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A Perfect Day In Ubud

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Wherever your villa is in Bali, do make sure you head for the hills and spend at least a day exploring Ubud. This once-sleepy village has grown into a bustling hub of activity since Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love film phenomenon almost a decade ago. Don’t wait for the annual Bali Spirit Festival, Ubud Food Festival and Ubud Writers Festival; you’ll reap rewards with every visit to the island’s acclaimed cultural, creative and spiritual heart. Just ask your villa manager or concierge to organise a car and driver for the day, and then leave bright and early to give yourself as much time as possible to explore at leisure. Here we share a few ideas for your itinerary.

Make your first stop the famed Monkey Forest on the southern edge of Ubud – home to hundreds of long-tailed Macaque monkeys who are as comfortable with selfies as they are cunning/cheeky with stealing bananas (which you can buy at the entrance). It’s a magical place to visit before the crowds descend, as you can soak up the mystical atmosphere of the 14th Century Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal, one of three temples within the sanctuary.

From here, it’s a 15-minute stroll up Jalan Monkey Forest to Ubud Art Market – a popular stop for those seeking souvenirs. Small shops line this road, and if you’re feeling peckish, stop at Three Monkeys Café for a late breakfast overlooking a rare central-Ubud rice field – or make a beeline for Jalan Goutama for a huge choice of warungs and world cuisine.

Wander through the market marvelling at the kitsch, collectible and covetable, jostling with the tour group crowds and enjoying the Balinese stallholders banter. (While there, why not pick up a sarong and sash so you can be appropriately attired to allow temple visits during your trip – though you’ll be able to hire these at many of the more popular temples around the island). Then head across the street to the ornate Ubud Royal Palace; the front section is open to the public free of charge, and the traditional ankul ankul gate provides a splendid backdrop for family photos. Even more photogenic is the water garden of Pura Taman Saraswati with its carpet of lotus flowers.

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Thailand’s Sweet Indulgences

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Chocolate

“What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.”

– Katharine Hepburn

Thailand is world-renowned for its amazing street food, exotic tropical fruits, and delicious sweet desserts. But for those visiting Thailand who need their chocolate fix, there is one artisan chef in Phuket who is the go-to guy when it comes to anything dark, milky or white.

Thailand does not have a rich history of chocolate unlike some of its Southeast Asian neighbours such as Indonesia, which grew almost no cocoa before the early 1980s when production took off like a rocket. Now, Indonesia is the world’s third leading producer of cocoa beans. Cocoa production in Thailand fell out of favour decades ago for rubber, but lately there has been a resurgence with a small number of growers and producers emerging in northern and western Thailand.

Thai cocoa is finally getting the recognition it deserves, with two Thai chocolate producers placed high in the 2018 International Chocolate Awards show.

Paradai brand took silver for their Belize dark milk 63% bar in the ‘dark milk chocolate’ category and Kad Kokoa won bronze in the ‘plain dark chocolate bar’ category for their Chiang Mai single origin bar. They also opened Bangkok’s first bean-to-bar café in Sathorn earlier this year, offering all things chocolatey, from desserts and hot chocolate to cocoa butter soap.

English award-winning Pastry Chef Peter Webber trained at School Le Notre in Paris to study pastry and chocolate and started work at The Inn on The Park, London and The Savoy Hotel, where he gained his first Executive Pastry Chef position and was honoured by being sent to do promotions at The Okura Hotel in Tokyo and The Oriental Hotel, Bangkok. He was also involved in many special events and competitions in Europe.

Chef Peter moved to Asia to the famed Oriental Hotel, Bangkok as the Executive Pastry Chef where he would stay for more than a decade, even pleasing the taste buds of the Queen of England during official state visits at The Grand Palace.

Chef Peter now owns and creates chocolate masterpieces at his patisserie, Les Diables, inspiring and serving a loyal clientele with the utmost attention to taste and detail. They specialise in cakes for special occasions,

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Heaven in a Muntigunung Hammock, Handmade in Bali

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Handmade Hammock

Nothing says tropical holiday quite like a hand-woven hammock which evokes thoughts of bleached white beaches, dream-filled siestas, sea-breeze cocktails and star-gazing nights.  

There’s something magical about being suspended in mid-air; the hammock’s gentle swaying calms your thoughts, settles your heartbeat, and lulls you into reverie or slumber. That’s true whether you’re beachside in Koh Samui or nested in a goose down comforter someplace cold, daydreaming about a good hammock swing.

And yet, unlike Central and South America, Asia has no hammock-making tradition. That is set to change now, thanks to the persistence of Daniel Elber, whose non-profit Future for Children has been changing the lives of the poorest communities in the drought-prone mountain slopes of eastern Bali. 

BALI HAMMOCKS  

Daniel was looking for new ways to provide a sustainable livelihood for the women of Muntigunung, whose sole source of income was begging in Bali’s more prosperous tourist areas. Could their basket-weaving skills be re-imagined for making hammocks, he wondered?

