Back in June I spent 5 wonderful days in the centre of Ubud in Bali and completely fell in love with the place. From its penchant for healthy-living to the beautiful lush green surroundings to the wonderful people I’ve never been anywhere that had quite so much of an impact on me. I still think about Indonesia all of the time and while I plot a way to get back there I wanted to share my top tips on what to do, where to eat and where to stay to get the best out of this incredible place.
WHAT TO DO
Learn a new skill
Yoga is big in Ubud. Not a yogi myself I thought it was probably the perfect place to give it a go and so I went to what’s probably the most well-known and popular place for classes – Yoga Barn. Okay it’s a bit hipster and I can’t say I’m a total convert but my experience was more similar to doing a hot yoga class than the normal beginner session I wanted because in case you didn’t know Bali is like 40 degrees Celsius at all times with a humidity well above what is comfortable. Trying to hold a plank for 2 minutes whilst a bead of sweat literally dripped down my nose is my lasting memory of that class. However the studio and atmosphere is all quite lovely and you can treat yourself to a fresh drink afterwards from the on-site juice bar. I hear the Garden Cafe is also excellent if you have the time to check it out.
Another great thing to do is to take a class of some kind to learn a new traditional Balinese skill. This is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of Bali whilst also supporting the local people who often run the classes. One of the most popular classes you can take is Balinese Cooking, which is hardly surprising considering how delicious the food here is, but you can also try your hand at dancing and painting. My Balinese painting class was with Yogi and her father who are from a family of traditional Balinese painters (aparrently her grandfather even has a museum dedicated to him nearby!). I really couldn’t recommend the experience enough if you’re into painting. The techniques are so interesting – you learn how to paint with a bamboo stick – and the hosts are just lovely.
Bali is the land of the spa and if you’re coming from somewhere like Australia, Europe or the US it’s an even bigger reason to come here because everything is so cheap. I genuinely met Australians who go to Bali yearly just to indulge in the phenomenon that is the $12 massage (that’s a measly £6). And that’s for an hour long session and probably at the top end, I saw massages, rose petal baths with rice terrace views and sauna sessions for as low as £4 in some places! Really your only problem might be which establishment to pump for because I’d say half of the buildings in the main streets of Ubud are dedicated to spas.
Although I forewent the massages (just not a big fan of having a stranger prod my naked body to be honest) I did indulge in a little luxury with a trip to Jungle Fish which has a stunning infinity pool overlooking the jungle that you can relax in for an entire day for a mere $10 (£5). It’s great if you want to stay in a homestay in the centre of Ubud because a lot of them don’t have pools – but their location absolutely makes up for it. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see my homestay recommendation.
There should be a warning given to people before they visit Ubud which is that everything looks like a temple. In fact I found it extremely hard to tell what was a temple and what was someone’s homestay, which involved me walking into a lot of places where I wasn’t supposed to be (everywhere keeps their doors open!) If you don’t want to be like me then the best place to start is with a temple you can’t miss – the Ubud Palace.
This is the official residence of the royal family of Ubud. I believe that they do still live there as some of it is out of bounds. If you’re lucky you might get to catch a glimpse of some of the local children being taught traditional Balinese dancing, which is what happened when I was there. If that’s not the case though never fear because, like most of the temples in Ubud, they have regular evening performances. All you need to do is purchase a ticket either on the door or from a street vendor who’ll be outside the temple for most of the day on those evenings. There’s a general list that details all of the days, times and locations of shows in the area which I was given by my hosts but if you aren’t ask your accommodation provider for the information as I think it’s pretty much general knowledge.
Barter at the markets
Ubud Market is the constantly buzzing heart of the area. It has a huge undercover area but also spills out into the surrounding streets where, thankfully there is usually a little more room to manoeuvre. It can get a little overwhelming as the stallholders constantly try to beckon you over and it’s not easy to browse without getting pressured to buy. If the thought of all this stresses you out my advice is to approach the stalls where the owners are already pre-occupied with other customers or where there are a lot of people crowded around browsing as you’re more likely to be left alone.
Either way a trip to Ubud isn’t complete without visiting the market. This is one of the most authentic tastes of local life you can get and is the perfect place to pick up some souvenirs from your trip (maybe not one of the many wooden dildos on sale though – WHY?) There are no prices on offer so be prepared to barter but that’s all part of the fun!
Get acquainted with the locals
…and I’m not talking about the lovely Balinese people but the other Ubud dwellers who spend their days eating bananas and hanging around in trees. A trip to the Sacred Monkey Forest is on most people’s to-do list when they visit this spot of Bali. Who wouldn’t want to spend their afternoon surrounded by hundreds of cute little furry fellas? Although it sounds idyllic these cheeky monkeys are definitely more than some people bargain for, however, if you’re sensible it is possible to have a pleasant time in the Monkey Forest and it’s always thoroughly entertaining watching the antics of the monkeys when they’re not happening to you.
I’m going to tell you straight up that if you don’t want monkeys climbing on you then don’t feed them. There is usually a small stall by the entrance selling bananas to tourists and you’ll notice a huge group of monkeys hang out around the stall (they aren’t stupid). Also move quickly through any areas where there are huge gatherings of monkeys, do not get between the mums and the babies if possible and don’t wear any clothing that could act as a plaything. I learnt this the hard way when a baby monkey started swinging off the bottom of my kimono (to the delight of other tourists and my own horror when I saw it’s mum hissing at me). There was no harm done though, the baby got bored and I promptly tied the ends of my kimono around my waist to avoid becoming the human theme park attraction for the rest of my time.
Am I making it sound terrifying? It’s honestly not. I read so many horror stories about the behaviour of the monkeys in this place before I went but they really won’t bother you unless you provoke them. Plus the beautiful temple and forest area is well worth a visit in it’s own right.
