It was the midnight hour, the air was balmy, and a gentle breeze lapped by. You could hear the powerful sound of water all around and smell the distinct scent of dew forming over river rock and moss. Nature ruled this mystical world. I stepped forward onto a meandering path, it led to a dimly lit bamboo pavilion. I paused and drifted into thought, "Where am I, is this really happening?" Back to the present moment, I was at Fivelements Puri Ahimsa, a holistic wellness retreat that aims to share the Balinese way of life, nurturing a greater harmony with spirit, the environment, and one another. Fivelements is located in Mambal, a story-book village twenty minutes outside of Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
Imagine a 'secret jungle' with inquisitive monkeys who rule over sacred temples and century old banyan trees. Sit quietly and hear the sounds of rushing ravines.....drift a little.....see and smell the vivid colour of flower offerings and sweet Balinese incense. This isn't Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World," it's the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest, a must-see attraction for any visitor to Bali, 'Island of the Gods.'While staying at the spectacular eco-conscious Fivelements Puri Ahimsa wellness retreat, I ventured out to one of Bali's most popular attractions, the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest. Officially known as the Padangtegal Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, the site contains 27 acres of protected grounds, 605 long-tailed macaque monkeys, and three 14th-century temples.The forest is located minutes from the main strip of Ubud, the 'Cultural Heart of Bali.' You can purchase bananas on-site to feed the monkeys, make sure to carefully conceal the fruit in a backpack because the monkeys will at random, jump on to you for a free meal. This is all apart of the fun. When you are ready to feed them, take one banana out at a time, this will prevent any accidental bites. I have read many reviews about aggressive behavior from the monkeys, I did witness it for myself, but was never bitten. Most aggression cases have happened because of improper feeding; if you take one banana out at a time, watch your surroundings, and do not taunt the monkeys (especially the mature ones!) this will help to ensure a safe and highly enjoyable interaction. Also note, if you have no bananas, food, or hand-held items the monkeys will typically be unfazed by your presence, allowing visitors who want a little distance to have a great time too. I give this attraction a 10/10, it's literally a 'barrel of monkeys' fun!
I arrived in Bali two days prior to my stay at the Umajati Retreat, wanting to see the island on my own terms, I decided to rent a scooter. After all, this was my very first solo travel experience. I'm so happy I opted for this mode of transportation, it felt so freeing to just drive wherever I chose to. No schedule...no worries. Just me...Bali...and my bike.The drive to the Umajati Retreat was pure magic, zigzagging through tiny backstreets, over narrow ravine bridges, and through lush paddy fields, I couldn't have painted a more scenic route. The closer I got to the retreat, the more pronounced its signature terra cotta roofs rose from a sea of greenery. Stepping onto the retreats grounds, I was equally enamored. I meandered through the coconut grove entry path, filled with spectacular blooming orchids of varieties I had never seen. Waiting to welcome me at the paths end were proprietors, Jean Howe & William Ingram (Made Pung 3rd founder). They are the kind of people you want to sit with, have some tea, talk of distant places, rich cultures, and stories of their well-traveled lives. Jean and William are apart of Umajati’s authentic soul; this wonderful environment they’ve painstakingly crafted is a true gift to experience.
I stayed in the Bugoharjo House, it's a wonderful open-plan villa that sleeps three persons. It includes a master bedroom, spacious living area, kitchen, two full baths, and a lovely Balinese teak day bed to accommodate a third guest. The living room has a wall of wooden sliding glass doors that open onto a wrap around veranda; this design creates a calming indoor-outdoor atmosphere. The Bugoharjo House also has its own private garden space that features a bamboo waterspout, a lotus pond, and a relaxation pavilion at the jungles edge. There is a shared 15-meter lap pool at the center of the property.The slightly larger Wates Bangbau House is surrounded on two sides by rice fields. It has two air-conditioned bedrooms, an expansive living area, a kitchen, two full baths, and can accommodate up to 5 people. Like the Bugoharjo House, it features wooden sliding glass doors that partially open the entire living space onto a private garden and a wide wrap-around veranda. I highly recommend the Umajati Retreat to anyone visiting Bali; it is so much more than a vacation villa. Not only is your stay a sustainable option for the perseverance of the earth, it is a conscious charitable effort that helps sustain the livelihood of so many Indonesians. When you close your eyes here, you know you are in the right place.
