Photo by Greg Rodgers
From celebrities hiding in private, million-dollar villas to backpackers and surfers who pay less than $10 per night for bamboo bungalows, Bali attracts the crowds.
In 2010, an estimated 2.57 million travelers from all budgets visited Bali; not bad, considering that the population of the island is less than 4 million.
- See where is Bali?
Bali is simply gorgeous, no denying that. Being a bastion of Hindu culture in Islamic Indonesia gives the island a completely different vibe. In fact, an estimated 80% of all visitors to Indonesia only see Bali. A crime; Sumatra, for example, is simply astounding.
And when young travelers finish destroying brain cells in Kuta, the surfing beach nearest the airport, or couples get too sunburned in Seminyak, they flock in droves to Ubud -- Bali's cultural center.
Ubud is a place where green rice terraces give way to bookshops, cafes, boutique shops, and holistic healing centers. Artists mingle with tourists in spas, and let's not forget about the famous monkey forest in the middle of town. The little town has an unforgettable vibe.
The price for making a great vibe too accessible? Unfortunately, Ubud has gone the way of Goa in India, or Pai in Thailand: Both were quiet, beautiful hippie havens that eventually became the victims of demand. Word spreads quick about relaxed, natural paradises.
As the crowds roll in, the original folks that made a place so special head out. Family-run hotels are squashed by high-rise resorts. Wood gives way to concrete, and then there goes the neighborhood.
Even with Ubud's scores of gorgeous cafes serving up Balinese and Sumatran coffee, the new Starbucks in town stays perpetually busy.
With Ubud already on wobbly legs, Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love book turned even that many more people onto the town. The book remained on top of the New York Times bestseller list for 57 straight weeks; seeing Julia Roberts cavorting around Ubud's verdant backdrops when the movie released in 2010 convinced even more to head that direction.
So should you skip Ubud on a visit to Bali? Certainly not! The magic is still there, somewhere between grinning tourists pointing cameras at monkeys. You'll just have to share it.
But perhaps add an extra day to travel north of Ubud -- preferably by motorbike -- into Bali's Kintamani region. The rainforest scenery and Mount Batur are volcanic and beautiful. Penelokan is the hub for the area, and the many unknown little villages barely notice Bali's 2.5 million visitors per year.
Have you lived in Ubud or traveled there recently? Weigh in on my Facebook page with what you think about the explosive growth there.