#TRAVEL – Indonesia: Peace in Ubud

I’ve never read the book Eat, Pray, Love, nor have I watched the movie. But, nonetheless, I heard Ubud, Bali was an interesting place to visit for reasons other than “It’s where that really good book/ film is set”.

I was right.

Ubud is located about an hour north of Bali’s main airport and is easily accessed by bus, van, car, and bike. If you are visiting after spending a few days in Kuta, the tranquil and relaxing atmosphere will be a welcome breath of fresh air. Many visitors go there to practice yoga, meditation and detox. Ubud boasts many health-orientated stores and calming areas, making it the perfect place to unwind and get back in touch with yourself.

That said, despite being a peaceful and chilled setting, there are actually quite a few things to do:

Monkey Forest

The most popular tourist attraction in Ubud is the monkey forest. For a small price, you can enter a reasonably large area of temples, trees and wilderness to observe wild macaque monkeys run around and interact with each other and their paying visitors (hold onto your camera with a strong grip).

Rice Fields

Turn left, turn right, go north, go south…Ubud has no shortage of rice paddies! I would definitely recommend renting a scooter and driving out of the town center to check out some of these beauties. They are oddly fascinating and undeniably beautiful.

Pools

Just because you’re away from the coast, don’t think that you’re going to miss out on some great waters (you are in Bali after all). The majority of hotels and homestays in Ubud boast spectacular swimming pools, many with infinity pools looking out into stunning green scenery.

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The Streets

Ubud’s streets are full of quirky cafes, homestays and old buildings. Hours can be spent walking around marveling at the various types of architecture and having a browse at what interesting products are for sale.

Chill Nights

The nightlife in Ubud is a world apart from Kuta. I love to party, but visiting Ubud allowed me to experience a more relaxed and cultural vibe. Whether you see a puppet show, walk the beautiful streets or have a cold beer at the jazz bar, you’ll always be wearing a smile across your face.

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If you’re in Bali, don’t skip over Ubud.

.. and don’t forget your guide!

Late to the airbnb party..

Established in 2008, Airbnb has been around for a fair amount of time. However, it wasn’t until mid-2015 that I first used it.

It was a brilliant choice!

To anyone that doesn’t know what Airbnb is, it is a service that allows people to list and rent a huge range of properties all over the world. Accommodation can range from a tent on a rooftop to a Buddhist temple, slick apartments to high-end villas.  The Airbnb website and app are easy to use and make searching simple. You can filter dates, prices, location and guest quantity. It also allows you to connect to Facebook, which saves the hassle of registering and can potentially get you discounts.

My first Airbnb experience was during the summer of 2015. I stayed with a Japanese man called Yuki in Osaka, Japan. His house was stereotypically Japanese and located in a residential area away from the swarms of tourists. He was a great host—he picked us up from the train station, provided us with food and beverages and offered loads of help. This experience made a great trip even better. It enabled me to have a more authentic experience by living like a local, with a local.

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Apart from a different style of accommodation, Airbnb can also be the cheapest way to sleep while you travel. Many Airbnb prices even beat the travellers’ all-time favorite—the hostel.

Since my first Airbnb experience only a few months ago, I always open my Airbnb app before the Hostelworld one when booking accommodation. That said, I can see that overusing Airbnb would make me crave the social atmosphere of hostels.

But for now, I love it, why didn’t I do it sooner?

-Liam

#TRAVEL – JAPAN: Uncovering Kyoto

A visit to Kyoto has been on my to-do list for well over a decade now, so when I finally had the opportunity to go in 2015, I was absolutely thrilled. Admittedly, my first impression of Kyoto was far from ideal: my hostel was located along a six-lane highway with a marvelous view of concrete overpasses in either direction. However, it didn’t take long to discover that hidden amongst the high-rises and expressways were areas simply brimming with Kyoto’s earliest history and culture.

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Far from the neon streets of Tokyo, the neighborhoods of Kyoto emerged from a settlement dating back thousands of years, and as such each winding road crackles with a deep sense of character. Hiding behind offices and storefronts are countless shrines and temples, often in small clusters that offer a serene escape from city life.

The sector known as Higashiyama—nestled in the mountains and running alongside the Kamo River—houses some of the most famous and most visited temples in the country. Chief among them is Kiyomizu-dera, a massive Buddhist temple known for its large veranda overlooking the treetops, supported by massive pillars and built without the use of a single nail. The temple itself diverts a small natural waterfall known as Otowa-no-taki into three small streams that pitch over a narrow balcony into a pond below. Visitors shuffle through ever-growing lines to reach out long tin cups under the stream of their choice in hopes that drinking the water will grant them wisdom, health, or longevity.

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While Kiyomizu itself is a fairly immense temple complex to explore, the journey to the front gate is an adventure all its own. The area leading up to the entranceway is on a steep slope, with the main road being a walking market filled with every souvenir one could hope to find. Rather than having shop after shop offer the same array of knick-knacks, this market also holds many specialty shops for those looking to browse handmade fans, wall scrolls, or bamboo goods. Interspersed with both high- and low-end shops are many cafes and ice cream stands. I was lucky enough to stumble upon this area under a blistering sun on a day temperatures reached a sweltering 102 degrees, and so an ice cream break quickly became a necessity. One could safely order basic chocolate or vanilla or delve into more adventurous flavors like red bean, sweet potato, or (my personal favorite) green tea.

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Beyond Kiyomizu, there are plenty of other temples well worth a visit:
>Tofuku-ji: A 24-temple complex known for stunning landscapes containing moss and rock Zen gardens
>Kennin-ji: The city’s oldest Zen temple boasting intense murals of dragons on its ceiling
>Yasaka: A massive shrine footed by cherry blossoms and filled with paper lanterns, Yasaka is known for its traditional New Year’s celebrations

After a day of exploring the living history of Japan it’s only natural to crave a little modern fun. Don’t think that Kyoto is a town forgotten in time—even in Higashiyama you’ll find an active nightlife. All along the Kamo River you’ll find quirky restaurants and bars catering to every type of crowd imaginable while sharing the same serene waterfront views. If you’re seeking a more authentic Japanese experience Higashiyama is also home to Gion, Kyoto’s famous Geisha district, where in addition to bars and nightclubs one will also find teahouses and traditional shows.

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Higashiyama is one of Kyoto’s smallest and least populous sectors and yet is teeming with adventure—there is clearly much more to this city than I’d ever anticipated.

– Ashley

Going to Japan? Check this out –