Sunday, September 10, 2006

Our Love Affair with Ubud

Returning to a place where you have been happy is generally regarded as a mistake, but as author Peter Mayle discovered, this is not always true. After three visits, we have come to regard Ubud as our "happy place", to be "visited" in moments of extreme stress (caused mostly by overwork and harpy bosses). As HM puts it, there's nothing quite like a snail's eye view of the padi fields from the porch of No. 11 Tegal Sari to induce a state of inner peace. In this case, no TV, no problem, which is really saying something, considering we're talking about people who watch countless hours of CSI and food programmes a week.

There is almost always something or someone to "watch" out on the padi fields - a solitary farmer attending to his chores, a noisy flock of ducks going about their business, smoke spiralling upwards from a smouldering pile of hay, or just the tall stalks of rice swaying in the wind. And then, to complete the sensory experience, there is the sound of bamboo windchimes and the smell of incense. For variety, throw in a daily dose of yoga and massage, many a yummy meal, a different dance performance to watch every evening of the week, a plethora of boutiques, jewellers and bric-a-brac shops within walking distance, and photo ops on every street corner - what's there not to like?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Home Away from Home

This was only our second stay at Tegal Sari, but somehow it felt like home. There were the familiar faces of the staff and things looked exactly the same as we remembered it. Well, not exactly. There were a couple of changes. Room No. 11 now had a great new sofa area. And then there was this:

the brand new deck

This was a pity because the new addition stood on where the pond which was a real bird magnet had been. The deck though, I'm sure, was much appreciated by yoga practitioners, as the perfect place to perform sun salutations at dawn. Still, some things hadn't changed:

the quintessential Tegal Sari breakfast

the morning show, to be watched from...

...the best seats in the house

and when we needed a break from all that peace, there was the rest of Ubud on our doorstep.

out the back door

Friday, September 08, 2006


To be honest, our first reaction to arriving in Ubud this time round was one of disappointment. By the time we checked in at Tegal Sari on that first night and had taken our shoes off on the porch of No. 11, it was past 11 p.m. But, even in the dark, we could see that the padi fields right in front of No. 11 were mostly bare. Of course it would have been unreasonable for us to expect the padi to be growing all year round. Still, we had come with padi fields in mind. No lush fields of verdant green for us, we thought sadly.

When the sun rose the next day, however, Nature had a lovely surprise planned for us. We were woken up by loud quacking. We threw open the door and rushed out onto the porch, to find our barren padi fields filled with ducks!

the pack

As explained by the Tegal Sari staff, the ducks live in the padi fields year round. As the fields go through the cycle of growth and harvest, the farmers move the ducks from area to area. After the harvest, the water-logged but fallow fields are filled with rice grains that have fallen from the stalks, and these are what the ducks feast on.


Our favourite was a male duck or drake we called Xiao Bai, for obvious reasons. (For those not clued in, xiao bai means "little white one".)

Xiao Bai, leader of the pack

His badge of office was none other than that puff of white tuff on the back of his head which, needless to say, rendered him a bit of a laughing stock, to us humans at least. I'm not sure if the ducks took him any more seriously. He certainly seemed to have a hard time getting the entire flock to follow after him, as he directed traffic with many a frantic quack. More often than not, there would be ducks slipping off into neighbouring fields, as he ran back and forth trying to keep them all together. Still, it was clear that he took his job very seriously which made for quite a comedy of sorts. I'm sure the other birds in the vicinity quite enjoyed the spectacle too.

birds of another feather

Thursday, September 07, 2006

No Monkey Business

Monkey Forest Road is where all tourists visiting Ubud are directed to. If you are one of the many tourists who zip through Ubud on a day tour, chances are you would have set foot on this shop-lined road. In most cases, that's all you would have seen of Ubud. Most do not even get to visit the Monkey Forest for which the road is named. Now, if you are like HM and hate avaricious food-grabbing monkeys, you're probably thinking that this is no big deal. In fact, if you actually do like these critters, you'd probably prefer Alas Kedaton (more monkeys, I think).

one of the eponymous residents


I took a morning to walk through this little nook of a forest, while HM was off somewhere for yoga (or was it a spa treatment?) At 10000 Rp (SGD $2), it wasn't cheap by Ubud standards, but the place had its charm, a certain feyness. Moss-covered, it didn't take a lot to imagine Balinese imps and pixies flitting through the leaves. Certainly it was a spiritual place. Within the grounds, there were temples and even a cemetary, but all was quiet the morning I visited. (Two nights later, there was a big ceremony and hordes of people in traditional costume streamed in all night. I would have loved to join in but I wasn't sure if non-Balinese were welcomed.)

god or gremlin?

towering vegetation

pre-mossed architecture

giants from the past?

nature's own highlights

mysterious denizen

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Kecak Dance

No visit to Bali would be complete without a dance performance, what more a visit to Ubud, Bali's cultural capital. And at very reasonable prices (50000 Rp/SGD $10 per entry) too! (Ok, the dance I write about later cost 75000 Rp/SGD $15 per entry but for that price, you got kueh kueh and a drink...) Granted, we're not talking about professional dancers. These are community dance troupes, much like Sriwana in Singapore, but, man, can these people dance. Factor in the atmospheric setting (invariably outdoors in some courtyard and more often than not against the backdrop of some traditional Balinese building) and the balmy weather, and one gets quite a magical evening.

Ubud's nightly repertoire is a smorgasboard for all. The Kecak performance we chose to watch was the one at the ARMA (Agung Rai Museum of Art) open air stage. We had missed this previously, it being held just twice a month, on the full moon and the new moon. This time, the stars were aligned...

Performed by an all-male troupe, the Kecak is a dance drama based on one of the Hanuman stories in the Ramayana. There is no music except for the percussive noises provided by the men chanting "cak, cak, cak".

As we witnessed that night, the Kecak is quite spectacular, not least for the fire play. Think grown men throwing balls of fire around, at each other and up into the trees. Then there is the sound of 50 or more men chanting in unison - oddly moving if not outright powerful.

Ironically, for all its ritualistic overtones, the Kecak is not one of Bali's traditional dances, religious or otherwise. Although it does have its roots in a long-standing trance dance, the Kecak is really the brainchild of expatriate artist Walter Spies who thought it would make a good show for tourists! If only Singapore could "create" such attractions that still look and feel organic, without them being so contrived and kitschy...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Other Night-time Delights

Ubud looks lovely by night, so a slow stroll before or after dinner is always a pleasure, with or without the shopping.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Familiar Favourites

We made a point to return to two of our favourite restaurants, Indus and Casa Luna.

healthy pick-me-ups

a spicy fish soup

grilled vegetables Mediterranean style

nasi campur ala Indus

iced flores and iced hibiscus teas

seafood sate with rice

chargrilled squid salad

Grilled vegetable salad with homemade pesto

bubur injin (black glutinous rice) and coconut ice cream

Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Fine Experience

Finally, we had the opportunity to try Mozaic, Ubud's only fine dining restaurant.

amuse bouche

rabbit, complete with foam ears...