“Transport? Taxi? Yes, transport?” This is the refrain of the sidewalks of Ubud. Every few meters, there’s another guy sitting at a storefront accosting all passersby with offers of transportation. If you keep walking and look uninterested, they’ll always add, “Maybe tomorrow? Where are you going?” Though annoying, all of the drivers seem good-natured, somewhat aware of how ridiculous it would be if suddenly after walking past 10 other taxi drivers you suddenly wanted them to take you there, but persistent in offering anyway.
Ubud is packed with tourists, and places catering to tourists, even during the low season. This means that there are annoying foreigners who do culturally-inappropriate-anywhere things like not wearing a shirt in shops (while nowhere near a beach), but also that there are lots of trendy ex-pat restaurants with “delicacies” (for Asia) like macaroni and cheese and guacamole. The popularity of Ubud as an inland cultural, artsy town has probably only increased since the Eat Pray Love movie came out a few months ago, because, unbeknownst to me until after we got back, it’s the town where Elizabeth Gilbert lived in the book and the movie.
There’s not a whole lot to the immediate town except eating, and lots and lots of shopping. Stores with handicrafts, from baskets to woodcarving to batik line every street, and there’s a jam-packed market in the center of town. The market has everything from knock-off designer goods, to more art and handicrafts, to ubiquitous Bintang Beer gear (Bintang Beer is almost as good as Beerlao, but not quite), fruit, and endless sarongs. The Balinese seemed to me like much more generous bargainers than the Lao. In Lao at Talat Sao (Morning Market), the shopkeepers will roll their eyes at your lowball prices, and then let you walk away if you can’t come to an agreement. In the Ubud market, a bargaining session between Alex and a merchant went something like this:
“How about 20,000?”
Starting to walk away. “25.”
One of the big attractions that we visited was the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest and Sanctuary, which is at the end of–you guessed it–“Monkey Forest Road.” Inside the forest, there are trails that lead through the lush overgrowth, with several temples. Immense banyan trees grow alongside the path, with labyrinthine roots, and low-hanging branches that look like they belong to Tarzan. Inside the forest, local guides sell bananas to feed to the 300 primate residents of the forest, who are not shy at all about demanding food, laying the middle of the path, and approaching visitors. The monkeys are everywhere–cavorting on temple walls, eating insects off one another, lounging underfoot. Because so many tourists visit and feed them, they aren’t at all hesitant to demand–or take–what they can find. As we were walking unsuspectingly down the path a particularly audacious monkey dove onto Alex and began trying to pull his water bottle out of his pocket with its teeth. After an altercation that involved not wanting to get rabies but wanting to detach the sharp-toothed monkey, the monkey won, managing to pull off the cap, and get a face-full of water.
Just outside the main part of town, the tourist shops disappear and Ubud becomes a landscape of spectacularly terraced rice fields. A small path weaves through the farms and into the forest. After a session of hard-bargaining at the market, we decided to spend our second afternoon in Ubud meandering through the rice fields. Despite the fact that it’s an activity recommended to all tourists by guidebooks and hotel owners, it was a peaceful experience. We saw Jurassic Park-like foliage, farmers at work, uncomfortably large spiders, bathing children. In a few areas, locals were selling things from their homes. “Young coconut?” one couple offered. We decided it was time for some refreshment, and asked for two, which were quickly cut open for us using a machete. Most coconuts that I’ve had are nothing but quick snacks, but these…these were a challenge. The coconut water seemed to be bottomless. “One liter each,” our host said when we finally finished and had them cut open to eat the inside.
No visit to Bali would be complete without a trip to the beach, so after two days enjoying Ubud’s attractions, it was time to make moves to our next destination: the island of Nusa Lembongan.