Ever since Julia Roberts cycled her way through tranquil rice fields into women’s hearts in the movie adaptation of the book; Eat, Pray, Love, legions of single (and divorced) women have been making their way to Ubud in search of enlightenment, and hopefully love. Well, you don’t have to be single or looking for love to come to Ubud, so read on.
On our recent trip to Bali just this National Day long weekend, we decided to stay in Ubud solely and explore it fully. Most tourists will head to the beach town of Kuta, after all one comes to Bali to enjoy the beaches and surf. However, if you are looking for somewhere quieter in the hills, Ubud is just the place. Ubud has long been the center of Balinese arts and culture, and you will notice it with the multitude of temples, art galleries and handicraft workshops. Think of Kuta as party central, and Ubud as arts central.
Getting to Ubud
There are various transport options from Kuta or Depensar to Ubud. They range from minivans. shuttle buses, taxis and hotel pickup services. Prices range from IDR8,000 to IDR200,000. Hotel pickups from the airport are more expensive ranging from IDR500,000 to IDR800,000 per trip.
Getting Around Ubud
Ubud itself is a pretty small town. The town center is walkable, and you should be able to cover all of it in a day. There are some attractions outside of Ubud central in the surrounding villages and these are accessible if you are able to hire a car with driver, or if you are more adventurous, rent a motorbike to get around. There are not many taxis in Ubud and waiting for one can be futile. Many of the hotels offer their own free shuttle bus service to Ubud town center. There are also many people on the street offering taxi services, but make sure to agree on the price before accepting a ride. Due to the narrow one lane streets and increasing tourism, traffic is a nightmare within the town center with a perpetual traffic jam along the main road of Jalan Raya Ubud. There are also bicycles for hire, but the terrain here is very hilly, and you may find yourself pushing your bike more than cycling, unless you are a Tour de France champion.
You will be spoilt for choice on what to eat in Ubud with all types of establishments ranging from the local warungs offering Indonesian staples to fine dining restaurants offering 13 course tasting menus. In between these, you have gelato bars and salad cafes for the vegans. What you won’t find here are pubs and discos, as there is a strictly enforced local regulation that all live performances and loud music must end by 10.30pm.
For ourselves, we frequented these 2 places due to the convenience of getting there and value for money. First is Bridges restaurant, which was nearby our hotel. It’s named because of the old iron bridge that crosses the ravine here. It’s quite a popular place for tourists and expats, so make a reservation unless you want to wait in line for a table.
Ok, this other place is kind of touristy, but that’s because it’s really centrally located. It’s non other than Lotus Café, which is in front of Pura Taman Saraswati temple. It’s hard to miss because Starbucks is just on the other side. Most tourists stop here for a drink or lunch because it’s just beside the temple and is really convenient. Food is a choice of western and local Indonesian menus. A good reason to come here for dinner is that there are cultural performances at night at the temple. And if you don’t want to buy a ticket for the performance you can sit in the restaurant and enjoy the performance from a distance. Exactly for this reason, it’s best to reserve a good table with a view for dinner. Anyway, the tables with the most direct views of the performance have a IDR80,000 surcharge (which is the price of a performance ticket), so you might be better off just buying the ticket and having dinner elsewhere if you don’t want to eat here.
Whilst we did patronize these 2 places more often because of convenience and value for money food, there are numerous other restaurants and cafes and everyone has their own favourites. Most of the upscale restaurants are in the luxury hotels which are located mostly outside Ubud town, so you may want to book your transport to bring you there. We found out that almost all of the shops, restaurants, and cafes do not have air-conditioning with the exception of a handful. So if you are looking to escape the heat and humidity while walking around, despair. Starbucks is probably the only place where you can sit to enjoy the air-conditioning without getting chased out for not buying anything.
While there are many temples within Ubud town, the most visited one is Pura Taman Saraswati because it’s right the in the center of town, and next to the Royal Palace. Visitors are free to roam the grounds in front of the temple, but the inside is usually closed to visitors unless there is a religious ceremony going on.
There are various traditional and cultural performances every night at various venues across Ubud. Your hotel should have an updated list of events for each day (ours did). One of the more interesting performances is the Kecak Dance. This is a sort of trance inducing dance where performers sit in a circle and chant ‘kecak-kecak’ while dancers perform a story segment from the Hindu epic, Ramayana. It’s always performed at night and we bought tickets from a seller seated outside Taman Pura Saraswati. The venue was a small temple, Pura Puseh, some 400m north of the Royal Palace. We didn’t get to watch this during our last visit to Bali. The ticket price is IDR75,000 to IDR80,000 depending on venue.
