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Long-term living in Ubud, Bali – The local life

Continued from part 1…

This is a series about various observations and reflections I’ve had while staying in Ubud, Bali for a month.

Gamelan– a unique style of music on Bali

Right next to our place in Ubud, Bali is an arts museum. Every day they have a gamelan performance at 7pm. It’s very loud. When they don’t have a performance – they practice; so effectively you can hear gamelan music from our home about 8 hours a day.

You’re probably wondering what gamelan music is, and you’d be right to do so because it’s only found on Bali. It’s a combination of bells and gongs and drums – basically anything you can think of that’s good at making noise. Something a child would love to have a go at. Have a listen at this very atmospheric video. For those curious about the clothes they wear and what’s going on here, I’ll be getting into the full moon ceremony I went to, in my next post.

It’s obviously played at the before mentioned arts museum mostly for the benefit of tourists but it’s also played at a variety of festivities, most notoriously at spiritual events.

glaungan music on bali
A small subset of the Gamelan set-up. For this event there was over 50 musicians playing. The woman smiling at us is Wayan, the hostess of our villa who invited us here – so nice of her!

Hinduism and protective symbols in Ubud

Every day flowers with incense sticks, or jepun, are left in front of our house and every other house. The purpose is to keep the habitants safe and protect them. We have also had jepun left on our motorbike to keep with us when we drive. Jepun are placed everywhere for ceremonies and in everyday life. A friend of mine, who lives far out in a small village, has a lady come into her garden every day to leave jepun for her and she doesn’t know who it is. Apparently this lady has this as her job in this entire village – that’s what she does.

Jetun flowers in front of villa
Flowers, or Jepun as they are called, in front of our villa. They are refreshed every day

The same thing goes with faces. Everywhere on decorations and pictures you see faces and heads. They have carved out coconut faces outside our villa and wooden carved faces are hanging everywhere. Bali is highly spiritual and Hinduism runs deep in every local as far as I can tell.

I will get into one of the big ceremonies they only have twice a year – the full moon ceremony – in my next post.

The Balinese and their 4-name system

Now this is a peculiar system the Balinese are using here and (to some surprise) it certainly is still very intact and functioning.

On internshipbali.com it is understandably described:

“All Balinese people are named one of just 4 names: Wayan, Made, Nyoman or Ketut. Both men and women. In Bali, Indonesia, such a 4-names-only system is entirely real and intact. Here’s how it works:

Every Balinese child is simply named by his or her order of birth. The first born, boy or girl, is Wayan. The second born is Made (pronounced ma day). The third born is Nyoman. And the 4th born is Ketut.  If a family has more than four children, the cycle repeats itself, and the next ‘Wayan’ may be called Wayan Balik, which loosely translates to ‘another Wayan’.”

balinese children
Balinese Children. Source: inbali.org

As a funny anecdote, I remember asking our hostess what her name was and she said Wayan. No problem. Then I asked her son what his name was and he also said Wayan. So they’re both called the same. That’s confusing. I can’t even imagine how roll call in school would work out: “Is Wayan here?” – ten people, boys and girls, raise their hands: “Present!”. Consistently, when I’ve asked what a local’s name was, I was given as answer of one of those 4 names.

Now, before you completely give up on learning people’s names on Bali there are certain things that make it easier to distinguish one person from another.

  • Caste name. Two different Wayans might come from a different caste. Just like we, in the western world, have family names or surnames.
  • Girls and boys have different honorifics before their names and as such a girl would be “Ni” – Ni Wayan while a boy would be “I” – I Wayan.
  • Usually a third, hindu name, with a positive meaning, is given to each child. This, combined with their first name lets them create a nickname that distinguishes them from all the other Wayan’s or Made’s.

One such example is when I asked a staff member at Hubud what his name was. He said “Budi” which is a nickname based on his hindu name “Budiasa”.

Stay tuned for the next and final of the series about Bali where I’ll be getting into the full moon ceremony!

