Exploring Goa Gajah and the surrounding villages – Ubud, Bali 

It’s been a good time in Ubud. What I love about this small city is that it’s smaller and less chaotic than Kuta. I get a better feel of the culture and the Balinese people are gentle and open here. When I got lost, villagers helped me find my way, and almost everyone spoke a little English or knew someone nearby who did. It’s also interesting traveling Southeast Asia as a Western Asian, because although I look at their culture through a Western lens, people expect me to be more Eastern, always asking me where I’m really from when I tell then I’m American. I blend in better than the European and Caucasian travelers here, and I’ve noticed that I get quoted lower prices at haggle markets. 


Today I took a Balinese cooking class and it was fantastic. I got picked up at my hostel by the instructor, who apologized because his driver was late getting the others and asked if I’d be open to riding to class with him on the back of his scooter – which for me was a huge bonus. 

I don’t know why, but ever since first seeing the paradoxically orderly chaos that is driving in Southeast Asia, I’ve always wanted to try scootering here myself. Last night was my first time on the back of a scooter, with a new friend I made here at a massage parlor on Jalan Monkey Forest. I had just stopped to get a foot massage after walking all day and met a funny group of young masseuses and locals hanging out at the parlor while I was there, and I ended up staying up with them for a bit chatting about my traveling and their Indonesian lifestyles. One of the guys offered me a ride back to Jalan Bisma where I was staying since he was going to visit his girlfriend, and that was how I got my first taste of crazy Southeast Asian scooter life.

The cooking class started with our group visiting the Ubud Market and talking with a spice woman about how Balinese sauces are made with ingredients such as various gingers (like aromatic and special Balinese ones), tumeric, peppercorn mixes, and chilis just to name a few. Then while the rest of the class got driven over to the class location, I rode on the back of Teacher Ketut’s scooter through jungle and rice fields as we made our way out to one of the suburb villages of Ubud. It was beautiful out there zooming past rice fields under a blue sky filled with poofy clouds promising tropical rains later, but behaving themselves for now. 

The class took place in an open air thatched cabana hut in the middle of a rice field – an amazing paradise to learn local dishes among the fields where some of the main ingredients were grown! Though the hard kitchen prep was already done for us (like ingredient gathering and some frying and cutting) we got to mix and cut and stir and ground the different meats and vegetables until they started resembling some delicious Balinese cuisines like coconut tofu curry, tuna fish skewers on bamboo sticks, and green pandan crepes filled with palm sugar coconut. It was an amazing experience overall learning to cook in tropical paradise among ducks, villagers, and wet rice paddies. 


Then I crossed off an item on my bucket list – I rented a scooter to try to navigate the orderly chaos that is traffic here. To be fair, there weren’t really any other options for getting around, as taxis were mad price gouging and all the temples worth visiting were hours away walking.

So I scootered off to Goa Gajah, a temple famed for her ancient Elephant carvings of Ganesha. Though the temple was small, it was tropical and beautiful, spanning multiple levels and featuring a waterfall through her center. Then another thrilling ride through Ubuds villages as I made my way north to Tirta Empul, the Hindu cleansing temple with a holy water spring. Also small, the main draw of the temple is its central pool featuring twenty one spring spouts where the faithful cleanse themselves of their sins. 


It had started raining lightly on my scooter ride to the Tirta Empul, but for some reason it didn’t deter me from trying the Hindu cleansing ritual in a sarong. By the end of the cleansing it had started getting dark so I rushed back towards Ubud, not sure how I was gonna navigate the 40 minute ride in the dark on an island with few streetlights. But a well meaning guide at the Tirta Empul gave me some tips on getting back to town safely. 

On the way back a random night market caught my eye with its dancing lights, and I parked my scooter nearby, getting something to eat at one of the local carts. Here, the patrons ate food with theirs hands and the boys running the carts just provided a bowl of water for washing. I figured I’d brave eating like the locals and even got a drink from one of their large buckets (we’ll see if I get sick later). But in terms of flavor, the rice and fried chicken I got with peanut sauce was great, and only cost 25k IDR, which was the market price for meals at all the other carts as well. Meanwhile, I had paid up to 200k IDR for some average meals in restaurants in Central Ubud. 

The locals were helpful even if their English wasn’t as good as those working the tourist areas and they pointed me back towards Ubud, where I rejoined the motorscooter chaos.

Though it was late by the time I got back, I still had enough time to grab a drink on Jalan Monkey Road at a bar with live music.


From what I’ve calculated based on the value of my money, 25k IDR has the buying power of about $8USD even though the exchange rate goes for about $2.5USD. So my money goes approximately four times as far here. That said though, tourist areas are still pricey and I found I ended up spending a lot more money than I had originally expected I would, though it could be because tourism. The random local night market I found when I got lost scootering around had food that was much cheaper there than those in the backpacker areas. A full dinner of rice and fried chicken with drink was only 25k IDR, the cost of a Bintang beer.


Though I’ve gone on plenty of solo adventures before, this was my first trip to a foreign country alone in a tropical third world, unsure what to expect. I was less prepared than I wanted to be, but more prepared than I thought I’d be. I learned a lot about solo journeying in the process, and found that the more I got lost, the more I found what my limits and talents really are. 

A few anxieties that never manifested: I was worried I was spending too much or too little time in Ubud, but in the end, I think I spent about the right amount. I’d worried about the rain dampening my trip here, but really it just added flavor instead of ruining the experience. And I wasnt sure I’d be able to make this adventure on my own, but I’ve had a pretty good time of it solo. 


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