I've been a fan of the novel Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert for year. Before knowing anything about the book, I assumed the "love" would take place in Italy. Doesn't every woman secretly dream of amore with a gorgeous Italian man who calls you bella? After becoming engrossed in the book, and fairly certain that she would "pray" at lot in India, I quickly understood that she would "eat" in Italy and have "love" in Bali.
The novel was my first introduction to this fascinating country, and after traveling to Bali in August of 2013, I have an even greater appreciation of how love, among many other things, can be transformative in this mystical Indonesian island.
My love affair with authentic Bali happened in Ubud and the surrounding areas. Upon seeing the natural beauty of the emerald green rice fields, ornate Balinese temples, and the art and culture that ooze from Ubud, I understand why people journey here from all ends of the earth.
My first stop was Fivelements located along the Ayung River. This eco-conscious wellness retreat is known for it's holistic Balinese healing, living foods and sacred arts. Their list of treatments ranges from deep tissue massage to ancient energy healing.
I chose the Panca Mahabhuta treatment, which is supposed to balance the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether within the body. Prior to my treatment, I had no idea what to expect. My healer, Pak Wayan used vibrational energy, Balinese chants and meditated over me to ultimately open my chakras. He touched my head and neck for a few minutes. I spent the next 80 minutes with my eyes closed, as I felt areas on my body completely relax and tremble from my healer's energy.
After my treatment, we talked and he explained what he felt from me and gave advice on the areas in my life to improve. As skeptical as I was from this non-verbal, non-contact healing session, I couldn't help but be amazed by his insight.
Another world class treatment at the Fivelements is the Balinese Boreh where you get pampered with a deep tissue massage, an herbal scrub and a private outdoor bath filled with flowers, ginger and fruit that detoxify you as you relax to the peaceful sounds of the river flowing a few meters away.
The list of treatments can be a bit overwhelming at Fivelements, but the knowledgeable staff can guide you in selecting the perfect treatments based on your physical and emotional needs.
Advice: If you are a vegetarian or vegan and want to experience a complete health and wellness retreat, book at the Fivelements and eat the deliciously prepared raw foods. Have the raw chocolate for desert.
Once you've relaxed and are ready to experience beautiful Bali, take a private guided tour to the stunning rice fields, inside a traditional home, Balinese Hindu temples and Mas village for the fine wood carvings.
Just north of Ubud are the vivid green, coconut tree covered Tegalalang rice fields.
Spend time walking through the maze-like path, understand how rice is harvested and take in the beauty of this landscaped masterpiece. After I learned about the importance of rice, prayer and offerings that the Balinese make to the rice gods, the love and respect that the rice farmers have becomes very clear. If you have more time to visit rice fields, take a trip extraordinary Jatiluwih rice fields that unfold down a mountainside covering 1500 acres.
Advice: Wear shoes that are comfortable and can withstand a little mud.
As you visit the temples, ask your guide to explain the uniqueness of Balinese Hinduism and how their traditional mystical beliefs are interwoven into their spirituality. I couldn't help but notice that every home has a temple and most of the temples are more beautiful and more prominent than the home. You'll quickly see that there are beautifully handcrafted woven baskets filled with flowers, fruits with the occasionally cigarette left as offerings at the temples, in door entryways, and other places the Balinese deem sacred or where they desire blessings.
Insert pic of offerings
After your guided tour, you'll have a deeper understanding of the Balinese art and culture. You should then spend a few hours in the Ubud Market in the city center to shop for crafts, batik cloths and other keepsakes. The vendors are non-aggressive and they kindly encourage you to purchase something by saying, "for a blessing." The first time I heard a woman say this I thought she wanted me to give her money or some change. She was actually trying to tell me that if I bought an item from her stand, I would be blessed. Inevitably, the more I heard this saying, the more I started buying from these gracious but savvy vendors.
If you are interested in the traditional Balinese woodcarvings, go to Mas Village. You can see the craftsmen at work in the courtyard and then go inside the retail store to negotiate for your perfect for high quality work of art. My favorites were the ornate Rama and Sita carvings that make you dream of endless love.
I solidified my love affair with Bali after seeing a traditional Balinese dance. At Ubud Palace, there are nightly shows of the Legong, Barong, and Kecak fire and trance where you can watch the performers artistically express their religion and stories through a dance-drama. The intricate way their fingers, hands and eyes move is powerful. Watch them transform into characters as they recreate age old stories of good and evil. I was mesmerized by this dance and only wished I understood the drama.
For one little island to have so many unique qualities and nuances that work together in harmony is remarkable. Although Bali is a popular among tourists, the magical town of Ubud has managed to maintain much of its authenticity and cultural identity. In fact, it is celebrated and the hotels and retreats blend beautifully into Ubud's natural beauty. This place emanates love, whether it's for healing, romance, or self-love, it is infectious and can easily make you want to stay forever.
Here is Part 1 of my 3 part video series in Bali where I explore the culture and attractions in Ubud.