Culture Crush: Ubud, Bali | Part 2

Wild monkeys and traditional ceremonies.

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. This is the second part of this trip, to read about the first part click here and for a breakdown of the entire trip scroll down the bottom of the page.


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Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

In my opinion, a trip to Ubud wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. Situated in the center of town, the forest is home to a riot of mischievious primates. Our host Ratna tells us that its ‘not really a sanctuary. It wasn’t put there by anyone, the monkeys have always lived there’. When we visit, the monkeys make sure this fact is made abundantly clear.

We decide to walk to the forest from Casa Odata which takes around 45 minutes to do. The main road, Jalan Raya Ubud, offers many stores to buy souvenirs and clothing and as such is quite busy. Ratna’s partner recommends we take a quiet and scenic side road called Jalan Bisma Rayan which we do and it takes us all the way to the Monkey Forest entrance.

Here we pay 40,000IDR for an entrance ticket. Before we go in we make sure our bags are sealed properly and that we’ve already taken everything out that we might want to use e.g. cameras (placed around or necks) and phones (in our hands or pockets). This is important as we later come to see that rustling around in your bag for things entices the monkey’s interest and, if worst comes to worst, could lead to a WorldStarHipHop type fight.

At the entrance, there is the opportunity to buy bananas and sweet potatoes to offer to the monkeys. A lot of people did this to get photo-ops with them jumping and sitting on them. Vivian and I don’t because, well, we value our safety.

As we explore the forest we come across one monkey that is considerably larger than the rest. He walks slowly and with all the certainty that this is his kingdom. When the other monkeys accidentally drop their food in front of him, attempting to retrieve it doesn’t seem to even cross their minds, and rightly so, one of the forest attendants tells us jokingly ‘he’s the king’.

Exhausted from walking to and around the forest, we hail a taxi to take us to somewhere cheap to eat. I end up ordering a delicious plate of Nasi Goreng that comes to around 25,000IDR. After this we find another taxi to take us back to Casa Odata and then to our next accommodation, Alang Alang House.


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Alang Alang House

Alang Alang House is another AirBnB find. It’s located around a 15-minute drive from the center of Ubud and is hidden away in private side road.

Here, Vivian and I stay in one of four a small but sweet hotel rooms. We also see that there are two honeymoon-esque rooms offering a great view of the greenery that surrounds the House. We find that, in the evenings, there aren’t many options in regards to finding nearby places to eat so take up the opportunity to order from the House kitchen. While there isn’t tons of choice the food was pretty tasty, and in the mornings we’re offered breakfast for free.


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Exploring the nightlife

In comparison to Kuta, Ubud’s nightlife scene tends to play host to primarily live music bars, as opposed to nightclubs. When we choose to explore this, we take a taxi from Alang Alang House to and from the center, which costs us 50,000IDR each way. We go to Jalan Monkey Forest (Monkey Forest Road) with the aim of visiting CP Lounge under the impression that this will give us the closest thing to a nightclub experience, however when we arrive there is a live band playing music that we aren’t particularly fans of.

We continue on the road and decide that we like the look of a place whose name I can’t find or remember (whoops). Here we get a cocktail and a shot before pretty much falling asleep on the sofas. I’ll leave it up to you to gage how fun a bar it was.


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A Royal Ubud Cremation

We decided to spend or second from last full day in Ubud not getting up to much but our host here informs us that the next day there will be a cremation ceremony for a member of the Ubud Royal Family.

When we arrive at Ubud Grand Palace at around 11 am. Dressed in shorts, we’re immediately swarmed by an army of street vendors offering us a colorful selection of printed sarongs to cover our legs with. After around 15 minutes ‘of no thank you, we’re fine’ we eventually give in and purchase one each for 20,000IDR a piece.

In the centre of the road are hundreds of men. Some sit as part of the band that will play their instruments as the procession progresses from the palace to the cemetery where the cremation will take place. And others sit beneath an enormous and intricately decorated 9-story Bade tower in which the deceased will be carried.

At the commencement of the ceremony the men phenomenally lift the tower and, with crowds of onlookers and supporters of the royal family behind them, proceed down the path to the encouraging rhythm of the band. It’s another sweltering day in Ubud so the men are sprayed continuously with water in hope of cooling them down. In past ceremonies men have died from the combination of the weight of the Bade tower and the unforgiving heat however, despite the risk, carrying the Bade is considered a great honour for those involved. In total around 5,000 men from various villages take their turn in carrying the Bade, swapping places as the procession advances.

Witnessing this process was an amazing and completely unexpected way to complete our stay in Bali. As a genuine cultural experience, more than say the Kecak dances, I would definitely recommend you try and visit Ubud at a time that one of these ceremonies take place, they seem to happen fairly often, and while it might seem quite morbid to be eager to see someone’s cremation it’s important to remember that in Bali this is a celebration of life as opposed to it’s mourning.


The Breakdown

How we traveled: After spending 3 nights in Kuta, we took a taxi to our first AirBnB in Ubud. Once there we either continued to use taxis as our mode of transport or we walked. Getting from Ubud to Ngurah Rai International Airport cost 300,000IDR.

What we did: During the days of our stay we visited the Tegalalang rice Terraces (10,000IDR), the Bali Pulina coffee plantation (free!), Tegunanun waterfall (10,000IDR), The sacred monkey forest (40,000IDR) and had the opportunity to attend a Royal Cremation ceremony (free!). Ubud’s nightlife isn’t like Kuta’s as the main ‘strip’ tends to be host to live music bars as opposed to nightclubs. We only went out for one evening here and visited a bar who’s name I can’t recall… sorry!

Where we ate: We made an active effort to only eat at local Indonesian restaurants. On the walk from Casa Odata to the center of town, there were many vegan and health orientated restaurants, offering main dishes for around 35,000IDR. During our stay at Alang Alang House, we opted to order from their own kitchen most nights sharing plates of Gado Gado, Nasi Goreng rice between us. This cost us around 17,500IDR each.

Where we stayed: For the first three nights of our time in Ubud we stayed in Casa Odata. For the final three nights we stayed in a room at Alang Alang House.

Tips & Tricks: When visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest hold on tight to your belongings, avoid opening and taking things out of your bag (e.g. suncream, water, insect repellent, even plastic bags) the monkeys will become curious and will fight you for it, and if you don’t surrender whatever it is you’re holding they’ll bite you until you do.

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