Roman Sturgis Take care of each other and make good decisions.

March 27, 2009

Ubud, Bali

Filed under: Blog — Roman @ 12:39 am

We saw a great airfare deal so we decided to take it. The timing was perfect: we’d leave Chiang Mai, drop our bags at the hotel in Bangkok, fly to Bali with one suitcase for the week, and collect our bags in Bangkok on the way back to America. So from the beginning, we decided that we’d do Bali on a smaller budget. The original plan was to spend two nights in Ubud, and then hire a driver to show us the beaches, picking one at the end of the day, where’s we’d stay for the rest of the trip. Somehow, we never left Ubud.

It was much different than my memories of family vacations as a kid, when we lived in Indonesia. Back then, we were on the beach, at a resort, like Nusa Dua. But Ubud is the mountain seat of the kingdom—the interior capital, and it is nothing like the beaches.

We had arranged for a driver ahead of time and he met us at the airport. We stopped for lunch on the way to the hotel and had delicious Nasi Goreng, fried prawns, soup, and Bing Tang beer. It was the first of many scrumptious meals.

What is so great about Ubud? We crossed paths with a friend of ours from Chiang Mai. He asked Laura, “So, what’s there to do here?”

Laura and I had been in town for three days by then, and were already very comfortable with the relaxed tempo, the friendly people, the scenery, the culture, the food. She looked at him and smiled. “Hang out, read, relax, eat yummy food, get a spa treatment.”

What else is there to paradise? Friendly people, affordable luxury, excellent cuisine, time to read, pretty walks along the terraced rice fields, relaxing massage treatments, Bing Tang? Our hotel had a tiny, but chilly pool to dip in. My routine quickly became, return to the hotel by 12:00 to cool down and then go to lunch.

Our recommendations:
Kuben Indah. This place tucked away from “downtown,” but within 20 mins walking distance from the central market. Our room was gorgeous, with tiled floors, wood carved bed, and a half-outdoors bathroom that was to die for. All natural materials, clean, cool, comfortable. The staff was angelic. We were constantly amazed at how much we were getting for our money. Too bad we could only stay for one night.

Sania’s House. (email: We stayed here from the second night on. There was no need to leave. They had a very nice room with AC for us, near the front of the compound. A few other multi-story buildings hosted other guests, but we never felt crowded. It is very much a compound layout, as many of the hotels are. With green vines covering everything, and hibiscus blossoms everywhere, the atmosphere is very natural. Water is running somewhere always, and the cicadas are loud. We met two long-stay guys from the Pacific Northwest. We kept bumping into them on our first days, and then we realized they stayed at the same place. Small town.

Kafe, bistro/cafe. This cafe is so much cooler than the best NY or Boston bistro I have ever been to. The food could compete with the best of the west. Laura had a lentil soup one day for lunch that just melted in your mouth. Also, they carry Storm microbrew. The Pale Ale is golden deliciousness. Free Wi-Fi a plus. Super western, small minus.

Pignou di Penyu, French. Would you expect to find a fantastic french restaurant that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, in Indonesia? On a tropical island in the mountains? Neither did we. But we ate there three times, because we did. I’m telling you, I had a steak tartar that came out just the way I like it: beautiful rare steak diced in a mound on a plate, and about a million accoutrements, so I CAN DECIDE just how to prepare it. Also, the chef makes her own pate. And bread. This woman, the chef, she’s French, right? And like, she doesn’t speak that much English. So Laura and I finish our first meal there, and she’s at the front, in the bar, smoking her cigarette and drinking her wine. Laura and I, we’ve had two bottles of wine, at least, so we’re a little more bubbly than usual. This woman, she tells me in French, and I’m struggling to keep up, that she’s from Southern France, she came to Indonesia, loved it, never left, set up shop…she’s been here for years. She’s not so obsessed with making a profit. She just wants to cook bad ass food, and drink her wine, and have her cigarette. We never got over to Mosaic, which everyone told us was the “must eat” place, and by all accounts, it’s very excellent (though expensive). But we LOVED Pignou di Penyu. Also—MAJOR PLUS: I could find—literally NOTHING—wrong with their service. This waiter was so incredible…he was reading our minds. Pignou di Penyu was magical.

Kue, bakery. We found this place on a long walk towards the outskirts of town, down the main street. We stopped in for a muffin and some tea. All very tasteful. My croissant was fresh and fluffy and filled with cinnamon. Laura had a set of good cookies.

Spa, Zen Bali Spa. ( Our long-stay contact said this was the best of the middle range spas. Laura had a half day, which she was very pleased with. I had a full body massage and scrub on our last full day. It was not as strong as I perhaps may have wanted, but the entire experience was very satisfactory.

Bike ride, Bali Budaya Tours. So I like to bike, and I like the outdoors, and I thought taking a bike ride down from the volcano would be a good idea. The problem with these kinds of “treks” which you see advertised everywhere, is that the bikes kind of suck. In fact, really, really suck. To the point of being unsafe. But, you do your best. And since it’s mostly downhill, as long as the brakes work, who gives? We started at a restaurant where we could see the volcano and the lake. Then we coasted downhill for about 20km, passing through about a dozen villages. Everywhere there were posters for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Get this: Fifty parties and ten candidates for each party. As we went down the road, the flags changed color, village to village, depending on which candidate(s?) they were supporting. Thousands of posters with names, faces, and the number of the box to check. My favorite: a Chimp grinning. Was the guy so ugly that he put a monkey up there as a joke? Is this the party to protect the monkeys? Turned out it was a very good mobile phone ad. Along they way, our guide took us to different houses so we could see what a family compound looks like. Generally, I am very resistant about taking pictures of the locals. Inanimate objects, nature, the sky, I feel okay shooting. But taking pictures of people is another thing. Especially candids. One compound was dedicated to harvesting the cane in their backyard and weaving cane mats which you see on most of the “traditional” ceilings in Ubud. This is a time-intensive process that requires cutting the cane, splitting the cane, and weaving the fibers, all by hand. No gloves, no close-toed shoes. They produce something like two square meters a day, and sell it for about a dollar a square meter, but this extra $2 is significant food money. Other stops along the way included rice production in three different stages: planting, winnowing, husking. These women carry 50kilo bags of rice around on their heads. A good meal at the end. A great guide named “Ring”.

High End: Pith Can Thropus (0361 970-990) is on the main street, and they sell incredible batik. Laura picked up a few batik headband/bandana things which are just exquisite. Laura realized that her favorite bag maker, Vera Bradley, has ripped all her ideas of paisly and batik design.

Bargains: Sagitarius (0361-9754920 and Indo-Crafts ( were good shops with good selections of shirts and bags.

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