The Balinese quite literally live off their image of being the world’s most peaceful and devotional and artistically expressive people, but how much of that is intrinsic and how much of that is economically calculated? And how much can an outsider like me ever learn of the hidden stresses that might loiter behind those “shining faces”? It’s the same here as anywhere else – you look at the picture too closely and all the firm lines start to melt away into an indistinct mass of blurry brushstrokes and blended pixels.
Ubud Monkey Forest
Well, let’s start with the fact that by this point, two things had come to pass. 1) I had already seen enough monkeys in Japan (link) and Bali (link) to last me a lifetime. And, 2) A monkey already did some triple digit damage to Mom’s sunglasses by this point in the trip. So, I don’t know if we were all that keen to see more monkeys in the first place. However, we had read and heard about Ubud’s Monkey Forest and decided it was worth a short trip.
Then, this happened.
Guys, I have officially been bitten by a monkey. And before you freak out, it was fine. No medical attention required. In hindsight, I probably should have been much more frightened but I just didn’t have the time or the awareness to panic in the moment. Plus, if I had panicked, I may have left in much worse shape. Here’s the story:
We parked at the Monkey Forest and a half-full water bottle I had been drinking had fallen into the footrest in the sliding door of our van. When I opened the door, the water bottle rolled out and a monkey immediately ran up and grabbed it. It stopped and looked up at me, so I said to it, “Well, that’s nice that you have my water bottle now. I really hope you enjoy it.”
Then, out of nowhere, Mr. Monkey’s 10 pound friend ran up to me and latched onto my side like a 3 year old not wanting to go to preschool.
I looked down, and I swear, the monkey just stared right back up at me and decided to mouth my side. Honestly, I don’t have a clue why I didn’t start screaming my head off. Luckily, no skin was broken and I was left with a hilarious bite/rub mark underneath my shirt.
We still proceeded into the Monkey Forest for some photos. And then we left without much fanfare. Folks, if you’ve seen monkeys before, even if they were at the zoo, I can’t honestly say this experience is going to be life changing for you. I mean, it’s neat with all the stone carvings around and people interact with the monkeys (though they can get a little vicious!). It’s also funny to watch the monkeys take people’s food and to watch tourists feed them bananas. Even with the adorable monkey family I captured below, I’d still recommend that if you’re pressed for time, there are SO many other things to enjoy in Ubud.
Grade: B- without the monkey bite; pass if you’re busy
Along the road from Seminyak to Ubud, we stopped at the next few places I’ll mention.
Wood Carvings & Kites
The wood carving place we stopped at did have some carvers out front demonstrating the craft, but the shop itself was a bit gimmicky and incredibly out of range for our budget. I mean, Bali is neat and everything, but there’s no way I’m going to shell out $500 for a mahogany mask from a random shop on the side of the road. At least there was a fun giant (wood) lion out front to play with!
Next door there was a guy selling kites, which are extremely popular in Bali (more to come), so we stopped in to have a look. You can buy kites in a lot of the shops around Bali, so there wasn’t anything particularly special about this guy, but the kites are really cool and a really unique product to take home from Bali.
Pass on this stop… you can find the same stuff while you’re walking around town on your own.
The batik demonstration and shop was the first stop on our way. They had a specific area where women were working on some fabrics to demonstrate how the local batik is created. The women use a tool with hot wax to draw the design and subsequently dye the fabric many times to get their art to show through. It was interesting to see from start to finish what the process looks like, but it was a very brief thing and a little gimmicky.
The shop inside had a lot of really great art on the second floor and tons of fabric to shop from on the bottom floor. The fabric ranged in price from affordable to ridiculously overpriced, but in the end, Mom and I are crafters at heart and found a few things to go home with.
Grade: B; check it out if you’re into fabrics
I was really excited to visit the coffee plantation when I first heard about it. We were dropped off at the “plantation” and were essentially escorted around a dirt trail through probably a one or two acre jungley area with various areas to stop and learn about how Bali coffee is roasted.
We were also educated about the (infamous?) Luwak, an animal that has an… interesting role in making some of Bali’s more famous coffee. At some point in history, someone figured out that this fox-like animal was eating all of the good quality coffee beans and for whatever reason, had the genius idea to extract the beans from the Luwak’s excrement. Laugh now, but the coffee made from these beans costs $5 a cup. Compare that to the average wage in Bali and you’re looking at something way more valuable than a stop at Starbucks.
We saw vanilla and cinnamon plants growing wild, and at the end stopped off at the “tasting hut” to try all the different forms of tea and coffee available for sale. They were all very delicious. Even the expensive Luwak coffee, which I couldn’t not laugh while drinking. In all, it was a generally fun experience, but it most certainly was no plantation… a little misleading, and again a little gimmicky.
Grade: A-; fun if you like coffee/tea and can deal with feeling a little touristy
Silver Shop (not pictured)
The silver shop where we pit-stopped was really nothing to write home about. Plus, later we found plenty of silver jewelry for sale in other Ubud shops. Since you don’t really see the stuff being crafted in this shop, it’s really not worth a trip out of the way. Adorable puppy though.
There you have it! The joys of being a basic tourist in Bali.