Ubud is utterly sumptuous.  Like a lot of Indonesia, it is filled with Australians, but these are an altogether different breed to the denizens of Kuta.  Ubud is filled with artisan jewellery shops, clothing boutiques, art galleries and yoga studios.  It got a huge tourism boost from that godawful Eat, Pray, Love and as a result suffered an influx of privileged middle aged woman trying to "find themselves", a.k.a throwing down a lot of money in the aforementioned businesses.  Lots of Australians have holiday homes in this area too, and there is an affluent vibe to the city.  This preamble might sound off-putting, but it's necessary to stop me gushing because I just loved Ubud.

There's a temple on every block in Ubud.  Hinduism is integral to city life, with people leaving incense and other offerings at small shrines every morning, and several musical performances.  The first picture of this post shows a festival we stumbled upon one day, huge crowds swarming the market temple and bringing boxes full of offerings.  We asked one stallholder what it was for, and he explained it was a monthly ceremony to induce good fortune for the market sellers for the rest of the month.  Another time we happened to walk past a temple in the evening where a small orchestra were practicing traditional Balinese music on instruments that somewhat resembled xylophones, but more ornate and played using a small hammer.  You can pay to attend one of the performances, also featuring Balinese dancing, which emphasises eye movement and complex hand gestures.  The storytelling is symbolic, you can't really follow the plotline you're handed with your ticket, but it was interesting to see the depiction of the Barong (below right), a creature you'll see all over Balinese iconography, a benevolent spirit who behaves kind of like a dog.

Culture is a commodity in Bali, and it's easy to be put off by that as a traveller if you are looking for authentic, unstaged experiences.  What's important to remember though is that these are artisans, preserving and working hard at traditional art forms, who surely deserve to be remunerated for their work.  I enjoyed the dance drama thoroughly, especially the music which is amelodic compared to the Western tradition but instead creates a soundscape of tuned percussion that I could have listened to for hours.  I'd say this was the only "touristy" thing we did in Ubud, generally preferring to eat and drink and smoke shisha or wander the markets all day.  Oh, apart from one thing...

The Monkey Forest is a major attraction in Ubud.  Monkeys are major players in Indonesia life, such commonplace trickster creatures that there is a monkey god, Hanuman, who is an important figure in much Hindu mythology.  Two of the major roads in Ubud are named for them too, Monkey Forest Road and Hanuman Road, both leading down to the monkey forest itself.  You do pay entry, as it is a designated park ground for the monkeys to thrive and there are I think two temples on the grounds too, but the monkeys are utterly unfazed by being paid attractions and will wander out the park entrance regularly.  It's worth a visit, because although you will inevitably see monkeys around Indonesia, I never observed their behaviour up close like I did here.  Family groups are clearly defined, and often you'll see too females each with Gollum-like babies attached, grooming each other - or alpha males sitting with their balls prominently displayed, eyeing you like "what, bitch?"  They're kind of intimidating.  I attempted the classic monkey-on-shoulder picture by dangling a banana and instead got jumped by two different heavyset male monkeys, and gave up after that.

Ubud is just one of those cities that is so sensually enjoyable.  You can walk through rice fields or markets where the colours are so vibrant your camera won't rest; the food is delectable of course, and there are several bars with happy hours; the streets smell of incense and clove cigarettes; and as well as plenty of traditional music, loads of the bars on Monkey Forest Rd have live music at night.  I stayed at the Happy Mango Hostel (above) at first when there were three of us, a colourful place with a nice communal area and a decent price for an individual or group.  If there's two of you, you're better off finding a homestay off the main roads like Dewi Ayu, where had an ensuite room with pool and breakfast included for the same price each.  There's an excellent cafe in town that we frequented and I stupidly didn't note the name, but it's a colonial style building with delicious mix-and-match food.  It's next to Warung Schnitzel on Sri Wedari, which has overpriced meals but $3.50 cocktails everyday from 4-10pm.  I spent 5 nights in Ubud but it could have been weeks, it's just such a lovely lifestyle.  The only thing it's missing is a beach...

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