Bear with me on the present tense from a year ago. It’s now the start of a long, cold, wet Melbourne winter and I’ve had some requests for tips on Ubud, where everyone wise is headed in the next few weeks. So, cast your minds back to be in the moment with me. I will do the same. It’s raining and 11 degrees today. I just might cast back and stay there.
Yesterday I met a real pain in the ass. Doesn’t happen much in Ubud. If you don’t like the smiley vibe here, you tend to just…leave. This guy had been here for a day and a night and he hated it. In fact, I think he’d spent 23 hours thinking about what he hated and writing these things down. In blood. During the 24th hour he went looking for someone to vent to and he found me.
I was an easy target. Sitting under my bower of passionflowers at Bar Luna, smiling into the afternoon sun, thinking about Bali. Thinking about France. Laughing at an email. Waving to a friend piloting a slow scooter down Jalan Coutama. When people walk past here, they smile and say hello. It’s nice. I smiled. He said ‘Can I ask you a question?’
I said ‘Sure!’
A few of my friends operate an unofficial bule embassy out of Bar Luna and I felt I owed it to them to keep their desks warm: I prepared answers to the questions I’ve heard a few times before from this perch – ‘how do you extend your visa?’ ‘Where can I get good coffee?’ ‘Is that organic beer OK?’ ‘Is there a toilet in there?’ ‘When is happy hour?’ and ‘Did we know each other in a past life?’ (not-even-kidding-a-little-bit).
‘You look happy. Why is everyone so happy here? It’s vile. It’s a vile place.’
‘Yeah, I prefer Kuta. At least in Kuta you know it’s going to be hell. But this place pretends it’s heaven. It’s a disgrace. It revolts me.’
‘I’ll take that as a comment.’
‘OK, well, I’m happy because it’s warm, friendly, relaxi –‘
‘It’s not relaxing. It’s busy.’
‘This is the centre of town at the height of tourist season.’
‘Yeah. It’s busy.’
‘Go just outside of town, take a walk down –’
‘But you like it here. I can tell.’
‘Yes, I really do.’
‘Huh. What’s it like in there?’
‘Great food, great coffee. Lovely staff.’
‘Yeah, right. They just want your money you know.’
‘Yep. It’s a business. It’s a cafe.’
At this point, the three piece acoustic guitar band at Bar Luna start playing ‘Don’t worry be happy.’ (not-even-kidding-a-little-bit. 10 July 2012, one of their best ever sets). The dudes harmonised their whistling in a way Bobby could be proud of. I was proud too. I puffed out my chest. I gestured at the guitars, ‘Look, it’s happy hour. The band’s playing a happy song about being happy. Come in, get a drink with a fresh lychee in it. Give it a chance,’ (this is how happy I am here – I invited this nasty little man in to my happy from his unhappy).
He just snorted a real snort at me and said ‘They’re ruining this song,’ then he said ‘and I heard there was a Starbucks here.’
I felt my stomach plummet – how could I mount a case for Ubud-as-heaven when he already knew its most horrible secret? There really is a Starbucks here. It’s even got this fakey-temple thing going on. It’s just awful, truly awful. So. Tragic. I hung my head and mumbled that I’d heard there was one. I felt all my pride and Ubud-love deflating.
‘Yeah, well can you tell me where it is? I want a real coffee from a good place.’
‘They only want your money you know.’ (hey, I’m not that happy.)
After giving Mr Sunshine directions and a tight-lipped wave goodbye, I thought I should publish the ‘Few days in Ubud’ quick-list I’ve put together for some friends. That way, if you turn up after being stuck in traffic behind a tour bus for hours in indifferent weather, you can cheat your way to happy-in-Ubud without wasting time on bad snacks.
Here we go.
Coffee: This is important to me. Good strong coffee gets me really, really high. I love drinking it. The comedown is just as severe as the upswing however, and it takes real fortitude to get me through the giddying trajectory of any day that includes coffee. That’s pretty much every day. I live like an addict. Lots of self-loathing, promises, shakes and headaches, dry-mouth, snapping of elastic bands on wrists, the joy of abandoning myself to the high, the self- loathing and repeat.
If you need it too, Bar Luna is the best, by far. Their strong latte and house-made shortbread mini-cookie is a sublime coffee experience. Seniman is also wonderful – part design studio and coffee laboratory, and both spots are tucked away in relatively quiet spots and have wifi. Juice Ja and Kafe are my other hideaways for real coffee, and both serve delicious food and juices (Kafe has much better food, Juice Ja has the better location). The green tea espresso frappe at Kafe is the stuff of breakfast dreams.
