Ubud, Part 2/2 Eat See Wonder

So if you were inspired by the book and movie Eat, Pray, Love to visit Ubud, you can read my previous blog which covers Ubud town itself and what you can do there. In this blog, I will cover the surrounding sights outside of Ubud town which can be done in a day tour. You will most probably need to hire some form of transport to get around if you want to do this as those places mentioned here are at least 5km or more from Ubud center.

The places listed in this blog can be covered in a full day, starting at 9am and ending in the evening at 6.30pm. We started out going northwards towards the famous rice terraces at Tegallalang as our first stop. Then proceeding eastwards towards Gunung Kawi and Tirta Empul temples, before going south to Goa Gajah, and ending at Petulu which is slightly north of Ubud.

Tegallalang Rice Terraces

If you’ve been blown away by those postcards of Bali with rice terraces following the contours of the hills, then this is the place. Follow the main road Jalan Raya Tegallalang north until you come to a make shift checkpoint where people will be collecting IDR20,000 per car (legal or not? But they do issue official tickets) to park along the side of the road. Try to arrive early to avoid the crowds. We arrived at 10am and there was already a small traffic jam, as there is only 1 road, 2 way traffic and everyone trying to park at the side. The rice terraces are on the right side of the road.

The majestic Tegallalang rice terraces.
The majestic Tegallalang rice terraces. For better photography, it might be better to come in the evening as the morning Sun was against us.
The 2 side of the valley are covered by the rice terraces making for an incredible sight.
The 2 sides of the valley are covered by the rice terraces making for an incredible sight.
The whole place is very touristy, with cafes and small restaurants lining the road and the side of the hill facing the rice terraces.
The whole place is very touristy, with cafes and small restaurants lining the road and the sides of the hill facing the rice terraces.

You can walk down onto the rice terraces, although I heard that some of the land owners charge tourists a fee to enter their area. For ourselves, we were just contented to just stay on our side and take photos as it was already hot and humid. I would recommend staying here 30 minutes if you are just looking to take photos. 1 hour if you want to take a short hike or sit down and have coffee whilst enjoying the view. It does get crowded and the limited and narrow pathways get congested quickly.

Gunung Kawi Sebatu

From Tegallalang, follow the road north, turn right and the road descends into a valley where you can find Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple. This is a rather small temple that is not frequently visited by tourists. This is evident from the lack of a ‘shopping village’ that is often found in front of the popular temples in Bali. Because of this, I find that this temple still has that originality about it and gives visitors that tranquility and beauty that is associated with Bali.

Visitors pay a IDR15,000 entrance fee which includes the sarong and sash before going in. All visitors to Balinese temples have to wear traditional dress. Since most tourists don’t own Balinese traditional wear, the temples will give out a sash and sarong which is included in the entrance fee. For the popular temples, vendors will be selling sarongs outside the temple and ‘scare’ you that you must buy and wear it otherwise you can’t enter the temple. Of course their price is more expensive, but if you are fussy about personal hygiene and don’t want to have a smelly sarong that has graced the sweaty bodies of hundreds of tourists wrapped around you, then by all means buy one (remember to bargain) and use it for all your temple visits.

The ancient looking gate of the temple.
The ancient looking gate of the temple. The temple was built to honour the Hindu god Vishnu, who rules over water.
Natural spring water feeds the various water pools in the temple.
Natural spring water feeds the various water pools in the temple. Some of the pools are used for ritual bathing and some as fish ponds.
Intricately carved and painted figures from Hindu folklore line the main temple.
Intricately carved and painted figures from Hindu folklore line the main shrine.
A shrine in the middle of the holy pool. No one is allowed to enter this pool except the priest.
A shrine in the middle of the holy spring. No one is allowed to enter this pool except the priest.
In a corner of the temple is the bathing pools where pilgrims ritually bathe and cleanse themselves.
In a corner of the temple are the bathing pools where pilgrims ritually bathe and cleanse themselves. There are 2 pools side by side, one for guys, and one for ladies. Photography is not allowed in here (for obvious reasons), although I did ask permission from these 2 guys first.
I really thought about jumping into the water.
In the hot and humid weather, I really thought about jumping into the water.

I would recommend 30-45 minutes here, unless you want to soak in the pools. The tranquility makes you want to stay longer. We almost had the temple to ourselves except for a handful of tourists.

Tirta Empul

From Gunung Kawi Sebatu it’s a short car ride to Tirta Empul temple. This is one of the holiest temples in Bali, and it’s a really popular place for locals and tourists. This is evident when we arrived and saw the big carpark with all the tourist buses already parked there. Tirta Empul means Holy Spring in Balinese and the temple was built in 960AD around a natural spring which bubbles up from the ground. The entrance fee is IDR15,000 and includes the sarong and sash.

