How to face your fears... and other things to do in Ubud, Bali

I'd never been to Asia before this trip. Not for lack of wanting to go - I am *still* dying to go to a lantern festival, similar to that scene in Tangled - but rather because it's a damn long way from home.

Following a WhatsApp conversation with two friends from work over the Christmas break, two of us committed on a whim to travel to Asia. After actually nailing down where/when/how much it would cost, we got incredible deals on the flights and hotels, and our two-part trip to Bali was booked on a cold winter's evening after work. Part one of the trip was to the Bali city of Ubud.

Now, I didn't know what to expect from Ubud. All I knew was that it was near a rainforest and in the middle of the island. I didn't Google Image, Google Earth, or straight up Google anything, apart from a couple tourist things to do. Most of our information came from fellow colleagues.

Ubud is beautiful. An absolute, back-to-nature, tropical adventure. However, with "adventure" comes many occasions of facing ones' fear...

Kori Ubud Hotel

Kori Ubud Hotel

Fear of Flying
So, my biggest worry about the whole trip was something that would happen 16 hours before I even set foot on Ubud soil. I hate flying. I hate take-off. I hate turbulence. I hate that I cannot comprehend how a heavy metal contraption can stay tens of thousands of feet up in the air, when something as light as a feather - heck, even an actual feather - falls victim to gravity.

Garuda Indonesia airline were incredible hosts on our two flights and, even with our super cheap tickets, I felt like a privileged guest. The first flight of nearly 14 hours was only about half full, meaning my friend and I were able to spread out across our little section and have our feet up to sleep. Pillows, water, blankets and a fair few free snacks between meals were provided and, while they took security very seriously, they weren't up in your face. There was a taste of the culture to come with their uniforms, the great food on the second flight and their polite bows with their hands together after each interaction.

Unfortunately, there were quite a few bursts of turbulence. They passed fairly quickly, but were pretty rough. Fear #1 literally faced head (or plane nose) on. I did panic each time, but a combination of the vibe on the plane, calming music and my friend being totally unfazed meant I felt better than I usually do. I didn't even get that stomach dropping feeling!

Fear of strangers... be them human or otherwise!
Lord, Jesus, and all other blasphemous exclamations (sorry!), there are SO many insects in Ubud. And so many bumps in the night as a result. It's quiet, but everything just seems soooo alive at night when you're in bed. As someone who is terrified of anything with more than four legs, I've never felt so constantly on edge in my life. We literally interacted with some sort of creature every 3 minutes. Spiders, various types of ants, super-sized moths and geckos galore; we got pretty familiar pretty damn quickly. I am quite proud of myself; I don't think my parents, brothers or housemates would believe how at one with nature I became.

Ubud rice paddies

Ubud rice paddies

One evening, we ate at Indus, a great restaurant with live music, dancing, tasty food and an AMAZING 180 view of the rainforest below which, at the time, was in the midst of a storm. The lightening striking through the dark sky, despite us being perfectly dry, was incredible to behold. However, in the silences between restaurant's songs, the rain forest sang its own tune. The mass of forest below us was most definitely alive with every insect known to man. Our little table far above was no escape. Ants and spiders casually sat and ate with us, much to our nervousness.

For a play-by-play breakdown on our dalliance with noteable insects, see here (otherwise, just scroll down, eh):

Night #1, 2:30am: we had been our hotel for an hour. We were sat on the bed chatting when, all of a sudden, my friend looks over my shoulder with a glazed glare. I follow her gaze and I'm met with the sight of a huge spider, who wouldn't have had that much space to manoeuvre had he been in my size three shoe. I jumped from the bed in a move that Greg Rutherford would have been proud of. Half an hour and a brave buddy later, he was squished.

Night #2, 8:30pm ish: I swear I only left the door open for 5 minutes. Yes, Mr Moth, I can clearly see you've been on steroids for the last few months. Please make yourself at home in our room, with your fast, scary, bat-like wings. It's worth noting that in Ubud we were staying a luxury hut. I could just about make out our evening visitor on the large ceiling beams and launched my flip flop into the air at it. I hit him the second time, enough to stun him down to earth and then spent a good 20 minutes trying to catch him. Great fun.

Night #3, midnight: for the first time this trip, we had managed to fall asleep before 4am. Yay! But not for long... We both awoke, startled from our slumber, to the sound of gecko who most definitely was in the room with us. It's pretty strange though, because not 5 minutes after our weird simultaneous waking up, we received a knock on our door, followed by calls of a male voice saying "hello". It doesn't sound bad written down now, but imagine being disorientated from sleep and seeing a shadow against your glass doors in the dark, at midnight. We were both convinced we were about to be Norman Bates-ed. It turns out there was a mix up and he had knocked on the wrong door. We rang reception and it turned out it was the poor guy's first night shift.

Fear of other cultures
I'm not talking Xenophobia, but it is natural to fear the unknown. I would consider myself to be well-travelled and cultured, but Ubud was a bit of a culture shock for me. I absolutely loved it, but it was very different to any other place I'd ever visited and so unlike home. My best advice is just to embrace EVERYTHING.