Snacks: one of the reasons people are happy here is that we eat tasty food all day. Just cruise from one long meal to the next. There’s a lot of high quality produce and flavours to be had for crazy small sums of money, particularly if you are used to eating out in a big city. What would cost me $40 in Melbourne costs me $4 in Ubud. As a consequence, I spend my time snacking in fancier, more obvious spots. You can get a tasty meal here for 70 cents, but that’s not on my list. My list is not going to be liked by people who think it’s sacrilegious to eat Mexican food in Indonesia. I care not. You’re on holiday – eat tasty things that make you happy. It’s not a competition. The Lonely Planet fairy will not appear and award you anything for eating tepid gado-gado at every meal.
Juice-Ja – these guys have a great soto ayam (local chicken soup) and will even serve it piping hot for breakfast. I’m a big fan of it for breakfast or lunch with a whole young coconut to drink on the side. Their juices are great too, and it has a lovely vibe. Jalan Dewisita, near Havana.
Bar Luna – the nasi campur is the best in town. The coffee is the best in town. Breakfasts are great and so are the delicious tropical cocktails – 2 for 1 during the long happy hour from 5 to 8, so a lychee breeze and a watermelon martini will set you back about $5 for the pair. This is great for Bali, where mixed drinks can be surprisingly pricey. Jalan Coutama.
Taco Casa and Grill – better Mexican food than I’ve had anywhere in Australia. I’m a big fan of the shrimp quesadillas, and I always order the fresh ‘lemon’ juice (an incredible iced lime slushie – don’t fear the ice in any of these places) The burritos are great too. So is the guac. It’s all great. Jalan Hanoman, next to Pizza Bagus.
Kafe – Yum! Healthy, delicious, nutritious, tasty. Everything here is good. Wash your meal down with a green tea espresso frappe in the morning, juices the rest of the day, and a Storm beer (the Pale is great) at whatever is beer time for you. Jalan Hanoman.
Clear – best at night, when it’s all lit up and fancy. This and Havana are great date nights. Wide selection of treats. Jalan Hanoman.
Havana – what’s a Cuban salsa bar doing in Ubud? Who cares? The band is fantastic, the swivel-hipped staff will have you dancing, and despite the fact that those two sentences would normally have me cross the street to avoid a place, it works on holiday. It’s often the last place to close, and in a town with sleepy nightlife, that’s important. Jalan Dewisita.
Kue bakery, has a daily edition of the international edition of the New York times, and a pleasing array of snacks including a sandwich with melted brie. Yeah.
The sate/satay guy deep underground in the wet market – this guy has great satay and he’s a sweetheart too. More of an in-between snack than a meal, just head down into the underground local-ish part of the touristy main market in town. The satay are always cooking over hot coals, just follow your nose. Jalan Main, underground at the markets.
Take the through-the paddy-fields walk to Sari Organik, but keep going further to Pomegranate, a massive favourite and very peacefully away from it all.
Yoga Barn – Just do it. It’ll be great If you’ve never done it before, do an intro. I did it one day when I was at half-lung capacity from flu and I finally learned the basics properly. After a few months of practice at all the classes on offer, I’ve never looked or felt better. Twas grand. Jalan Hanoman, be very careful of the broken footpath getting there, and look for the ‘Siam Sally’ sign to find the entrance. Every other Monday night the Yoga Barn run open-air movies on comfy cushions, with organic popcorn served in half coconut shells to the sounds of a thousand crickets in the paddy fields and a water fall rushing below.
Jalan Main (self-explanatory) is like the body of the octopus and all tentacles come off in this way. First is Monkey Forest road, all the way down to literal Monkey Forest. Busy and crazy. Leads to the soccer field, always a good landmark.
On Hanoman, you’ll find the Yoga Barn, Clear, Kafe, and Sisi and Nanan and Puspita for shopping (sweet, Japanese designed silverwear and clothing).
Jalan Coutama is my favourite little street by far. Just wander.
On dealing with touts and beggars
This largely happens on on Jalan Dewisita. Just be friendly. This is a small town, not Kuta. You’ll run into these people again. They aren’t too persistent and occasionally you do want a ride or whatever they offer. Chill out. No one is trying to get the better of you. Remain smiley and kind. Remember your manners, these are people too. Also, you are on holiday. So, maybe the knife sellers are the only ones to ignore – but no one else needs to be ignored. No one should be ignored! It will just ruin your mood.
Jalan Main leads down to Campuhan, and on to Penestanan.
For nails, great massages, soaking in deep copper tubs and all kinds of lush (and cheap!) treatments, visit Sedona.
For massage in exotic, jungle-cave surroundings that won’t cost crazy prices – Tjampuhan
For the best wax, particularly intimate waxing (in fact, don’t go anywhere else for this) Skin is by far the best choice. They have the best kinds of nail polish too.
Most important tip – Smile. Breathe. Make your own list and make it better. There’s so much left out of this one. x