Bali can be grounding. A place to get out of your mind and into your body. Yoga, massages, hiking, and good food – where the senses reign and physical hedonism is ubiquitous. Days drift by where you are unsure you even had a thought, and if there was one, you doubt it was interesting or worth paying attention to. But enlightenment can get boring. Sometimes the brain craves stimulation; it wants new information, to learn, be confused, to grow. So if your intellectual hunger overcomes your stomach, we have hunted down some brain chow for you to masticate.
Little Talks is very civilized. It is a café cum library that has a broad span of books that range from an anthology of Shakespeare’s finest to Paris Hilton’s autobiography, with everything in-between. It is positioned across the river from Ubud’s oldest temple (v cultural), and is the perfect place to digest some neatly arranged words. The young owners are super informed about Ubud’s history, and as the cultural capital of Bali it super interesting, and are happy to sit down and share their knowledge. Catch one of the talks by locals or visiting raconteurs, spanning issues from writing and creating, to deforestation and enlightenment. There is also a Book Club to join and discuss the finest literature from past and present, and monthly workshops on writing, photography, music, and poetry.
If you don’t know what TED is, you need to re-evaluate your Internet habits. As the most popular online lecture series, TED has gained notoriety for teaching dumb people smart things spanning three decades. Since its inception in 2011, TEDxUbud has sold out every year. With a world famous Japanese yo-yo performer, Human trafficking activists, trumpeters, a fire scientist, Indonesia’s most powerful female singer, and a mosquito whisperer, sharing their ideas, it is pretty obvious why. Each renowned entertainer or speaker gets 18-minutes to make you laugh, cry, learn or wonder, and to wash down that plethora of confusing emotions everyone is supplied with a complimentary raw vegan chocolate ice cream (it is Ubud after all).
A visit to GWK cultural park
Garuda Wisnu Kencana is 60 hectares of culture. Complete with magnificent gardens, beautiful ponds and a festival park. Ancient Balinese artistry is carved into every doorframe, balustrade, pillar and roof. On the side of the cliff, standing at 120m, is one of the tallest statues in Bali, the Vishnu Statue, riding his winged companion Garuda. And whether you are religious or not, it is a good way to feel insignificant. However, the core greatness of the GWK is its performances, which are held daily (check the times on their website) and range from Balinese dance, rindik jams, Garuda Wisnu ballet, to salsa and fire dancing. All of these will equally blow your mind and provide multiple intellectual climaxes.
Ubud writers’ and readers’ festival
Undisputed cultural and literary champion of South-East Asia, Ubud’s readers’ and writers’ is a must for any aspiring word nerd, or people who just like to think. Spanning over four days at the end of October, the festival lays claim to a host of literary greats. In the past they have had a range of New York Times best sellers, poets, comic book authors, playwrights, food travellers, and last year they had talks by both Jung Chang and Tim Flannery. The program has a strong focus on Balinese issues, with talks and presentations unpacking the island’s environmental concerns, language, art, and tourism industry. A personal favourite was Voice of Baceprot, an all-girl metal band from West Java, who, while clad in full hijabs, smashed out classics from Metallica and Slipknot, and originals about education, environment and prejudice in Indonesia.
Ryoshi House of Jazz
Most venues in Bali need a large amount of booze to convince your brain that the cheesy 90s R’n’B and hip-hop is tolerable, and maybe even worth dancing to. Sometimes you’ll get so smashed, you might even wake up thinking the music was good and go back for another night of drunken nostalgia. At the Ryoshi House of Jazz no such intoxication is required – just a sound mind and a love for the finer things in life. The jazz centre of Bali provides old times classics, modern style, ska and blues. Magic Fingers is the local legend, and he shreds the piano, supported by his entourage, two to three times a week. The House also hosts a plethora of international Jazz artists, so check their website for upcoming gigs. And Ffor those not attuned to the spirit of jazz, as the great Howard Moon once said, “You hate jazz? You fear Jazz! You fear the lack of rules. Skiddly biddly dee wop ba-wow”.
Agung Rai Museum of Art
Art is an important component of any intellectual diet. If it was on the food pyramid it would place somewhere around the vegetables and dairy, although it is pretty weird that bread is most prominent. Anyways, ARMA was founded by Agung Rai, a Balinese man who devoted his life to collecting and preserving art endemic to the region. The museum is nestled among verdant gardens in the hills of Ubud, and offers both contemporary and traditional art, ranging from tree bark paintings to abstract sculptures. However, ARMA offers much more than your average gallery – it has workshops, painting classes, gamelan orchestras and theatre performances, all celebrating the richness and diversity of Balinese culture. There is so much to see you can actually stay here in the adjoining hotel, the profits of which support the cultural education of local children.