Wander in the rice terraces
Apparently as little as 16 years years ago Ubud was entirely rice paddies and arriving there today you might wonder where all of them have gone. There’s not much sign of them as you walk along the main roads that now make up the centre – just a lot of shops, a lot of traffic and a lot of people (on not a lot of pavement!) However the rice terraces are still there and, in most cases, they’re just hiding behind the main roads you’ve walked down every day. Just off Jl Raya Ubud near the Lotus Cafe you’ll actually find a sign saying “Rice Terrace Walk” and if you take that path you’ll suddenly find yourself transported to the Ubud of years past. As you wander through the paddies you’re guaranteed to feel a million miles away from the loud and frantic centre. In fact when I did this walk I saw a maximum of three other people!
Another popular rice terrace walk is the Campuhan Ridge Walk and convenient if you’re heading to Jungle Fish as this trail takes you all the way to the door from the centre of Ubud You’re likely to see quite a few more tourists on their trail but also a significant amount of locals, especially in the evening or early morning as it’s a popular running route. This is a rice terrace walk with a difference as the first section takes you high above the jungle which an amazing surrounding view and then as you continue to reach the rice paddies. There are also some cute little cafes if you feel the need to stop and grab a drink along the way. Just a warning that there’s no shade along the trail so it’s definitely necessary to wear a hat and take some water. If you can also avoid walking in the heat of the day.
If you fancy venturing further out to see some of the more famous rice terraces like Teglalang you can take a cycling tour that will also take you through Ubud Village. It’s a lot of fun but not a lot like Eat, Pray, Love.
WHERE TO EAT
If there’s one thing that cemented my love for Bali it was the food. Good grief THE FOOD. I’m convinced this might be the best place in the world to be a vegetarian (don’t worry meat eaters there’s a lot for you too!) The best part about all of it is that it’s mostly super healthy with mostly rice and vegetable-based dishes and fruit juices the order of the day. The food combined with the amount of water I drank due to the sheer humidity left me feeling healthier than ever upon leaving Ubud.
Veggie Table was conveniently a 2 minute walk from my homestay on Jl Raya Hanoman but surprisingly it took me a few days before I ventured there. The places has great reviews and it’s easy to see why because the food is awesome. I can recommend the steamed veggies and tofu with oyster mushroom sauce and rice. They also have an amazing selection of juices (I had delicious papaya). It’s a small little place with an intimate vibe but I imagine it can get quite popular at peak times. Be persistent though or book if necessary because it’s worth it!
Located on one of the busiest streets in Ubud and not far from the Sacred Monkey Forest, Maha is the perfect place for a midday lunch stop. From the outside it looks uninteresting but head through to the back and there’s a lovely little garden area where you can sit and enjoy your delicious food in surprising tranquillity. I plumped for the traditional Indonesian dish Gado Gado, a salad of steamed vegetables, egg, tofu and tempeh (where have you been all my life?) served with a peanut satay sauce. You’ll find this popular dish on pretty much every menu in Bali but I can at least recommend the one in Maha!
Also on Jl Raya Hanoman, Kafe is a really popular place because of it’s organic produce, delicious array of desserts and trendy vibe. There are traditional tables inside and out but also a range of sofas and cushioned areas where patrons are encouraged to lounge and relax. Despite it’s aching coolness this is one of those places where the hype is deserved.
Although this place doesn’t seem to be able to decide on it’s name (I’ve seen it written so many ways) the huge amount of options on the veggie menu ensures it’s enduring popularity. It has a special raw vegan section and a range of vegan desserts including an incredible raw chocolate pudding. They also do a famed charcoal bun here if you’re into having your food instagram-ready.
This one’s a little more on the expensive side because it’s along the main Jl Raya Ubud near all the tourist hot-spots. I stopped in here purely because I was suffering cravings for the Bali Buda raw chocolate pudding and couldn’t bring myself to show up there and order it two days running. Instead I opted for iced coffee with chocolate almond torte in Casa Luna. It was a great choice and almost made me forget about the previous day’s delights… almost.
Down to Earth
Another much-talked-about food spot, Down to Earth (sometimes known as just Earth Cafe), is located in a little street just off Jl Raya Hanoman and is particularly interesting because it’s not only a vegetarian and vegan cafe but also has an on-site organic food store and a cinema called Paradiso! There are films every day which normally consist of a late afternoon family film (5pm) and then a later showing (7.30pm). You pay for your ticket and then get a certain amount to spend on food included – you can always order more – which is served to you during the film. One thing I really love about their system is the fact that on Wednesday nights they show the most recent seasons of popular tv shows (currently it’s Stranger Things and when I was there it was Game of Thrones).
WHERE TO STAY
My trip to Bali was intended to be a break from my backpacking lifestyle in Australia and seeing as everything is so cheap in comparison I always intended to stay in my own room somewhere rather than at a hostel. I came across Pangkung House on another traveller’s blog (so sorry I can’t remember who!) but their photos looked lovely and they spoke so highly of it that I booked it up straight away.
It’s unbelievably reasonable. I believe I paid a total of $180 (£90) for 6 nights and had an entire apartment to myself including an en-suite with bath and shower, sitting area inside, and little front porch where I was brought my breakfast every morning (which was included). The owners are unbelievably lovely and arranged to pick me up and drive me to the airport. Also there’s better wifi here than in most places I went to in Australia! It’s also in the ideal location if you don’t intend to hire a scooter, or want to risk your life riding on the back of one, because it’s located on one of the main streets Jl Raya Hanoman and everywhere in this itinerary is within walking distance. I can’t recommend this place highly enough.