Since Julia Roberts graced its mystical shores, Bali’s fortunes have improved considerably.

A few years ago, I recall being surprised when I was told that recruitment practices at one of the biggest conglomerates in Asia included the Chinese art of face-reading. I’ve always believed there’s something powerful about a self fulfilling prophecy – whether it’s the actual belief vibes being put out to the universe or a just a psychosomatic chain of events. That’s why I’ve never had my stars read. I’d rather choose my own beliefs than have a fortune teller influence my future.

Bali’s most famous seer

Prior to recent tour of Bali with my partner, however, I had read numerous postings online about Ketut Lyer, whose reading of Elizabeth Gilbert in “Eat Pray Love” catapulted him into Hollywood stardom. Some called him a con man, while to others he was seen as a respected seer. So when we spent a day in Ubud with no activities planned, mainly for amusement’s sake, we decided to drop by to see the celebrity fortune teller.

Neither of us had read the book nor seen the movie, but mainstream media has shoved its magnetism down our throats so we obliged. We had to stop a few times in Penestanan Village for directions, but all the locals knew his house. Following a few finger pointings we arrives at the location to be greeted by a rather professional looking banner in front that read: “Ketut Liyer’s House & Family”, followed by a bullet point listing of his services: “Medicine Man, Healing + Meditation, Palm Reading, Balinese Astrology, Painter, Home Stay”.

Star gazing by numbers

As expected, the grounds were littered with a gaggle of eager tourists awaiting their serving of fortune. We stood there, unsure how the system worked, until we spotted someone reach for a blue, squareish thing from a wooden pillar. We took a closer look, only to realize it was actually an ethnic form of ticketing and that we had to take a number. The next one up was 33 so we took it and discovered that number 20 was already underway. We walked around the grounds for a bit until number 21 sat down on the porch, then we timed it: the blonde lady in her early 30’s took 21 minutes for her consultation, which ended with her walking away with a slight smile on her face. We did the maths: 12 more to go, at an approximate 20 minutes per consultation, that was 4 hours to wait!

There was no need for any discussion between my partner and I. Anything over a 1-hour wait would be too long. Instead, we took a long look at Ketut from a distance – he was holding the hands of number 22, who had her back towards us, speaking inaudibly to her. He looked frail, tired, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d falling victim to his own fame (and age, for that matter). As we made for the exit we saw two young western backpackers walking up to the house, pointing, with looks of delight on their faces. We gave them number 33 and were rewarded with a grateful ‘thanks!’

Getting in touch with Ubud

Ubud is well known as Bali’s heart of arts, culture, and spirituality, and the town plays host to several yoga and wellness centres. In the spirit of the locale, we asked our driver for the day to take us to a nearby studio and arrived at the Yoga Barn just in time for their Introduction to Yoga class, perfect for me, especially since I’ve only had past experience with the so-called ‘lazy man’s yoga’ of Thai massage.

The Barn offers an array of classes that are open to drop-in students, ranging from African Dance to Tibetan Bowl Meditation and varying types of yoga practice. I parked my distinctly un-flexible mate at the on-site restaurant while I went off to learn the basics of breathing and simple poses.

Coming out of the yoga class stretched and refreshed, we decide to spend the rest of the afternoon close to nature at the Monkey Forest. We spent about two hours strolling the verdant grounds, stopping by to take photos of the moss covered statues and trying to escape the scampering long-tailed macaques. There are also a few sacred temples on site, crumbling and overgrown with surrounding vegetation, creating an intriguing and somewhat mysterious experience made all the more so when surrounded by frightened tour groups that would probably rather have stayed on their bus.

Free from primate persecution, with the skies settling into glimmering rays, we decided to head somewhere for a relaxing sunset drink. To commemorate the bizarre day we’d had, we splashed out at the swanky Four Seasons Sayan hotel. It was perhaps the most serene part of the trip, with views from the resort overlooking the lush valley and Ayung River below.

Balinese bounty

Bali’s international tourist arrivals reached 2.5 million in 2010, that’s about 1 for every member of the population that calls the Island of the Gods home. Compared to the years preceding, foreign tourist numbers were 25% higher than 2008, and double that of less than a decade ago. High end resorts, such as Ubud Hanging Gardens have been leveraging the popularity with packages tailored to the spiritual seeker and private villas are also now a popular option for spirit and fun seeking travellers in search of a more personal version of the island. Exactly how much of the increase in tourism figures can be directly attributed to the ‘Eat Pray Love’ phenomenon is anyone’s guess, but there’s no doubt the book and subsequent movie have brought Bali to the attention of travellers worldwide with its images of spirituality and mystique.

We may not have had our face, torso, palms or limbs read by Ketut Liyer as originally planned, but as Shakespeare once said, “Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered”. I guess we’ll continue steering our own course for now and let the elements do the rest.


The name ‘Ubud’ means medicine in ancient Balinese, and what better place to seek holistic wellness at one of the below yoga sanctuaries, both of which offer scheduled classes welcoming drop-in guests:

  • The Yoga Barn (http://theyogabarn.com): Daily classes start from 7am, with the last class starting at 6pm.  On certain days they organize evening events, such as film showings and Tibetan bowl meditation sessions.
  • Intuitive Flow (http://intuitiveflow.com): Daily classes available with three time slots starting from 9am, 10.30am, and 5.30pm.  Check their website for class details as not every slot is filled every day of the week.

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David Malabar
David is a professional photographer and travel writer. As a qualified Dive Master and underwater photographer his connection with the beach allows him to offer insights far beyond sun, sea and sand.