Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert, Ubud has changed dramatically. The author of the best-selling book and film starring Julia Roberts was partly set in Ubud, Bali, where we’re currently living, and boy did the town morph into something different after this newly-found recognition.
Once a place for hippy artists who wanted a true taste of Balinese culture, these days modern-day raw food, vegan dieting, yoga performing ‘hippies’ flock to Ubud.
When I first visited the town with my mum and dad ten years ago, I remember it being very quiet. I think there were even dirt roads around the monkey forest, traffic was infrequent and there were only a small handful of shops catering to the tiny number of tourists who’d come up there to visit the monkey forest or go rafting.
The unpeaceful Ubud today
These days, there are so many motorbikes and cars on the road there are often traffic jams. Western shops like Pandora and Accesorize lining the streets – stores that I even struggle to find in my hometown in Australia.
In some restaurants where you can pay up to US$200 for a meal, and cheap eats are increasingly hard to find. Street food? What’s that? To my horror, there’s even a Starbucks in town.
Once known for the beauty of its rice paddy fields surrounding the town, now when we dine at a restaurant with a view, all we can hear is the ‘thump-de-thump’ of a jackhammer banging about next door as a new hotel is constructed.
When we arrived here one month ago, Dave and I settled into our room in central Ubud (where we stayed for a week before moving to our villa just outside of town) and, still hearing the roar of traffic outside our window, Dave confessed, “This is not what I’d imagined Bali to be like. Ubud centre is bloody awful.”
Finding our own peace and serenity in Ubud
At first I was angry at Dave.
Why couldn’t he find it in his heart to like Ubud?
But then I realised I felt the same – Ubud was not the place I remembered from the visit with my family a decade ago. It was not the quiet sleepy village with a strong spiritual feel that I was looking forward to calling my home for a few months.
But then we moved out of the city centre to our villa. Our neighbours are farmers and occasionally a cow wonders along our driveway. Roosters wake us with their morning call and we have a frog we’ve christened Gilbert who lives in the pot plant in our garden. He comes out in the evenings to say ‘hi’.
Some days we go to yoga classes as the Yoga Barn, and although it’s a beautiful building set in a serene space, I often find the classes over-crowded. Rising into a Warrior 2 pose, I almost smack the person in front of me.
So often we prefer to do yoga on our balcony at home, watching the birds soar over the rice paddy in front of our villa as the sun sets, turning the sky into deep shades of pinks and purples.
The quietness is still there – you just have to search for it
Other bloggers have expressed dismay over Ubud’s downfall but I will them to give the village another chance.
Yes, it is touristy. Yes, you will pay more than the locals for most things. But so too are many places.
And just like many other towns around the world, the longer you stay and get to know a place, the more you discover.
Ubud is like peeling back an onion. There are many layers to it. Getting off the main roads you will still find those beautiful rice paddys. Arriving at the local market early and you will still find delicious street food.
Going to an art class – not in the tourist shops in the centre of town like Studio Perak and Chez Monique, but at WS Art Studio, a local whose house about ten minutes from Ubud – you will find artists still absorbed in their crafts.
One thing that hasn’t changed in Ubud is the people.
Yes, there may be less farmers in the area than there once was, as many of the locals now work in tourism. But this has caused wealth for many, even if some criticise the way the youth’s attitudes have changed thanks to the influence of the West.
But the people are still some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet.
You don’t have to walk far to be greeted by a warm smile, and even when leaving the supermarket checkout the worker will clasp her hands in prayer and give you a small bow of thanks.
The cost of living in Ubud
Perhaps it is presumptuous of me to blame one American author for a change in a town. Others point to the old King’s death and his son coming to the throne – some one who wasn’t so keen on preserving Ubud’s culture as his predecessors were – for the change in Ubud. The current king was the one who let in Starbucks and the like.
But one thing’s for sure – living in Bali is more expensive than we anticipated.
We pay US$900 a month for our two-bedroomed villa. The manager of the place insists it’s a bargain (it is rather luxurious) but it’s certainly more expensive than we expected to pay for a place in Bali.
We eat out a lot. At least once a day. Even though we have a kitchen (minus an oven – they’re rare here) we meet with our friends frequently, often over meals. This adds up. Sometimes we end up paying US$40 a day just on eating out.
It’s about the same price to shop at the supermarket than it is at the local market. As a Westerner, you are charged much higher prices than the locals at the market, and at least if you shop at the supermarket it’s a set price.
The transport is dirt cheap though. We pay AUS$60 a month to hire a scooter and when we fill it up with petrol, it only costs us about AUS$2. And we fill it about once a week.
So we went over budget this past month living in Ubud. But now we’re more settled, it’ll be interesting to see if we can keep our prices low this month.
Have you been to Ubud? What did you think of it?
Anyway, here’s a full rundown of what it cost us to live in Ubud throughout April:
|Travel budget in April 2015 (AUS dollars)|
|Transport (buses, taxis and scooter)||$233.31|
*Other includes: Phone credit, beauty treatments, party entrances, gym memberships, yoga memberships, membership at Hubud co-working space.