I “hacked” a popular Balinese yoga retreat by a hipster studio and saved almost S$500

After Eat Pray Love’s box-office success in 2010, Bali’s Ubud has become something of a hipster mecca. As party people live it up in Seminyak and couples cosy up in Canggu, hipsters from the world over flock to the highly popular The Yoga Barn, a yoga studio and retreat centre that’s a short scooter-ride away from the town’s bustling centre.

Hollywood A-listers are immune to mortal things like tropical heat and perspiration. The rest of us mere mortals use scooters. 

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/

The Yoga Barn’s main studio.

Source: The Yoga Barn’s Tripadvisor Page

An aspiring hipster myself, I have always been drawn to their pricey retreats like a moth to a flame (or should we, flying termites to a porch light, since we’re talking about Bali?)

A three-day Fruit Fast at The Yoga Barn will set you back by approximately SGD624* and this is what you’ll get when you join the retreat:

*converted from USD449; not inclusive of flights, transport and accommodation

Retreat Components

  1. All fruit-based meals 
  2. Daily hot drinks, smoothies & juices
  3. Group trip to a local herbal sauna with dinner
  4. Natural beauty workshop
  5. How to make coconut yoghurt workshop
  6. Educational talks
  7. 3-class card for daily yoga and meditation
  8. A giant green smoothie to end your fast
  9. Celebration lunch
  10. Closing Agni Hotra Circle

I had planned a trip to Ubud and decided to “hack” their 3-Day Fruit Fast Retreat by replicating these components to see if I would be able get my own retreat experience at a lower cost.

To keep things simple, the prices in this article are based on an exchange rate of SGD1 to IDR10,000. 

1. Where to find fruit-based meals in Ubud

First up, we need to assess our options for fruit-based meals. I was very excited to find out that my guest house provides a plate every morning at breakfast. 

Fruit Platters

Breakfast fruit platter

On the first morning, I was greeted by the happy sight of red dragon fruit (or pitaya if your hipster sensibilities are offended by such a ‘basic’ name), honey dew, papaya and watermelon. 

The next day, I got upgraded to mango.

Free mangoes. I have nothing more to ask for.

In other words, it’s fairly easy to get hold of fruit platters at Ubud, and I didn’t have to fork out extra money for it.

Total damage so far: SGD0

Smoothie Bowls

“Fruit-based meals” probably did not merely mean fruit platters. So I went ahead to sniff out some smoothie bowls.

I started at Yoga Barn’s very own Garden Kafe where I assume retreat meals will be had. 

I could wake up to this view everyday. But you know what would make it better? Julia Roberts.

The waitress recommended the SuperCharger Smoothie Bowl and I eagerly agreed.

SuperCharger Smoothie Bowl at The Yoga Barn. SGD7.10

Ingredients: Coconut milk, banana, cacao, maca & seasonal fruit, granola & tahini

It was pretty decent on first taste, but I later found a superior alternative at KAFE (not to be confused with Yoga Barn’s Garden Kafe).

SuperCharger Smoothie Bowl at KAFE. SGD7.10

Ingredients: Coconut milk, coconut flakes, banana, cacao, maca, seasonal fruit, granola & tahini

Priced exactly the same, KAFE’s smoothie had a more nuanced and complex flavour while The Yoga Barn’s tasted more like chocolate milk. 

While the Acai bowl has taken over Singapore by storm (all my hipster friends talk about Acai bowls at hipster assemblies — just kidding), the pitaya bowl appears to be the smoothie of choice in Ubud.

I enthusiastically ordered myself one in Monsieur Spoon.

Super Healthy Bowl from Monsieur Spoon. SGD5.70

Ingredients: granola, sunflower seeds, coconut flakes, kiwi slices, goji berries and bananas with dragon fruit and banana smoothie.

Having tried KAFE’s SuperCharger, this paled in comparison. It was tasty enough in its own right, but I was a little confused as the smoothie looked like red dragon fruit, but tasted like bananas. 

Total damage so far: SGD19.90

2. Getting hot drinks, smoothies and juices in Ubud

There really is a mind-boggling array of health drinks available in Ubud and so it was easy to get hold of a bottle of cold-pressed juice. As any self-respecting hipster would know, anything cold-pressed/brewed will carry a heftier price-tag than its hot cousin (oops, I hope this article will not show up in the wrong Google searches).

The Yoga Barn’s Juice Bar has an extensive menu of cold-pressed juices with prices ranging from SGD4.50 to SGD7.50. 

I chose “Sunset”, a melodramatic choice as the sun was literally setting on us. The beverage was light and refreshing but I found its consistency too thin.

Sunset (cold-pressed juice) from The Yoga Barn’s Juice Bar. SGD4.50

Ingredients: passion fruit, carrot, pineapple, lemongrass & lemon.

