Bali

Ubud, Bali – Where to Eat, Play & Stay

Indonesia

Ubud is a bustling city in the heart of Bali, abuzz with merchants and markets, temples, spas, yoga studios and retreats, co-working spaces, health food, arts, culture and innovation, all surrounded by some of Bali’s greatest natural attractions. The city has become a haven for travelers, especially yogis and digital nomads, and is really a must visit when in Bali. Below are some of our favorite places in and around Ubud, with our travel tips learned along the way.

 

Getting There

Ubud is inland and situated in the southeastern part of the island, only an hour from the major airport in Denpasar, and the same distance from Canggu by car (where we stayed prior to our visit). Though the drive can be upwards of an hour and a half during rush hour. Growing up driving in New York and Boston, we have to say that traffic in Bali is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Narrow and winding streets not built for the volume of traffic they currently support, many without traffic signals, flood with motorbikes and cars during the heaviest commuter times. The jostling stop and go of such a drive can be nauseating. Best to pack some anti-nausea precautions. We were always stocked on Fisherman’s Friend mints, which did the trick 95% of the time (and they’re pharmaceutical free, yay!). Nausea aside, we enjoyed the scenic ride through villages and forests on the way to the city once leaving the populated seacoast.

 

Where We Stayed

Chadley singing songs on the balcony at Bisma Jaya.

There are hundreds of hotels, bungalows, hostels, AirBNB’s and guesthouses to choose from in Ubud, which can be a bit overwhelming. We pored over accommodations until we discovered Bisma Jaya on AirBNB, a relatively new guesthouse that was almost too-good-to-be-true affordable, with a pool, free breakfast, a secluded, jungle feeling yet within walking distance to all the city has to offer. Most notably, it’s just a 10-minute walk to Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, one of our main draws to the city.

We stayed at Bisma Jaya for about a week and loved it. We were lucky to have the guesthouse almost entirely to ourselves and enjoyed spending hours every day writing and playing music on our balcony overlooking the lush gardens backed into thick jungle. The location was even better than expected, truly tucked away from the hustle and bustle, yet right in the center of it.

Good to Know: After booking our stay we received a message from the owner through AirBNB saying she couldn’t accept payments through the site, and asked us to cancel our reservation. Through a series of messages our stay was guaranteed and we arranged to pay in cash on arrival. We were a bit nervous about the potential for misunderstanding, but our fears quickly dissipated when we met the friendly guesthouse manager, Made. However, to avoid this confusion, we recommend sending the guesthouse a direct message through Facebook to book a room.

 

Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

The Monkey Sanctuary is home to 600 feisty Balinese monkeys, also known as long-tailed macaques. This sacred swath of forest is protected by a local village, features several ancient and active temples, and fantastical sculptures. It was so much fun to coexist with the monkeys for a few hours in their surreal surroundings. Read more about our visit to the Monkey Sanctuary here.

Tegallalang Rice Terraces

A 25-minute drive outside the city lies a Unesco World Heritage site: the lush and storied rice terraces of Tegallalang. Like the Sacred Monkey Forest, this is a busy tourist attraction, but large enough to find solitude. We felt transported to another place and time as we strolled through an intersecting maze of picturesque and tranquil rice paddies where a traditional form of agriculture has remained intact for over 1,000 years. After wandering up and down this vibrant valley we made our way to one of the many restaurants overlooking the terraces to sip on fresh lime infused coconuts before catching a cab back to our hotel. We enjoyed a pleasant ride through the rural outskirts of the city passing farms, temples and villages. Take a look at our article on what it’s like to visit Tegallalang.

  

See a Kecak Fire Dance

The modern Kecak Fire Dance has evolved from traditional trance rituals that feature an acapella male chorus. The dance was adapted in the 1930s by German artist Walter Spies, who was living in Bali at the time. Spies tailored the Kecak Dance to Ramayana, a Hindu epic poem that depicts the struggle of a divine prince rescuing his wife from a demon king. Kecak itself has been historically performed by groups of 150 or more men wearing traditional checkered Balinese sarongs repeatedly chanting ‘cak’ while carrying out a synchronized dance. It has roots in an exorcism trance-inducing dance called sanghyang. The first women’s kecak group began in 2006.

The dance is performed at temples throughout the city every week. You can even see it at the old palace downtown. We caught one at a nearby temple and were blown away by the hypnotic acapella paired with the fluidly orchestrated dance. The costumes were also original, depicting larger than life characters like a white monkey king. And of course, the finale in which one of the dancer’s kicks flaming coconut shells toward the audience was a thrill all its own. We highly recommend checking out this one-of-a-kind, affordable cultural experience.

  

More Local Jams

Below are a few extra tips to guide you through this electrifying city.

  • Yoga, Yoga, Yoga – Ubud is a yogi haven with an abundance of styles, studios and retreats to choose from. Way too many to count, with more are cropping up all the time. For a recent review of the city’s myriad of yoga studios check out this list by the Never Ending Voyage.

  • Green School Bali – Ubud’s Green School is a non-profit, K-12 private and international school focused on sustainability from its curriculum to the physical space. Travelers can make an appointment to tour the school and even apply to volunteer.

  • Hubud – There’s a ton of innovation happening in Ubud, which draws digital nomads from all over the world. Across the street from the Monkey Sanctuary, Hubud is a busy co-working space that’s open 24-hours and fully equipped for getting work done, including access to printers, meeting space, private rooms, a small kitchen, café, and a lovely green patio. Take a peak at their promo video for a look inside.

  • Kopernik – We sat down with Kopernik’s Chief Strategy Officer to learn about what this non-profit is doing to improve the lives of people in poverty. With products ranging from solar lights, to eco-friendly stoves, and water purification systems, Kopernik is helping people in the most remote regions of the planet through technologies that focus on energy, water, sanitation, agriculture, fisheries, health, education and women’s economic empowerment. Check out their work to learn about all the people they’ve reached. If you’re looking for even more inspiration, this video is for you.

  • Atman Kafé – Absolutely, one of our favorite restaurants in Bali! With careful attention to clean, healthy, delicious food, Atman Kafe's enormous menu is filled with organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free goodies (they have meat, too). In Hindu philosophy, Atman means inner self or soul, and is defined as the spiritual life principle of the universe. True to it’s name, Atman Kafé definitely felt like it was on another level of awareness. We adored the watermelon salad, falafel beet balls, decadent smoothies and butter coffee.

  • Hike Mt. Batur – Mount Batur is an active volcano an hour and twenty minutes north of Ubud that’s famed for sunrise hikes.

 

Reality Check: Avoiding ‘Bali Belly’

What sounds kind of cute is actually an unpleasant right of passage many travelers endure in foreign lands, the dreaded stomach bug. A simple rule: don’t eat raw fruit or veggies washed in unfiltered water. We made a point of eating at health centric restaurants that boasted washing their salad greens in purified water, but the slightest slip up can really cost you! Takesumi activated bamboo charcoal and clay tablets work wonders for both avoiding and treating the symptoms. We cannot recommend these natural remedies enough. They were so effective we never had to use the heavy pills we brought along “just in case.”

  

Enjoy Your Visit!

It seems there’s something for everyone in Ubud, from the gorgeous rice terraces of Tegallalang, to taking in a fire dance, walking with primates in the Sacred Monkey Forest, or discovering the plethora of shops, restaurants, yoga studios and co-working spaces that make this city so exciting to explore.

What’s In the Water?

Our Global Waste Problem

& What We Can Do About It

A trash pile on the shore of Balangan Beach in Bali, Indonesia. Heaps like this are burned routinely as one of the most common forms of waste management on the island.

