17 April | BY Andjelka Jankovic | City Guides , Travel
Pick up the pieces of your life and rearrange
All that anyone really needs is a good adventure. They say a change is as good as a holiday, but sometimes the change you need is the actual holiday. When the urge to travel hits, it hurts in your bones. At the start of 2015 life brought me to Ubud, Bali in Indonesia – the spiritual and geographical centre of the world.
Yoga, meditation, sound healing, ecstatic dance, raw, organic, vegan, Ayurvedic, cold pressed, fermented – Ubud is the ideal place to fill your days with what feels good in life. Serendipity, solitude, gratitude, rest, relaxation, walking, healing, nature, wonder, music, laughter – when life feels good, great things happen.
When travelling solo, it’s easy to make more plans than hours in a day to keep solitude at bay. But really, spending time alone is a pit stop on the highway of self-actualisation. Learning how to be usefully lonely is scary but incredibly rewarding.
I arrived to Ubud wanting a break from reality but what I got was a breakthrough. At the end of my Ubud adventure, I left feeling present, centered and at peace.
You can’t ask for an awakening and awakenings don’t happen overnight (believe me – I’ve tried). But going your own way and doing something outrageous from time to time might just be the recipe for awakening something in you that has been asleep for too long.
If you’re visiting Ubud, I hope the wonder of this Balinese heartland shakes and awakens your soul like it did mine. In sharing what made me come alive, may this travel guide act as a useful travel buddy and spiritual best friend for your own coming aliveness. Here is where I recommend to eat, move your body, relax, heal, explore and sleep and find yourself in Ubud, Bali.
Indonesian food is love at first taste. Plant-based vegetarian food is at the heart of Balinese cooking, with a huge focus on ‘food as medicine’ in Ubud. I spent most of my time wishing for one more bite of whatever that was. My favourite edible finds are: coconut kefir, jamu juice, kombucha, papaya, mangosteen, dragon fruit, authentic tempeh, sayur urap vegetables, sweet mung bean porridge, gado gado satay, Ayurvedic dishes, and giant fresh coconuts with every meal. The ultimate food discovery was ‘Nasi Campur’ in an organic Ubud warung – less than $2 for a heaped plate of marinated tempeh, sautéed vegetables, red rice, gado gado, boiled egg and other delicious seasonal side dishes.
Sustainable food packaging is used throughout Bali – banana leaves are woven into food takeaway baskets and fresh tempeh parcels, and fresh bamboo becomes drinking straws. As I said several times on my trip: ‘The Balinese are so behind that they are in front.’
A small and cozy family run place for the health conscious. An ideal rest stop about 20 minutes walk from Ubud centre and a place to ‘just be’. I ordered pumpkin coconut soup and grilled tempeh with beans, both delicious. With only four tables, it’s easy to speak to a stranger while you wait for your food, which I think makes the taste of travel all the sweeter.
Being across the road from Radiantly Alive Yoga Studio makes it a perfect post-downward dog refuel. I was hooked on the yummy marinated eggplant red rice gluten free wraps and the raw chocolate pie which tastes like a jar of Nutella. Stock up on organic food (like coconut kefir yogurt and chia seeds) and eco-beauty items (like mosquito spray and coconut oil) at Bali Buddha Shop on the corner.
A yogi mecca with a thoughtful menu of vegan, paleo and raw food. The fruit and raw granola breakfast bowl with homemade coconut milk came in a beautiful wooden bowl, I had to resist taking it home with me. I was intrigued by a section of the menu with Ayuerdva dishes explaining what to eat to balance your dosha. I became instantly fascinated with this ancient Indian philosophy and I met with an Ayuervdic healer on my last day in Ubud.
A serendipitous meeting with a delightful Russian character called Elf led me to Soma – an organic vegetarian food garden with a spiritual feeling. The bright green Anahata soup full of cashews, zucchini, steamed vegetables and shallots was the ultimate colour and taste of health. Dessert came in mug form, and my heart was full drinking an Ojay Booster – a warming Ayuervdic drink of nut milk, cinnamon, cloves and spices with cocoa and maca.
The Instagram-famous raw vegan restaurant that made bowls of greens sexy. The salad bar is a taste safari with a huge selection of creatively prepared vegetables and inventive toppings like turmeric cashews, activated pumpkin seeds, marinated mushrooms, and basil pesto avocado. I ate here several times and stocked up on their Kangen Living Water – a filtered and alkalized water full of energy that feels so good to drink (especially when avoiding all tap water in a third world country). On a sweet note, I highly recommend the PB & J smoothie which (to use another acronym) is OMG. A tall glass of strawberries, peanut butter, banana, cashew milk and palm nectar that tastes like Canada (I may have cried).
