Ubud, Bali

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2007, 12:00am

In the 8th century, long before the advent of credit cards and sample sales, a Buddhist monk sailed to Bali from Java on a pilgrimage. He found his promised land in the farming village of Ubud, deep in Bali's lush interior. There he meditated and built a shrine, now known as Pura Campuan.

These days, style acolytes head to the same hills with shopping on their mind. Boutiques line the narrow streets, where some of Indonesia's most talented artisans sell their wares.

An almost religious experience for sybarites, the Amandari resort (Kedeatan, tel: 62361 975 333) is a must see. In its well-stocked boutique (below), eyes are drawn to the antique Rangda masks (US$2,500), which are made with human hair. Less exotic but no less magical are the 75-year-old Javanese wedding couple statues (US$1,600) and sets of other assorted Balinese couples (US$300) carved from jack wood.

Don't miss Threads of Life (Jalan Kajeng 24, tel: 62 361 972 187); this fair-trade, non-profit enterprise promotes women's empowerment and sustainable development through traditional Balinese weaving known as ikat. Threads are soaked in natural dyes then woven into lengths of motif-covered fabric that make for bold men's shorts (815,000 rupiah/HK$700), striking silk shawls (from 1.3 million rupiah) and sarongs (from 1 million rupiah).

The latest retail darling is the recently opened Jean Francois Fichot Gallery (Jalan Suweta 6, tel: 62 361 972 078). Sterling-silver lotus-flower earrings with chalcedony teardrops go for US$100; 18-carat gold rings set with South Sea pearls and emeralds cost US$2,500. Across the street, Rio Helmi (Jalan Suweta 5, tel: 62 361 972 304) shows off his unique photographic perspective of the island in digital prints of verdant rice terraces (from US$250) and dramatic dancers in ink on polyvinyl (US$850).

Antiques aficionados should head for Macan Tidur (Monkey Forest Road, tel: 62 361 977 121). Tribal body ornaments from Irian Jaya, such as necklaces made of bone and fossil (from 2.3 million rupiah), hang alongside gilded masks from north Java (3.5 million rupiah). A room is piled high with textiles, including elegantly faded batik shawls bearing non-figurative patterns made by Muslim communities on Sumatra (3.2 million rupiah) and ornate gold-threaded flowers on purple velvet from Bengkulu (2.6 million rupiah).

If you want to wear your piece of Ubud right away, stock up on colourful, inexpensive sundresses (159,000 rupiah) at Nilakandi (Jalan Dewi Sita) and stuff the change inside purses made from vintage sarongs (79,000 rupiah).

In need of more adornment? The best fashion value in town must be the Buddhism-inspired necklaces (US$8) made of felt at Pilih Pilih (Jalan Dewi Sita, tel: 62 361 745 4858) that act as modern reminders of Ubud's more meditative past.