Bali’s spiritual culture & temples! Elephant Cave, Pura Saraswati Ubud, Tirta Empul Temple sacred springs.
It’s true what travel bloggers say about Southeast Asia: you’ll find the warmest, most generous and welcoming locals here.
So far, I’ve been to Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines (click these country names to see the stories). These were some of my favorite trips ever, and I’m excited to announce I’ll be adding one more to the list… Keep reading to see where I’m journeying!
In this spirit, I’ve decided to finally release Part 2 of my Bali, Indonesia temple tour (see part one here). I put on my Indian robes and pink-tinted glasses, and visited some of Bali’s most sacred spots — including the Pura Sawaswati water temple…
The Elephant Cave temple in Ubud…
… and Tirta Empul, where Hindu devotees bathe under a row of fountains, sourced from the sacred springs.
This month, I’ll be back in S.E. Asia… I’m thrilled to announce that I’m going to Myanmar (Burma) with Yukiro! HK Express, the airline I’ve worked with since its launch, has added a route to Yangon — a destination that was basically closed off to tourists until a few years ago.
I can’t wait to discover this Buddhist country, and hang out with monks and punks. That’s right: Yangon has an old school punk scene, with studded and Mohawked bands like Rebel Riot (above). They rock hard, but also run charities that help the local homeless and children. We’re excited to find out more about this subculture, and take part.
Also, you may have seen on my social media that I’m currently in Hong Kong, filming with Stakk Factory! I’m honored to be working with this new media site, which produces original videos about style tips, travel, food and more. We’ll be shooting nail art tutorials, fashion lookbooks and more that I can’t wait to share with you.
Now, back to my Ubud, Bali temple story. The locations are quite spread out, so I was glad to have Destination Services take me around on a custom tour.
They provided a car, driver and guide for the day, and brought me to all the temples on my wishlist. I’m a big fan of hiring local experts, as they’re versed in the history and culture, and can answer questions about anything you encounter.
Destination Services planned an efficient route that started early to avoided traffic. We got to the Goa Gajah Elephant Cave in Ubud before the crush of tourists (it’s about 30 km from Denpasar).
This has been a holy ground for both Buddhist and Hindu practitioners, for over a thousand years.
Water from these stone statues is used in religious ceremonies. Look closely, and you’ll see large fish swimming in the pond.
(Photos by my friends Cohica Travel, who offer a worldwide guide to sustainable and socially responsible travel.)
There are six of these female water-bearing fountains in total. An endless stream flows out of their pots.
And there it was, the famous entrance! I felt like I was being swallowed up by the iconic “Elephant Cave”. (The demon-like figure was once thought to be an elephant, hence the name.)
Blown away by these intricate Balinese stone carvings of creatures and nature motifs.
Inside the cave, there are three stone idols wrapped in cloth (known as a trimutri of Shiva-lingams). In the past, monks came to meditate inside these dark passages.
Hindu statues like this are found all over Bali. I often drove through intersections that had deities standing right n the middle. Such energy in the poses and expressions.
Outside the rock entrance, a fierce protector raises a sword against negative spirits.
Next, we went to the beautiful purification temple Tirta Empul (or Tampak Siring Temple) around 20 minutes north of Ubud. I could have spent hours taking in the details of the Balinese temple architecture.
The temple pond is considered to be holy, as it was supposedly created by the god Indra.
Bathers come here to purify themselves in the holy springs.
In addition to the purification baths, the Tirta Empul temple has areas for giving offerings and making prayers.
As with any cultural site, it’s important to be respectful to the pilgrims who come here as a spiritual journey. Tourists are welcome as long as they wear the sarongs provided (I didn’t need one because I was already covered), and don’t interrupt the bathers. Photos are allowed, but to be safe, check before taking images.
The inner courtyards are for worshippers only, in order to give them some peace and privacy from the tourists.
Our guide spoke about the mythological stories associated with the water temple.
I exited through this tiny gate guarded by a barong (lion-like protector spirit).
We drove past the famous Ubud rice paddies, or Tegalalang Rice Terrace. The distinctive layered steps are called subak, and make up a traditional Balinese irrigation system.
(There is a entrance fee to walk inside, so we didn’t stop.)
After a scenic twisting drive (past farms, collectives and yoga retreats), we stopped in Ubud city center for lunch and a walk around.
The main Ubud streets are jammed with traffic, and you’ll see a number of touristy gift shops. However, you’ll also see gorgeous puras and other artistic details like these.
Megan and Ryan of Cohica Travel showed me Pura Saraswati, a temple with a long dramatic path bordered by blooming lotus flowers.
The pond and flowering trees make this one of the region’s most beloved temples.
Pura Taman honors Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and arts. She certainly looks over Ubud, which is considered the cultural capital of the island.
At night, there are dances and performances in this area that surrounds the water gardens.
The Hindu water temple is relatively new — built for the royal family in 1950, by artist and architect Gusti Nyoman Lempad.
Lempad was an accomplished stone carver, and brought these creatures to life.
Many travellers describe Bali as a place of peace and joy. It’s hard not to agree.
Spirituality is a huge part of the Balinese consciousness, and the ritual offerings are unique to the island. Religion is also expressed here an inclusive way (you’ll often see homes with statues of both Ganesha and Buddha).
I hope you are able to spend at least half a day in Ubud, seeing the temples and culture for yourself. Here are all Indonesia travel posts, including a video of traditional dances, to help you plan a trip to Bali.
Finally — I’m glad you found my Black Friday / Cyber Monday discount codes helpful, for finding the best shopping deals! I’ve just come across a new site, Woznow, which lets you easily search for fashion (by brand or category), and access sales in over 200 stores. For example, the site let me compare leather jackets, see how much they were discounted, and shop them with a tap.
Thanks, everyone, for supporting my fashion and travel adventures over the years! Here’s to finishing 2016 strong, and keeping the momentum going into the New Year.