The natural spring which can be seen coming out of the ground, churning the sand.
The natural spring which can be seen coming out of the ground, churning the sand (black areas).
A priest leading a prayer ceremony away from the tourist crowds.
A priest leading a prayer ceremony away from the tourist crowds.
Devotees bow under the water spouts to be blessed.
A tranquil scene as devotees bow under the water spouts to be blessed, as you would have believed.
In reality, the whole place was like a public pool due to the crowds.
In reality, the whole place was like a public pool on a weekend due to the crowds. There are 2 large pools like this in the temple. If you want to enter the pool, you have to rent another type of sarong and sash. The ones given out at the front are not meant for this and cannot be returned wet.

We didn’t spend much time here as it was really crowded. Compared to the much more quieter Gunung Kawi Sebatu, this place was really touristy and you won’t find your inner peace here. Recommended time here is around 30-45 minutes, as the temple grounds are quite big and you can try looking for a quiet corner as the crowds are mostly gathered around the 2 holy pools. There is a small restaurant inside the temple where you can have a meal, otherwise, when you exit the temple, there is the gauntlet of souvenir shops that you have to pass through and you can buy some snacks there. For ourselves, it was still a bit early and we decided to go to our next destination first.

Gunung Kawi Tampaksiring

From Tirta Empul it’s another short drive before reaching Gunung Kawi Tampaksiring. This is a 11th century temple complex built in a valley, and the locals call it the Valley of the Kings. It’s believed that this was built by King Anak Wangsu, but it’s purpose is unknown. Some believe that they are funeral monuments dedicated to the royal family. This is one of the oldest and largest ancient monuments in Bali, and you should not miss it. The entrance fee is IDR15,000, and as this is a temple complex, the sarong and sash is required, and is included when you buy the ticket.

The entrance is at the top of the valley, and you would have to climb down 371 steps to the bottom of the valley. There are proper steps and hand railings, so the climb isn’t tough. Near the top, you will pass by some shops selling souvenirs and refreshments. There also rice terraces along the way, so it’s really a pleasant climb.

With the number of tourists coming here, it's not really 'Off the beaten path'.
With the number of tourists coming here, it’s not really ‘Off The Beaten Track’.
Climbing down is easy. It's the going up that's hard.
Climbing down is easy. It’s the going up that’s hard, especially when the Sun is out and blazing hot.
Rice terraces just beside the steps. You can take a short detour to walk on the terraces.
Rice terraces just beside the steps. You can take a short detour to walk on the terraces.
4 huge monuments are carved into the side of the cliff. They are called 'Candi' and are unique to Balinese culture.
4 huge monuments are carved into the side of the cliff. They are called ‘Candi’ and are unique to Balinese culture.
Crossing over a small stone bridge to the other side of the valley.
Crossing over a small stone bridge to the other side of the valley.
I feel like Indiana Jones exploring a lost valley and discovering a hidden temple.
I feel like I’m Indiana Jones exploring a lost valley and discovering a hidden temple, except there are hundreds of other aspiring explorers around me.
More of the 'Candi' are carved into the other side of the valley.
More of the ‘Candi’ are carved into the other side of the valley. Beside it is an ancient temple carved into the cliff.
These local artists were discussing the history of the place.
These local artists were discussing the history of the place.
The ancient temple carved into the cliff and the modern buildings beside it.
The ancient temple carved into the cliff and the modern temple buildings beside it.

I would recommend spending around 2 hours here to appreciate the ancient wonder of this place. This includes the time to climb down and back up to the top of the valley. By the time we made our way back up, it was already 1pm, and I was sweating like a pig and hungry like a bear. I returned my smelly, sweaty sarong to the guy at the ticket office. Good luck to the next person who uses my sarong.

Eat

There is a warung at Gunung Kawi and most people have their meals there. In the spirit of Eat, Pray, Love, we decided to look for a definitive dining experience. We found it in the form of The Restaurant at Chedi Club. Initially, from the name, I thought this was a country club, but it’s actually a boutique hotel with villas for guests to stay. The Chedi Club is also very near to our next destination, Goa Gajah Temple.

We were shown to the Restaurant which sits in the middle of a rice field. After our tiring climb at Gunung Kawi, it was refreshing to just sit down and be given chilled lemon grass scented towels to wipe ourselves.

The entrance to the Chedi Club Hotel.
The entrance to the Chedi Club Hotel.
Getting to the Restaurant is quite a long walk from the hotel entrance.
Getting to the Restaurant is quite a long walk from the hotel entrance.
They actually have real rice seedlings on the table.
They actually have real rice seedlings on the table.
Fine dining while sitting in a rice field.
Fine dining while sitting in a rice field. Food is Indonesian but served fine dining style. We had nasi goreng, gado gado and ikan panggang.
Yes, I do feel guilty eating while they work in the fields.
Yes, I do feel guilty eating while they work in the fields.
A walk around after our lunch.
A walk around after our lunch. The Restaurant is non-airconditioned like most of the shops in Ubud, but it was cool and airy with a nice breeze blowing through it.

Originally, we thought we would take an hour for lunch, but in the end we spent almost 1.5 hours enjoying the food and walking around the hotel grounds. I think we just found our next vacation spot. The Restaurant isn’t exactly cheap by Bali standards, so only come here if you want to splurge a bit. Our meal cost us almost SGD100 including service and taxes.

