Shopping in Bali is often centred on the overcrowded enclave of Seminyak with its surf shops and designer fashion boutiques. More and more chain stores are quietly creeping in, while the true spirit of Bali’s artisan culture is becoming more elusive.
The little jungle-clad village of Ubud is actually a veritable treasure chest of special wares and rare, one of a kind finds, if you know what you’re looking for and where to go.
Here we help you avoid the well-trodden tourist traps and give you an insider’s lowdown on some of Ubud’s best insider shopping secrets.
At first glance, the Monkey Forest strip seems like a typical hodge-podge of fairly forgettable yoga clothes and mala beads. But enter the right doorways and you’ll soon realise that first impressions aren’t always right.
The sprawling Macan Tidur on Jalan Monkey Forest is a mecca of genuine antiques and artifacts from around the region. It’s like hitting the textile jackpot; elegantly wasted and faded batiks hanging on the walls, fat folds of Bengkulu-style gold-threaded brocades and the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth double ikat, which is woven only in the village of Tenggalang.
For interioristas that have an eye for style, you can’t go wrong with the beautiful fabrics that make their way to this village from remote places around the region – from silk scarves through bolts of block-printed batik cloth and the intricately woven ikat.
These fabric lengths are super versatile around the house; I’ve used them as bed covers and runners, layered them up for decadent table settings, hung them on bare-wood walls and even made them into oversized cushion covers, which are always a talking piece when people pop over.
Still on Jalan Monkey Forest, Ikatbatik is worth a peek. Piles of indigo dyed fabrics in marine-imbued hues of cobalt blue, deep petrol and pale blue-greys are folded in fat piles. Owned by a super helpful and kind husband and wife team, Pak Kadek and Ibu Lili, they’re more than happy to help you navigate through the choices to find something that works for your budget.
Also sourcing handwoven textiles from far flung corners of the archipelago, Threads of Life on Jalan Kajeng 24 is worth a visit for discerning collectors. Their naturally-dyed cloth isn’t cheap, but considering the level of workmanship and provenance of each piece, they’ll stand the test of time.
Back on Monkey Forest, A-Krea has a small but perfectly edited selection of buttery leather wallets and passport holders that make thoughtful (and chic!) gifts. Rumour has it that they are a dead ringer for the cult Hermés kind, albeit without the price tag.
Sometimes cheap and cheerful is exactly what you want, and Ubud has that in spades.
The Japanese-esque Kou on Jalan Dewi Swi sells just salt, soap and jam. As simple as it sounds, the elegant pared-back presentation makes you want to snap up one of everything. Just a few stores down, Nava does the kind of beautifully finished hand-carved wooden spoons and serving utensils that make you want to Pinterest them right then and there.
For kids that spend too much time on iPads and not enough time with their eyes towards the sky, a hand-painted Balinese kite is the sort of present that will hit the spot. Kite-makers are everywhere in Ubud, so keep your eyes peeled as you make your way through the streets for the brilliantly coloured butterflies, dragons, eagles and pirate ships.
If you’re looking for jewellery, skip the ubiquitous stalls in the market heaving with mass-produced pieces and make a beeline for the serious craftsmen. Even if you don’t buy, it’s worth seeking them out just to see their craftsmanship and one-of-a-kind pieces.
Jean-Francois Fichot is the perfect starting point. The space itself is airy, light and spacious; making browsing a dream. It’s all about original jewellery and covetable homewares, but the stand-outs are the silver filigree work, strands of creamy Lombok pearls (from the very same farms that Autore source theirs from) and carved earrings from semi-precious stones.
Treasures Gallery, right on the main street of Jalan Rayan Ubud and opposite Ary’s Warung, is another interesting destination for those with an eye for style. A little jewel box of originality, it features work from international designers who produce their work in Bali, such as Carolyn Tyler, Lyn Fenwick and Tricia Kim.
For a totally different vibe, make your way out to the John Hardy compound, just 20 minutes out of town in the neighborhood of Mambal. With a show-stopping bamboo showroom as its centrepiece, this is one retail experience you don’t want to miss. With jewellery displayed on bamboo pedestals, bare feet de rigueur (yes, really, you’ll have to take your shoes off) and their team of carvers, shapers and polishers all right there in the workshop crafting every piece by hand, it’s an inspiring blend of activity and serenity.
This isn’t just your standard shopfront. Every day sees a sit-down lunch for all employees and it’s an abundant offering of organic, hand-harvested produce grown right there on the property. A true family affair, everyone eats together. And for those that are keen to join the feast, they take reservations. Just call and give them plenty of notice, because seats at this table are known to book out in a heartbeat.
Heading home from here with something special is easy. My favourite pick is a pair of hand-beaten silver goblets, Game of Thrones style. Practical? No. Going to make me smile every time I use them? Absolutely.
If you don’t manage to snag a reservation at John Hardy’s for lunch, Chef Will Meyrick’s new culinary sweet spot Hujan Locale is a good option for a casual bite (yes, his famed Betel Leaf starters are on the menu). Pick up a copy of his cookbook, Sarong Inspirations, while you’re there for your foodie friends at home. •
Photography by Putu Sayoga
• Macan Tidur: Jl. Monkey Forest, macantidur.com
• Ikatbatik: Jl. Monkey Forest, ikatbatik.com
• Threads of Life: Jl. Kajeng 24, threadsoflife.com
• A-Krea: Jl. Moneky Forest, +62-361/972-802
• Kou: Jl. Dewi Sri, +62-361/972-319
• Nava: Jl. Dewi Sri, +62-81-2390-6251
• Jean-Francois Fichot: Jl. Suweta, jf-f.com
• Treasures Gallery: Jl. Raya Ubud, +62-361/975-979
• John Hardy: Jl. Banjar Baung, Desa Sayan, johnhardy.com
• Hujan Locale: Jl. Sri Wedari 5, hujanlocale.com