This is the second part of a long post based on our recent visit to Ubud in Bali and a comparison of it and my experiences of Thailand. You can find Part 1 HERE. I have included some of Gaun’s photos, which are taken on a small camera so the photo quality varies a bit in this post.
Ubud must be rich in stone and timber and they obviously have the craftspeople able to use it. I really enjoyed the contrast in natural materials that is used in building here. Carved stone, natural stones, thatched roofs, timber and bamboo all helped make the place visually pleasing. This is not an affluent part of the world so how come the Balinese can do this and the Thais generally can’t? Concrete and tin are the main building materials used everywhere where I live.
Huge quantities of wood is used in Ubud, which is very unlike Thailand. Maybe they have less strict controls on access to timber in Indonesia. This is a new resort building going up just down the road from where we were staying.
You would not see this collection of natural materials in Thailand where stone is sold for 5 baht (A$0.20) a kilo even if you can find it. The same type of concrete blocks though but solid here whereas ours (I must be turning local because when I re-read this before publishing I noted I had written “ours”) tend to be hollow which may or may not be filled when they are laid.
I didn’t get out to take the photos but we drove past a mouthwatering selection of places just between Ubud and the airport. Pots, carvings in both stone and wood, timber doors and windows, moulded glass, stone pavers with so many variations of patterns and textures, artwork and so it went. I could have started at one end with a truck and have everything for an amazing tropical home and garden by the time I got to the other. If I had unlimited money I would ship a container load to Thailand and really do something special.
The closest Thailand comes to a collection of home/garden decoration places that I have seen is at Baan Tawai, Hang Dong, Chiang Mai. Worth a visit if in the area. There is certainly nothing to compare in Isaan and finding anything outside the basic is a near impossible task.
I am very visual when it comes to architecture and others will be less so. For me I found the mix of textures and the inclusion of lots of little decorative aspects captured the eye everywhere I went in Ubud. In Thailand I tend to blank out most of what I see as it has almost nothing to offer that is pleasing to the eye.
The Wedding and resorts
The wedding was the whole reason for us being in Bali so I thought I better include a few photos of it and the resorts we stayed in. We ended up moving between three resorts. The wedding party had almost booked out one place called Surya Kembar as shown below or on their Booking.com link HERE:
However we arrived a couple of days early so stayed next door. After the wedding the main party either headed home or boated across to the Gili islands for some diving. As Gaun’s swimming abilities are limited to a doggie paddle and I am not an enthusiastic beach person we decided to split at this point and rent a pool villa still in Ubud called Lestaru Villas and their link is HERE.
I have stayed in a number of Bali resorts over the years (well decades truth be known) and I have to say that they do the concept very well. On the whole they incorporate a tropical theme so comfortably and in a very visual way and they seem to be better at maintenance than the Thais. For me early mornings in a Bali resort is the sound of sweeping! Obviously this is a huge generalisation and there must be some well run and maintained resorts in Thailand and some rubbish ones in Bali.
As the wedding was at Surya Kembar I will start this part of the post there:
Being in the hills and the wet season the day before the wedding poured. Luckily the day itself was dry and the people who were tasked with getting the place decorated had done a great job.
After four days at Surya Kembar the wedding party headed to the coast and we moved to our final Ubud villa and three days that I had classified as our honeymoon. This was an event which was a carryover from our official (legal) marriage late in 2015, which you can read about HERE.
Back to Bali – having had some rain and overcast weather the skies cleared and the last three days were perfect. Lestaru is a complex of only three villas on the outskirts of Ubud. It was a restful place to spend a few days but a little out of the way for longer.
They had a daily shuttle into Ubud but it would have been better to be closer to the action, if action is what you are after. They only offer a very limited on-site menu, no drinks are available (what!) and there’s nothing in the way of eating or drinking places in the immediate area. However it was a quiet and private location with a lovely pool attached to each villa.
We enjoyed three days at Lestaru Villas and on the fourth day we re-entered the twilight zone for our trip home.
Same Same and Not Same Same
A quick runthrough of some of the similarities and the differences I noted between Ubud and Thailand.
Both countries have a strong “living” Buddhist and spirit based culture. Spirits have nothing to do with Buddhism however it all gets mixed together especially in Thailand. Both places make offerings to the spirits on a regular basis. In Bali small offerings are placed everywhere both on the street, outside homes and around statues in the mornings. Thailand also has an active involvement in keeping spirits happy (Gaun calls them ghosts) although it tends to be more ad-hoc than Bali. Many houses, businesses and government buildings will have spirit houses called San Phra Phum and they need to be maintained with gifts of drink and food.
I am not sure of the relationship between the general population and monks in Bali but in Thailand feeding the monks in the morning is the daily routine more than catering to the ghosts as shown in the photo below:
Indonesian food is a lot milder than Isaan but then just about any other country in the world has less chilli orientated food compared to Isaan. Good to see the little fireballs making an appearance here though.
It was also surprising to see that the majority of people wear motorcycle helmets here (when on a motorbike!) Where we live it is a 50/50 on/off even though the police do have crackdowns with an A$8.00 fine. Only the rider needs to have the helmet. The three passengers don’t 🙂
Motorbikes on the road are also far more adventuresome in Bali. In Thailand bikes pretty well keep to the left and don’t weave in and out of traffic too much. In Bali they were all over the place competing with cars for road space. A more dangerous thing to do in Thailand where the car drivers will just run over you and probably not even notice they have done it!