A trash pile on the shore of Balangan Beach in Bali, Indonesia. Heaps like this are burned routinely as one of the most common forms of waste management on the island.

It’s awesome to see that this year’s Earth Day was all about plastic pollution awareness, microplastics, ocean degradation and waste management issues. We encountered this problem daily while traveling through Southeast Asia in 2017, and it was eye opening. What struck us most – outside of the kind people we met, the gorgeous scenery, warm cultures and inspiring relics we had the fortune to explore – was litter, practically everywhere, and namely: plastic.

We first encountered the monster in Bali. It was my birthday. We had just landed 24 hours prior after flying across the world from Boston to Denpasar, surviving a harrowing lightning storm and the joys of three consecutive flights. We rested up and set off to spend our first day exploring the Island of the Gods. Months earlier, I had declared to my husband that all I wanted to do on my birthday was swim in the Indian Ocean, and I had been imagining the moment ever since. So, we set out to make that happen.

Denpasar is the main international airport in Bali, and a stone’s throw from the famed surf haven, Kuta Beach. We left our hotel and strolled through the busy downtown, past store after store brimming with cheap boardwalk style souvenirs. We’d read ahead of time that Kuta is known as a westernized party town, but also learning that it’s a surfer’s paradise, we planned to spend a few days there before heading off to quiet Canggu. We’d also read that travelers to Kuta have a reputation for being a bit “trashy,” but what was really trashed, it turned out, was the beach!

We got to Bali during rainy season (we arrived in January – the wet season is October - April), which partially accounts for the exorbitant amount of waste we discovered scattered across the beach as far as you could see. The sand was littered top to bottom with all manner of garbage: straws, plastic bags, flip flops, food wrappers, bottles, cups, broken glass, beer bottles, and plenty of other unidentifiable debris. We were more than a little grossed out, but still determined to take a dip in the ocean. It turned out that meant swimming through a sea of garbage. All the same types of waste found on the beach, and more, floated by, swirled around, and flowed in and out on every wave making it actually impossible to be in the water without having trash touching some part of our bodies.

Beach goers wade past mounds of trash after a beach clean up in Kuta, Bali, to enjoy some of the island's best surf. During the rainy season, garbage washes ashore in Bali after it's swept in from other nearby islands. Beach litter is further compounded by the island's waste problem, in which garbage is frequently left on roadsides near waterways, eventually seeping into rivers and streams that lead to the sea.

Beach goers wade past mounds of trash after a beach clean up in Kuta, Bali, to enjoy some of the island's best surf. During the rainy season, garbage washes ashore in Bali after it's swept in from other nearby islands. Beach litter is further compounded by the island's waste problem, in which garbage is frequently left on roadsides near waterways, eventually seeping into rivers and streams that lead to the sea.

We didn’t last very long, and struggled with seeing other beach goers playing Frisbee, swimming and surfing as if nothing was wrong.

How could we let this become the new normal?

We all knew that trash on the beach wasn't dumped there by some malicious company, or left behind by any one person or elusive malcontent. It couldn't possibly. So, that meant it wasn’t really anyone’s trash, but it was everyone’s. Ultimately, we couldn't pretend we weren’t swimming through the contents of a trash bag, and exited the ocean dejected, near tears.

We walked a little further down the beach, but just seeing more of the same, headed back to our hotel disgusted, disturbed and heartbroken by what we'd seen washing in and out of shore.

That night and the months that followed we poured over stats on ocean pollution, litter, and waste management programs in Southeast Asia. What we discovered both through our experience and research was that organized waste management and recycling programs were sorely lacking in the region. Not coincidentally, a 2015 report from the Ocean Conservancy found that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand are the five countries responsible for half of all plastic leaked into the ocean globally.

An insightful mural at Old Man's in Canggu, Bali.

An insightful mural at Old Man's in Canggu, Bali.

Our research also confirmed resoundingly that throwaway plastics are a serious problem. The type of trash we saw most often from the beaches of Bali, Indonesia, and Borneo, Malaysia, to the streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Phuket, Thailand, was food packaging waste: candy wrappers, straws, chip bags, bottles, drink pouches, and so on. They were everywhere.

These flimsy pieces of plastic aluminum composites are some of the most difficult to recycle because there is little market for their reuse. There are innovative companies out there like Terracycle who collect these items and turn them into new products, but these types of solutions are not yet the norm, and in some cases it can still cost the consumer to recycle, making these services inaccessible to those with lower incomes.

Hard to recycle plastics aside, we learned that recycling programs in high volume, tourist heavy regions of Southeast Asia are few and far between. Further research revealed that developing countries often lack the resources and infrastructure to provide widespread waste disposal services in general, which has in turn led to a lack of local knowledge on how to recycle properly.

As a result, in many parts of the developing world trash is either left on the side of the road in open basins or in plastic bags that are shredded by dogs, cats, monitor lizards and other hungry critters prior to collection, dropped into waterways, brought to illegal dumps, littered, or burned. Burning garbage as a way to eliminate it was the most frequent disposal method we saw. Families, farmers, and business owners alike all practiced it. The smell of burning plastic was a constant and familiar scent throughout our travels across the region. That smell hurts on so many levels and definitely isn’t good for you.

Trash awaiting collection on the side of the road in Bali is perched precariously beside a water run off that leads directly to the Indian Ocean.

Trash awaiting collection on the side of the road in Bali is perched precariously beside a water run off that leads directly to the Indian Ocean.

While these disposal methods would still pose environmental problems even if most of our waste were biodegradable, the majority of trash is inorganic. Plastic can take 400 years to decompose, and burning plastic mixed with household trash releases harmful gases such as dioxin and furan that are highly toxic to humans.

All this said, we see a clear and positive shift in recent times where more people the world over  are tackling this harrowing issue; from articles in the mainstream media to viral videos revealing the plastic epidemic and it’s toll on our oceans. In 2018, we know that ocean pollution is the result of our global failure to effectively dispose of waste, and with that realization we also have the opportunity to make lasting and powerful changes. 

Of course, in the areas most affected, people have been combatting pollution for years. Today, it seems these issues and the organizations fighting to alleviate them are finally getting the attention they deserve.

It turned out the trash heap we discovered in Kuta isn’t necessarily the norm year round, but is commonly found during the rainy season when waste left on roadsides is swept into rivers that flow out to sea where it mingles with garbage that washes up from nearby countries and islands. In response to these widespread issues, many organizations are dedicated to reclaiming Bali’s beaches, improving waste disposal services, and educating locals on how they can help. The country has even introduced a plastic bag ban beginning this year.

When we returned to Kuta three weeks later, we headed back to the beach with the intention of documenting what we saw there in January. To our great surprise, there had been a massive beach cleanup. Instead of trash littered across the sand and waves, we saw huge piles of neatly collected garbage lined up and down the beach, awaiting disposal.

It was an incredible feeling to know that all that garbage was once floating freely in the Indian Ocean, and heartening to realize that with awareness and passion, a positive impact can be made.

We feel that if we are to improve the situation, it’s important to know the facts so that we can take responsibility for our actions. In the spirit of Know Stone Unturned, the remainder of this article explores some of the data we collected through our research on this topic, and offers a list of 10 easy ways you can combat plastic pollution with every day choices.

Care for a swim? One rubbish pile among dozens lining Kuta Beach after a massive clean up in February 2017.

Care for a swim? One rubbish pile among dozens lining Kuta Beach after a massive clean up in February 2017.