Tirta Empul is a holy water temple, sourced from the sacred Tampak Siring spring. This 1,000 year old temple has largely been unchanged. The temple houses purification pools for locals who practice Balinese Hinduism. The temple's long rectilinear pools are carved out of stone, and feature fountainheads that fill the pools with the holy spring water. Worshippers first make an offering in the inner-court temple, then climb into the main pool to bathe, pray, and collect the water in bottles to take home. The water is believed to have curative and prosperous powers. I certainly felt refreshed and renewed after taking a dip!Tirta Empul Temple includes the traditional Balinese split gate architecture (photographed below) along with shrines to Shiva, Vishnu, Braham, Bali's Mt. Batur, and Indra. On the grounds is a large community pavilion, where you will see many families and tourist relaxing and taking in this wonderful site.Tirta Empul is located in the village of Tampak Siring, you can drive independently via google maps (as I did) or have your hotel's concierge arrange transportation. The drive is spectacularly scenic, you will cross narrow bridges, see verdant junglescapes and paddy fields, venture through tiny villages, and come across hundreds of ancient temples along the winding road. The drive is 30 minutes from Ubud.
Imagine waking up to clouds drifting past your villa . . . you're so close you can almost touch the sky. Now sit a while and have some mint tea; take in the panoramas of verdant jungles shrouded in mystique. This sensory wonderland, the Hanging Gardens Ubud Hotel, will remind you just how beautiful life truly is.Imagine waking up to clouds drifting past your villa . . . you're so close you can almost touch the sky. Now sit a while and have some mint tea; take in the panoramas of verdant jungles shrouded in mystique. This sensory wonderland, the Hanging Gardens Ubud Hotel, will remind you just how beautiful life truly is. Nestled deep in the heart of Ubud's rich rainforest preserve, this enchanting five star boutique hotel, designed in complete harmony with nature, has 38 individual villas. Each villa has a striking thatched roof, enhanced by its own luxurious granite infinity pool, rippling into the jungle below.The hotel is located on 3.2 hectares of land situated near Payangan, a village North of Ubud, surrounded by ancient trees, steep terraced gardens and jungle forest. The hotel is adjacent to layered rice terraces with sweeping views across the Ayung River gorge to the ancient Pura Penataran Dalem Segara temple. Over 700 local craftsmen lovingly built Hanging Gardens Ubud, sourcing traditional materials, utilising existing resources and adapting indigenous ideas. An abundance of bamboo was used in the building of the hotel, not just for construction and scaffolding but also planted in the landscape as shade protection from the sun. Traditional belief holds that being in a bamboo grove – the favourite dwelling place of Buddha – restores emotional calm and stimulates creativity.The hotel is most famous for its infinity edge pool.
I stayed at Fivelements Puri Ahimsa in the village of Mambal, and the Umajati Retreat in the village of Petulu. Both hotels are minutes from the iconic village of Ubud. Ubud has long been the cultural centre of Bali, today it has blossomed into a thriving artist commune. All along its narrow streets, you will see quaint shops selling fine wooden carvings, paintings, vintage teak furniture, and detailed objects of stone masonry. I also stayed in the spectacular Hanging Gardens Ubud Hotel, which is set in the Payangan jungle.
That pavilion was the hotel's open-air lobby, and the powerful sound of water was the sacred Ayung River. I checked in and continued down the path, surrounded by whispering bamboo, moon-lit koi ponds, and fragrant frangipani blossoms. The villa was a reflection of Johann Wyss' novel, Swiss Family Robinson; it was a fantasy bamboo structure with a conical roof that rose some 15 feet! It featured a circular floor plan designed in respect to the golden ratio Phi, at its centre a king size bed draped in white netting laid low to the rich cocoa coloured floor. I would quickly learn this netting was both atheistically pleasing, and functional! Like the remaining eight villas, mine faced the sacred Ayung River, the darkness of night hid it from my eyes, but its song was ever present. After collecting myself, I went to take a bath, but had a hard time choosing over my options. Each villa features an open-air soaking tub carved out of a river stone, these al fresco bathhouses include chromotherapy lighting fashioned after the seven chakras. The villas also include separate outdoor rain shower areas that let you gaze towards the skies while remaining in complete privacy.
Finally, I ended my trip in Nusa Dua, a beachfront town that is home to many luxury chain hotels, I stayed in the Grand Hyatt Bali.
I hope you enjoy these photographs, my goal is to leave you with a sense of the Balinese spirit. The island is a true paradise within an ever increasing tumultuous world. Although Bali faces its fair share of problems too, I believe it will always retain the magical charm that has made it world famous.