Ubud, Part 1/2 Eat Pray Love

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.

The 'forever' traffic jam that happens everyday in Ubud town center. School children pack into a school bus on their way home.
The ‘forever’ traffic jam that happens everyday in Ubud town center. We passed by this school bus packed with school children on their way home in 34°C heat.

Eat

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.

Tourists hangout at a local warung for lunch.
Tourists hanging out at a local warung for lunch. Warungs are small restaurants or cafes and offer local food at budget prices, although some of them can be quite upscale and modern with fusion food offerings at a higher price.

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.

Crossing the old iron bridge. The state of the bridge is really bad with the iron girders rusted through with holes in some areas. I wonder if they will repair it before it collapses one day.
Crossing the old iron bridge. The state of the bridge is really bad with the iron girders rusted through with holes in some areas. I wonder if they will repair it before it collapses one day.
Sitting on the upper level. If you wanted to sit along the lower level and have a view of the river below, you need to make reservations.
Sitting on the upper level. If you wanted to sit along the lower level and have a view of the river below, you need to make reservations.
Looking at the old iron bridge from the restaurant.
Looking at the old iron bridge from the restaurant.
Our fine dining dinner. It costs around SGD50 for 2 persons.
Our fine dining dinner. It costs around SGD50 for 2 persons inclusive of tax and service charges.
Quite romantic at night.
The restaurant is built onto the side of the valley and looks quite romantic at night.

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.

You can walk around the lotus pond in front of Pura Taman Saraswati temple. This is just behind lotus Café.
You can walk around the lotus pond in front of Pura Taman Saraswati temple. This is just behind Lotus Café.
Watching a cultural performance from our table while having dinner.
Watching a cultural performance from our table while having dinner.

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.

Pray

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.

Pura Taman Saraswati at night. It's usually lighted every night for cultural performances.
Pura Taman Saraswati at night. It’s usually lighted every night for cultural performances.
The guardian of the entrance to the temple gate.
The guardian at the entrance of the temple gate.
The Royal Palace was rather disappointing in my opinion. Most of it is closed off to the public, and absolutely packed with tourists.
The Royal Palace was rather disappointing in my opinion. Most of it is closed off to the public, and the parts that are opened are absolutely packed with tourists. But cultural performances are held here usually in the evening, so you may want to check out their schedule.

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.

At the start of the Kecak dance. The only light is from the burner in the center.
At the start of the Kecak dance. The only light is from the burner in the center and the men arrange themselves in concentric circles around it.
The priest goes around blessing the performers with holy water.
The priest goes around blessing the performers with holy water.
The dancers have elaborate makeup and costumes.
The men start chanting and the dancers appear wearing elaborate makeup and costumes.
The story is usually of the battle between Prince Rama and Hanuman (Monkey God) against the evil King Ravana.
The story come from the Ramayana and is usually of the battle between Prince Rama and Hanuman (Monkey God) against the evil King Ravana.
At the end of the performance, they started burning a pile of coconut husks in the center. I wonder what's going on.
At the end of the performance, the men started burning a pile of coconut husks in the center. I wonder what’s going on.
Suddenly a guy rushes out and starts kicking the burning husks with his bare feet! Ouch!
Suddenly a guy rushes out and starts kicking the burning husks around with his bare feet! Ouch! The helpers gather back the burning husks into a pile and he kicks it again, repeatedly.
Look at his blackened feet. He seems to be in a trance from the looks of it.
After a few rounds of kicking burning husks, look at his blackened feet. He seems to be in a trance from the looks of it. I think it’s something similar to fire walking where the people will go into a trance before they walk on hot embers.
The priest concludes the performance and thanks everyone for coming.
The priest concludes the performance and thanks everyone for coming. Well wishers can donate money to the guy who was kicking the burning husks.

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.

Love

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.

We arrived late at night. the room and bed was really a welcome sight.
We arrived late at night. The room and bed was really a welcome sight.
Breakfast in the morning with a cup of Balinese coffee stirred with a cinnamon stick. How nice.
Breakfast in the morning with a cup of Balinese coffee stirred with a cinnamon stick. How nice.
Our Treetop suite with it's valley view. We could hear the soft roar of the river flowing below.
Our Treetop suite with it’s valley view. We could hear the soft roar of the river flowing below.
We didn't eat the fresh fruits basket, but the squirrels did. Trying to see if there's a Bear Grylls in me.
We didn’t eat from the fresh fruits basket, but the squirrels did. And I’m trying to see if there’s a Bear Grylls in me, but the squirrels were too smart to fall for that.
The resort is set in a Balinese garden setting.
The resort is set in a Balinese garden setting.
I found myself a spot for some astrophotography while exploring the resort compound.
I found myself a spot for some astrophotography and Milky Way shooting while exploring the resort compound.
A dawn view of Campuhan Ridge, a popular hiking route.
A dawn view of Campuhan Ridge, a popular hiking route (more on it below).