This concludes part 2 of the series about Ubud, Bali – part 3 will be coming shortly!

Long-term living in Ubud, Bali – The foreigners

When we first arrived to Ubud, Bali, we didn’t have a place to stay and the only thing I had looked up before was Hubud (a co-working space in Ubud) and that generally Ubud was a nice city to stick around in for a while – away from the very touristy and crowded Bali beaches.

The first two nights we spent at a run-of-the-mill place near the airport as it would just serve as a base to find our actual long term place in Ubud, Bali about 40km’s north (or about 1½ drive on motorbike). The first two days were spent running around looking for places, renting a motorbike and a lot of transportation time between Ubud and Denpasar. For those interested in how we found a place and what the prices were/are in the area for housing, motorbikes etc. please drop me a comment below or contact me here and I’ll be happy to help.

Without beating around the bush anymore, here are some semi-random observations I’ve made over the last two weeks.

The (foreign) tourists in Ubud, Bali

The crowds are noticeably older and much different from the typical teens, early 20’s backpackers so infamously present at the islands of south Thailand for example. In fact, most of them aren’t even backpackers but here for longer term (1+ years). They are not travelling only on budgets but have jobs of some sorts that they can work on from Bali which lets them keep on going for much longer than what a typical vacation budget can sustain. You also get a much more pronounced week rhythm like in “normal” cities with more nightlife in the weekends and less during weekdays because people actually work on weekdays. With islands like Koh Phi Phi (south Thailand) everyone’s on vacation and you have no idea what day of the week it is – the party is there every day all year around.

hubud co-working space in ubud
The Hubud co-working space on an early monday.

Why is this? I think the answer is simple – the beer is expensive and there are no beaches. With an hour to the nearest beach and beer at about 30000 IDR ($2,5) this is not where the typical tourist heads. Especially not when you’re already on Bali – an island overflowing with famous beaches. Ubud has lots of drowsy but pleasant rice paddies though and because the city is a bit up the mountains the temperature is more tolerable (~30 C). At this point, the city also has a reputation for having a good work environment and networking potential which further attracts more digital nomads.

ubud frisbee team
Part of the Ubud frisbee team. Serves well to illustrate a sample of the Ubud crowd

Lastly, you also get your richer Australians looking for a get-away, honeymooners and other such types but they keep mostly to themselves in resorts or private villas.

Yoga, vegan food and organic food

Expanding on the previous topic about the types of people you see here there is an abundance of alternative lifestyles walking around. If having quit your stable 9-5 job and uprooted your life to work location independently – either freelancing, e-commercing or likewise isn’t “alternative” enough for you, you come here. When we were looking for a place to stay we saw many offers of, for example, yoga collectives where meat is banned and yoga instruction is free with the rent. Everywhere out in the rice fields you see these villas turned collectives.

yoga, meditation cacao ceremony ubud
A “cacao” ceremony in Ubud. 4 hour long circle ceremony with all things spiritual. Quite an extraordinary experience

There are lots of vegan/vegetarian restaurants and organic alternatives. Most of the menus (except the local shops) boast gluten-free alternatives or are organic only. The shops are flooding with high quality (and expensive) wares made using sustainable materials and definitely cater to a more demanding crowd than your typical “whatever is cheaper” type of person.

This also stems well with the fact that everyone’s a bit older here and have a bit more buying power. Most people here aren’t just teenagers on a gap year but are fully submerged in whatever lifestyle they chose. Prices on housing is given in monthly and yearly rates rather than daily.

The local market in central Ubud

A funny thing to remark is the local market. From 5:30am to about 7:30am the central market in the city is booming with locals buying fresh, cheap and overall delicious fruit and vegetables. Many small trucks turned stores come rolling in with fresh produce every morning. Then magically around 8am all these stalls vanish and the whole market turns into a tourist trap with cheap china jewelry, bintang (local beer) t-shirts, clothes and all other kinds of trinkets. At a bloated price. If you’ve got the morning constitution to get up early it’s an exciting transformation to witness.

