Trip to Bali: Rice paddies, coffee and food for the soul

Rice paddies of Ubud*Note: Most of the photos in this post were taken by my talented and loving husband, Guillaume.*

Last January, I booked a quick getaway to Bali as my “birthday trip.” The time finally came when I boarded the plane for our Balinese getaway with loads of insect repellant, sunglasses and sundresses in tow. I was so excited about this trip, that I even suffered through Eat, Pray, Love to read more about the third and final chapter (which takes place in Bali) of Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey to “find herself.”

Luckily, several work colleagues have been to Bali and we therefore arrived with a slough of recommendations for restaurants and things to do during our stay. We stayed in a private villa at KajaNe Mua Villas with its own pool and front courtyard. KajaNe Mua is located in the heart of Ubud, almost equidistant from the Sacred Monkey Forest and Ubud Market. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful – we ended up booking everything (lunch and dinner reservations, daytime activities, etc.) upon arrival.

Nomad Restaurant was one of our first stops in Bali. It has a fantastic assortment of Balinese tapas, which means you can sample a variety of Indonesian and Balinese dishes. We ordered six tapas along with the Balinese seafood curry and mie goreng (our first of many times ordering this common Indonesian fried noodle dish!). For dessert, we ordered fried banana spring rolls with vanilla ice cream – they were delicious!

Nomad Restaurant, Ubud

Seafood Curry at Nomad

Mie Goreng at NomadFried Banana Spring Rolls at Nomad

The next day, we went on a hunt for good coffee. After all, how can you visit Indonesia and NOT bring back coffee?!

Our first stop: Seniman Coffee Studio, a bohemian coffee studio and cafe not too far from Ubud Market.

We sampled their siphon pot, espresso (hand pulled) and drip coffee. Seniman has an extensive menu of light and dark roasts. We chose to sit at the “bar,” which meant we were passed several samples beyond what we ordered as the baristas experimented with different temperatures, grind sizes and brewing times.

Barista at Seniman Coffee Studio

After Seniman, our hotel driver picked us up and drove us over to hike into the rice paddies for lunch at Sari Organik, a restaurant supported by two organic gardens in Ubud. Like Nomad, we first heard about Sari Organik from a friend. I wanted to try the restaurant because I thought eating at a restaurant in the middle of a rice paddy would be somewhat serene, but I have to admit that the restaurant surpassed my expectations.

You have to “hike” into the rice paddies along a dirt path. This is where our lunch experience began, at the beginning of the footpath. As we walked to lunch, we heard gamelan music floating through the air from a nearby compound. We passed by art studios (and when I say “studio,” I mean “hut”), ducks and motorbikers carrying lava rocks.

Once we arrived at the restaurant (it takes about 10 minutes to walk there), we were instantly seated with a view of the rice paddy (it’s almost impossible not to have a view given that the restaurant has no walls).

I ordered a dish called “lobong,” which incorporated yellow curry with a variety of vegetables, tempeh and rice steamed in a banana leaf. My husband ordered Mie Goreng and we ate, enjoying the peaceful rice paddies surrounding us.

Sari Organik, a restaurant in the middle of a rice paddyLobong at Sari OrganikFried Noodles at Sari OrganikThe view from Sari Organik

After lunch, we made our way back to the hotel for an afternoon swim. There’s something really nice about having your own private pool and villa! Our hotel also served us afternoon tea in the villa, then we visited the spa for some Balinese massages.

That evening, we went to Ubud Palace to see a Legong Balinese dance performance. It was amazing to see how in control of their bodies each dancer was. They can isolate their eye movements, finger movements, neck movements – it’s incredible!

Balinese Legong Dance Performance at Ubud Palace

The next morning, we woke around 6:30 am (thanks to the ducks and roosters living in the rice paddy right next to our villa) and had breakfast at our pool. Then, it was off to the mountains to start our “bicycling tour,” which began with a tour of a local coffee plantation, then with a second breakfast overlooking a sacred lake and volcano crater.

A few hours after the tour began, we grabbed bikes and started making our way through rice paddies and villages. This part of the trip was probably my favorite. Cycling through the Balinese countryside on a bright sunny day was a lot of fun.

The whole point of the tour is to get off the “beaten path,” away from tourists and into the heart of Bali. We passed by several workers in the rice paddies and even stopped to give reaping rice a try. I have to say, it was a lot of fun (though I’m sure I wouldn’t say that if I had to get up early and reap rice everyday).

Rice growing in the fields of Ubud

The top  photo on this post was taken by my husband during our bike ride. He also got a nice up close shot of the rice growing (above). I eat Jasmine rice almost daily, but I’d never actually seen rice growing nor did I know what rice plants look like.

After 2.5 hours of “adventure” cycling through Bali, we ended our tour at the home compound of the tour operator. His wife made us a delicious, home cooked lunch (again, to show us “authentic” Bali) and we got a quick tour of his home compound (where approximately 15 people live together).

Homemade Balinese Lunch after our Bali Baik Bike Cycling TourChicken SataySmoked ChickenSweet and Sour Tempeh

Though everything was delicious, my favorite dishes during lunch were the chicken satay, smoked chicken and sweet and sour tempeh (pictured above in that order).

Following the bicycling tour with Bali Baik Bike Tours, it was time to return to the hotel for a quick swim and then back to the spa.

Unfortunately, every relaxing getaway must eventually come to an end. This trip made no exception. I did, however, pop over to the Sacred Monkey Forest before leaving where I managed to avoid making contact with the overly friendly monkeys. I’d read in travel reviews that buying bananas from the vendors outside the forest is NOT a good idea given that the monkeys aren’t shy about climbing up and grabbing them. I’m glad I listened to the wise reviewers as I passed several different people with 2-3 monkeys climbing all over them.

Monkey Forest, Ubud

Despite my shyness around the monkeys (most likely due to an irrational fear that I would get bitten and contract some type of “outbreak” or deadly disease), it was really enchanting to walk through the forest and see so many monkeys swinging through the trees, sitting and grooming each other and just having a good time.

Our last stop in Ubud was a Ibu Oka, the famous restaurant for Babi Guling, or “suckling pig.” Only open for lunch, this place is right across from Ubud Palace and fairly crowded. My husband and I both ordered the lunch special, which was the only dish that didn’t come a la carte, and it came within five minutes.

Babi Guling: Lunch Special at Ibu Oka

If you prefer fine dining, this restaurant probably isn’t for you. There were a fair amount of flies and some stray dogs coming in and quietly looking for scraps. They didn’t cause any problems and made our last meal memorable.

After 3 1/2 quick days in Bali, I was sad to depart, but refreshed and rejuvenated by the people, the countryside and the food. Now I know why so many people dream of going to Bali. I hope I will have the good fortunate of returning soon!

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