Bali – Kecak Dance and Kicking Fire

Kecak & Fire Dance

Kecak Fire Dance in Ubud
Kecak Dance with hundreds of men chanting ‘kecak’ while the dancers portray the Hindu epic of Ramayana.

Knowing we wanted to see a traditional dance we headed to the visitor information center so we could get a schedule of the different types of dances that are performed in Ubud. The traditional Balinese Kecak dance portrays a segment of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Getting tickets were easy since we could buy them at the center, from vendors on the street, or at the entrance of the venue. During our first week in Ubud, we had decided that we wanted to watch a Kecak dance and bought tickets from a vendor as we walked down the street. The tickets we bought were good for any Wednesday or Saturday so we were in no rush to see the show and they had no expiration date. The day we bought the tickets had been a long day for us and we ended up going back to our hotel and crashing out, not seeing the show. Soon after we headed down to Seminyak, knowing we had to come back to pick up our passport after our visa extension, we decided we would see the show when we came back. Before making it back to Ubud, we saw a Kecak dance at Uluwatu Temple.

Uluwatu Kecak Dance


At Uluwatu Temple we arrived at the stage after all the close seats had been taken, so we scouted for some decent seats halfway up the stands. While we waited for the performance to begin our attention was distracted by the pretty sunset that was taking place. We headed up to the top of the stands and just admired the pretty sunset filling the sky with pretty shades of purple and pink, rushing back to our seats when the stage was being blessed. As the Kecak dancers entered the stage, chanting “Kecak” and forming circles, we became very excited. Being a little distracted while we tried to capture video and take some pictures we did not follow along with the guide, a mistake we wouldn’t repeat during the Ubud performance. We watched as the dancers performed their parts, elegantly moving, each movement telling the a part of the story. Soon the monkey king appeared, providing some comedic relief as he wandered through the crowd and the back to the main stage, preparing for the fight of good vs evil. With the final battle being played out before me, I regretted not following the story as it was unfolding before us. After the Ramayana story was complete we got see the trance dance. Fascinating as the monkey king kick burning husks of coconut around while dancing in a trance.

Ubud Kecak Dance

Wanting to get front row seats we got to the outdoor venue early so we could pick a good vantage point for viewing the dance. This venue was quite smaller and much more intimate than Uluwatu Temple’s performance, so we know we would be close to the action. Having picked our seats we were excited, anticipating the beginning of the performance, building higher as the stage was blessed and the centerpiece lit.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Lighting the centerpiece after the stage had been blessed.

Our excitement increased when we heard the chanting of around a hundred half-naked male performers making their way to stage. The unique aspect of Kecak is that all the accompanying music is performed by human voice as the performers sit in concentric circles. Sitting there they chanted Kecak, varying the rhythm slightly, filling our ears with the beautiful sound of their unison chanting. Depending on the part of the story they will sit, sway, lie down, or stand up.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Chanting “Kecak”.

Following along with the story guide we intently watched as the story of good vs. evil played out before us with dancers telling the story of prince Rama having to rescue his wife Sita from the evil Meganada with the help of the Sugriwa, king of the monkeys and his monkey army. It was a beautiful and interesting performance which we really enjoyed.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Traditional Bali dancers during the Kecak Dance.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Traditional Bali dancers during the Kecak Dance.

After the story of Ramayana was finished another dance was performed, the Fire Trance Dance, in which coconut husks were lit on fire and a dancer would kick the burning husks around the stage in a trance-like fashion. The sight of flaming husks bouncing off the sheets of metal that formed a barrier around the stage was a little frightening. Sitting in the front row, my mind watched in amazement and kept me on alert in case the husks accidentally came flying at us. Overall it was a very enjoyable performance and one we are glad to have seen.

There were slight differences between the performances but nothing too drastic. Just seeing one of the shows is good, no need to see both. Uluwatu Temple has a larger venue to accommodate larger crowds and performances in Ubud take place at different sites that offer a more intimate viewing. We were pleased with both shows.

Kecak Fire Dance Ubud
Traditional Bali dancers during the Kecak Dance.