Showers were a win for Bali. Thailand has mostly opted for the small on the wall instant water heaters, which both look ugly and in most cases are underpowered for the job. You need the endless lukewarm water because it takes you twice as long as normal to get wet due to the pathetic flow of water. You will find these units in more expensive places in Thailand as well as the bottom end of the accommodation market.
In the Ubud resorts we stayed in they all had half decent showers with good water flow and whatever was heating the water was out of sight and not stuck on the wall. All of them included baths, which Thailand very rarely does, but I have to question the ability of the heating system to provide the quantity of hot water to allow for a true English soak-in-the-bath experience. Still a nice thought.
Neither Thailand or Bali are particularly strong on insect screens so the tick went to Bali who provided classy mosquito nets in all three of our resorts. Thailand certainly have them but they are more likely to be in vivid pink bought for 200 baht at the local markets.
Fans – Thailand is excellent in providing fans in most situations. Almost everywhere has at least one of those portable tabletop fans and this is where a farang bases him or herself while Thai partners/friends look at clothes! The temperatures in Bali were in the low 30s and yet there were almost no fans. A few places had the overhead ones but I don’t think I saw one portable one. A big win to Thailand.
Ice – Another win for the home team. Thailand is excellent with their ability to supply ice. Even the most basic eating place will offer you bottled water and ice, either as part of the overall service or as a purchased item. Ice was far less of a given in Bali and when it did arrive there wasn’t much of it. Thailand supplies it by the bucketload because it only costs 40 baht (A$1.60) for a sackful delivered. I have become very Isaan and enjoy ice with my beer – something other farang hate. It felt quite weird having a beer in Bali without the clink of ice but I managed to cope!
Internet – three wins to Thailand. Broadband was really patchy in Ubud (I have no idea what it is like elsewhere in Bali/Indonesia) and there wasn’t the same coverage there is in Thailand. You can go into a cheap, downmarket eating place or small resort anywhere in the Thailand and it is likely they will have free internet and at a decent speed.
We live in a small rural village 600 km from Bangkok but a recent flyer was offering me 100 mbps fiber optic broadband at A$60.00 a month, unlimited downloads. Beat that Ubud!
Coffee – I am happy to report back that this is a same same. I am a coffee enthusiast and Thailand produces some excellent boutique coffee if you know where to look. I get my beans freshly roasted and couriered down from a place close to Chiang Mai.
Good coffee. In this case, very good coffee. This is gourmet coffee from Huayhom Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand. It Comes from Baan Huay Hom (name of the village). Arabica beans grown in highland Mae Hong Son province (1200-1600 m). Single origin artisan coffee at its best. At 500 baht or A$20.00 a kilo it is a bargain.
Bali has good quality coffee too. We stopped off at a place that produces Kopi Luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world.
These little critters are called the palm civet or civet cat and are partial to eating the coffee cherries and then shitting them out (sorry if I am getting too technical but try to keep up). The beans are then cleaned up you will be pleased to hear before being processed and then sold for A$240.00 a kilo.
At this coffee place called “Luwak Coffee” surprisingly they also offered a range of flavoured teas, most of which were pretty yummy if very expensive.
I also bought a cup of Luwak coffee for 50,000. Sounds impressive doesn’t it but in rupiah is A$5.00. Smooth flavour but as a small bag equals my monthly food budget in Thailand (not really) I don’t think it will become a feature to my morning wake-up routine.
You will be pleased to hear that there is also some good quality coffee to be had in Ubud for around $8.00 for 200/250 grams. Do make sure the bag has a roasting date on it. Most commercial coffee is super stale and has lost its true flavour months ago. Try to buy something with a roast date no more than a month ago. The fresher the better.
And the Award Goes to……..
Will it be Thailand or am about to start a Living in Bali blog?
I realise that I have been quite critical of Thailand in my comparison between it and Ubud. I am a realist and in my eyes the tick goes to Bali as a more visually pleasing and sophisticated environment for the farang visitor/expat. I am stating the obvious but life is always a compromise and if you only focus on the things you don’t have you will end up like some of the bar-huggers in Pattaya. For me one of the deciding tests is how I feel when coming home from a holiday. In my case, and I know with Gaun, it was a joy to be home in Isaan so a win to Thailand.
In an ideal world I would love to incorporate many of the aspects of Ubud into my life in Thailand. The tidiness, the restaurants, the streetscapes, the expression of historical architecture, the craftwork and the varied use of natural materials in building. None of these things exist in Isaan and for the most part in my experience they are pretty absent in the rest of Thailand too.
However for whatever set of reasons I have no regrets about where I live. Isaan is visually disappointing on the whole but there’s an aspect to village life and my life that touches the heart unlike anywhere else I have lived. It is also INTERESTING. I take my camera everywhere and there are very few days that I don’t have something to report on Facebook, which ends up in “Isaan – the Small Stories” posts on this blog. A retired life in Australia would have been so safe, so predictable and so boring in comparison to what I have here. Others will disagree but it’s my blog so it’s all about ME! I have selected a few random photos to demonstrate some of the aspects that keep me involved and feeling alive:
but she is most complete when at home in Isaan. We seem to share that as a common base to our life together.
Thanks for reading.