Culture in Ubud

by Andrew Stein

I came to Ubud because it is touted as a Balinese cultural hub, and not just because it received such positive reviews from Elizabeth Gilbert. Bali is such a culture-filled destination because as the Hindu states fell all around Bali, many of the intelligentsia fled here along with artists, dancers, musicians, and actors. As the only surviving Hindu island, the Balinese show intense pride for the culture and enjoy sharing it with the outside world. Having so many tourists leave their homes for theirs must reinforce their confidence in their unique and creative culture. In addition, throughout this Hindu rice-farming society, I saw daily offerings made using Banana leaves outside of homes, hotels, shops, and as far reaching as the top of the Batur Volcano.

rice field Ubud

A rice field just outside Ubud, Bali

more rice field

Another rice field near Ubud

Ubud is full of live music and dance performances both modern and traditional. I enjoyed sitting in cafes in the evening listening to drum-heavy music as well as attending two traditional Balinese dance performances. The Legong Dance, performed at the Ubud Palace, included gamelan music and ritual dance. The Legong Dance also included a mask dance, contemporary dance, and sacred dance. Another evening, I attended the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance where I will never forget the last scene of a dancer kicking flaming coconuts around the stage from what used to be a coconut bonfire.

balinese dancer

A dancer from the Legong Dance in Ubud

Kecak Fire and Trance Dance

The Kecak Fire and Trance Dance

Ubud is home to many shops, but unlike most other places I’ve visited, there were less knock-off sunglasses and the like, and instead, many shops sold artwork and other cultural handmade Balinese craft. Window shopping became an enjoyable experience when simply walking through the store taught me about Balinese art. Unfortunately, Ubud is swarming with tourists who can make it hard to find an authentic Balinese experience, but I did meet some great people. Lauren from England and I went to one of the evening dances together, three German friends joined me on the sunrise volcano hike, Bruce and Carol from Vancouver who I had also sat next to on the plane bumped into me and we recapped our Bali adventures together, and Made, the driver to the sunrise volcano trek. His English was far from perfect, but his energy was high and he exuded such an optimistic vibe, that while helping him improve his English, I continued to learn about Balinese culture through his stories. Ubud, the people I met while staying there, and the places I visited in its surrounding areas are the ingredients that made for the hard-to-leave feeling I now have.