THE STATS: THE PROBLEM WITH PLASTIC

  • The adult human body is composed of 60% water. Without it, the average person will die in just 3-4 days. Yet, 1 in 9 people around the world lack access to safe drinking water, while 1.8 billion people drink water contaminated with feces.
  • The World Health Organization estimates that half of the world’s population will be living in water stressed areas by 2025.
  • For millions of people around the world, the solution to unsafe drinking water is the plastic bottle. Even in regions with access to potable tap water, consuming bottled beverages, usually out of convenience, has become the norm. But our global addiction to ready-made and ‘disposable’ goods is only serving to further foul our waterways.
  • Ironically, producing a bottle of water takes about 6 times the amount of water contained by the end product.
  • In the U.S. alone, the production of water bottles uses 17 million barrels of oil every year. Billions of those bottles then go un-recycled. In fact, 20 billion plastic water bottles wind up in landfills or are incinerated annually.
  • While much of the global waste problem lies in the lack of waste and recycling services in developing countries, developed nations like the United States have just as poor a recycling record. It’s no secret that the U.S. is the biggest producer of waste worldwide. Americans generate nearly 625,000 tons of waste per day, yet our recycling rate is only 35%
  • Even more critical than the lack of services and the dominance of throwaway culture, is our broad disconnection from water consumption and waste production. Water coming out of the tap feels infinite, while trash picked up curbside seems like it’s got a place to go that we never need to think about. Of course, that’s just not true. For all the water on earth, 97% is contained in our oceans, leaving only 3% to fresh water sources (much of which remains in the polar ice caps). And while the oceans absorb about 40% of CO2 emissions, marine plants produce 70% of our oxygen.
  • Life on earth is in many ways sustained by the ocean. We now have eight million tons of plastic finding its way there annually, and that number is increasing.
  • It’s estimated that by 2025 the ocean may contain 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish, and that by 2050 we can expect more plastic than fish swimming in the ocean. That’s thanks to the nearly 300 million tons of plastic produced each year, 50% of which is produced for single use.
  • Ready for this: more plastic was produced in the last decade than over the course of the last century.
  • Once out at sea, plastic pollution causes serious harm to marine life and birds that either get caught in webs of trash or ingest plastic thinking its food.
  • While it takes hundreds of years to decompose in water, releasing toxic chemicals in the process, plastic breaks down into small pieces called microplastics that are commonly ingested and absorbed by fish, whales, birds, mussels, sea turtles, and many other walks of marine life. Although some species of fish can expel microplastics, most marine animals cannot. For them, ingesting plastics causes a false feeling of being full, which is often fatal.
  • Like eating seafood? You might want to know that every year fish in the North Pacific Ocean ingest 12,000 – 24,000 tons of plastic.
  • As the chemicals found in plastics and metals move up the food chain, they eventually surface in the grocery store, at restaurants, and ultimately on our plates.
  • At this point, the long-standing effects of ingesting microplastics and the chemicals they release are unknown. What we do know is that what affects one area of the food chain affects the entire food chain, and humans are at the top.
 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: WHAT WE CAN DO TO REDUCE PLASTIC POLLUTION

Water, like air, is constantly cycling. It doesn’t belong to any one person, company, country or town, but to us all. In the same way that water belongs to all of us, so does water pollution. Luckily, everyone can reduce his or her plastic consumption by consciously using less plastic. It’s that simple!

Below are 10 tips on making the switch.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning we may earn a small commission if you make a purchase from this website, helping to support our work at no additional cost to you. We only link to products that we believe in, and truthfully review all products we’ve used.

Klean Kanteen Bottles

1. Say No to Plastic Bottles

The average American uses 173 plastic water bottles each year, but you can avoid this with a reusable canteen. Insulated bottles like Klean Kanteens keep drinks icy cold or toasty warm for hours. The stainless steel interior is easy to clean, too, so you can use it for a variety of beverages. We've had ours for several years, and you can see that they have held up and are well loved.

Photo by PhotoDreamWorldArt

2. Bye, Bye Plastic Bags

Did you know that 100 million plastic bags are used every minute, but usually for only 15 minutes before they’re tossed? There are so many reusable bags out there to help curb the waste. We love those that fit easily in your purse, backpack, or pocket, like Baggu. Their design minimizes fabric waste, and can be shipped back to the company for recycling at the end of their lives.

Home Made Produce and Bulk Food Bags

3. Ditch Plastic Produce Bags

Go the extra mile by foregoing plastic produce bags found at most grocery stores. Check out Life Without Plastic’s food bags for bread, produce, rice, etc. They even have one for your sandwich! I started making my own produce bags out of excess fabric, old shirts, etc. You don’t need a sewing machine for this fun project and they’re a great gift to give, too!

Plastic Drinking Straws and Cups

4. Avoid Plastic Drinking Straws

500 million one-time use plastic straws are thrown away every day in the U.S. You can combat this by choosing a re-useable option when you need one, and letting restaurant staff know you don’t require a straw with your drink. Durable metal straws are a great fit for individuals and restaurants.

Reusable Mugs

5. Opt for a Reusable Mug

Bring a reusable mug to your favorite coffee shop. Often times, brewers give discounts for bringing your own cup! It's easy to find reusable coffee mugs these days, which is great. Klean Kanteen has a good option here as well, including a coffee style lid. If you’re not in the market for another canteen, a re-usable mason jar lid works, too.

 

Abeego Plastic Free Food Wrapper

6. Switch to Plastic-Free Food Storage

Plastic food containers are unhealthy for the environment and humans, too. Research continues to show that chemicals in plastic food containers can leach into food, especially when heated, and have been linked to hormone disorders, diseases and even cancer. Life Without Plastic’s online store is a great resource for food storage containers. We’re obsessed with their plastic free food wraps: pliable, compostable, beeswax wrappers that replace wasteful plastic wrap.

Microbeads Flushed Down the Drain

7. Cut Out Microbeads

Microbeads are non-biodegradable microplastics found frequently in personal care products ranging from toothpaste to face cleansers. Sewage systems are unable to filter them, which means they ultimately wash into our oceans where they become unrecoverable and are often absorbed by marine life. Beat The Microbead lists the products that do and don’t contain them.

Plastic Food Packaging

8. Avoid Packaged Foods

When you need a snack on the go, opt for munchies that aren't pre-wrapped in plastic. (A challenge, we know!) Generally speaking, non-packaged foods are healthier for you, anyway. So this is ultimately a win-win.

I'm A Trash Hero

9. Talk About It

Talking about these issues and sharing the facts is critical to making change. Make a post on social media, tell your loved ones why you recycle, show off your reusable bags at the grocery store. All these things get people thinking, and when it comes to sustainability, awareness is key. Spread the love through the word.

Reduce Reuse Recycle

10. Last But Not Least...

 

 

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE...with Reduce being the key word! Encourage others to do the same, from friends and family, to your workplace, apartment complex, town, and local school system.

CONCLUSIONS

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth said it best when he explained,

“The pollution of the planet is only an outward reflection of an inner psychic pollution:

millions of unconscious individuals not taking responsibility for their inner space.”

These words truly speak to the essence of global pollution. If we want to remain a healthy species, care for our world, and offer future generations the beautiful earth we enjoy today, we must become conscious consumers. If shortsightedness is the greatest challenge of our times, then we need to start playing the long game. Change will not arrive by someone else’s doing, but from our own.

The tail of a humpback whale and accompanying spray off of Boston Harbor in New England.

The tail of a humpback whale and accompanying spray off of Boston Harbor in New England.