On a separate occasion, I also tried the Beet Pray Love Coconut Kefir because I love a good pun. It was my first encounter with kefir and I carried high hopes not just because of its adorable name, but I’m also quite a fan of Kombucha and fresh coconuts. 

Shockingly, its pungent smell and taste transported me back to the experience of walking past an open sewer. But I’m a committed hipster, so I finished the whole bottle (my digestive system can thank me later).

Coconut kefir (with beet and lemongrass) from The Yoga Barn. SGD4.50

After many days of indulging in good ol’ plain black Balinese coffee, I decided to up the hipster ante and try Yoga Barn’s Cashew Nut Milk Latte. 

Odd that it should be called a latte though as the milk never properly mixes with the coffee so it’s really more of a KOI-style macchiato.

Cashew nut milk latte from the Yoga Barn. SGD3.60

Outside of the Yoga Barn, branded health drinks are priced similarly (somewhere between SGD4.50 to SGD5.50). However, if the hipster in you is willing to take a holiday and be more flexible about how healthy your drink actually is, you’ll be able to find some very good alternatives at a fraction of the price.

One of my favourite places in central Ubud is Clear Cafe and they serve up an impressive array of juices, smoothies and tonics and elixirs.

Clear Cafe. Easy on the palate, easy on the eyes.

I immediately set my sights on the Jamu, a traditional Ayurvedic beverage. According to WebMD: Ayurvedic medicine (“Ayurveda” for short) is one of the world’s oldest holistic (“whole-body”) healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India and based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. 

One Ayurvedic beverage, please! 

Jamu from Clear Cafe. SGD2.50

Ingredients: tamarind, fresh ginger, yellow and white tumeric

A little sweet, a little sour, and a tad salty with a slight kick from the ginger. I could get used to this Ayurvedic life.

I had also tasted a more accessible variant of the Jamu at the aforementioned warung. The Sinom is similarly brewed with ginger and tumeric, but contains none of the saltiness and tang if that is not your thing.

Sinom at Warung Pulau Kelapa. SGD3.50

Ingredients: tamarind, tumeric and rock sugar

For something more traditional, try the Wedang Uwuh. I found it to be quite a comforting beverage, but my travel companion thought that he was drinking massage oil.

Wedang Uwuh at Warung Pulau Kelapa. SGD3

Ingredients: salam leaf, ginger, clove, secang wood, cinnamon and rock sugar.

Finally, one always has the option of turning to a trusty glass of blended fresh fruit. 

Fresh pineapple juice at BiahBiah+. SGD1.80

Ingredients: pineapple and water

Total damage so far: SGD43.30

3. Where to find a local herbal sauna with dinner in Ubud

While fruit platters ought to be the main highlight of the retreat, I found myself more intrigued by the promise of an herbal sauna. (I kept my fingers crossed that “herbal” was not a euphemism.)

Did a quick Google search of herbal saunas and found a place called Dragonfly Village, only seven minutes by scooter from Ubud Palace. 

Little did I know that we would spend over an hour going up the wrong slopes. By the time we arrived, night had already fallen. Also, a good chunk of the journey (maybe a 10-20 min walk depending on your speed) cannot be made by car (only by foot or scooter). Thus, hailing a motorbike taxi is highly recommended.

Herbal Steam Sauna and salt-water pool at Dragonfly Village. SGD10

After paying the entrance fee of SGD10, I was granted entry, given a crisp, clean sarong, a bowl of organic scrub, and unlimited access to water and herbal tea.

Bonfire to keep you warm between dips and steams.

The actual sauna is a quaint stone chamber with wooden doors. While steaming in the sauna, I couldn’t shake off the strange feeling of being a tang yuan (glutinous rice ball) stewing in a bowl of ginger and pandan soup. When I later checked with the attendants what the herbs actually were, I found that they were indeed ginger and lemongrass.

The sauna’s interior.

Source: Dragonfly Village

When you’re finally done with the sauna, you get to scrub yourself by the bonfire – sounds unglamorous, I know, but it was more enjoyable than it sounds. 

Different types of scrubs are available for you to choose from: oatmeal, coffee & cocoa, coconut & brown sugar, and sea salt.

I asked the attendant for a “prescription”, and he willingly and swiftly scooped this up for me:

A melange of coffee & cocoa, coconut & brown sugar, and sea salt to exfoliate my dead skin cells.

The herbal tea was brewed with ginger and lemongrass as well.

Free flow herbal tea

The salt water pool didn’t feel very different from a normal hotel pool, except that I kept floating away. But I guess the promised benefits of dipping in salt-water was sufficient in getting me to try.

