Smelling Plumeria and Eating Black Rice Pudding in Bali | Travel Diary
Our series about wanderlust-worthy, slightly off-the-grid vacation hotspots, with local picks (and gorgeous pics) from our intrepid Nordstrom crew.
Who: Lynn Frauenholz, senior web designer
Where: Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Why did you choose this destination?
Bali seemed to have the right amount of tropical paradise, interesting culture and relaxed vibe we were looking for after getting married. There are a lot of Australian expats there, so the yoga community is huge and along with that there’s some really great organic food. Neither of us are really big beach people so we stuck to the interior of the island, but I hear there’s good surfing if that’s a selling point for someone.
Where did you stay?
We stayed at the COMO Uma Ubud. It’s an amazing resort and is related to the COMO Shambhala, which is used for wellness and yoga retreats. We opted for a pool villa that comes with a private, jungle-view infinity pool. The layout of the resort is incredible: the yoga studio overlooks the main resort pool, and there are these tropical plant-lined stone paths and stairways that lead you from your villa all over the property. The plumeria trees are always in bloom, and the air smells of temple incense and flowers due to the mini altars used by the Balinese to pray a few times a day.
What did you wear there?
Bathing suits for pool time and then I rotated between a cotton dress, cotton harem pants and crop and tank tops, and I topped it all off with a sun hat. Definitely pack a button-down shirt to keep the sun off you and in case you go to a temple and need to have your shoulders covered. I had a white linen shirt with me and used it all the time. The husband wore cropped pants and T-shirts with sneakers and a baseball cap. The average temperature in Ubud is around 85°F/30°C with humidity around 70%, so breathable fabrics are a must. Also, bring bug spray. DEET is the best. I got bit twice the first day when I didn’t have any bug spray on—after that I was sprayed up every day and didn’t get another bite.
Flip-flops and sneakers. Flip-flops for most everything, sneakers for anything that’s outdoors or on uneven terrain. The island is super casual, so even the nice restaurants are fine with a cute pair of sandals. I feel like anything taller than a flat is overkill.
The complimentary breakfasts at the hotel were amazing. Every morning we’d go to the outdoor restaurant and get a big bowl of fresh tropical fruit, Balinese coffee and then select something off the menu. The black rice pudding with mango, banana, coconut cream and young coconut was life-changing. I’ve tried to re-create it at home, but it’s not the same.
We also went to Sari Organik for lunch one day. It’s about a 15-minute walk off the main road, down a dirt road through some rice fields. We would have to stop every so often to let scooters pass as the road is really only wide enough for a scooter. The amazing organic food at the end of the walk was worth the trek. We had fresh smoothies using the local tropical fruits, and salads and local cuisine.
Aside from swimming in our pool, we really liked the guided tours we went on. One day we toured a rice plantation and our guide told us about family life for the Balinese. Every family has a plot of land and they grow almost all their own food (aside from packaged goods). It was so neat to see veggie patches, banana trees, papaya trees and wild pineapples growing alongside the rice fields. They also rotate different varieties of rice during the year depending on growing season. Every family also has their own cows, which they keep penned so they don’t eat the rice but are fed local grasses instead. They were the happiest cows I have ever seen.
We were also able to see and participate in the temple birthday at Tirta Empul. Tirta Empul is the mother temple that is the biggest on the island and famous for its holy spring water. People make offerings out of palm leaves with incense, flowers and sweets and then bathe in the water. In the Balinese Hindu religion, the temple has a birthday every 210 days. When we were there it was the temple birthday, the full moon and a Sunday, so everyone was there celebrating.
What’s something cool that you learned?
We learned that banana trees only ever live through one cycle of banana production. The tree grows nice and big and builds the banana bunches. Once the bunches are harvested, that tree dies. Banana trees grow in groves and are always sending out new shoots to grow new trees. I really appreciate all the tropical fruits I buy more so now, having seen them in the wild.
Being terrified of the sheer amount of monkeys in the monkey forest and having a blast making silly time-lapse movies in our pool.
Where do the locals go?
Every house in Bali has a temple, and every neighborhood has a community temple, and every town has a town temple. These places are used as common areas for gatherings, civic issues and celebrations, so the locals are always at the temples. The Balinese people have a strong sense of community and it shows in their common spaces. There is also a large focus on the arts in Bali, so you will have areas of the island with different art focuses, like painting, sculpting, wood carving, etc., so people go to different areas to study or to buy some art.
Did you meet any interesting locals?
Our tour guide was really great! As a local, his family moved from Java to Bali two generations ago. He offered really amazing insight into how the Balinese people think and we had great discussions on the differences between our cultures. We felt completely at ease asking him about anything and everything, and he was happy to answer.
Bali is a very special place, and the local people make Bali special. The way they clean every day in front of their shops, how they greet each other, how they assemble and take offerings to the temple, how they are always cheerful even if they are doing labor-intensive rice planting. I never saw anyone frown or have mean words for another. Maybe it’s because their livelihood is 80% based on tourism, so they present a smiling face to the world. Maybe it’s the strong aspect of community in their lives, but I genuinely think they are just really happy people.