I went to Ubud, escaped the crowds, and found zen (well, almost). This is a one-day conscious travel guide to having a different experience in the Eat Pray Love epicentre of Bali.
Bali I love you, but you’re bringing me down. Aptly referred to as the Islands of the Gods, this moniker has become true not only for being rich with Buddhist culture but also for travellers looking to rid their life of a few problems— the island has become the de facto spiritual epicentre of Asia. From being a mecca for healthy food to its idyllic beaches that boast some of the best surf in the world, Bali attracts throngs of holidaymakers, digital nomads, and anyone with a day off in Australia. Sounds like a swell time but if you’ve been to Bali in the last couple of years, you’ve probably also spent too much time sitting in never-ending traffic or found that your once secluded and secret beach has been built up by oversized hotels. A local told me that in the last few years, the numbers of hotels on the island had doubled from somewhere around 2,000 to 4,000 in the last four years.
But we love Bali and avoiding it isn’t an option. What we can do is tell you where to have a good time while avoiding the crowds, and of course, remind you to travel consciously and sustainably while you’re there. Inspired by a recent trip to Ubud, we’ve mapped out a one-day itinerary that starts with a sunrise hike, centres around sound healing and ends with a plant-based meal of epic proportions.
3am: Ascend an active volcano for the ultimate sunrise view
Not for the faint of heart, but if you don’t tire quickly and are looking to make the most of your day in Ubud, climbing Mount Batur is an experience bar none and highly recommended. Just 45 minutes from Ubud, together with a guide, you’ll start your ascent up Batur around 4am reaching the summit just as the sun begins to peek over the horizon. The time in between can be a bit gruelling, however, as your scrambling up the side of an active volcano with rocks slipping out from under your feet and your body temperature fluctuating from dripping with sweat to Canadian cold. But before you know, you’re at the top and will be rewarded with one of the most outrageously stunning sunrises of your life. Plus, there is hot tea.
9am – 11am: Head to Bali’s Green School for a lesson in sustainability
Bali’s Green School is home to the world’s most progressive school when it comes to sustainable education. Nestled along the Ayung River in the jungle just outside of Ubud, the school is made up of an impressive 70 bamboo structures that are an architectural feat in sustainable design. The school houses some 400 students from kindergarten to high school and focuses on project-based learning over exams. While they do teach math and literacy, there are no exams, and much of learning is project-based with a focus on thematics. Amongst its most interesting teachings, fourth-graders are take out loan from a student bank to buy chickens, raise them and sell their eggs back to the cafeteria to pay back their loans in a typically immersive introduction to economics.
The school is entirely vegetarian but is careful not to force the practice on any students and encourages them to make their own decisions. In fact, high schoolers raise piglets which are later killed for consumption so that students may not just learn about where their food comes from, but also to respect the choices and perspectives of those around them. The Green School offers daily tours at 9am, which will give you a full tour of the impressive facilities as well as an understanding of the school’s curriculum and sustainable vision. The tour costs 200,000rp with all proceeds going towards funding scholarships for local students. That said, if Balinese residents wish to take a semester of English and sustainability classes, they can also collect 5kgs of recyclables (from the streets and beaches, hopefully) and use that in lieu of currency to pay for a semester of classes.
12pm – 1pm: Indulge in Alchemy’s sublime salad bar
I serendipitously stumbled upon Alchemy many years ago when I stayed in a villa right next door. It was love at first bite, and I hardly eat anywhere else in Ubud now (except for Zest, more on that later). Their raw and vegan salad bar is one of the best I’ve ever had the guilt-free pleasure of indulging in, and I never grow tired of it because there are just so many options. At around 65,000rp per bowl with luxurious toppings like pickled pink sauerkraut, coconut bacon and pad thai, it’s also the most vegan while being so freakin’ cheap it’s hard to believe they make any money (but they do since everything is locally grown). They also have a pretty mean breakfast bar for those with sweet dreams of Instagram-worthy smoothie bowls that will give even the prettiest avocado smashed a run for its money.
1pm – 2pm: Cool down with a coconut at the Tegalalang Rice Terraces
The Tegalalang Rice Terraces are one of Ubud’s top tourist attractions. However, it’s still possible to experience their wonder without the crowds—and it’s a must-do being right next door to your 3pm appointment at the Pyramids of Chi. Plan ahead and pick a destination off the main road, like a luxury hotel where you might spend a bit more at their restaurant but worth every rupiah to take in the paddy vibe free from the busloads of amateur Instagrammers looking to snap the perfect shot.
3pm – 430pm: Embrace the energy of a sound bath at the Pyramids of Chi
Once reserved for hardcore wellness enthusiasts, sounds baths seem to be growing in popularity amongst the greater population since getting in touch with one’s inner self is becoming the coping mechanism of choice amongst millennials (also since it’s cheaper and often more successful than therapy). And the Pyramids of Chi seem to be capitalizing on this while remaining sacred to purists. Just a few minutes from central Ubud sit two pyramids with upwards of 60 beds in each. For an hour and a half, guests are taken through a surreal sound healing experience that begins with a guided meditation and dovetails into a cacophony of sounds including gongs, didgeridoos, and more. If you’re worried about being too relaxed and falling asleep, it’s said that you will still reap the vibrational benefits of the healing. The experience has varying effects on people, but one thing can be said for sure, it’s the ultimate form of deep relaxation for your body, mind and soul.
5pm – 630pm: Soak up a sunset at Cafe Pomegranate
Sitting pretty in the middle of a rice paddy, Cafe Pomegranate is a sublime spot to watch a sunset with rice fields in the foreground. This cafe doesn’t pretend to be cool; it’s just a simple alfresco cafe with a modest menu and cheap wine to boot (pro tip: order the rose, it will match the sunset). If you’re on a motorbike, there is a narrow path that will take you right from the Pyramids Of Chi in less than ten minutes (whereas you might take 20-30 in a car and then still have to walk 10 minutes). This is your moment in the day to sit back, appreciate where you are, and start scheming on how to relocate and run your business from Bali.
7pm – 830pm: Tease your tastebuds at Zest
If a plant-based steak sounds like something that would make all your planet-based dreams come true, head straight to Zest and order their star attraction (or anything on their expansive menu—which I didn’t have enough of but have already worked back into my calendar for more). Sitting pretty atop a hill in an ultra Balinese locale, Zest is the perfect place to soak up that Ubud vibe. Coming off as an almost fine dining experience, I’m inclined to declare Zest and one of the great plant-based experiences of my life. And that’s a bold statement coming from a meat-eater. Need I say more?
Reminder: when travelling anywhere in the world, remember to travel consciously and practice #LittleGreenSteps everywhere you go to try and reduce the impact left on the planet from travel. Travel well, but travel sustainably. Need inspiration? Check out our guide.
Leading image via An Adventurous World