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Travel & Holiday

Mystical Bali is an artist’s haven

Nurture your artistic soul and get an adrenaline shot of Balinese culture in Ubud
The Straits Times - September 20, 2011
By: Dorothy Ng
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Mystical Bali is an artist’s haven Photo: Dorothy Ng

ONE moment, I was happily cruising along the rice terraces, the next, I was on all fours, my chin, knees and palms protesting from breaking my fall.

It was the third day in Bali and I had signed up for a bicycle expedition around island’s pretty paddy fields and villages. I skidded on a newly paved sloping village road filled with gravel and stones.

That fall brought a halt to my ambitious plan of a three-week backpacking trip across Central Indonesia. With my bruised knees and scratched hands, I had to abort my original idea. But I could not have asked for a  better place to be stranded in during my convalescence.

Nestled among paddy fields and the steep ravines in the central foothills of Bali’s Gianyar regency, Ubud is distinctly different from the bikini-clad scene in Kuta. My host was artist Elsha and her retired husband Phil, whom I befriended through the Couchsurfing website.

I stayed at their gorgeous villa and took in the delights of Ubud while nursing my injuries.

The little town of Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali, and the centre of fine art, cultural performances and fine cuisine. For an art-lover like me, I was mesmerised by the many interesting facets of the town.

There were museums and galleries at every turn, featuring colourful paintings of all styles, from the traditional to the contemporary, modern and abstract. I happily zipped from one gallery to another, immersing myself in the artistic world of the Balinese artists. The Museum Puri Lukisan, Museum Neka, the Agung Rai Museum of Art and the quirky Symon Art Zoo are among my favourites.

Inspired by the artistic vibe of the place, I got re-acquainted with canvas and paints, spending two afternoons on painting lessons by Balinese artist, Mr Wayan Karja at his gallery, Santra Putra Art Gallery & Guesthouse.

A two-hour art session costs about $35 (250,000 rupiah). My two visits  to Mr Wayan were fruitful as I created an abstract painting and a mixed medium artwork which incorporated materials including gauze, rice grains and soil.

Admittedly, Ubud is touristy but just a pleasant 15-minute scenic walk     from main street Raya Ubud, you can still find places such as warung (Indonesian for foodstall) Sari Organik Ubud, where you can enjoy organic food while seated amidst luscious rice fields. The idyllic restaurant offers   a 360-degree view of the picturesque paddy fields while offering a healthy yet interesting selection of organic salads, pizzas, soups and fresh juices.

In line with their belief of “making the world a better place”, the restaurant buys all the ingredients from several local families who grow  them in organic gardens — this gives them a steady income while diners get to enjoy healthy meals.

Fascinated by the art of Balinese cuisine, I attended a one-day cookery  workshop at the restaurant Bumba with my new-found friend and saviour, Carol, an American doctor who was on holiday in Bali. At the colourful  marketplace,we learned about the kinds of spices commonly used in Balinese cooking and prepared a sumptuous spread of traditional Balinese cuisine which we thoroughly enjoyed.

One meal experience no tourist can forgo in Ubud is to feast on the  delectable babi guling (roasted suckling pig) at Ibu Oka. It was a refreshing experience to enjoy the succulent meat and the crispy skin while seated under the huge tree in the open-air eatery, with the roasted pig in full view.

And if eating and painting were not enough for me, I was spoilt for choice as the many theatres in Ubud stage performances every day, from the graceful classical Balinese dance, the traditional gamelan and puppetry  show, to the stunning yet haunting, Kechak dance.

Ubud is also a great shopping paradise with its endless rows of eclectic shops at Jalan Raya, Jalan Hanoman and Jalan Dewi Sita selling an interesting array of items, from replica paintings, antiques, jewellery to accessories, apparels, spices and souvenirs. Many of these shops also conduct painting classes and jewellery-making workshops for the curious tourists.

Cozy cafes are dotted everywhere and massage parlours are aplenty. There was no better way to unwind than to treat myself to a pampering session of traditional Balinese massage.

Although I did not manage to conquer central Indonesia as I had planned, my 10-day stay in Ubud was an adventure peppered with many firsts.

From getting a stitch at the local hospital, immersing myself in the festivities of the joyous Galungan Festival, to witnessing an elaborate Balinese funeral procession and cremation in a remote village, the trip to  Bali was a memorable one. Most importantly, I rediscovered the artist within me.


■ The rocco-style Antonio Blanco’s House and Gallery is probably one of the most flamboyant and lavish gallery in Ubud. The artist is one of the most famous expatriate painters in Ubud and is affectionately known by the Balinese as “Dali of Bali.”

■ Visit during the Galungan Festival, Bali’s biggest festival with celebrations that last for 10 days. See the locals decked in their best outfits at the temples and entourages of children prancing around from house to house with their “barong”, the Balinese version of lion dance.

■ Chill out on a hot afternoon in the comforts of The Rendezvous Bookstore and Café, which features an old back-and-white film on interesting facets of the Balinese people.



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