I can't write this post without highlighting how incredibly friendly and helpful the Balinese people are. I knew I'd be getting some strange looks on the tube when I try and bring some of this love back to London. They are the most peaceful and kind strangers you could come across. Before the trip, others had made this point, and I questioned how you can paint a whole country of people with the same brush (albeit a lovely one), but they were so right.

I didn't know what to expect from Ubud town centre. I would say it is a more toned down of the stereotypical depiction of Mumbai streets, with a little dash of Covent Garden's Neal Street added in for good measure. Think noisy streets full of colour, mopeds, beeping and uneven pavement. You can't walk 10 steps without having "Taxi? Taxi?" called at you but, unlike the street vendors and charity workers of Neal Street, they gracefully accept your "no, thank you."

Canang (prayer offerings) on the pavement

Canang (prayer offerings) on the pavement

Along with avoiding being ripped off by these taxi men (by ensuring you have vehemently agreed on a price and also feel safe, as they are not "official" taxis), my friend and I were HEAVILY warned about the water in Bali and the brilliantly named "Bali Belly". To be clear, I'm not advising you neck a glass of tap water, unless you fancy pooping your life away, but us city folk really worry too much. I brushed my teeth and gargled with the tap water, ate a lot of fresh fruit, which had been presumably been washed in said water, and even once drank an iced tea that, gasp, had ice cubes. Chill (heh heh, see what I did there?)

The water was different though; weirdly, my skin wrinkled a lot quicker than normally when immersed in the pool and the shower. Have you ever tried putting in contact lenses with water wrinkled finger tips? It feels weird AF. We had two crazy Instagram-worthy pools surrounded by the most amazing tropical plants and trees (and insects, obvs) at our hotel. We made great friends with a family and hung out with them for hours each day. We had funny conversations littered with serious topics, too, and they gave us incredible recommendations, so it was definitely worth the crinkly digits. We had a lovely afternoon and evening out with the daughter of the family, walking through the rice paddies and going for dinner, feeling like we're in actual, real Bali of the travel pages.

The food means bringing back those blasphemous exclamations from earlier in the post. Holy F, I could eat the Balinese food forever and a day. Our hotel's breakfast was nothing short of show-stopping. Three courses of deliciousness accompanied by the most refreshing fruit juices you could wish for. Their bananas, watermelons and coconuts are OFF THE CHAIN. The lunches and dinners are so full of flavour too, and I would love to recreate the dishes at home.

Eating at ARMA

Eating at ARMA

Fear of letting yourself go
Another situation I would liken Ubud to is a five-star, luxury "I'm a Celebrity". Imagine the bugs, the insect bites, the heat rash and boofy hair, but getting fed like a queen, in the most picturesque setting, with people going out of their way to wait on you hand and foot.

I went out for dinner most nights without a scrap of make up on, something I would probably never do at home. A good tan sets you right and the people make you feel good, no matter what you think you look like. Also, embrace the hair. It's all about volume, right?

With all the incredible food, I definitely put on some pounds, but again, in this little haven of kindness, I didn't feel at all self conscious in my bikini by the pool.

A place I would definitely recommend is ARMA. It is an art gallery with the most interesting pieces and gardens. The friend who I travelled with is an incredible artist and even she was in awe of the paintings on display. Her favourite was a huge piece done with what looked like wax, crayon and pencil, while mine were the ones that incorporated light. The gardens were like a little piece of rain forest with an intricate oriental style. I got bitten up, rained on (the only time it rained in our trip, FYI), sweated like mad, and I still think it was one of my favourite places in Ubud. The staff (again so unbelievably friendly) even let us watch a rehearsal of a traditional Balinese dance taking place on the grounds. The place was all about immersing yourself in their culture and it was a humbling experience.

Fear of running out of money
Everyone goes on and on about how cheap Bali is, compared to London. The food is shockingly cheap - for good quality, tasty meals too - but I would say the drinks were averagely priced. They didn't taste average (they'd definitely hit a "5 - excellent" if I was taking part in one of those polls), but the costs weren't as cheap as I expected.

On the first couple of days, we worried we didn't have enough money for our trip and tried to ration. DO NOT do this too much. If you're in Bali, chances are you paid good money to be there, and it's unlikely you'll be able to casually pop over again soon. Throw caution to the wind and say yes to everything. We enjoyed great desserts at recommended restaurants, we paid 50,000 IDR to go into the monkey forest, only to turn around and back out slowly 7 minutes later. They may be cute, but don't tell me something jumping at you from any angle isn't terrifying... You won't regret saying yes, I promise.

In four short days, I went through many emotions. Ubud taught me so much about the traditional Balinese culture and way of life; I'm so happy to have had such an authentic experience. I was very inspired to speak to different people from many countries about their lives and my own. I was awestruck at the beauty of the city. I was scared daily by the insects. I was elated at the prospect of visiting Ketut from Eat Pray Love, then sad to find out he'd died a year earlier. I terrified both myself and my friend by uttering "how did he get in?" at 4am, meaning a bug but sounding eerily like a child from a poltergeist film.

I would definitely recommend Ubud to experience tradition and immerse yourself in culture. Just pack that DEET spray, cos, boy, you're gonna need it.

Ubud rice paddies

Ubud rice paddies

I would definitely recommend Ubud to experience tradition and immerse yourself in culture. Just pack that DEET spray, cos, boy, you're gonna need it.