In January 2004, I stopped over in Bali, en route from Thailand to Australia. Bali is the only Hindu island of Indonesia (92.3% of the island's residents follow Hinuduism, as opposed to the rest of Indonesia, which is primarily Muslim). Bali is famous for its arts, its beaches, its lush rice paddies and its music and culture. Not being much of a beach bunny, I decided to stay in the center of the island in Ubud, the artist's colony of Bali. Ubud is very different than the packed party beaches of Kuta and Legian. The atmosphere is more tranquil, the scenery greener and the people much more laid back. Several times a day, the Balinese place small woven baskets filled with leaves and flowers such as jasmine and frangipani on the sidewalk or steps of their homes and businesses. The baskets are meant as offerings to Hindu gods and ancestors and are constantly refreshed; as a result, the air is always filled with a beautiful floral scent.
The name Ubud comes from the Balinese word for medicine "ubad" since the town was originally a source of medicinal herbs and plants. Most of the ancient health and healing arts are still practiced today and are a mixture of religion and traditional medicine. When Europeans started to arrive, the town developed a thriving artist community which continues today. Ubud is also home to the famous Ubud Monkey Forest with its Hindu temple, where 340 Crab-eating Macaques live freely. Take care when visiting the reserve though; the monkeys are incorrigible thieves (their favorite items are tourists' sunglasses and hats) and trouble-makers who like to frighten visitors by baring their teeth, yelling at the top of their lungs and jumping on people from trees.