Ubud, Bali – Penis Bottle Openers, Monkeys, and Learning to Cook Indonesian Foood

Ubud – Our Starting Point

Ubud market
Flower vendor at the Ubud market

Having learned during our research that the Kuta area was very touristy, we made our first destination Ubud which is labeled the spiritual center of Bali. With the cost of travel in Australia expensive, we ended up traveling quickly through the country. Wanting to do things a little slower than in Australia, we decided we would spend a week there so we wouldn’t have to rush through the sites. The laid back appeal of Ubud sounded enticing. Five location changes in less than a month left us feeling a little worn out. When we arrived on Bali we decided to take it easy in Ubud.

Whether you have a week or a month, we recommend you make the effort to visit Ubud. There are many things to do in and around Ubud. No matter whether you are doing independent exploration or with a tour you will find something that suits your interest. Ubud makes a great base for many activities. Because of its location, there seemed to be endless options for things to do. Activities include everything from hiking a volcano to riding bikes through the rice fields. For those who are not seeking adventure but a holistic experience, you can take advantage of the many spas, masseuses, and yoga facilities. Some of the activities we did while staying Ubud were seeing traditional dances, learning to cook, and taking a leisurely walk through the monkey forest. Most hotels will help arrange activities or you can join a tour. There are several tour organizers in town.

Getting to Ubud

There are several options for getting to Ubud. To get to Ubud, you can take the Kura-Kura Bus, hire a driver, or rent a motorbike and drive yourself. Since we were going to Ubud directly from the airport we hired a driver. There are several options but check all their prices and bargain. Bali is notorious for traffic, especially during commute hours, which is when we arrived, so we had to put our excitement of exploring Ubud on hold. Following a three-hour drive, even with our skilled driver Wayan weaving in and out of traffic, we arrived at Y Resort and were greeted with a welcome drink by the friendly staff. It was a pleasant drive, first going through the city and then the countryside so we were able to see a little bit of everything on the way.

Learning a New Culture

Ubud market
Kecak Fire Dance

We would learn during our time on the island that the people of Bali are very spiritual. Bali is almost entirely Balinese Hindu and we felt this most in Ubud. It seemed that everything was celebrated on Bali. The receptionist of our hotel would be celebrating the full moon later in the evening of our check-in. Everyday offerings are given to the gods, placed in front of nearly every business, several were placed around the hotel grounds. If you go to the market, the first sale is considered lucky so you may be able to get a better bargain.

The next day we decided to get a massage so we could begin to work out the stress we had built up over the years of our lives and begin healing our body and soul. After getting traditional Balinese massages, (where they massage your chests or breasts), we then caught the free shuttle from the hotel to downtown. We were dropped off in front of the old royal palace and when we tried to cross the street we were a little shocked by all the motorbikes that passed in front us. What got our attention was how much many people or goods were packed on the bikes. It is not uncommon to see four or five people packed on a motorbike. It seemed there was could be no limit to the volume of people or goods that could fit on a motorbike. I would have never thought an entire family could fit on a bike – mom, dad, and as many as three kids. But we would see it every day to our amazement. More amazing was the age of some of the drivers. Due to lack of public transit we would see elementary school age kids driving them around which was a little shocking since we would never see that back home. By the end of the two months, this would just seem normal.

penis bottle openers
Penis bottle openers are sold in Ubud, and everywhere on Bali

The main drop-off and pick-up point in the town center is in front of the old Royal Palace. If you are staying in a hotel outside the city, this will become a familiar with this location. Most things are within walking distance from here or you can hire one of the many taxi drivers to take you to another location. Wanting to visit the visitor center located across from the old Royal Palace in central Ubud, we crossed the street as soon we saw a break in traffic. With all the motorbikes whizzing by, it was a little intimidating to just step out into the street and not worry about being hit. We would get used to this way of crossing the street very quickly.

After the visitor center, we went to explore the market located next to it. Walking through the market and just wandering around was a fun experience, how could it not be, when there were penis bottle openers everywhere. Who doesn’t want to own a penis bottle opener? Besides the penis bottle opener, the market is bursting with art, from woodcarvings to paintings. It was fun to window shop, I felt like buying everything. It seemed like we were walking through an open air art gallery, making the temptation to buy a painting hard to resist, but I just couldn’t see lugging one around the world with us. Well, if we ever do stop and settle in the region, we know where to pick up some art at. Having fully enjoyed the market, we headed back to the hotel so we could soak in the fact we were no longer in the comforts of the developed world and things here would be a lot different than what we were used to. For me, this would be the beginning of letting go of the customs and rituals that defined our daily routine of life in the U.S. and starting the process of growing as individuals and citizens of the world.