An absolute must-visit for food lovers. If you have only one day in Ubud, side step the sarong hagglers and head here. There are three Sari Organik locations so to avoid confusion visit ‘Warung Bodag Maliah’ – an 800 metre walk through rice paddy fields from the Ubud Main Road. A true happiness inducing place – Sari Organik is an organic farm and experimental food restaurant. I visited the garden (where you can pick your own produce to be made into your meal) or order from their inspiring menu. For breakfast I ate tofu falafels with seasonal vegetables and Middle Eastern guacamole. A flavour highlight was lemongrass, ginger and lemon tea that was so fresh and good for the soul that I shared my pot with a fellow traveller. Make sure you pick up some organic papaya jam to take home.
Balinese Street Food
Want to find the best food in Ubud? Eat the street. Advice: some Western stomachs can’t handle local food so only eat from places that look and feel clean to you. Roadside snacks are hard to resist, especially with the warm Balinese smiles and lively conversations around these hotspots. My favourite street food in Ubud was the delicious banana leaf ‘takeaway’ snacks – try the coconut pancakes with mango and black sticky rice cones (sweet) and grilled tempeh, rice and gado gado parcels (savoury).
I found out about this local food treasure from Sarah of My New Roots and made it my personal mission to find Lala & Lili Warung. Through a maze of Penastanan back alleys I found the restaurant surrounded by a lotus flower pond. A peaceful bohemian feel, I found the best Nasi Campur in Ubud and so the love affair began. At lunch I was joined by a ginger cat. She looked exactly like my childhood cat that I dearly loved and lost who was (serendipitously) called Lili. It was a heartwarming realisation and so I fed her chicken while she fed my soul.
Simple and delicious vegetarian food with a warm welcome. As a Nasi Campur devotee, I loved trying the local specialities from warung to warung, and Prima Veg did not disappoint with a generous plate of crunchy tempeh manis, spiced eggplant, sautéed leafy greens, oyster mushrooms, mixed red rice, beans and sprouts, chickpea and corn fritter and gado gado.
A balcony Brooklyn-esque café and bar with the best coffee and fastest WiFi in Ubud. Nab a high stool overlooking the bustling street corner. I ate a hearty laksa-inspired soup and vegetable gado gado sticks with a rosella honey kombucha while a black and white film was playing on a projector. An ideal place to read, lounge and be.
An eclectic menu of Japanese and Balinese dishes, we ate pumpkin coconut soup, Nasi Campur with marinated eggplant, sweet and crunchy tempeh manis, banana flower salad, and (surprisingly) the Italian pasta on the menu. No foodie adventure is complete without trying something you’ve never heard of. In this case, a curious smelling fermented Japanese soybean delicacy called Nattō with an overpowering sharp taste. One taste was enough. Luckily dessert was mango coconut pie and homemade tamarind, ginger and lemon soda, followed by a joyous walk home in the rain.
Ubud Morning Market
To experience true Balinese culture make sure you head to the morning markets in the centre of Ubud. The trick is to arrive before 7am to experience the bustling local meeting place. Walking (or rather, skipping) around, I soaked in the rows and rows of every exotic fruit and vegetable imaginable. I ate a bag of mangosteens for breakfast on the temple steps overlooking the square. Soon after 9am (almost if at once) the Balinese leave to prepare the family meals for the day. When the touristy shops open the energy feels completely different in a matter of minutes. My advice: plan to visit the markets around sunrise.
In Ubud I went from being a ‘once a week’ yoga dabbler to ‘can I fit a third class in today?’ yoga enthusiast. I picked classes that I had never done before and found myself floating on a different kind of high after each one.
A light and airy yoga studio tucked in a laneway. I spent a playful morning swinging and hanging upside down in a High Fly Yoga class with Jose, a Spanish winemaker turned yoga inventor. Lot of laughs and shrieks and even tears as women around me released tension from their hips where emotions are stored. After 90 minutes of trapeze like yoga, I personally felt longer, leaner and lighter than I have in years.
Private Yoga Class
Honestly, I have no idea why it never occurred to me to do a one-to-one yoga lesson back home. Find a local Balinese teacher to learn about the heart of yoga. After a beautiful 90-minute vinyasa practice with personal adjustments, alignments and pearls of wisdom – something clicked. I finally understood how to do the pranayama breathing I always hear in classes (circular yoga breathing that sounds like the ocean) and learnt that if you’re at home in yourself, you can be at home anywhere.