Most of the cultural performances start at 7.30pm and end at 9.00pm, so you have to choose 1 performance for each night. If you want to see multiple performances, you probably have to schedule them over a few nights.
If you want to take photos during the Kecak dance, try to take seats at the back where you can stand on the chair and not block anyone. The venues are quite small and you should get a good view with a 24-105mm lens (which was what I was using). Flash photography is not encouraged and is distracting to everyone. It will be very dark and the only light source is from the burner in the center. I was using ISO8,000 to 12,800 for most the shots. If you have a fast lens then use it. My lens only caps out at F4, reaching F5.6 at 105mm and I had to use the higher ISO settings.
Accommodations in Ubud also range greatly from dinghy backpacker hostels to luxurious spa resorts, and everything in between. However, if you are here with your significant other and don’t want to spoil the mood staying in an overcrowded dorm and sharing bathrooms with strangers, then consider booking yourselves into any one of the luxurious spa resorts here.
For resorts in Ubud, they mainly come in 2 forms; those that are built along the valley overlooking the rivers and sometimes with rice fields on the other, and those that are built in the rice fields. So pick your favourite choice – valley or rice fields. However, most of these luxury resorts are outside Ubud town and can be more than 10km away. They do offer free shuttle bus services for guests to get into town. For ourselves, we picked Warwick Ibah and booked through Hotels.com because I got to redeem my free nights stay. This resort is built along the side of the valley and is walking distance to Ubud town, which is really convenient.
What Else is There Besides EPL?
Ok, EPL doesn’t refer to English Premier League in this blog. In the movie Eat, Pray, Love, all Julia Roberts seems to do in Ubud is meditate, do yoga, cycle through rice fields and find herself a handsome Brazilian guy to love. Well, you can do all those, and more.
Hiking and Long Walks
There are 2 routes within Ubud that you can take if you like long walks. First is Campuhan Ridge which brings you on a 9km paved path on the top of the ridge and offering spectacular views of the valleys on both sides. If you are staying at Warwick Ibah like us, then the start of the walk is just outside the entrance to the resort. We decided to take a short hike up the ridge in the evening just before going to watch the Kecak dance. The best times would be early morning or in the evening when it’s not blazing hot and the sunrise and sunset offers gorgeous skies. You can complete the walk within 2-3 hours if you plan to walk the full length of it.
The second popular hiking route takes you through the rice fields behind Ubud. There are a few ways to enter the rice fields from Jalan Ubud Raya, the main road. Look for the signs that says ‘Rice Field’ or ‘Rice Terrace’.
Besides the rice fields, there are numerous restaurants, cafes, yoga retreats, massage spas, hotels and organic farms around. We also saw that many plots of rice fields have been given over to construction of more hotels and home stays. How very sad that a traditional way of life is being taken over by commercialization. As you walk further inwards, there are less of the commercial buildings and the rice terraces begin to look like what they should.
Again, the best time to walk the rice fields would be early morning or evening when it’s not blazing hot. For both the Campuhan Ridge and rice field walks, bring along water, some food and mosquito repellant. Wear a hat and long sleeves to prevent sun burn. This is also a good place for some bird watching or photography if you are interested. We had come this way before when we joined a nature tour previously. You can actually do this walk on your own, but with a guide, the walk actually becomes more interesting as there are many things that we as tourists don’t notice or know that a guide can explain.
You won’t find any big brand names here. Most of the shopping is at the Ubud Market or street market beside it. There are also countless handicrafts shops along the roads leading in and out of Ubud, selling stone and wood carvings, and various arts and crafts.
Learn Some Handicraft Skills
Things to Do that We Didn’t
There are other things that we didn’t do because it wasn’t our interest or lack of time. Some of these are listed below but not exhaustive:
- Monkey Forest. Some people like it, some don’t. We’ve been here before years ago and didn’t really like it. You have to be careful here and watch your things or the monkeys will try to grab them – hats, spectacles, sunglasses, handbags, food, cameras, or anything not hidden or tied down.
- Attend a yoga or meditation class and find your Chakra. Omm!
- White water rafting along the Ayung River.
- ATV riding.
- Mountain biking down the slopes of a volcano. I’ve never tried this, but it sounds exciting, not to mentioned potentially bone breaking.
- Cycling tours of Ubud and the surrounding. As I said earlier, you got be a champion cyclist if you want to make it up many of the slopes here. There are companies that actually ferry you and the bikes to the higher areas and you coast downhill all the way to Ubud.
- Join a hike to the summit of Mt Batur, an active volcano, and watch the sunrise. We did this before and it’s not recommended for everyone due to it’s physically demanding nature.
Is That All to Ubud?
There is more to Ubud than just the town itself, so look out for my next blog which will describe the other sights lying outside of Ubud town.