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 small sign says 'Going to the Hill'
The small sign says ‘Going to the Hill’ with arrow pointing left. It’s kind of covered by the bushes now.
We cross a small bridge over the ravine with the gushing river below.
We cross a small bridge over the ravine with the gushing river below.
The path runs along the side of Pura Gunung Lebah temple.
The path runs along the side of Pura Gunung Lebah temple.
The temple is not opened to tourists but you can see the intricate architecture from outside.
The temple is not opened to tourists but you can see the intricate meru tiers from outside.
Climbing up the side of Campuhan Ridge, we can see our resort on the opposite side of the valley.
Climbing up the side of Campuhan Ridge, we can see our resort on the opposite side of the valley.
The route continues for 9km inwards. We didn't go all the way as we going to watch the Kecak dance later.
The route continues for 9km inwards. We didn’t go all the way as we going to watch the Kecak dance later. There are a lot of hikers and joggers along this path.
A moment of solitude as we had the whole ridge to ourselves.
A moment of solitude as we had the whole ridge to ourselves. The path goes on and on.
A nice time to meditate and be alone.
A nice time to meditate and be alone.

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’.

One of the signs that points to the rice fields. They are not very obvious and look like many of the other commercial signs. I think part of the fun and adventure is looking for these signs.
One of the signs that points to the rice fields. They are not very obvious and look like many of the other commercial signs along the streets. I think part of the fun and adventure is looking for these signs.
Once you walk behind the main part of town, you will be in quiet residential areas. More hard to find signs abound.
Once you walk behind the main part of town, you will find yourself in quiet residential areas. More hard to find signs abound. We missed this sign and walked into someone’s house.
So we continues along a narrow path, sharing it with motorbikes coming 2 ways.
So we continued along a narrow path, sharing it with motorbikes coming 2 ways.
Once we got past the houses, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of the rice fields. I see someone that looks like Julia Roberts in the distance...
Once we got past the houses, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of the rice fields, and I see someone that looks like Julia Roberts in the distance…

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.

Rice terraces can be seen if you continue walking further inwards.
Rice terraces can be seen if you continue walking further inwards.
Cycling and Vespa tours like to come here.
Cycling and Vespa tours like to come here.
A brief stop for refreshments before we head back to town.
A brief stop for refreshments before we head back to town. We came here after 11am and it was blazing hot.
This shy guy was bathing in one of the irrigation canals that water the rice fields.
This shy guy was bathing in one of the irrigation canals that water the rice fields.
A new luxury homestay just newly built in the middle of the rice fields. You need to drag your luggage in here through the rice fields or hire a motorbike to bring you in.
A new luxury homestay just newly built in the middle of the rice fields. You need to drag your luggage in here through the rice fields or hire a motorbike to bring you in.
Cattle egrets flock to the farmers who till the soil for planting as it stirs up the worms and frogs which then become easy pickings for the birds.
Cattle egrets flock to the farmers who till the soil for planting as it stirs up the worms and frogs which then become easy pickings for the birds.
We exited the rice fields through the road that comes out beside Starbucks. Have you ever seen a motorbike with a penis?
We exited the rice fields through the road that comes out beside Starbucks. Have you ever seen a motorbike with a penis?

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.

Shopping

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.

We passed by this street market next to Ubud Market.
We passed by this street market next to Ubud Market.
The street market.
The street market.

Learn Some Handicraft Skills

Besides shopping, you can also take a course in handicrafting, like this Balinese mask workshop.
Besides shopping, you can also take a course in handicrafting, like this workshop teaching tourists how to craft Balinese masks.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Attend a yoga or meditation class and find your Chakra. Omm!
  3. White water rafting along the Ayung River.
  4. ATV riding.
  5. Mountain biking down the slopes of a volcano. I’ve never tried this, but it sounds exciting, not to mentioned potentially bone breaking.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

3 thoughts on “Ubud, Part 1/2 Eat Pray Love

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s