Culture Crush: Ubud, Bali | Part 1

Home to the world's priciest coffee.

After spending three relaxing days on Kuta‘s beaches, my good friend Vivian and I make the move to another popular Bali destination. Just one hour away, Ubud can be considered Bali’s cultural center. During our 6-day stay, we’re able to embrace a blossoming art scene, enjoy delicious food and have the unique and rare opportunity to witness a traditional Royal cremation ceremony. In between our unforgettable immersion into Balinese culture, we also make time to visit Ubud’s must-visit attractions including the Tegalalang Rice Terraces, the Tegenungan Waterfall, and the frighteningly fun Sacred Monkey Forest. We did quite a lot during our stay there so I split my retelling of this journey into two posts. To read about the second part of and for a breakdown of the entire trip click here. Otherwise, scroll down for more.

 Casa Odata Gallery

Vivian and I split up our time in Ubud by staying in two different locations. For the first three of our six-night stay, we booked a room on AirBnB advertised as being in an ‘Art Space’. Photographs showed an airy room decorated with warm colors and vibrant artwork. As art lovers, this seemed perfect for us, but upon our arrival, we discover that the ‘Art Space’ is so much more than we anticipated.

Our airy private room turns out to be situated atop Casa Odata, a colorful art gallery that is under the creative direction of our host, Ratna. The gallery showcases work by various artists living in Bali and East Java, some of whom we run into during our stay, and their art flows from the showrooms all the way up to our bedroom.

Throughout our stay, Ratna, her friends, and family are incredibly welcoming (as are their beautiful pet huskies) and she even takes the time one morning to have a deep and insightful discussion about issues within the international art scene.

The surrounding area of Casa Odata and the center of Ubud is filled with art galleries as well as opportunities to visit various exhibitions making our stay here is an amazing opportunity to experience a side of Bali that was not on offer in Kuta.

Starting our first full day in Ubud we are not entirely sure what we should do. We have an idea of the main attractions in the area but are uncertain about what we should explore first. Conflicted, we ask Ratna for her local expertise and she recommends we visit the Tegalalang Rice Terraces.

Tegalalang Rice Terraces

For us, the best way to get to the terraces from Casa Odata is either hailing a motorbike (or using the app GoJek to summon one to our location) or grabbing a taxi. Feeling uneasy about getting onto the back of an open vehicle with a stranger we opt for the latter option, but before we do this we take a walk to find breakfast at a local restaurant.

We notice that the Ubud area is full of food spots offering vegetarian and/or vegan food options which we suspect is likely down to the number of expats and yogi’s living in the area. While we each eat a plate 30,000IDR plate of Nasi Campur we start speaking to one of these expats who introduces himself as Todd ‘from Taho’. Todd (from Taho) has lived in Ubud for seven years and tells us he’s ‘always discovering new things here’.

After we eat we continue walking and come across some men in a small hut-like shop offering their taxi services. We negotiate a price with one of them and drive to the Rice Terraces. Before we get to see them we stop at a checkpoint where we pay a 10,000IDR entry fee.

Opposite a row of shops selling crochet tops and souvenirs are the bright green ridges of the Rice Terraces which appear much more surreal in reality than they do in photographs.

We are able to explore the entire area of the Terraces by foot and do so in 32-degree heat. There are very few opportunities for shade so I would highly recommend you take sunscreen and a hat if possible. By the end of our exploration, we’re exhausted as getting from one level to another (some of which you have to provide a not-so-voluntary donation to do so) is no easy feat.

Bali Pulina Coffee Plantation

After our Rice Terrace visit, our driver recommends we take the time to visit a coffee plantation named Bali Pulina that is just a short drive along the road we are on. At first, we are hesitant – worried that this is a ploy for our driver to get more money from us through some commission based scheme, but when we arrive our skepticism is put to shame. Actually, throughout our stay, I find that the taxi drivers in Bali are extremely helpful and forthcoming with advice on where to visit and can actually make a pretty good alternative to tour guides.

On entry to Bali Pulina, we are greeted by an incredibly welcoming guide. She gives us a tour of the plantation while explaining what they do there. As well as producing local blends of tea and coffee, Bali Pulina also makes Kopi Luwak a.k.a one of the most expensive coffees in the world.

What makes Kopi Luwak so expensive? Well, our guide explains that its production process is pretty unique; the coffee beans it’s made of are picked out of cat poop… attractive right?

To be fair, the beans aren’t fully digested, they’re of course thoroughly cleaned, roasted and ground before serving and they aren’t coming from the poop of your garden-variety tomcat. The poop beans actually come from a civet cat, also known as an Asian Palm Civet, which we get to see is an incredibly cute creature… almost cute enough that eating coffee made from its doesn’t seem entirely gross.

When the tour finishes we are brought to a small cafe overlooking another more rice terraces. We’re pleasantly surprised to be offered the opportunity to sample some of the different drinks produced in the plantation for free. The sample platter consisted of various teas, coffees, and hot chocolates. Unfortunately, the Kopi Luwak wasn’t included with the samples (they sell it for 50,000IDR a cup) so we didn’t try it, but what we did drink was delicious.

Before we say goodbye to our driver that afternoon, we arrange for him to pick us up early the following morning to take us to the Tegenugnan Waterfall.

Tegenugnan Waterfall

We set out at 9 am with the hope of arriving before the waterfall becomes too crowded with other tourists. There drive there provides an amazing opportunity to see more of Ubud’s landscape. As we make our journey either side of the road offers us with a view of vast plots of bright green pasture and rice paddies dotted with bright white egret birds. The road itself is lined with luscious trees that lean over us like a canopy.

When we get near the waterfall we’re asked to pay a 10,000ID entry fee which we do before stopping for something to eat. We go with one of the small restaurants behind the checkpoint and both order chicken satay and rice with a large young coconut for 60,000IDR.

To get to the waterfall we have to walk down an intense set of stone steps that bring us to a muddy path. From here an illuminated veil of mist covers our view of the waterfall. As we progress further down the path (which I recommend you wear something other than sandals/flip flops to do) we begin to feel a gentle spray of water.

Up-close, the waterfall is striking. Its current is so strong that it is difficult to stand in front of it for long without being soaked by its spray and at its base is a natural pool deep enough to swim in and, if you’re brave enough, to dive into from the rocks above.

We stay at the waterfall for about an hour, leaving just before an influx of other tourists arrive as we approach midday.

Wait, there’s more!

This journey is split into two parts. To read the second part and to see a breakdown of everything, click here!

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