Monkeys and Elephants

Bali is not short on wildlife as I’ve now had a chance to witness it in water and on land. In a country so focused on growing its tourism industry and so rich in animal life, I sometimes worry how one affects the other. Two stops I made while staying in Ubud were the Monkey Forest in the middle of town and the Elephant Safari Park just 30 minutes away. Both were spectacular in the sense of how close I could get to the animals and how relatively unrestrained the animals were as far as cages and enclosures are concerned.


I took issue with how the tourists treated the monkeys occasionally trying to excite them in various ways. Then, people are surprised when the monkeys act aggressively in return. More than aggressive, the monkeys behavior can best be described in this scenario as protective. For example, we should not be handing monkeys a water bottle to see what they do with it. That all said, the monkeys were completely unrestrained and were roaming around every path and in every tree.

elephant ride

Elephant hug

In the Elephant Safari Park, the elephant caretakers and trainers all treated the elephants with complete respect; however, training a creature with the intelligence to dunk a basketball, paint, and raise a flag up a flag pole to do exactly those things feels like taking advantage of the animal. I loved watching an elephant use his trunk to slam home a basketball, especially as I am currently going through March Madness withdrawal, but I also recognized if the elephant can do those activities, what is the elephant thinking when asked for example to carry us on its back. I loved feeding the elephant, being hugged by the elephant, and shaking hands with its trunk, but all the while I felt a twinge of guilt. The Safari Park said that it rescued these elephants, and that knowledge taken at face value makes me feel better about the operation.

Experiencing these animals so intimately was a rare and fun opportunity, and I believe it raises awareness of their intelligence and grace.

Culture in Ubud

I came to Ubud because it is touted as a Balinese cultural hub, and not just because it received such positive reviews from Elizabeth Gilbert. Bali is such a culture-filled destination because as the Hindu states fell all around Bali, many of the intelligentsia fled here along with artists, dancers, musicians, and actors. As the only surviving Hindu island, the Balinese show intense pride for the culture and enjoy sharing it with the outside world. Having so many tourists leave their homes for theirs must reinforce their confidence in their unique and creative culture. In addition, throughout this Hindu rice-farming society, I saw daily offerings made using Banana leaves outside of homes, hotels, shops, and as far reaching as the top of the Batur Volcano.

rice field Ubud
A rice field just outside Ubud, Bali
more rice field
Another rice field near Ubud

Ubud is full of live music and dance performances both modern and traditional. I enjoyed sitting in cafes in the evening listening to drum-heavy music as well as attending two traditional Balinese dance performances. The Legong Dance, performed at the Ubud Palace, included gamelan music and ritual dance. The Legong Dance also included a mask dance, contemporary dance, and sacred dance. Another evening, I attended the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance where I will never forget the last scene of a dancer kicking flaming coconuts around the stage from what used to be a coconut bonfire.

balinese dancer
A dancer from the Legong Dance in Ubud
Kecak Fire and Trance Dance
The Kecak Fire and Trance Dance

Ubud is home to many shops, but unlike most other places I’ve visited, there were less knock-off sunglasses and the like, and instead, many shops sold artwork and other cultural handmade Balinese craft. Window shopping became an enjoyable experience when simply walking through the store taught me about Balinese art. Unfortunately, Ubud is swarming with tourists who can make it hard to find an authentic Balinese experience, but I did meet some great people. Lauren from England and I went to one of the evening dances together, three German friends joined me on the sunrise volcano hike, Bruce and Carol from Vancouver who I had also sat next to on the plane bumped into me and we recapped our Bali adventures together, and Made, the driver to the sunrise volcano trek. His English was far from perfect, but his energy was high and he exuded such an optimistic vibe, that while helping him improve his English, I continued to learn about Balinese culture through his stories. Ubud, the people I met while staying there, and the places I visited in its surrounding areas are the ingredients that made for the hard-to-leave feeling I now have.