Visiting: The Tegalalang Rice Terrace in Ubud, Bali

Indonesia

Tegalalang is a dreamy delight. Just 25 minutes outside of busy Ubud, emerald rice fields cascade from parallel slopes into a lush, rich valley, transporting visitors back in time. The pace of life slows down here once you dip off the main road that overlooks the terraces, which comes well stocked with taxis, tour buses, restaurants and shops.

With your back to the modern age, the countryside feels vibrant and alive in a place where man’s relationship with the land is the same today as it was over 1,000 years ago. The gentle flow of the subak, a traditional Balinese irrigation system, provides a soothing backdrop of trickling and bubbling that blends into the ethereal and picturesque landscape, providing a serene experience to its visitors.

 

The Subak System

Subak Tegallang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

Tegalalang relies on subak, an irrigation system built on Tri Hita Karana, a Hindu philosophy focusing on how humans can maintain a harmonious relationship between themselves and fellow man, their environment, and spirituality in daily life.

The subak system of cooperative water management obtained through the use of canals, tunnels and weirs is a cultural landscape consisting of five rice terraces and their associated water temples spread across 49,000 acres. The system, which comprises egalitarian and democratic farming practices, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 9th century. Not only does it support a dense population, subak is so effective that it makes the Balinese the most successful rice growers in Indonesia.

 

Getting There

Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

From the center of Ubud, traveling to Tegalalang should take 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic. If your driver knows the scenic route through the farm country it will mean a shorter and much for pleasant ride for you.

Uber is available in Bali for a much cheaper rate than the typical taxi fare, but like anywhere where Uber is transforming the marketplace, taxi drivers abhor it. If you choose this option, note that your driver will want you to be as discreet as possible so as not to draw the cabbies’ ire. We booked our driver from a restaurant and waited inside until he was about to arrive. With Uber, we paid about $3 to get to Tegalalang, and double that on the way back to our hotel by taxi.

 

Entrance Fees

Bamboo Bridge Tegallang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

There’s no entrance fee to Tegalalang, but you will be expected to pay a donation of a few thousand Indonesian Rupiah at various check points manned by local farmers across the terraces in order to continue on your journey. This is to help support the system, upkeep bridges, and so forth. We saw a few travelers putting up a fight about the small fees, but to put it in perspective, 10,000 Rupiah is less than one U.S. dollar. Considering the amazing work being done and how much foot traffic Tegalalang absorbs per day, this is a small price to pay. (Note that you’ll only be asked to pay on your way up and across the terraces, not on your way down.) We spent several hours exploring Tegalalang and only paid twice.

 

Fees for Photos

Love Bali Sign Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

You may encounter farmers offering to pose with you while balancing their rice basket on your back, or to take your photo at the ‘I Love Bali’ sign in exchange for a tip. In general, we’ve found that any local who offers to take your photo at a tourist attraction – even if they're a police officer or a park ranger – will expect money in return. Remember that you are visiting a developing country in which many locals are struggling financially, and especially those in rural areas. If you can shell out an extra dollar in exchange for that special photo, don’t feel bashful about it. Go ahead! At the same time, if that’s not in your budget, it’s lousy to feel like you’ve been duped by what seemed like someone’s kind gesture. Having this in the back of your mind can help you make a fast decision in those moments when you may feel pressured by locals and uncertain of what to do. Simply put, if you don’t want to pay, kindly decline the offer.

 

Exploring & Capturing This Inspiring Landscape

Balance Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

Expect to see hundreds of fellow tourists during your visit, potentially even arriving by the busload. But don’t fret! Patience pays whether you simply want to enjoy this magnificent and historical treasure on your own, or if you’re in search of that perfect photo without another soul in your shot. The further you explore into the paddies, the fewer tourists you’ll encounter and the more intimate an experience you’ll have the privilege to take home with you.

 

Dining

Farmer With Rice Basket Tegallang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

After trekking up and down the terraces you’ll likely have worked up an appetite. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurants lining the hilltop above the rice fields where you can enjoy a bite or a drink with a gorgeous view. Finding the restaurants closest to the tour path to be the most crowded and expensive, we chose to wander further down the main road, and settled on the last restaurant in the row where we enjoyed good prices, free WiFi, and a relaxed environment with a splendid overlook. We highly recommend the coconuts, which come filled with ice and slices of lime. A Tegalalang specialty. Yum!

 

Making A Difference

Go Up Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

Your visit to Tegalalang supports hard working farmers and an ancient water management system that takes conservation seriously. You’ll leave with a new appreciation of where rice comes from, the labor that goes into growing it along with the extraordinary thought put into the subak system, and a sense of inner peace from simply being in this calming environment.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Bali

INDONESIA

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, or Mandala Suci Wenara Wana in Balinese, is a top tourist attraction in Ubud, seeing roughly 10,000 visitors a month. If you’re traveling in the area, it’s likely the Monkey Forest is on your list, and it should be. Here, you’ll find yourself tucked away from the hot and bustling city in 30 acres of jungle comprising over a hundred species of trees. Transported to another time, you’ll have the opportunity to cross a dragon bridge amidst temples built in the 14th century all while surrounded by moss-covered statues, and of course, hundreds of monkeys!

Male macaques begin growing their beards and mustaches after they start having babies, as early as 3-5 years old.

 

The Monkey Business

The sanctuary is home to 600+ Balinese Monkeys, also known as long-tailed Macaques, divided into five groups that live in different territories from the main temple to the cemeteries. About 100-120 individuals make up each group and range in age from infants to adults. You will see them everywhere, roaming the premises freely, and even in the surrounding streets, making it important to remain mindful and alert that you are in a wild animal’s territory.

Living in such a large population makes conflicts among the groups of monkeys unavoidable due to territory infringements. This is pronounced in the dry season when certain groups must cross into others’ territories to bathe in the river. You may see some squabbling, particularly at group borders. Though listening to the monkeys holler and watching them chase one another can be a combination of interesting, amusing and intimidating, their disagreements have nothing to do with visitors, who can skirt around the spats without incident. Though the monkeys are not aggressive by nature, they will defend themselves if feeling threatened. This is doubly true when it comes to mothers and their babies.

Seated with two juveniles, a mother holds her baby close.

Although the sanctuary expressly asks visitors not to touch, grab or disturb the monkeys, especially babies, expect to see many visitors interacting with them, feeding the monkeys from piles of sweet potatoes provided as part of their daily diet, attempting to hold hands, and coaxing them onto their shoulders for a photo op. Though this is permitted, it’s not recommended, and injuries can occur if visitors attempt to get too cozy with the monkeys. To help guests better understand how to properly behave around the residents, the staff provides a very comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts.

For an inside look at the Monkey Forest, watch our video tour.

While filming, a juvenile macaque grew interested in Chadley’s camera and started climbing up his leg, but by staying calm and following the procedures outlined below we avoided an incident.

Pro Tips Directly from the Staff: The number one rule is to stay calm, especially if a monkey jumps on you. This will be unlikely unless you’re holding food, hiding food, looking them in the eye (it can be interpreted as a sign of aggression), or anything that might interest them (including your camera) close to their face. If this happens while you’re holding food, simply drop it and slowly walk away. The monkey will jump off for the snack. Apply the same guidelines even if you’re not holding food. Just start slowly walking away and the monkey will likely get bored of you.

Regarding snacks, visitors are asked not to feed the monkeys anything outside of what is provided for them onsite in order to keep them healthy. It’s also not recommended to bring any food into the forest, and both plastic and paper bags are prohibited. This is both to temper the monkeys curiosity and to keep the sanctuary litter-free.

 

A Bit More On the Balinese Monkey

Snacking on offerings on Jl. Monkey Forest Road outside the sanctuary.

Snacking on offerings on Jl. Monkey Forest Road outside the sanctuary.

