Every year around this time, I receive rather frantic emails from friends and friends of friends vacationing in Bali who've suddenly realized that beyond their hotel--and its skewed recommendations--they have no clue where to go. So this party season, I thought I'd divert a bit of the islands notorious traffic to a few of the best spots in my Isle of the God's address book.
The ringmasters at Sea Circus include an Aussie chef fresh from hot Sydney kitchens Longrain and Blake's who is now generating buzz for simple, sublime seafood dishes like grilled mahi-mahi topped with capsicum and roasted walnut salsa.
Skip the resorts' overpriced Sunday breakfast buffet for better people watching among Bali's old guard over delectable caramelized apple or banana pancakes at Cafe Batu Jimbar. The Sunday organic market is most convenient place to pick up indigenous spices from Rawfully Good chef Diana von Cranach.
One kilometer's walk into Ubud's verdant rice paddies leads to Sari Organik (follow the sign near Campuhan Bridge, +62 361 780 1839 or 972 087). Pick vegetables for healthy smoothies and crunchy salads, or simply sprawl across plump cushions inside this open-air bamboo eatery to feast as well on the palm-fringed panorama.
Serious sugar addicts around Ubud already know Gaya Gelato opens daily from 8 am, when Italian transplants start serving homemade cookies and an ever-changing array of ice cream flavors made from organic ingredients like raw chocolate, Indonesian coffee and fresh local fruits.
Serious art collectors may want to consider museum quality antiquities by appointment at Bruce Carpenter's Island Arts (+62 361 285 713; firstname.lastname@example.org) like an 18th century baroque 23-karat gold necklace with Burmese rubies, Borneo diamonds and Sri Lankan sapphires or 19th century Balinese ritual paintings to protect from evil spirits.
Pick up a Kocokan in Ubud at Studio 22K (Oka Kartini Bungalows, Jalan Raya Ubud; +62 361 975 624). The hand painted canvas mat with fantastical turtles, fish and snakes by local artist Made Subrata looks like folk art but is actually an ancient Balinese temple game.
Head slightly out of town to Absolute Bali (+62 361 804 9403) shimmering with the artist-owner's stylish interpretation of traditional Balinese hand-pounded aluminum offering boxes.
Come back into Ubud via Jean-Francois Fichot. The jaw-dropping emporium abounds with silver filigreed buffalo horn home wares plus strands of Lombok golden hued pearls festooned with shimmering Burmese rubies and emerald rings carved with images of Hindu gods.
Further along Monkey Forest Road, A-Krea (+62 361 972 802) stands out from the tacky pack with smooth leather wallets and lighter covers that bear a striking resemblance to Hermes in every way but the price.
Watch Mepantigan during the full moon at Green School outside Ubud. This emerging performance art integrates Judo, taekwondo, Brazilian capoeira, Korean self-defense and Balinese shadow puppetry with mud wrestling. You can also buy a $10 clump of geo tagged bamboo to plant here then watch it grow from your laptop back home.
Among the arm's length list of performances around Ubud, the fifty half-naked sweaty men dancing the Cak Rina around a bonfire is the most dramatic. Catch performances every full and new moon at the ARMA Museum. Wednesdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. attend Wayang Kulit Puppet Theatre (Oka Kartini Bungalows, +62 361 975 193) where filigreed puppets carved from flattened water buffalo hide sashay across a fire-lit stage to act out Hindu epics like the Ramayana.
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