This concludes part 1 of the series about Ubud, Bali – part 2 is ready here!

Top 5 things to do around Bali, Indonesia

So you’ve just arrived to Bali fresh from the plane and you’ve found a place to stay and you need something to do – you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got both top tourist spots and your hidden gems.

If you’re not quite that far yet and still need a place to stay you should check out Bali hotel deals. In case you are ready for some over-the-top honeymoon worthy luxury Alila Seminyak is a good place to start for that once in a lifetime experience. Otherwise if that doesn’t intrigue you, many other cheaper alternatives can be found on that same page.

1. Tanah lot

This is one of the biggest attractions on Bali with many people making the pilgrimage every day. Tanah lot is a row of waterside temples and astounding views. Picture worthy indeed and a great place to visit. If you have the option get here for sunset. It’s beautiful.

MAP: Tanah Lot

tanah temple bali
This is not the actual Tanah Lot temple but one of the nearby temples as it is a whole row of temples.

2. Pengempu Waterfall (aka. Air Terjun Pengempu)

This is a small but beautiful waterfall you won’t see listed anywhere else. It is not hard to find and the 30 minutes we were there not a single other person showed up. Another couple showed up when we left but that’s it.

To get to the waterfall from the road you have to climb some steps which takes about 10 minutes give or take. Nothing that can’t be done in flipflops.

MAP: Pengempu Waterfall

pengempu waterfall bali
A nice little waterfull off the beaten track

3. GitGit waterfall

Probably the most famous waterfall on Bali so expect to see a lot of tourists there. As this is a list of top things to do in Bali, It’d be a shame to leave this one out.

Popular for its bridge walkway and cool water where you can take a swim, makes this place worth a visit.

MAP: Gitgit Waterfall

git git waterfall bali
Git Git Waterfall

Photo source: Wikipedia.com

4. Ubud local nightmarket (aka. Pasar Senggol Sindu)

I lived in Ubud for a month and for the first two weeks I wasn’t able to find a local market to buy my necessities like clothes and everyone just led me to the supermarkets near Ubud (western style indoor supermarket with aircondition) – even the locals.

Finally, one day I found the market as I was casually driving by and it was just as I had hoped. Cheap clothes, cheap shoes, cheap food. We’re talking less than $1 per meal. I didn’t see a single other foreigner when I was there.

MAP: Ubud local nightmarket

ubud night market bali
The night market in Ubud. Sorry for the bad quality of the picture!

5. Mt. Batur

The volcano on the Island of Bali. It’s active. Many tours are arranged here and fun things such as cooking your own food using the heat from the lava are on the program. Ask any travel agency about the details and if you’re adventurous go do it yourself. Hiking up to see the sunrise is a prominent activity and very popular. Get there before the crowds (start around 3:30am) and you’ll have a pleasant ascend.

I’ve heard rumours that scams are going on where they tell you that guides are mandatory. It’s not true (!) and it’s easy to find the way by yourself. Although, as before, if you prefer to just relax and let someone else guide you – the guides aren’t expensive.

MAP: Mt. Batur

mt. batur bali sunrise
The beautiful Mt. Batur at sunrise.

Photo source: balitrekkingtour.com

Transportation

To get around, the local way, I would rent a scooter. They are about 60-100k IDR / day (=$4.5 – $8) for a new model scooter and all they require is a scanned copy of your passport (they’ll copy it for you). You are then free to roam wherever you may please at your own pace and that’s freedom like nothing else. Be aware that you get no insurance with that price and that traffic can be terrible. I would not recommend renting a scooter here if this is your first time.

If motorbiking is not your thing you can rent a car + driver for a full day for around 250k (=$20), at least when I checked last time in Ubud. So if you’re 4 people or you prefer a car this is definitely a viable alternative.

The beaches of Bali

I didn’t mention any of the beaches but they are everywhere. If you’re out for that resort style beach with comfy chairs and cocktails, the south Kuta peninsula is your go-to place.