Long-tailed Macaques are native to South East Asia. The species is not endangered, but like many wild animals continues to face habitat loss. Luckily, they are very adaptable and can live in diverse environments. In fact, the largest threat to the species is hunting, as they are considered food sources and pests in various parts of the South East Asia.

The Balinese Monkey is active by day and rests at night. They are omnivores whose diet in the Monkey Forest consists mainly of sweet potato (given 3 times a day), banana, papaya leaf, corn, cucumber, coconut, and other local fruit. Though they are well fed at home, they will leave the forest to search for food in the busy streets surrounding the sanctuary where they can snag a plethora of goodies from trashcans, restaurant tables and daily offerings placed in front of homes and businesses. On average, male macaques live up to 15 years. Females can live to be 20. 

 

Planning Your Visit

A welcoming committee monkey's around the main entrance.

Have we mentioned that macaques are known for being naughty? When planning your visit it’s good to be aware of what you plan to wear and bring along with you. Definitely watch your accessories while in the forest. Sunglasses, earrings, jewelry, flip-flops, etc. are all very appealing items to steal if you’re a Balinese monkey. We probably went above and beyond in being cautious about our apparel, and opted not to bring backpacks to avoid attracted extra attention from the residents. Chadley wore a shirt with snapping pockets, which was great for storing cash. We made sure to wear the straps on our camera to avoid taking things in and out of our pockets too often. The monkeys are very curious about what visitors might have tucked away.

Hearing that a friend had her sandal stolen off her foot by a monkey in Uluwatu, we wore sneakers, and after seeing photos of women having their tube tops pulled down by the monkeys, I wore a button up shirt and shorts.

As mentioned earlier, it’s best not to bring any food into the sanctuary. The monkeys will know and try to find it. But there are plenty of restaurants and food carts outside for when you get hungry. Most people only spend 2-3 hours visiting, anyway. At the time of this writing, the Monkey Forest is open daily for a small fee. Click here for the most up to date information on hours and pricing. 

Pro Tip: Since the sanctuary hosts over a million visitors a year, it’s good to expect crowds. If you’re looking for solace, however, there are plenty of paths to roam and benches to sit where you can escape the groups gathered at the Main and Holy Spring Temples to watch the monkeys go about their day.

 

Tri Hita Karana – Conservation, Culture & Well-Being at the Core

The dragon bridge at the Holy Spring Temple sits before a wall of banyan tree vines.

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary upholds the Hindu philosophy of Tri Hita Karana as its principal mission, meaning “three ways to reach spiritual and physical well-being.” With ‘Tri’ meaning three, ‘Hita’ meaning happiness, and ‘Karana’ meaning cause or manner, this philosophy focuses on how people can maintain a harmonious relationship between themselves and their fellow humans, their environment, and god in daily life. As an international tourist destination and ‘living laboratory’ for educational institutions, this philosophy reflects the Monkey Forest’s desire to create peace and harmony with its staff, visitors, inhabitants, plant life, historic temples, local community, and the city of Ubud.

The forest is owned by the village of Padangtegal where it is located in Ubud’s southwestern corner flanked by a multitude of hotels, shops and restaurants. The village considers the sanctuary an important spiritual, educational, economic, and conservation center for its residents, who protect the monkeys and serve on the forest’s governing council.

When it comes to Balinese culture, the forest and its inhabitants play an important role in religion and tradition. Monkeys and their mythology are prominent in Balinese art, for example, appearing in the Kecak and Ramayana dance where the monkey is an important character in the story. And while the forest is home to 186 species of trees, some are considered particularly holy and are used in spiritual practices. These include the Majegan, which is used exclusively to build shrines, the leaves of the Berigan for cremation ceremonies, and the Pule Bandak, which is thought to embody the spirit of the forest and is used to make powerful masks (don’t worry, the trees aren’t killed to make them).

 

Making A Difference

Monkeys are often seen helping one another keep clean.

With a booming tourism industry resulting in increased deforestation and massive amounts of waste, Bali’s environment from its forests to shorelines is under threat, making wildlife sanctuaries like Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest critical to the eco-tourism movement. With Tri Hita Karana at the heart of their mission, the Monkey Forest honors humanity, environment, education, and religion by providing a conservation area for Balinese monkeys, rare plants and those used in ritual to visitors and city-dwellers alike, offering an oasis in an urban environment.

Knowing your visit will not only provide you with lasting memories and a one of a kind experience, but with the knowledge that you are supporting locals and important conservation efforts while you travel feels great, too. Have fun, be respectful, and watch your stuff!

 

SNAPSHOTS

Canggu, Bali – Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay

Indonesia

Canggu is home to one of the premiere surf beaches in Bali, a vibrant but laid back community with much more of a small town feel than its populated neighbors, Seminyak and Kuta. Only 45 minutes from the airport, here, you’ll find temples, rice fields between city blocks, cows grazing on the sides of the road and the white egrets that follow them, pass roosters, hens and chicks, and meet many dogs. The community is quite international, reflected in the many restaurants and shops around town, and artists abound. Enjoy a walk through the streets or down the beach and you’ll discover a burgeoning graffiti scene of beautiful and thought provoking murals. We loved Canggu so much we visited twice, for a total stay of over a month. Below is a list of our favorite places.

 

Old Man's

Old Man's Entrance Canggu Bali

At Old Man’s on Batu Balong Beach you’ll find a happening bar and restaurant open from 7 am til late offering a varied menu from breakfast to dinner including western and Indonesian dishes. The food is great, but the atmosphere is the real draw. The bar is open air, colorfully decorated with cheeky murals to catch your eye from every angle, and the staff changes the seating arrangements daily, keeping it fresh. There’s always entertainment at night, too, from live music to ping-pong and even organized drinking games, if you’re into that. Happy hour is the jam. You’ll see almost everyone carrying two drinks each, and it can get pretty crowded once the sun goes down, so if you want to ensure yourself a table snag one early. You can rent surfboards in the parking lot during the day, too, and shower off at the restaurant when you’re done at the beach.

 

Betelnut Cafe

Betelnut Cafe Facade

Betelnut is a health conscious café offering delicious bites and superfoods. The smoothies are particularly tasty. We loved the dragon fruit betelnut smoothie and the chunky monkey with cacao. This is the kind of place where you can get apple cider vinegar and wheatgrass shots. The smoothie bowls and salads are some of their signature dishes, along with their divine array of cheesecakes. You can hole up here to work from your laptop, too. There’s two floors, an air conditioned space downstairs, and a covered open-air deck with more seating upstairs. For dreamy, drool-worthy food pics, check out their Instagram.

 

Roti Canai

Roti Roti Canggu Bali

Roti Canai is a cafe styled around the roti or chapati, an Indian street food that is similar to nan bread. The café creates sweet and savory crepe style sandwiches, serves a great curry, and has Teh Tarik, a traditional Indian tea that uses condensed milk as a sweetener. The original, hot or iced, is quite tasty. You can get alcohol here, too, if you like. This is the most affordable restaurant we found outside of the local warungs, which we highly recommend, too. The dishes are only a couple of dollars each. To review the menu, click here.

 

Love Anchor

Love Anchor Canggu Bali

We found Love Anchor after wandering into their weekly Sunday Market selling jewelry, clothing, sunglasses, and more at bargain prices. The namesake bar and restaurant offers happy hour everyday and serves up the best margaritas we had in Bali (no ice!). The bartender who goes by Johnny Cash is a character, too. This reggae bar has a pool table, foosball, and an upstairs terrace with hammocks and pillows sprawled out on the floor. The food is Italian, offering mainly super yummy pizza and sandwiches. After happy hour, the prices on the drinks get steep, so mind your watch.

