Ubud, on the Indonesian island of Bali, is a lovely place to spend time. Green rice paddies…mixed Balinese and Dutch colonial architecture…and a “big village” feel.
Ubud has kept the artsy, Hindu feel that seems mostly missing from the modern beach fronts of Southern Bali. And it has seen enough tourism since the 60s to have developed a great selection of restaurants, bars, hotels and villas to suit all pockets.
Here, you can find a great meal for $2, $5 or $50. Balinese, Javanese, Italian, French, German, Mexican—pretty much anything you like will be here at a reasonable price. There’s even a Starbucks. Quality accommodation comes cheap here, too. You’re talking $15 to several thousand dollars per night.
But this corner of Bali has something else going for it…something that has given me a new, travel-filled career.
Hang a left on the eastern end of Ubud’s main street and you’ll arrive at what is, in my opinion, one of the largest and most varied centers of handicraft sales and production to be found anywhere in Asia.
This is more than just a market…stalls and shops stretch for an incredible 12 miles on both sides of the street. Small art shops…clothing boutiques…carvings shops…small furniture warehouses…lamps… cushion covers…Javanese antiques…bone jewelry…wood jewelry…dream catchers…signs…tiki totems—the goods on display are endless and ever-changing.
You find more shopkeepers at the bottom of the street, closer to Ubud, and more producers and crafters at the top of the street, heading out of town. As you travel higher up the street, the storefronts and displays get less fancy and more run-down. But it’s worth seeing this selection, as you also get to see unfinished products and raw materials. It gives an interesting window into how this dizzying array of items is put together.
Now that you have found the crafts, you may be worried about the language barrier. But truthfully, it’s not that big a deal. While fluent English is rare outside of the tourism industry, everyone in this area understands the question, “How much?” or “Price?” If you do run into some slightly overwhelmed teen shop assistant who greets the question “How much?” with eyes likes saucers, try to remember the word “Harga?” It’s pronounced the way it looks…just say it slowly and they will understand you’re ready to talk numbers.
You may also be worried about how to tell if you’re getting a good price. If you’re only in town for the day, my advice is to not worry about the “right price”, the “best price” or the “cheapest price”. Most likely, that will just get in the way of you buying what you like and then moving on.
But if you’re doing more than shopping for yourself…if you’re going to resell your items for a profit like I do, then price becomes a little more relevant. You have to be able to make a good return. I aim to sell each item for at least five times what I pay for it.
So if you look at a statue, you like it and you know you can sell it for $20, you’ll know your target price is $4 or below. If the carver can’t get down to what you need, you have to walk away. Sometimes, of course, it’s the walking away that gets you the best price.
Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. The exotic, enchanting markets in places like Bali are a wonderful place for both business and pleasure.
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