After the unavoidable stop in Kuta for Christmas, we had time to escape the madness and explore a bit more of Bali before heading to the Gilis for New Year, and the real must-see was Ubud.
Ubud is one of the many places that I’ve visited on this trip that apparently ‘isn’t what it used to be’ since it was ‘discovered’ and ‘overrun’ by tourists. Funnily enough places that are rather snottily described like that often turn out to be the most fun, and Ubud was no exception.
The town’s main claim to fame is being the centre of traditional Balinese culture (although by day that seems to manifest itself by shop after shop crammed with the same tourist tat, plus an added sprinkling of expat ‘artists’ churning out staggeringly bland and identikit paintings of rice paddies and Balinese temples) but for our first stop we were more interested in some of the other local inhabitants, the rather cheeky little monkeys of the town’s Monkey Forest Sanctuary. It’s just outside the centre of town, and the place is full of Macaques walking straight up to you in the hope of finding food. Despite the fact it’s all pretty touristy, it was great fun. The monkeys are pretty adorable (especially the babies) and when they’re not feeding they seem to spend most of the time sitting around in pairs checking each other for fleas (or, in the case of some of the male ones, engaging in a certain more solitary activity).
If the monkeys were a nice little distraction for an afternoon, the real highlight of our stay in Ubud was getting to see some traditional Balinese dancing. One evening we made our way up to Ubud Palace to watch a performance, and it was really quite incredible. It takes years to train to be a professional dancer, and you can clearly see why. The elegance of the different poses they strike is quite beautiful, and the various traditional forms that they gracefully and seemingly effortlessly hold themselves in – particularly the way the hands are constantly folded right back, far further than any normal person can manage – is amazing.
There’s just one aspect of it all that I find a little bizarre – it’s the way the female dancers spend most of the time with their eyes as wide open as they can, with eyebrows raised, that makes it look like they spend most of their time looking rather startled.