Something to be aware of: Months after we returned to the States, a hack on our bank accounts was traced to an ATM at the plaza, which we used during the Sunday Market. Bank detectives said it was likely a memory film had been placed on the keypad, allowing hackers to gain access to both our pin numbers (and likely those of hundreds of other shoppers). We were fully refunded, and don’t think this had anything to do with Love Anchor or its employees, but urge travelers to use caution whenever using random ATM’s. A good tip is to use ATM's at bank locations during business hours whenever possible.

 

Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga

Serenity Eco Guesthouse_Buddha and Bayan Tree

Serenity is the perfect all in one place to stay in Canggu. Here, you’ll have a dozen yoga classes a day, and the Indian Ocean at your fingertips. The guesthouse is located at the end of a quiet street five minutes from the beach. The onsite health conscious all organic Alkaline Café offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the guesthouse has dorm rooms and privates at reasonable rates. Perfect for surfers, yogis, and anyone else looking to detox, eat well and chill out. You’ll meet lots of awesome people, too. The staff and guests are truly great.

Read our full article on Serenity, and watch our video for an inside view of the guesthouse.

 

Batu Balong

Strolling on Batu Balong Beach Canggu Bali

The Indian Ocean is a force! We visited during the rainy season and the surf was very strong. Eight-foot waves greeted beach goers at the shore, making being knowledgeable about what to do if you get caught in a rip tide an important skill. For surfers, the beaches are laid out from beginner to advanced. Beginners should surf at Batu Balong, intermediate surfers at Old Man’s, and for the advanced, Echo Beach. 

A few things to be aware of: The strong tide can also churn up trash from nearby islands, along with whatever garbage gets washed downstream (especially during the rainy season). Beach bums should also be ready to fend off vendors if you choose to lay out on the sand between Batu Balong and Old Man’s (a popular place to rent boards, relax, and buy food and drinks from the warungs). Locals selling jewelry will approach you one after another to buy their wares. Some of the ladies will even wake you from a nap to try and sell you something! You can avoid this if you choose to sunbathe on the southern side of Batu Balong, where abandoned concrete huts covered in graffiti line the beach. This stretch was typically secluded. Despite these tiniest of drawbacks, we absolutely loved this beach and have the fondest memories of our daily sunset strolls, and actually befriended some of the ladies most often seen slinging bracelets (we also bought some).

 

Surf & Swim Wear

Surf Boards Old Man's Canggu Bali

If you’re looking for swim wear you’ll find many options in Canggu, but if you’re searching for something sporty you’ll probably want to check the surf shops. For ladies, most swimsuits are pretty skimpy and the waves are quite strong. I wanted something I could trust would stay on my body. We got our swimsuits at Good Hood, and a surf shirt at Board Riders, which had a large selection of surf and skate wear, far more options than any of the other shops we checked in the area.

 

More Local Jams

The salt and peppered stones of Pura Batu Bolong overlook the wild surf of the Indian Ocean in Canggu.

The salt and peppered stones of Pura Batu Bolong overlook the wild surf of the Indian Ocean in Canggu.

Last but not least, here are a few other recommendations from around the neighborhood, some key phrases in the mother tongue, and details on local cuisine you might want to know before your trip.

Around the Block:

  • Yogi Cha – Our favorite yoga teacher in Bali! We highly recommend taking classes with Charlotte if you have the opportunity. Follow her on Instagram for an up to date class schedule. If you’re not visiting Bali soon, you can still practice with her on YouTube.
  • Dojo – A co-working space with a café and classes for entrepreneurs at Echo Beach.
  • Baba Yaga Tattoo Studio – They specialize in black and white ink in many styles.
  • Pretty Poison – A skate bar boasting movie nights, live music and art shows.
  • Gimme Shelter – A smoky rock and roll bar near Serenity Eco Guesthouse.

Speak the Language:

In Bali, two languages are primarily spoken, the traditional Balinese and Indonesian, also called Bahasa Indonesia. Most locals know both (many people also speak English), but it's always nice to make the effort to speak Balinese when in Bali! Here's some phrases you'll use often.

Balinese

  • Hello = Om Suastiastu or just Suastiastu (pronounced phonetically -- Om SwASti AStu)
  • Thank You = Matur Suksma or just Suksma
  • You’re Welcome = Suksma Mewali
  • Good Morning = Rahajeng Semeng
  • Good Afternoon = Rahajeng Sanja
  • Good Evening = Rahajeng pPeteng
  • Good Night = Rahajeng Wengi
  • I’m Sorry = Ampura
  • If you’d like to learn a few more key phrases in Balinese, click here.

Bahasa Indonesia

  • Hello = Halo or Hi
  • Good Morning = Selamat Pagi
  • Good Afternoon = Selamat Siang
  • Good Evening = Selamat Sore
  • Goodnight = Selamat Malam
  • Thank You = Terima Kasih
  • You’re Welcome = Sama Sama 
  • Good or Great (can be used when describing food or other objects) = Bagus!
  • I’m Sorry = Maaf
  • This video will teach you how to say hello and goodbye in Indonesia with proper pronunciations.

Local Flavors You’ll Find Almost Anywhere

  • Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng = Fried Rice (Nasi) and Fried Noodles (Mie, pronounced ME) with egg, chicken or shrimp (or all of the above). You can find these delicious meals for as low as $2 at the local warungs.
  • Gado Gado = A salad of slightly boiled, blanched or steamed vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, boiled potato, fried tofu or tempeh (tempeh originates from Indonesia), and rice crackers with a peanut sauce dressing.

 

Enjoy Your Visit!

Canggu Bali Ornate Door

With its surf culture and backpacker vibe combined with a strong yoga and wellness scene, Canggu is a truly special place to soak up the waves, smiles and sunrays Bali has to offer.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Serenity Eco Guesthouse & Yoga - Canggu, Bali

INDONESIA

Located in Canggu, home to some of Bali’s premiere surf, international restaurants, co-working spaces, temples, tattoo studios, shopping and nightlife, Serenity Eco Guesthouse focuses on just that: Serenity. Only a five-minute walk to Batu Balong Beach, quietly tucked away from the noisy beaches in Kuta, while still being 45-minutes from the airport and an hour to Ubud, Serenity is a sanctuary for travelers looking for an affordable, quiet, nourishing and soulful space to rest their heads.

While planning our trip to Asia we scoured the web for insight on where to stay in Bali, poring over reviews of beaches, neighborhoods and accommodations until we found Serenity, which promised to provide the perfect mix of location, activities and health food we sought. Though we had only planned to stay five days at the guesthouse, it didn’t take long for us to extend our stay. In total, we spent about five weeks here in five different room types on two occasions, bookending our trip with plenty of yoga, clean food, relaxation and beach time. We recommend staying at least five days to truly soak up all Serenity has to offer. For a closer look at the guesthouse watch our video tour.

 

AFFORDABLE ACCOMMODATION IN A BEAUTIFUL SETTING

Founded by owners Daniel & Yatna on their personal property in 2009, this family run business now has dozens of employees and three additional branches of guest rooms in short walking distance from the main complex.

Despite increased demand for rooms, the guesthouse never feels crowded. The yoga studios are spacious, guests are always willing to share a table in the health conscious Alkaline Restaurant, and the gorgeous pool is surrounded by plenty of seating. Every room is equipped with a safety box, and comes either with full or discounted breakfast. Guests are invited to store food in shared refrigerators, and a shuttle service is provided between the main house and branches for added convenience.

