trait performers search for: a divine inspiration channeled into the ability to captivate an audience.

This cool waterfall feature is the centerpiece of Taksu, and helps create the relaxing atmosphere

This cool waterfall feature is the centerpiece of Taksu, and helps create the relaxing atmosphere

That idea of wellness pervades everything at Taksu, from massage to yoga to healthy food options. In fact, they plan to open a wellness center as well, to help people live a wholesome lifestyle, learning what foods to eat and good behaviors to follow.

We had our massages in a building at the far end of the bridge

We had our massages in a building at the far end of the bridge

Our First Esalen Massage

Jero led us across the bridge, under a curtain of banyan branches, to a group of rooms at the far end of the grounds. Duke and I were shown into a room and told to change into those black mesh panties that fit as flatteringly as a shower cap.

We let the masseuses know we were ready and lay side by side. And then came a massage unlike any other we’ve experienced. It was as if a Balinese dancer (or, more appropriately, a four-armed Hindu goddess) was moving her arms in all directions at once.

Most massages focus on one area at a time, starting with the right shoulder, then on to the left shoulder, followed by the lower back, then moving down to the legs… But during this massage, the masseuse would simultaneously sweep up my leg while kneading my back. She’d work on one of my shoulders while somehow massaging my arms at the same time. The massage felt holistic, especially compared to past treatments, and you never knew what was coming.

What was this magical massage technique? I wanted to know. It’s called Esalen, and those long, sweeping strokes, the stretching, the acupressure, even an exchange of energy that sounds reminiscent of reiki — it’s all part of a school of practice created in the 1960s in Big Sur, California.

Post-massage smoothie, juice and amuse-bouche

Post-massage smoothie, juice and amuse-bouche

The shrimp was spicy and sweet — and delicous

The shrimp was spicy and sweet — and delicous

Duke and Wally became obsessed with cold soups in Ubud — they’re refreshing and can be found on many menus in town

Duke and Wally became obsessed with cold soups in Ubud — they’re refreshing and can be found on many menus in town

Afterward, as Duke and I enjoyed smoothies and a light lunch of chilled soup and spicy honeyed shrimp, we felt utterly recharged, ready to explore the bustling town of Ubud and its surrounding jungle.

You’d never guess that all this lies at the end of a quiet street in Ubud. Part of the appeal of Taksu is that magic of discovery, though there are plans to renovate the spa’s façade, to give a better hint at the gorgeousness just beyond. –Wally

Wally, with that post-massage glow

Wally, with that post-massage glow

A refreshed and reinvigorated Duke

A refreshed and reinvigorated Duke

Taksu Spa
Jalan Goutama Selatan
Ubud, Kabupaten, Gianyar
Bali 80571
Indonesia