Bali ticks a lot of the boxes for location independent entrepreneurs. The quality of life is high, the cost of living is low, and the weather is pretty much perfect. But Bali also has a reputation for being hit and miss on the most important asset – fast, reliable internet – so lots of digital nomads skip this beautiful island and head to Chiang Mai or Ho Chi Minh City instead.
I say it’s time to reconsider Bali, and give Ubud a try.
Hubud (Hub-in-Ubud) is the aptly named co-working space at the cente of Ubud’s web-based creative community. The 400sq.m. facility, open 24 hours a day, has two indoor floors with collective tables and individual work spaces pushed up against windows with rice paddy views. The work space spills out onto a covered open air deck and the entire structure and much of the furniture is done in bamboo. There is great natural light, a glass-walled quiet room and small offices that can be booked for private skype calls or meetings. Add in speedy internet, a raw food café and events like Pecha Kucha nights and skill shares and it’s hard to find anything to complain about.
I think I might be the only person here not making money from my laptop. The chatter is about websites for clients, iPad game development and app sales. I see lots of computer screens open to WordPress, drafting blog posts like “Are Carbs and Gluten Ruining Your Brain As Well?”. There’s even a guy with a laptop connected to a second, larger screen, both of which display white text on black background like the deep internet hacker on House of Cards. There’s at least one other writer – I picked him out of the crowd because he stares off into space for minutes at a time, just like I do.
Americans, Australians and Canadians make up more than half of the Hubud membership and gender is evenly split. At present, 70 percent of the membership is between 30 and 44 so the vibe is a bit older than some of the other digital nomad hubs. As Hubud comes up on its one year anniversary in March, the space is close to capacity on weekdays, with 60+ users a day. The founders are looking to expand. What’s the hold up? Parking of course. Different continent, same planning issues.
But enough about work – this lifestyle design game is as much about the play, and Ubud offers lots of opportunities for that too.
The main streets are full of attractive open air bar-restaurants that offer two for one cocktail happy hours in the early evening. The fresh ginger mojito at Cinta Bar and Grill is (repeatedly) Mayna-tested. I also spent an afternoon swilling very passable mojitos at Oops! Restaurant and Bar while I waited for the afternoon monsoon to stop. The guys behind the bar entertained me with Tom Cruise-style synchronized flinging of the martini shakers, then dropping them, then laughing, then trying again. Many of the same restaurants host live music at least one night a week and while it’s mostly long-haired guys with guitars covering Bob Marley and Aimie Mann, it does create a nice buzz.
Some of the restaurants do happy hour food specials as well. I had an excellent thin crust pizza and a beer for about CAD$4 at Warung Citta Ovest. For something a bit more luxe, try Kebun Bistro, a proper French restaurant with Art Nouveau décor and a decent wine list. Jalan Goutama is your best bet if you’d like to browse some options before choosing. The small side street is lined with cute restaurants serving local and international food. Definitely try Warung Biah Biah for tasty Balinese tapas.
You can balance all the eating and drinking with morning walks in the calm, green rice fields. If you start before 8am wander through the fresh vegetable and flower market to see the women making the little palm basket offerings you’ll later see all over the sidewalk.
This is the Eat Pray Love town so there’s lots of yoga to choose from. I like The Yoga Barn, an impressive complex of five studios and a café tucked into the banana palms on the edge of town. The afternoon vinyasa classes are held in a large space on the second floor of the main building that looks out onto flowering trees and is open to the breeze. On the way home, stop for a Balinese massage and rainforest shower at Venezia Day Spa.
Make sure you have extra room in your suitcase because shopping in Bali is a lot more than beads and Bintang tshirts. Piment Rouge sells tasteful home décor with subtle Asian influences and Ubdy and Nava specialize in simple teak pieces for the home. We’Ar Yoga and Anjaly Bali carry beautifully cut cotton clothes while Amplop does graphically interesting tshirts for men. There are several other clothing boutiques that sell what hipsters would wear to the beach but I skipped those because they were full of things with colours and patterns. For small gifts to take home I recommend Kou Cuisine for local fruit jams. Or for something with more of an edge, try Makassi and Polette for Bali’s version of Warhol-style pop art pieces.
And if all that isn’t enough, there’s just the generally positive tone of this town. The Balinese are happy people and it’s infectious. I smile at every person I pass because if they haven’t smiled first, I know they will smile back.