Category: Itinerary

Impressions of Ubud: The Tourist

I wanted to cover this particular locale in two parts, as I find it would otherwise have turned into an article of unsuitable length. I’ll start with a tourist’s impression, as that would most accurately describe my first week in Ubud. I hope to have the remote worker’s perspective up in short order thereafter.

 

Going exchange rates: US$ 1 = 14,400; £1 = 18,500; AU$1 = 10,500; €1 = 16,500; NZ$1 = 9,500

 

Arrival

 

The arrivals process at the airport is markedly improved versus my first visit 5 years ago. While I have heard that slowdowns can still occur, it’s been the experience of most of my contacts here that they are processed quite quickly.

When going to Ubud, it’s advised to arrange transport prior to arrival.  A fair rate to Ubud is approx. 250-300k, though drivers have been known to ask from 350-500k if you are negotiating at the airport. For those wishing to use a meter taxi, Blue Bird is the go-to in Bali.

Accommodation

Ubud sports a variety of hostels, guesthouses, homestays, private rental, and hotel options for budgets ranging from “shoestring” ($5) to “sybaritic.”

 

I opted for “Dewaput Guest House” – viewable here on AirBNB. I paid circa US$345 for the month for the equivalent of a 3-star hotel room: air conditioning, clean bathroom, desk, a balcony, tea & coffee, and breakfast (fruit + main item) each morning.

The owner, Dewa Put, has a small building within his compound with two such rooms overlooking his Balinese home compound.  It’s beautiful, with a large music pavilion, Dewa’s art studio, multiple homes, two temples, and a traditional kitchen. I learned that Dewa’s mother vastly prefers using the traditional kitchen for cooking, as she finds it healthier to exercise herself building the fire, keeping it clean, and cooking the day’s rice rather than just using, for example, the electric rice cooker Dewa bought for her. I found this anecdote rather relatable.

I fell in love with my accommodations. Dewa is a musician and painter, so it’s ben quite common to take my breakfast while he plays or teaches a student.  It’s the best excuse I’ve had in years in drag out breakfast and linger over cups of tea. Now I can see why many fall in love with Bali. 

 

I asked Dewa about his grandfather’s family – those who built his home. The marble-walled family temple, gilt woodwork on the main temple, and magnificently wrought front-gate piqued my curiosity. “My grandfather was a king with many rice fields in the area.” Oh Adjusting the answer for Western concepts of royalty, I surmised that Grandad was a landed noble (Kshatriya caste) descended from a cadet branch of the Balinese royal family – Dewa Agung.

Coffee

Given what I am accustomed to in SE Asia, Ubud has an incredible array of high quality coffee shops that would seem cheap to a Westerner.  A latte/flat white can be had for 22-25k, less then US$2.  I’ve had local Balinese coffee or black tea for as little as 5,000 rupiah, under 40 US cents.

Some of my favorite cafes:

 

Anuman on Hanuman: This upper story café is easy to miss, but I love the coffee. The food is quite good and very reasonably priced for being on a main drag.  It’s a great place to park yourself and watch the town go by.

Ipong on Hanuman: More great coffee, solid wifi, and a small but tasty menu.  It’s my go-to if I am caffeine-starved and want a nice flat white.

Green Window @ Outpost:  Probably the best coffee of the three. It offers a mostly western food menu with both carnivore and vegetarian options.

Food

One is spoilt for choice in the eating department.  You have excellent local warungs where Ubud’s workers grab a bite after their shift, higher end restaurants, foreign food, and vegan & vegetarian options. 

Warung Wayan: Cheap, tasty local & western food.  Tasty rice pudding (babur injun) 20-30k for most mains

 

White Ginger: This place is my go-to for Balinese crispy duck. I first stumbled in after being put off by Bebek Bengil due to being able to accommodate tour groups (food factory mentality), accepting AMEX (signals “we overcharge”), and a particularly colorful review speculating that their duck had died of a wasting illness.  Mains 65-85k

Golden Monkey: Ubud’s one Chinese restaurant is surprisingly good. The Malaysian chef does wonderful things with dim sum and duck.  I’m bringing Dewa and his Mrs for their AYCE dim sum brunch on Sunday. I almost didn’t try the main restaurant after some disappointment at their “Express” location in Ubud food court.  Main dishes 70-120k

Siam Sally: One of the two big Thai options in town, I found myself in here circa once per week grabbing dessert.  Their mango sticky rice is a nice little treat, particularly after crispy duck.  Mains 70-120k; appetizers and dessert 50-60k

Sitara:  Their curries and naan breads are my favorites in Ubud. I particularly enjoyed the Dal Makhni, eggplant masala, and “black pepper rice.” Mains 65-110k

Sage: Delicious vegan food that combines (primarily) Balinese, Western, and Latin influences. Hats off to their creativity. Expect to pay circa 100k per person (main + drink).

View of central Singapore along the river

My Digital Nomad Debut

A very select few of you will be aware of this particular development, so I am writing for the rest of you.

 

On May 28, I will load up a rental car and drive to Miami, where I’ll catch a flight the next day for Tokyo via Zurich. Cheers to Swiss for selling a plane ticket for $662 when most other players wanted $900-$1300.

 

From the 31st onward, I will be a full time digital-nomad courtesy of freelance writing. I’ve been fortunate to pick up some substantial work that will keep me going for the foreseeable few months.  I’ll be treading relatively familiar ground in Tokyo, Phuket, and Ubud (Bali).

 

It will be fascinating to get a taste of living and working in these destination for weeks rather than visiting for days.  Blending into the daily rhythm, tasting all of the delicious food, and getting a handle on the local gay scene are immediate location goals.  In the background, I look forward to developing my professional skills and working on some side projects (SEO/digital marketing). The market values me these days as a travel writer (broadly), so I might as well continue to earn my chops there.

 

In August, I’ll begin on a holy grail of personal bucket list goals – learning Chinese in China.  After my time in Bali, I will jet off to Kunming, Yunnan to begin Chinese classes.  My brain is thrilled by the prospect, albeit part of me is cautiously girding itself for the challenge. I chose a non-tier 1 city so that I’d be forced to use Chinese or starve.  Learning the key dumpling words is currently high on my priority list.  Fortunately, I already know the word “cha” (tea), so I won’t go thirsty or (heaven forfend!) without caffeine! 

 

These past two years in the US have been interesting, but I’ve had enough for now and would like to reconnect with my expat self.  The stimulation of new experiences, places, and sensations – and it would be awesome to see my overseas friends again!

 

Here’s the adventure as it is booked until mid-December!

Tokyo 31/5 – 22/6

Hong Kong 22/6 – 24/6

Phuket 24/6 – 23/7

Bali 23/7 – 21/8

Bangkok 21/8 – 26-8

Kunming   26/8-14/12

 

Map of flights taken for my digital nomad adventure including Miami Zurich Tokyo Hong Kong Phuket Kuala Lumper Bali and Kunming

 

Interestingly, all airlines booked thus far will be new experiences to me.  I’m booked on Swiss, Vanilla Air (ANA’s low-cost subsidiary), Cathay Dragon (Cathay Pacific’s regional subsidiary), Air Asia, China Eastern, and Malindo Air. I’ll be sure to post reviews!

 

–   James out!

 

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