Handmade Hammocks

That’s how one master hammock-maker Walter Cruz from El Salvador —the ‘Land of the Hammocks’ (and considered to produce the best in the world) spent three months in the remote village of Kulkul, teaching his ancestral craft to 35 mountain women. And while they had no common language — he spoke Spanish and they a Balinese dialect — what they now share is an uncommon ability to craft absolutely stunning hammocks.

BALI HAMMOCKS

Lighter and less expensive is the chongos-tassle-decorated Muntigunung, which is as stylish but, without the spreaders, will even go into your hand luggage. If you prefer a more upright seating position to lying supine, the chair hammock will appeal — it looks as good in a living room as by the pool.

BALI HAMMOCKS

There are also custom hammocks and chair hammocks, and anyone with a tiny tot in the family will find the baby hammock irresistible. These incredibly comfortable artisan hammocks are so much more than an alternative seating choice or lifestyle accessory. Each is an individual work of art, and each requires not hours but weeks to make… patiently and painstakingly by hand, with pride. If that is not enough incentive to acquire one, then think of this:  with every purchase, you are providing an income for the women of Muntigunung and a means for them to raise their self-esteem,

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Bali Souvenirs Worth Buying

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Textiles outside a Bali souvenir shop

Bali holiday agendas can quickly fill up trying to satisfy everyone’s expectations – I want relaxation, you want adventure and our kids need to upload impressive new images on Instagram. Let’s do this!  In-villa spa therapist: check, romantic dinner: check, snorkelling trip: check, WIFI: check – and at the end of a satisfying stay, everyone wants the same thing: Souvenirs. 

Picking up gifts and treating yourself to something exotic is part of a good tourist experience. This is especially true in Bali, where there is a great selection of things to buy – genuine leather bags, wallets and sun hats are priced at a good value, but are not only found in this locale. Souvenirs which scream “I <3 Bali” are indeed popular buys, like key chains, pens, T-shirts and even tattoos of Mt. Agung. Although they’re all Island of the Gods exclusives, those aren’t the quality goods I recommend to my guests. 

My idea of the best Bali souvenirs are goods made from local materials that represent Balinese culture and traditions of artistic expression. The ornately carved statues, exotic Batik patterns, beautifully adorned temples and carefully handcrafted everyday items are what make Bali so special and memorable. Well, not all of these fit nicely into a suitcase.

So which asli (real) products from Bali are beautiful, useful items you can easily carry with you to be reminded of Bali for years to come? 

With a bit of effort, you can take home keepsakes that are true to their origins. This list of souvenirs worth buying has pictures to inspire your shopping wish list and tips about where to go to find Bali’s treasure without a time-consuming hunt. 

Patung Kayu  (Wood Carvings)

Wood Barong mask Bali souvenir

BARONG MASK – OASE, JL. BASANGKASA 5 AND JL. LEGIAN KAJA 462, SEMINYAK, BALI

Barong masks are a prevailing Bali souvenir. Barong is Bali’s guardian spirit, and masks worn to play Barong and Rangda in the traditional dance about good and evil are sacred. Nothing is more representative of Balinese art and culture than a hand-carved Barong mask made from local wood.

Painted wood figures from Bali

PATUNG KAYU – BATIK ETCETERA, JL. BASANGKASA 5, SEMINYAK, BALI

Matching wood figures seated together to bring good luck and fertility to couples.

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Open Studios at Phuket Art Village

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girl at phuket art village

A colourful and quirky artists’ enclave hidden away in the southern neighbourhood of Rawai, the Phuket Art Village is a hippy chic collection of working art studios; home to some of the island’s most outstanding local artists. Both eclectic and charming, the Phuket Art Village oozes artistic flair.

Home to a group of unique studios that were built by their artists (and are in many instances lived in) the Phuket Art Village functions as a creative space for both the artists in residence and the local community… travellers included.

phuket art village

As well as selling their wares on-site, the artists host painting classes, sculpture workshops, environmental awareness seminars and jam sessions. A visit to the village makes a good outing for art-lovers and groups of all ages including families (contact the venue in advance to find out about scheduled art workshops and shadow puppet shows for your kids).

There are several studios and galleries to explore within the village. Most are open daily, although hours vary depending on the season. Here we introduce two of the artists you might meet:

niran art gallery

Niran Art Gallery

A slight, kind and softly-spoken man originally from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand, artist Niran Chanhom relocated to Phuket several years ago because of his love for the sea. And it is the sea that has become his greatest inspiration.

painting at niran art gallery in phuket

Driftwood in all shapes and sizes collected from Phuket’s various beaches are the beating heart of many of his creations. His artistic flair is perhaps best captured in his life-size wooden sculptures of fish and other marine life. These driftwood sea creatures are not only beautiful, but also reflect Niran’s hopes of protecting the ocean.

phuket art village

While making art from driftwood will always be his favourite medium, in recent years Niran has evolved his craft and taken to large canvases – often depicting a lonely fisherman with his fishing pole or catch of the day – to let his creativity explode. His abstract paintings are both bright and colourful and introduce new characters to his artistic line-up. Niran’s latest works are a series of mismatched faces and a few smaller pieces that highlight the bond between mother and child.

phuket art gallery

A visit to Niran’s art gallery in Phuket is an opportunity to admire his work and get up close and personal with the artist himself.

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