Sacred Monkey Forest

Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest
Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest

Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest
Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest

After resting for a couple of days, I headed to the Sacred Monkey Forest while May was getting acupuncture done at Taksu Spa. This was a fun visit; wandering the trails and just observing the monkeys interact with each other. Having learned that the monkeys can become aggressive if you have food, so I passed on buying the bananas that the vendors were selling. I knew that I made a good decision when I saw a girl run by me screaming and throwing the bananas she bought because a monkey was trying to take them; I had to laugh because I thought it was a little funny to watch. It was very peaceful just stand but and watching as the baby monkeys would play with each other, scampering up a tree and jumping from branch to branch while playfully chasing each other. While wandering on one of the trails, I stopped to watch a monkey play and as I stood there I felt the weight of a monkey jump on my back. This made me a little nervous since I didn’t know what it was doing and I didn’t want to make it mad. It was nice that I was able to make a new friend in the forest, but it got bored with me, jumped off and I was free to continue wandering the forest, a little sad my friend had left though. It was a good place to visit for a couple of hours.

Paon Cooking Class

Cooking class in Ubud
All the yummy Balinese food we learned to cook and eat!

Before we started the trip we decided we would take cooking classes in the different places we visited, so when we return home, we can share what we learned while traveling. I know I could definitely use the help learning to cook as well. So we chose to take some cooking lessons at Paon Cooking Class in Ubud. On the morning of the class, we headed to the market; located near central Ubud, where the locals would typically go and learned about the different ingredients we would need for the dishes we would be learning to make. Popular ingredients sold here specific to the Ubud region are candlenuts (similar to macadamia nuts, but a bit drier), cinnamon sticks (so long), vanilla beans, and various spices. The market was an interesting place to tour with all the different fruits, vegetables, and spices that was offered along with the activity of people going about their business.

Wayan explaining rice cultivation in Ubud
Wayan explaining rice cultivation in Ubud

After the market, we were taken to rice fields located on the edge of Ubud where we met up with another Wayan. He explained how each household was provided land by the government so that every member of the family can plant and harvest rice three times a year. Enough to feed the members of the household and maybe a little bit more to sell. Some households, like the one across from where Wayan lived, would have as many as 18 people living in it. In his case, there were only 2. Wayan continued to explain that there are three types of rice that are grown in Bali – white, brown, and red. We then headed to his house where he explained how a traditional family house was set up. Each and every house in Bali would have their own temple and the placement of the rooms is laid out the same. Based on the direction of the entryway placement. He later introduced to us to his “his ex-girlfriend” or now wife Puspa, who would lead the cooking lessons.

Ubud cooking class
Left: Joshua learning to cook, Right: Our instructor Puspa

Tempe Me Goreng from ubud cooking class
Tempe Me Goreng

We learned how to make Sate Siap, Tempe Me Goreng, Kacang Me Santok, Kuah Wong, Base Gede, Be Siap Mesanten, Jukut Urab, Peoesan Be Pasih, and Kolak Biu. It was fun to get some quality lessons on how to cook. Even though we learned to cook, did not do any cooking after that since we didn’t have a kitchen, and the food was inexpensive at restaurants. There are so many good options for eating that there was no need to prepare our own food.

Kecak and Barong Dances

Barong Dance Ubud
Barong Dance

At the visitor center, we got a schedule of all the traditional and cultural dances that are performed in Ubud. The schedule lists the time and location of all the dances. You can either buy tickets for the dances at the visitor center, from a reseller on the street, or at the venue itself. Legong dance and Kecak Fire dance are the most popular dances performed in Ubud. We originally chose just to see the Kecak Fire dance but ended up also watching the Barong dance during a day trip tour. The plots for both of these dances centered on two different battles of good vs evil. We enjoyed the Kecak Fire dance, it was a little more unique than the Barong dance, but both were entertaining. Taking in the traditional dances in Ubud happened to be one of our favorite activities on Bali