Follow the tourist trail from Ubud, Central Bali to Bedugul in the mountainous north and you can experience a Balinese holiday that offers the best of village life, market-vibes, and natural beauty. Ubud, Lovina Beach and Bedugul, all have their specialties and yet still evoke authentic Balinese culture and the people's love of life.
Ubud deserves her reputation as the art, dance and music capital of Bali. Ask any local about their family, and someone is bound to be a dancer, wood-carver or artist. Art and craft is everywhere: high-quality ink canvases, traditional and contemporary paintings; kite-making, puppetry (shadow puppets as well as wooden hand-held puppets); there are hand-crafted drums, recorders and other instruments; wood-work and carvings, exquisite batik, fashion design and world-class leather work. If art and craft is your passion, then consider a more interactive approach: there are full-day and weekend courses in batik, jewellery-creation and kite-making for around $30 per person.
At any Balinese market, buy produce for which the town is famous: in Ubud, it is batik, art, craft and wood carvings.
Check-out Ubud's fixed-priced shops until you can't take anymore; if you are looking for something generic, then these almost busy stores give you a good indication of price which prepares you for market-bargaining. If designer-art grabs your attention- then buy it: Ubud art and craft is first-class quality and true designers and artisans may only sell their unique work at their own outlets. Fashion designers and silver smiths also create customised pieces. Ubud is the place to buy designer silver and crystal jewellery.
Traditional dance and music is etched in Ubud's DNA so do not pass up the opportunity to see her Fire Dance, as well as the bi-weekly shadow puppet performances and more frequent gamelan shows. Dance performances of this quality are not common throughout Bali, especially in the north. If you stand at the intersection of the village square and Ubud's central market you can buy tickets to dance and puppet shows most days of the week. The Fire Dance, a performance tradition that merits great community pride, pounds strong base rhythms and an all-male chorus which contrasts against delicate gesture-based and ornate-costumed dancing that tells the character-based story of the Ramayana. The Fire Dance is performed at night and is a highlight of Ubud's cultural and artistic life. Wayang Kulit performances (shadow puppets) often cater for Western tourists, as they are shorter than Javanese shows and may also include some English expressions and dialogue.
Sacred ceremony is part of public life in Ubud. Even if you are not invited to visit the temple on auspicious dates, you can still witness ceremony as the heart and soul of Ubud.
Sacred ceremonies are an important part of Ubud's village life. Sometimes, tourists can attend (if in doubt, just ask) but you can always witness public possessions and will, in a small way, become part of the honour and tradition. I have visited Indonesia six times, and twice have been privileged to attend public cremation ceremonies. These and other public sacred ceremonies I have witnessed have all been in Ubud. Public ceremony seems to be woven into Ubud's spiritual fabric.
Lovina Beach is 'Dolphin-Central'
Lovina Beach, which is a 2-hour drive from Ubud, is 'dolphin-central'. Lovina is essentially a beach culture without the craziness of Kuta or southern Balinese towns. Lovina's shore is lined with black sand which has worked to protect her from tourist-mania.
You can have an 'up-close-and-personal' dolphin experience at a Lovina hotel that has rescued and rehabilitated injured dolphins. The hour-long 'snuggle and swim' costs about $100.
Lovina Beach devotees love the ocean and water-sport activities. Lovina offers diving and snorkelling tours and adventures: you can also swim with dolphins in a hotel that has rescued injured dolphins, or communicate with wild dolphin pods from motorised boats that launch every day, in the early morning. The ocean-dolphin adventure tour is a very natural and respectful way to interact with these fascinating and playful creatures. Spend a few days in Lovina just walking along the beach, or enjoying her many beach-side cafes and eateries that specialise in fresh seafood and tropical juices.
Lovina is loved for her dolphins, water-sports and ocean adventures.
Lovina's is known for her relaxed vibe, which also makes selecting her many healing services stress-free. Here, you are not bombarded with leaflets and over-commercialism. Healing services in Lovina are less about the full 'luxury-retreat-package' and more about traditional healers offering modalities that have been handed down through healing lineages. Lovina is a great place to pay attention to yourself and to experience the genuine Balinese healing touch.
Bedugul's Mountain Mists and Mysticism
Bedugul, a two-hour taxi ride from Lovina, is a mountain village that offers a variety of mountain treks and day trips. You can book a trek from any number of tourist activity booking centres that line Bedugul's main street, Jalan Raya Bedugul. Don't be caught unaware if you have come from Lovina: here, you will need warm clothes and waterproof jacket, as well as proper walking boots if you plan to mountain trek.
Nestled in the northern mountains, Bedugul has a cooler climate which can be a welcome relief from Bali's unrelenting heat and humidity.
Bedugul has a pronounced Islamic influence which is what makes the town different from other parts of Bali. That being said, it is 'Islam with a Balinese twist': still colourful and vibrant rather than the more austere face of Islamic islands such as Sumbawa or Lombok. Bedugul has two mosques which are design-splendored. Many Javanese tourists frequent local warungs that follow Islamic food-preparing rituals and cuisine choices. I recommend that you try the Bedugul's main-street warungs and ask proprietors about their recipes and traditions. They are willing- even slightly amused- to be able to share their kitchen notes with interested westerners.
Bedugul's mountainous landscape has a sacred serenity that reflects in the lake-crater below. The lake, visible from most high-altitude vantage points, also supports a revered temple. Famed for its natural beauty and Bali Botanic Garden, Bedugul tends to attract tourists looking for calm and an authentic travel-cultural experience. Don't expect café lattes and' real expresso coffee' in Bedugul.
The Bali Botanic Garden, in Bedugul, is at the forefront of botanical conservation. The Bamboo Forest is a popular and impressive site.
Bedugul has one of the most interesting and easily negotiated local markets in Bali. One of its most impressive product ranges is fresh spices, seeds and pods, and store-holders will enthusiastically tell you about their use in herbal medicine and Balinese cooking. The spices are packaged and if you declare them, should pose no problems going through customs. In addition, the market has handicrafts made from herbs, spices and husks: it is a delight to be able to purchase bowls and coasters that smell like cinnamon! I also recommend the permanent fine-art gallery which promotes the work of local painters and illustrators.
Common Village Lifestyles
Fresh food markets in Bali are village hubs. Visiting the island's markets in the morning affirms village-lifestyle appreciation - don't eat out or have all your meals catered all the time because it alienates you from the local community and its cultural vibe. There is so much tropical fruit and fresh farm produce in Bali that markets are a visual feast and a photographer's paradise. If you are 'in the market' for a bargain, or have villa-style accommodation and need to self-cater, spend some time 'people-watching' to ascertain the best quality produce at bargain prices. However, understand that because you are a tourist, market prices will be slightly inflated for you. Just like at home, you get the best out of fresh food markets when you buy regional specialities: in Bedugul, don't pass up on the strawberries and in Lovina- you can't go passed morning-fresh seafood.
Village life in all three towns is easy to self-discover. In Ubud, for example, there are 'walking tours' and 'rice padi tours', but all you have to do is pick a direction- and walk. Within 5-10 minutes (in most directions) terraced rice fields unfold before your eyes and you begin to understand that farming is the true life force of Bali. Roadside stalls offering fresh coconut juice provide sun-rest and thirst-relief. You can't really get lost- just go back the way that you came or hail a motor bike ride closer to the town's edge.
It's easy to lose yourself in the terraced rice paddies of Bali - just walk.