Goa Gajah Temple

Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave is one of the more popular temples because of it’s unique feature of a demon mouth cave. You won’t find any elephants here though despite the name of the place. The temple was built in the 11th century and was only excavated in the 1950’s. Evidence also shows that this temple was once a Buddhist site. Again, the entry fee is IDR15,000 and includes a sarong. We arrived around 3.30pm and there was a lull in the tourists buses coming so that it was less crowded.

Goa Gajah as seen from the top at the ticket counter.
Goa Gajah as seen from the top at the ticket counter. You would have to walk down into the small valley to see the cave.
The famous cave entrance.
The famous cave entrance. It is considered to be an elephant’s face hence the name. The cave itself is older than the rest of the temple, dating back to 9th century.
It's a small cave, T-shaped with a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh on the left and 3 lingams on the right.
It’s a small cave, T-shaped with a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh on the left and 3 lingams on the right.
One of 2 pools in the temple complex. These were only excavated in the 1950's.
One of 2 pools in the temple complex. These were only excavated in the 1950’s.

There is a path round the temple that goes further into rice fields and the river, although by now we were too tired to think about walking further. I would recommend 30 minutes to an hour for this place. In our case, we spent more than that just to wait till evening before going to our next stop.

Petulu Heron Colony

Just north of Ubud is the village of Petulu. This is a one road village and you can just follow Jalan Raya Andong from Ubud (this is the same road that goes to Tegallalang), until you see the sign with a white heron and turn left into Jalan Raya Petulu. Just keep going until a make shift checkpoint where the villagers collect IDR20,000 per person to enter the village. Although it may seem mercenary to collect fees to enter their village, the money goes into the building and maintenance of a watching platform and the inconvenience of dealing with tourists trooping though their village.

If you’ve been to the rice fields in Ubud, you would have noticed the many herons and egrets that feed there. So where do they go at night? The answer is right here in Petulu. Legend has it that they first appeared in 1966 during the time of the anti-communist purge when thousands of suspected communist sympathizers were killed. In Bali itself, it was estimated that 80,000 people were executed within 2 weeks. The village of Petulu held a ceremony to remember the dead and soon after these birds started to appear in the village. It’s believed that the birds are the souls of the people who were killed.

Depending on the time of year, be there by 5.30pm or earlier. The herons will start to fly in as the sun sets. In August, they started coming by 5.30pm. Every evening they will gather here, and in the morning they will fly off to the rice fields again. For this visit, I recommend that you ask your driver to wait for you, because it will be dark after sunset and not easy to find transport back to Ubud.

The simple village life in Petulu.
The simple village life in Petulu. There’s just a single road running through the village and houses line both sides of the road.
The watching platform is hard to find. You can identify it by the colourful flags outside and it's next to house No.52.
The watching platform is hard to find. You can identify it by the colourful flags outside and it’s next to house No.52. The guys at the ticket checkpoint just told us to walk 200m and find the house. It was more like 400m and we walked into someone’s house only to be chased out by their guard dog.
People were already there, although it's not really crowded. This is one activity where you don't have tourist buses coming.
We were there by 5pm and people were already there, although it’s not really crowded. This is one activity where you don’t have tourist buses coming. Drinks are on sale here if you are thirsty. Besides this watching platform there is another small house beside a rice field further down the road where you can stay to watch the herons.
One side of the watch platform faces the rice fields making for nice sunset view.
One side of the watch platform faces the rice fields making for a nice sunset view. We sat down and waited for the herons to appear.
Flocks of herons and egrets started flying in.
Flocks of herons and egrets started flying in around 5.30pm. There would be some excitement as a big flock appeared over the horizon.
You won't see thousands, but they come in scores and gather on the trees.
You won’t see thousands, but they come in scores and gather on the trees around the village.
Very soon one of the trees near the watching platform was filled with these majestic birds.
Very soon one of the trees near the watching platform was filled with these majestic birds.
They started fighting for prime nesting spots. With the early birds chasing away the late comers.
They started fighting for prime nesting spots. With the early birds chasing away the late comers.
August isn't the peak season but there are still thousands of these birds around.
August isn’t the peak season but there are still thousands of these birds around.
The best time where their numbers are highest is October to March which coincides with their breeding season.
The best time when their numbers are highest is October to March which coincides with their breeding season.

It’s quite soothing and meditative to watch the birds fly in and gather for the evening. They seem to be rather selective and only certain types of trees are chosen, with many of them fighting off late comers coming to take their place. By 6.30pm it was starting to get dark and we decided to leave. Walking back to our car, we had to be careful while walking under trees which were now filled with hundreds of birds. Patches of slimy splatters on the ground indicated that getting hit by bird poo was a very distinct possibility and we hurried past these patches while covering our heads. As our car drove back to Ubud, I could see hundreds of herons gathering above the trees along the way.

Well, this is a general idea for a day tour in Ubud which visits most of the major sights. You can add or delete places based on your interest. If you are interested in Petulu, then it should be the last destination on your list since it’s quite time specific. Otherwise, if you hate birds, you can go to Ubud earlier for dinner and catch a cultural performance (normally starts at 7.30pm).

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