While eco resorts may feel out of reach for many budget travelers, Serenity instills the feeling that sustainability is achievable for everyone, and at a reasonable price. Presently, Serenity’s dorms cost about $10 a night, and private rooms range from $15 - $30 per night. Check out their website for the most up to date prices.

 

YOGA & WELLNESS

The guesthouse pays careful attention to wellness for the body, mind, spirit, and environment. A dozen yoga and meditation classes are scheduled daily. Taught by Balinese, Indonesian and international teachers, classes range from ashtanga, mysore, hatha, yin, and various vinyasas, to yoga for surfers, chakra flows, aerial yoga, life coaching workshops, gong meditation, acroyoga and more. A meditation room, massage, surf lessons, bicycle and motorbike rentals are also available.

A variety of 100% organic, natural and mindful oriented products are sold on-site, including: virgin coconut oil, mosquito repellent, activated bamboo charcoal (a detoxing purifier), reusable straws, sunscreen, and books on consciousness.

Serenity’s Alkaline Restaurant offers an organic menu filled with raw, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free items. Meat options, are available, too. Super foods abound, from electrolyte packed coconuts, to iron-rich moringa (a native plant grown on-site), to wheatgrass shots, turmeric juice, a variety of homemade detox juices, multiple brands of locally made kombucha in many flavors (including Serenity’s very own), alkaline water, and divine cacao bars made in Ubud, to name a few. Daily and weekly specials add even more variety. But best of all, it’s obvious the food is made with love.

 

SUSTAINABILITY – ADDRESSING BALI’S DESPERATE NEED

Sustainability is another of Serenity’s core values, and this is seen throughout the property, from the banyan tree that stands at the entrance, to the composting and recycling bins placed throughout the common areas, the cleaning products used, the array of eco-friendly goods sold on-site, and the reminders in every space to reduce energy use.

The growing movement toward eco-tourism is of international importance, and especially in rapidly developing areas like Bali where there is little pre-existing infrastructure to handle the intense growth and resulting waste generated by the industry. A shortage of waste management systems coupled with a lack of community awareness on how to properly dispose of mass quantities of garbage – 20,000 cubic meters of trash is discarded daily – is a huge problem in Bali, and notably so in the beach communities. It’s estimated that seventy-five percent of trash is not collected by official services, meaning it’s likely burned, washed into waterways, or otherwise illegally dumped. This problem is only exacerbated by the large quantities of non-biodegradable trash produced by the booming tourism sector.

In 2016, Bali hosted close to 5 million foreign tourists, a number that surpassed the island’s total population in 2014. While the industry has a positive impact on Bali’s economy, mass tourism takes a serious toll on the paradisiacal environment, which is one of the very reasons travelers make the trip to the ‘island of the gods' in the first place. Offering over 6,000 hotels on 2,175 square miles, the tourist industry absorbs approximately 65% of Bali’s total water supply, with four- and five-star hotels requiring at least 50,000 liters of clean water every day, according to the Bali Hotel Association. Despite the stresses tourism puts on the island, the Balinese remain welcoming of tourists, and an increasing number of organizations are cropping up to combat the problem.

While the hotel business, in particular, is in desperate need of improvement, this is an area where Serenity truly shines. The Eco Guesthouse offers conscious travelers the ability to be good stewards in their host country by making a positive impact on the local environment, while still having fun, eating well, and staying in budget.

Serenity boasts a number of sustainable practices focused on reducing, reusing and recycling. Rather than burning trash and grass, they compost organic waste, and recycle used plastic bottles and paper at Eco Bali. Many other items are reused, too, including glass, scrap wood and plastic bags. Local building materials, bamboo, and plastic bottles are used in the infrastructure, and gorgeous works of art are created from broken materials that would be otherwise trashed. Inorganic waste is further reduced by the restaurant, which provides biodegradable takeaway boxes.

At Serenity, water is saved by staggering linen washes in guest rooms. Drying linens in the sun further reduces energy. Low energy light bulbs and natural septic tanks are also used.

The charming grounds incorporate permaculture gardens, an organic nursery, a wastewater garden, and organic worm farm. The gardens provide a variety of fresh fruit and medicinal herbs, and incorporate homemade organic fertilizers. They are kept mosquito and pest free by growing neem, lemongrass and zodiac, and by using garlic spray and neem oil instead of toxic chemicals.

In addition to all this, the staff makes a point of using eco-friendly products for their dish and linen washing, and to keep their beautiful swimming pool clean and pristine. Guests are asked to do their part by washing off inorganic sunscreen and bug sprays before entering the pool, hanging their towels out to dry, composting, recycling, and reducing energy by turning off lights, AC and fans when not in use.

At Serenity, you know sustainability is a team effort in which we all play a part. As a guest, patron at the Alkaline Café, or a student in a yoga class, you know that you are part of a movement to make a positive impact on the world while minimizing your global footprint.

 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

When you stay at Serenity you know you're helping to care for the world while taking care of yourself. The feeling you get throughout your visit is one of mindfulness and intention. The thoughtful, friendly staff, artful attention to detail – from the yin-yangs, murals, and mirror mosaics, to the labeling of plants and information on super foods placed around the restaurant – and intuitive sense of sustainability and well-being that permeates the guesthouse all contribute to the peaceful atmosphere, making it a wonderful place to reflect, relax and grow.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Reflections on Societal Ethos

Mitakuye Oyasin

Creating Know Stone Unturned while traveling abroad brought us in contact with many different cultures, people, personality types, and of course, face to face with our own reflections.

Before boarding a flight to South East Asia on inauguration day, we had just spent two years working at a wolf sanctuary in rural New Mexico, where the Executive Director is also a Lakota pipe carrier (a Native American ceremonial leader). Under his guidance, we participated in sweat lodges symbolizing purification and rebirth, and family pipe ceremonies in which we put our collective attention on shared intentions like abundance and rain. An oft-used phrase in these rituals is the Lakota saying, Mitakuye Oyasin (pronounced Ma-Tahk-Wee-Ah-Seen), meaning “all my relations” or “we are all related.” Stemming from the belief that our world is inextricably interconnected, the saying means that all of nature, fellow man, plants, animals, earth, water and sky are all our relatives.

While the saying resonates with us, we know that being related to everyone and everything is not always at the forefront of our minds. This is why travel helps so many of us to expand our world view, whether that’s going across the globe or exploring our own country. It pushes us out of our comfort zones and teaches us to accept our human differences while understanding that, fundamentally, we are all the same, all related, and likely all valuing the same things: family, security, happiness and love. At the same time that our eyes are opened to new perspectives and experiences, traveling can also teach us to appreciate what we have – our own culture, loved ones, home, and a myriad of other things left behind.

Honestly speaking, it was a strange and marked time to be an American abroad during Trump's first six months in office. Many people had questions about what was happening in America, what was true versus what they heard on the news, what we knew about the travel ban preventing travelers in Muslim countries from visiting the U.S., and more. We were frequently humbled by the chiding smiles and mocking snickers of those who simply asked, “How’s Trump?” Others still, said nothing of politics, or even if they did, appeared wide-eyed at the word America and revealed that they always dreamed of visiting our country. And so, despite any contentious feelings people may have about our current administration, we realized: 1) the general perception of Americans remains positive, and 2) the American Dream truly resonates with people all over the world.

 

Tri Hita Karana

Balinese Offerings

Our first stop was Bali, and the place that got us thinking about cultural ethos and the meaning behind the American Dream.

Bali, a tiny island among thousands in the Indonesian archipelago, is quite special. The people of Bali have long sought to retain their cultural independence through the ages, with their unique blend of modern and ancient tribal beliefs mixed with Buddhism and Hinduism.

