A Travel Guide to the Gem of Ubud, Bali

My first impression of Bali was…not so great. I landed at the Denpasar airport into a hot, chaotic mess and felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew.

My luggage changed carousels five times before it finally arrived and all the while taxi drivers shouted “need a taxi, miss miss”. I went to get cash and was confused by the amount of paper flying out of the ATM ($1 dollar = $13,117 Indonesian rupiah). I had pre-arranged transportation and the scenery en-route to my hotel was not as I had imagined. Instead of white sand beaches and rustic beauty, there were signs of poverty everywhere. Dirt filled the streets, stirred up by motorbikes that were piled high with families and 20-something partying Australians. It was a sharp contrast to the US and near picture-perfect New Zealand. I had a “Dorothy moment” and wished I could tap my brown Joie sandals together three times and be back home in California.

On the ride to my hotel, I spoke with my driver, Wayan (the traditional name of first born in Bali). He told me all about his family, who lived together (grandparents along with his wife, kids and two dogs). He was kind and so content. Though he did not have “much”, he spoke as though he truly had “everything”. As we entered Ubud, terraced rice paddies filled the skyline and beautiful temples and shrines jutted out from the green. I was grateful for the peaceful scenery and that something more powerful had taken over my experience. From that first encounter with Wayan, I learned the beauty of Bali is in the local people! They are so happy, loving, warm, open, supportive, caring, encouraging, grateful and kind. Though they don’t have much in the way of material things, it is CLEAR to me they have it all. The people of Bali won my heart! And I have much to learn from them.

Spending a week at the eco-chic Bambu Indah in Ubud was one of the most wonderful weeks of my life. I met so many locals at my hotel and in the markets and shops in town that always left me with a smile inside and out. I am luckily a very happy person by nature! The Latin meaning of “Rissa” is laughter and my parents could not have picked a more fitting name. But sometimes in the US, I feel the need to tone down my happiness. It does not always feel culturally acceptable and can be perceived as borderline annoying to be outwardly happy. In Ubud, my natural happiness was encouraged, inspired and stronger. Just a simple “good morning” can be so uplifting here; it is a warm exchange of smiles and sincere wishes of happiness for the day.


The Balinese people have a spirit that is contagious. It shows up everywhere, including in their shops and markets, which I can report are overflowing with colors and unique textures! I had the best time shopping in Ubud, mostly because I so enjoyed trading ideas with the store owners. There were AHA Finds around every corner that I am excited to share with you soon!


My favorite mode of transportation is the motorbike taxi! I absolutely loved riding in the open air on the back of a motorbike and it is more affordable (win, win!).

Remember this hot tip: Bargaining is a way of life in Bali! Before heading out each day, I asked my hotel for taxi fare estimates and then sharpened my negotiating skills with the motorbike taxis. For the Balinese, bargaining is like a chess game and I very much enjoyed playing (though I did talk to some tourist who found it exhausting). I normally got as low as possible and then tipped my driver upon arrival (greatly appreciated).


Bambu Indah. Literally, heaven on earth.

I’ve been fortunate to stay at a few five-star hotels and would compare my experience at Bambu Indah with the likes of the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara and Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. Why? The Bambu Indah provides an authentic experience with incredible attention to detail!

Many times traveling the world, I’ve felt myself caught in a tourist trap or a sterile hotel separate from the local neighborhoods and people. Bambu Indah is the opposite. It has delicately woven itself into Ubud and shows true respect for the people, the land and local traditions. I stayed in the Kuno house and woke up naturally each day to sounds of roosters and sunlight poking through the teak slates that surrounded my four poster bed. I would sit on my porch, sip coffee and watch the sunrise to sounds of rolling streams, rustling trees, chirping bird and ribbitting frogs. The hotel has a number of playful touches, like a Tarzan-style rope that swings into a green pool and a bamboo treehouse.

I left refreshed after a week of open air spa treatments with organic products, private yoga sessions and authentic Balinese meals prepared in an open air kitchen with vegetables and fruit from their organic garden.

The owners, John and Cynthia Hardy, have a true love for the environment and this special place they have created that shows through in every detail of Bambu Indah.


Bali Spirit Kafe, the essence of Ubud in one place. Filled with hippies, yogis, expats and travelers. A great spot for any meal with organic healthy food. Yummy smoothies and juices, wonderful coffees, amazing healthy meals and great deserts.

A charming bistro perfect for a long lunch or romantic dinner, Kebun Bistro, has a menu that offers something delicious for everyone in a charming setting!

Overlooking the beautiful Tjampuhan Ridge in the cultural heart of Bali, The Elephant, has a view to go for and fare to stay for!

Taco Casa, good Mexican food is my jam and I ‘might have gone’ here 4 times in one week in Ubud. Wet Burrito, Nachos, Tacos. It’s ALL GOOD.


Yoga at The Yoga Barn, endless shopping treasures, visit a coffee plantation, rent a motorbike, hike, canyoning, white water rafting, monkey forest . . . the list is endless! There are my two MUST DO recommendations:

Neka Art Museum, located is a tranquil garden setting it lives up to it’s name “the heart of art in Bali.”  The museum has a great selection of works from many famous Balinese artists and expats who have lived here and influenced local artists. 

Water Purification Blessing, Balinese people worship this sacred temple as a purifying holy place. Go on a sacred journey, sharing their culture and most sacred beliefs with you. Truly amazing experience!


All photographs by amazing Jerome Courtial. Thank you for letting me use your beautiful images.




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