An Ubud institution for yoga, meditation, wellness, alternative healing and fun times. In every class you find yourself by surrounded by gorgeous and interesting people from every corner of the world, it is hard not to be inspired. My favourite Yoga Barn picks are: Vinyasa Flow with Les, Yin Yoga with Gypsy, AcroYoga with Bex, Sunday Ecstatic Dance and Spirit Night – a multi-instrumental sound healing concert (Tibetan bowls, didgeridoo, strings, native American Flute, drum, chanting) with Shervin Boloorian and the Bali Sound Healers Collective that finished with a Balinese Blessing Ceremony. You can’t make a bad decision with the timetable, so jump in and trust the universe!
For the first five days in Ubud, a magical being called Gypsy taught a class every morning at our villa overlooking the jungle. Bouncing in with a head full of feathers, Gypsy’s energy was authentic and infectious, and she spouted insights about ‘being your own guru’ while taking us through Vinyasa, Yin and Hatha poses. One morning she offered the mantra, like a sweet gift I took home with me: Love more. Be open. Let it go.
Sitting at a desk all day, I crave spending my days on foot. I rediscovered walking everywhere in Ubud. The magic of travel happens when curiosity leads you down a side street and the best meal of your trip, or a wrong turn leads to an an unexpected conversation and a new friend.
Getting out of Ubud for a day requires finding a car. I met Wayan Yoga who became my regular driver and a great friend. He told me stories about Balinese life while we drove around singing Bob Marley and Simon & Garfunkle (the only two CDs he had). He taught me the real meaning of peace and the beauty of polarity. I found Balinese people extraordinarily wise and humble, despite little or no formal education, and humbling to speak with. Often a smile would lead to an interesting conversation in broken English.
A highly recommended way to meet locals, see the awe-inspiring Balinese rice paddy fields and spend a day cycling new ground. The full day of exploring and improved muscle tone finished with a traditional Balinese lunch made by our guide’s wife – a memorable meal from my trip. There are lots of companies and routes to choose from and I had a great day with Bayan Tree Bike Tours.
A two-hour morning walk with a local starting at 7am through jungle, villages and rice paddy fields. We navigated across a river and came across a group of men around a traditional Balinese fire pit cooking a 70kg (!) pig in celebration of a first birthday in the village. The quiet of the morning felt holy and discovering the nearby villages and being in nature was a genuine thrill.
An 11th-century temple surrounded by lush green jungle and built into the side of a rock face with the Pakerisan River running down the middle. I stopped on the way back up the 100-step ancient staircase to buy a coconut and chat with a man who had been tending to the same rice paddy field for 40 years. Gunung Kawi is the place to visit if you want to feel still, peaceful and connected.
The greenest and possibly most inspiring school on the planet. Located just outside of Ubud, this off-the-grid school is a pioneer in sustainability (the entire campus is built from bamboo) and holistic hands-on education The teaching policy is ‘open walls, open minds’ – classrooms have no walls, students don’t wear uniforms students, school days start with yoga and meditation, all food is sourced from their organic gardens, teachers have no offices and the curriculum is split into mind, body and spirit. Watch founder John Hardy’s My Green School Dream TED Talk and book in an afternoon walking tour.
I want to feel as good as I can, including when I travel. With an abundance of choice, finding where to relax in Ubud can be oddly stressful. Pampering, relaxing, and pleasure were high on my agenda – so I took note from the Balinese who value heart over head, body over mind, and being over doing. It was exciting to try new things and find new ways of knowing and enjoying yourself.
The holy grail of spas in Ubud is Çantika Zest. Set in an outdoor wonderland, all the treatment products are made from flowers, spices, herbs and plants from the spa garden. I highly recommend the Balinese massage, organic facial and hot oil scalp treatment (and the ultimate surrender – all three in a row!) . The food beauty workshop is a must if you want to learn how to make your own face mask, body oil and body scrub from the garden using avocado, aloe vera, frangipani, corn husks, coffee and herbs. Embrace self-care and don’t make plans after your treatments.
While I visted Çantika Zest the most, I also loved the vibe of the centrally located urban oasis Fresh! Spa. I had my first ever manicure and pedicure (yes, after 26 years of life) here and was fortunately introduced to the amazingness of not painting your own nails.
In Balance Duo Massage
A divine experience of four hands and two therapists performing your massage at once. Quickly give up trying to make sense of it and let relaxation do it’s thing.
