Even as tourism continues to boom, the center of the Indonesian island Bali maintains its strong cultural identity. Away from the sandy beaches and clear waters of Nusa Dua and the hectic party scene of Kuta sits a transient landscape of jungles, rice fields, and mountains, all of it vibrantly green; all of it open for exploration.
Ubud is the focal point of the island’s interior. Despite its ever-expanding tourist industry, Ubud remains a symbol of Balinese authenticity. Even its main tourist attraction – Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana, otherwise known as the Monkey Forest – is a one-of-a-kind experience. Amid giant green trees and tangled vines sit intricate, sacred Hindu temples, among them the Great Temple of Death, evoking a spiritual presence of extraordinary power.
Still, the sanctuary’s main attraction is the monkeys. Nimble and energetic long-tailed macaques walk amongst the jungle park’s visitors, monkeying around (no pun intended) with one another and jumping on those guests adventurous enough to be holding a banana. A more enjoyable spiritual setting, one cannot experience.
The Monkey Forest is merely the beginning of Ubud’s charm. Walking the narrow streets of the town offer the full spectrum of Balinese culture, from art, to religion, to food. Every other storefront is filled with local art, from paintings to wooden cultures.
Every half-block, another Hindu temple emerges, including Ubud Palace, with its elaborate stone carvings of chubby, fanged, fantastical creatures. Small, authentic warungs like D’Basket, with its irresistible honey grill ribs, remain prevalent among the newer, tourist-driven restaurants.
Hidden beyond the small town streets lies the rice fields. All around Ubud and beyond, rice fields can be seen in their various forms. Some flooded, others bright green, and still others golden; some terraced, others flat; all surrounded by a jungle of palm trees.
A bike tour such as the one offered by Bali Eco Cycling allows the active traveler to experience Ubud’s tranquil surroundings, from Mt. Batur and the Crater Lake, to lewak coffee, to a traditional Balinese family compound.
The road to Lake Bratan
Non-coastal Bali is more than just Ubud. A motorbike rental lets the traveler freely roam the islands shifting landscape. The best route is toward the town of Bedugul. Along the way, rice fields and palmed jungles are omnipresent. But as one moves north, the winding road climbs steadily.
Suddenly, surrounded by rolling mountains, Lake Bratan appears, the pagoda temple Pura Ulun Danu Bratan sitting atop its glistening waters. As with the Monkey Forest, nature and spirituality fuse together effortlessly.
There is no doubt that the beaches of Bali are some of the most beautiful in the world. But it is Bali’s interior beauty that truly makes it paradise.