Dragonfly Village’s salt water pool

All in all, there was nothing luxurious about the experience, which was also what made it so charming. 

For dinner, I rode for six minutes to Warung Pulau Kelapa, a local farm-to-table restaurant. 

There was something about being in a sauna that made me quite ravenous (or maybe that’s me all the time). If not breaking the bank is one of the objectives of your trip, you can get a hearty vegetarian Nasi Campur for SGD5.

Vegetarian Nasi Campur from Warung Pulau Kelapa. SGD5

The vegetables in the Nasi Campur were fresh, crisp, and sweet, but overall, the overwhelming proportion of processed products ware not what I would expect from a farm-to-table restaurant.

I also ordered the Empon-empon, which is a leaf-dish freshly sourced from the garden:

Empon-empon with tempeh, lemongrass, chili, and garlic. SGD4.50

And for dessert: 

Banana in coconut cream and caramelised brown sugar. SGD4.50

As it was already night the time we reached, the following photos of the compound were taken on a second visit:

You have the option of picking your own vegetables.

Warung Pulau Kelapa’s organic garden

The view from my table.

If fresh vegetables are your thing, this warung is not to be missed!

Total damage so far: SGD67.30

4. Attending a Natural Beauty Workshop in Ubud

What exactly is meant by Natural Beauty Workshop remains a complete mystery to me. I presume it’s more interesting than scrubbing your body with coffee grounds and singing James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ while rocking left and right in ‘Happy Baby Pose’. This is one component of the 3-Day Fruit Fast retreat that I didn’t replicate, but I decided to replace this black box of an activity with another one: the “Ecstatic Dance”.

Replacing this activity with the Ecstatic Dance

Source: yogaeastwest.com

According to The Yoga Barn, Ecstatic Dance is a communal dance used to “release energetic blockages, increase body awareness, de-stress and feel connected to yourself.”

Basically, you dance as you would in a club, but only without the influence of alcohol and the burden of impractical shoes (or any shoes at all). And for those who are single and ready to mingle, yes, you can hit on someone but without words (talking is disallowed).

The observation that no one was heavily made-up and the absence of sky-high heels made it easier for me to feel confident in my own skin. Also, the fact that no one was allowed to record anything made it easier to get freaky with your moves. (There are also no mirrors around for you to judge yourself so that’s a plus point.)

While I don’t have any pictures of the dance party itself as photography was not allowed (and also my phone camera is not that good), here’s a picture of people queuing outside to get tickets:

Queuing for our Ecstatic Dance tickets at The Yoga Barn. They sell out quickly. SGD13

I started queuing 1.5 hours before the time of ticketing and by the time 6.30pm rolled around, the queue had snaked out of my line of sight. 

You can also purchase tickets online if you don’t wish to queue for hours, but be prepared to pay a SGD14 premium.

Total damage so far: SGD80.30

Going for an Ayurvedic spa treatment in Ubud

To tie in the “Natural Beauty” element of the original activity in the retreat, I decided that a good spa treatment could be a good replacement, since it can go a long way in making you feel like a million dollars. I booked an appointment at Suravi Ayurvedic Spa to try their Abhyanga massage. This is a 60-minute ayurvedic massage with two masseuses working on you at the same time (as is traditional) that will set you back SGD35. 

Suravi is a humble establishment with only two beds and two armchairs.

Getting our feet gently washed with fresh flowers.

I was quite taken aback to find out that we had to participate in a Balinese prayer before we could get our massages. All six of us (the four masseuses, my travel companion and I) had to close our eyes and chant “om shanti shanti shanti” with our “hands to heart centre”. The quick prayer wrapped up with one therapist giving me a lovely shoulder massage while the other anointed my forehead, shoulders, palms and feet with oil. 

On to the massages: with four hands touching me at the same time, I felt like I was filming a Lady Gaga music video. The liberal pouring of warm oil on my body made it even more Gaga-esque.

And one more thing — they’ll rip your sarong off without warning. So be sure to let them know in advance if that’s something you’re not on board with.

Did the oil make my skin glow? I’m not sure. But I definitely do have fewer inhibitions about my body after that.

Total damage so far: SGD115.30

5. How to make Coconut Yoghurt Workshop in Ubud

I tried to get a taste of the workshop’s namesake but ultimately failed because it was so elusive. I saw a handful of the leaf-wrapped packages in the Barn’s Juice Bar’s chiller once (and then never again). They were sold out when I went in the late afternoon, and still weren’t available when I went back in the morning. 

As a last resort, I frantically tried to order it in the Barn’s Cafe but it took forever to come. 