When I heard about writer Janet De Neef’s Casa Luna Cooking School from The Broad Place, the ‘Food As Medicine’ class immediately caught my eye. I spent a hands-on morning with a lively group learning about the healing properties of spices and herbs used in Balinese cooking. Then we made a smorgasbord of Indonesian vegetarian food dishes including pumpkin curry, bamboo shoot curry, urap vegetables (THE BEST!) and tempeh with tomato salsa. Food as medicine makes a lot of sense to me and I learnt that about the ultimate Bali Belly remedy (ginger), the best way to cut a chilli (roll it first for the seeds to fall out) and how to make anything taste good (balance of sugar and salt).
Near the centre of Ubud is a mystical sunken carved stone grotto where the scared Oos and Tjampuhan Rivers meet. For less than $15 dollars you can spend an afternoon jumping from the fresh water pool to hot water springs to sauna to steam room set. An ideal place to unwind your mind and give your body some love with a mini detox.
Mini Juice Cleanse
Mid-way through my trip, my body was overloaded and needed a break. I decided to do a 24-hour juice cleanse, DIY holiday style. I went to Alchemy Café and bought four litres of organic, cold pressed juices (nutrients) and delicious cinnamon kombucha (probiotics). So as simple as it sounds, I drank only these for the next day. I stopped obsessing about my next meal and spent the time walking, reading and resting. I slept SO GOOD and jumped out of bed the following day. Lesson learnt.
A blend of warm oil, seaweed and fresh hibiscus flowers was massaged into my head, neck and shoulders as I sat outdoors by a stream. You can experience this deeply balancing Ayurvedic treatment at Kush (next to Yoga Barn) and allow this ancient technique to liberate old energies and brings news ones forth. The session finished with one of life’s greatest pleasures – a scalp massage – and I floated out on a cloud.
My ideal holiday would involve reading a book a day. I brought six books with me to Ubud but decided to be more spontaneous with reading. I picked a few books at random from the home library at the villa I was staying at and whatdoyouknow – I found exactly what I needed. I enjoyed Rilke’s Book of Hours but a sentence from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak spoke to me instantly:
‘Is the life I am living the same life that wants to live in me?’
Ask yourself too, it might send your world into a much needed tail spin. The only book of mine I did read was Danielle LaPorte’s The Desire Map – I’ve taken this on several trips and find it an endless source of soul direction and ‘heck yes’ moments about pinpointing how you want to feel in life.
At the edge of the Monkey Forest in Ubud is an Ayurevdic healing and wellness centre where I went for personal attention about my health. Ayurveda is a holistic Indian philosophy guided by your ‘dosha’ (Ayurvedic constitution) and combined with the wisdom of the oldest medicine in the world. Getting an appointment with Dr Sujatha Kekada was near impossible as she was fully booked for my whole trip, but as karma would have it, I managed to get one literally hours before my flight out of Bali. I thought I was there to talk about food and diet but, really, we all know how this plays out. We spoke about energetics, femininity, synchronicity, anxiety and digesting life all before we even spoke about breakfast. A lot of things clicked about my wellbeing and if you’re interested read Prakriti by Dr Richard Svoboda and Ayurveda and the Mind by Dr David Frawley.
Ubud is relatively small, so staying in one place would appear to make the most sense. But I was curious to experience three vastly different experiences of Ubud and so I stayed at an Airbnb villa, an eco-luxury hut and a yoga dorm house during my ten days:
It’s no longer a secret – staying in a stranger’s place in a foreign country is travel gold. Staying in an Air BnB means you can make your own meals from local produce, spend time with locals, and create a sense of ‘home’ – even for a few days. For the first five days I stayed about 25 minutes walk out of Ubud in a charming Balinese wilderness eco-villa that I pretended was my home with an outdoor shower, jungle kitchen, and an infinity pool.
If rolling out of bed and walking less than 20 metres to a 6am yoga class takes your fancy then stay at Yoga Barn. I wanted to pack in as much as yoga as I could in my last three days in Ubud, so I booked a private room that I spent little time actually in. It’s an idea location for meeting fellow yogis, bonding with other solo travellers and for attending night events without the worry of how to get home.
I gifted myself a three-night stay in an eco-luxury hut at Bambu Indah, a South East Asian traveller’s paradise. I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful this place would be. When I walked in, I spontaneously cried. The picturesque outdoor kitchen alone would make Nancy Meyers sob. Most huts are designed for couples, but I stayed in the Manis or ‘Sweet’ House which was perfect for one. Entirely made from bamboo (and owned by the founders of Green School) my hut had a front porch for reading, lots of natural light, a cozy bed and an outdoor shower with a secret rock garden. The food from Dapoer Restaurant uses organic vegetables grown on the grounds, and I’d recommend the breakfast museli and fruit bowl, Indonesian porridge, jamu juice, whole grilled fish and ordering for two people at every opportunity.