What struck us immediately was the culture around gratitude and offerings. The practice of dedicating time each day to preparing and delivering offerings was foreign to us. We even witnessed a holiday giving thanks to metal machinery, including cars and motorbikes, all of which were decorated with ornaments for the occasion.

Offerings, usually made from palm leaves, contain a variety of items, but most typically include bits of food – rice, crackers, fruit, even wrapped candy – as well as flowers and a burning stick of incense, which is considered the spirit of the offering. These nature-based offerings are placed in special altars and in front of houses and businesses throughout the island, even on the beach, in the morning and afternoon in order to appease the Hindu gods. You cannot go anywhere in Bali without encountering them.

While this ritual is a special and easily observed aspect of Balinese culture, it may be the Tri Hita Karana philosophy that is even closer to the culture’s core.

Tri Hita Karana is a Hindu philosophy meaning “three ways to reach spiritual and physical well-being,” with ‘Tri’ meaning three, ‘Hita’ meaning happiness, and ‘Karana’ meaning cause or manner. The philosophy directs people to maintain a harmonious relationship between themselves and others, themselves and their environment, and between themselves and spirit in daily life. We first encountered the term at Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, where a swath of jungle and over 600 monkeys are protected within the city, and again outside of Ubud at the Tegallalang Rice Terrace, where Tri Hita Karana has been an important aspect of sustainable agriculture for centuries. Both cultural attractions keep the philosophy at the heart of what they do.

Learning about Tri Hita Karana reminded us of other cultural tenets that have equally profound yet simple meanings to people around the world, and inevitably, drew us inward to reflect on our own country’s core philosophy. First, here are some more of our favorite cultural sayings spanning nations and continents.

 

Namaste

Angkor Wat Carvings, Cambodia

Namaste is a common salutation in India and Nepal tracing back to the Vedas. The word has been translated to mean ‘I bow to you,’ ‘I bow to the divine in you,’ and ‘the divine in me bows to the divine in you.’ The word is used as a greeting or farewell, and is often accompanied by the gesture of holding one’s hands in prayer position at the heart and bowing, or holding the hands in prayer at the center of the forehead and bowing from the head. In India, one can use the gesture without saying the word and still be understood.

In the West, we most commonly hear Namaste at the end of a yoga class, but in India it can be heard much more commonly.

Whether it's used with strangers or loved ones, the word is undeniably powerful in that it reminds us to think of ourselves and others as not only human spirits, but holy ones, whether we are in a spiritual setting or walking down the street.

 

Pura Vida

Kata Beach, Phuket Thailand

In Spanish, Pura Vida means ‘simple life’ or ‘pure life,’ and is felt to embody the spirit of Costa Rica. Like Namaste, it is used as a greeting. It can also mean ‘everything’s great’ or ‘everything’s cool,’ but more than that, ‘Pura Vida’ reflects the country’s way of life.

Costa Rica has been named one of the happiest countries on Earth. Thus, Costa Ricans (known as Ticos) generally live happy, worry free lives because they focus on peace and gratitude rather than on what’s wrong or negative in life.

It is commonly believed that the saying was popularized by the Mexican film Pura Vida!, which came to Costa Rica in 1956. In the film, the phrase is frequently used by the main character, who remains positive despite his misfortunes. By 1970, the term was used widely throughout the country, and continues to pervade the culture today, loved by locals and tourists alike.

While Namaste reflects the divinity behind all life, Pura Vida reminds us not to take ourselves so seriously and to enjoy this time we are given. 

 

Ubuntu

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ubuntu is an African philosophy that became a political ideology in Zimbabwe, and a unifying concept in South Africa at the end of apartheid in the 1990s.

Meaning, “my humanity is inextricably bound up in yours,” and “we belong in a bundle of life,” Ubuntu can also be used to compliment someone by saying that they are a generous, hospitable, caring, friendly and compassionate person. It can be translated simply to mean “human kindness,” but is truly more concerned with “connection, community and mutual caring for all.” The phrase is so tied into the idea of community, sharing, and mutual benefit that the world’s most widely used free computer operating system is named after the philosophy.

At the same time that Ubuntu is concerned with human connection, Nelson Mandela explained that, “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves. The question therefore is, are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you, and enable it to improve?”

Like Tri Hita Karana, Ubuntu shares the importance of being one with ourselves, and with our communities.

 

The American Dream

El Morro National Monument, New Mexico

The American Dream is the idea that anyone can succeed and achieve their goals no matter their background or circumstance. Founded on the idea that hard work is rewarded, the American Dream purports a system of success based on persistence and merit. It is this very system that has drawn people from all over the world to the US and that has made America the melting pot it is today.

Know Stone Unturned is also part of that dream.

The American Dream is as hot a topic today as ever, with many news sources arguing that the Dream is being gobbled up by the top percentage of earners, leaving little opportunity for the rest. Despite our economic differences, the dream also reminds us that we all share a common thread in the search for prosperity. We are all dreaming, hustling and striving for our goals, whether that’s raising a family, buying a house, writing a novel, recording an album, or becoming the next Michael Jordan.

In this way, the dream is not lost, but it’s likely what we dream about has changed.

Today, the American Dream may be more about living a meaningful life and less about grounded security for young people coming of age in this new world economy. As we were starting Know Stone Unturned, we came across countless travel bloggers with a shared story: that of quitting their corporate jobs to pursue a life of adventure and new experiences. 

With the advent of the Internet, and more Americans dreaming of becoming their own bosses, the IT explosion, boom in blogging, Etsy shops, and charity-based businesses have all been on the rise for years. It seems the American Dream is increasingly returning to its entrepreneurial roots, perhaps more reminiscent of the country’s early days when the Dream represented exploration and the allure of the great frontier.

Regardless of the method or the times, what’s craved has remained the same: a sense of freedom that’s achieved through success. Whether looking to become a big executive or start your own business, the American Dream is about the idea that you can make it if you try.

We all know that capitalism drives competition, which can create a kind of ruthless culture around success. Business can be cutthroat, and anyone who really wants to ‘make it’ is taught to work harder and longer than everyone else in order to achieve their goals. Yet, as much as the American Dream is focused on the individual, it is also fundamentally rooted in inclusion, the whole – that is, the opportunity for anyone to succeed and prosper regardless of race, gender, sexuality, class, religion or ethnicity. As we look around at our friends, neighbors, classmates, colleagues and family members all swimming toward their own versions of the American Dream, it is precisely this national ethos of success for all that can drive empathy, because the health of any society is dependent on the health of the individuals that make it up.

We are living in an increasingly divided culture dictated by differing political beliefs, economic opportunities, access to education, and where we live. Yet the American Dream remains a unifying force that can raise our society to great heights if we begin to value our collective success as much as we value our personal prosperity. This is true inclusion, the road to collaboration and cooperation that can enable us to transcend and evolve together as people despite our differences.

 

Conclusions

Collecting Hay for Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand

What do Ubuntu, Namaste, Pura Vida, Tri Hita Karana, Mitakuye Oyasin and the American Dream have in common? Each points to the individual and the community simultaneously by illuminating the need for balance and connection between self and other.

While any idea, no matter how rich, can lose its potency as we become accustomed to it, all of these philosophies are worthy of remembering on our journeys through life. They inspire us to go for our goals, remain connected, grounded to the earth and to spirit, to see the holiness in all living beings, to remember that we are inseparably linked, and that living harmoniously with humanity and the earth will always take us farther than we could ever go alone.

What other insightful cultural sayings resonate with you? Let us know in the comments.

Namaste.