Here are some pictures I found online from a fortuitous tourist who had managed to snag the elusive snack:

Coconut Yoghurt at Yoga Barn. SGD2.50 (as a side in Garden Kafe)

Source: Tripadvisor review by @svvoii

While Balinese cooking classes and batik printing courses are abound, coconut yoghurt making workshops appear to be a rarity. Again, thankfully there’s always Youtube for such problems.

Source: Youtube

However, if you aren’t too fussed about whether your yoghurt is organic, hand-made or wrapped in leaves, you can easily get one off the shelf at Coco Mart (a local supermarket). And it only costs 89 cents.

Biokul Strawberry Yoghurt from Coco Mart. SGD0.89.

I tried the strawberry yoghurt drink which also costs 89 cents. A little sweet, but it was exactly what you would expect of a yoghurt drink. I have no complaints.

Biokul yoghurt drink from Coco Mart. SGD0.89

Total damage so far: SGD116.19

6. Educational talks

The retreat also includes educational talks on breaking your fast, but I’m sure you can find all of that on Youtube for free.

Source: Youtube

Total damage so far: SGD116.19

7. 3-Class Card for Daily Yoga and Meditation

The activities of the retreat also includes three yoga and meditation lessons.

Three-class yoga card. SGD36

More popular classes are usually much more packed than this. I also came in much earlier to sneak photos because that’s generally frowned upon by more ‘spiritual’ people.

At SGD10-SGD15 (depending on your package) for 1.5 hours, classes at The Yoga Barn are cheaper than in Singapore. However, having attended lessons there on three separate trips, I must say that the quality of lessons is not as good. Due to the sheer volume of people practising at The Yoga Barn, you don’t receive much adjustment from the instructors and the open windows compromise the acoustics. I found myself having to peep at other people frequently as the instructions flew over my head.

Consent card

Total damage so far: SGD152.19

8. Getting a giant green smoothie to end your fast

Frankly, a giant green smoothie did not sound like a good time to me. However, I surprisingly enjoyed Clear Cafe’s Moringa smoothie quite a bit.

Moringa smoothie from Clear Cafe. SGD3.50

Ingredients: a-string-of-tropical-fruits-that-rattled-off-the-waitress’-tongue-but-I-can’t-remember-now and moringa powder

Touted as nature’s “miracle smoothie”; #1 Immune boost ever, 17 essential vitamins and minerals; 7x the vitamin C of oranges; 4x the calcium of milk” — quoted directly from the cafe menu — its thick consistency, familiar banana flavour, and herbal note made it quite pleasing.

Total damage so far: SGD155.69

9. Celebration lunch

There’s no better way to celebrate in Bali than with Babi Guling, the Balinese version of a spit-roasted pig with local spices. It is believed that the dish originated as the food of royalty.

Babi Guling at Gung Cung. SGD6

Gung Cung used to be a popular hole in the wall, but it has since been upgraded to a proper establishment. This is such a recent development that much of their building is still under construction. Be sure to try their famous Babi Guling before the place becomes overly commercialised!

Delicious Babi Guling with an equally delicious view.

Total damage so far: SGD161.69

10. Closing Agni Hotra Circle

While researching for this article, I learned that Agni Hotra is a healing fire from ancient Indian medicine tradition (Ayurveda) meant for purification purposes. Agni literally means fire and hotra — healing in Sanskrit.

Agni Hotra Ceremony

Source: Bali Go Live

Much to my surprise, it is quite possible to participate in this ritual independently of a retreat. Anand Ashram, a centre for spirituality seekers, offers one for free (donations are encouraged though). Be that as it may, they have made it quite clear on their website that it is serious practice for them and tourists who are in it just for the experience are discouraged from attending. 

If you’re keen to experience the healing fire without being too spiritually committed, Five Elements, another retreat centre, offers the ceremony experience at SGD15 per pax (with more expensive meal options available). Unfortunately, I had to pass because there just wasn’t enough time!

Total damage so far: SGD161.69

My Reflections

So I managed to go through all the retreat components of The Yoga Barn’s 3-Day Fruit Fast at just SGD161.69 instead of SGD624 – that’s a saving of more than SGD460!

All in all, I had a ton of fun going around, checking off my list item by item. One thing to note though, is that traffic in the heart of Ubud and the tropical heat can be quite off-putting for some. So if you’re looking for a relaxing and zen retreat, I would definitely recommend just signing yourself up with The Yoga Barn or a less popular studio that offers cheaper retreats. But if you’re looking for a bit of an adventure and have more flexibility, this hack may just be the thing for you!

Disclaimer: The writer has not attempted any of Yoga Barn’s actual retreats and this article is merely meant to provide an indicative taste of what elements listed in the retreat can feel like instead of a thorough comparison between signing up for the official retreat and doing it yourself. 

All costs were borne by the writer with no discounts and preferential rates offered.

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