As many of you may know, I recently visited Bali, Indonesia, and I wanted to put together a little series about my time there. I visited Ubud, the Gili Islands and Seminyak. I’m going to start by telling you about Ubud, which was my first and last stop.
Ubud is located in the Gianyar region of Bali and is surrounded by lush rice paddies. It is often thought of as the culture centre of Bali and was brought to the mainstream following the release of Eat, Pray, Love. It’s around an hour and a half from Denpasar Airport and about the same amount of time from the nearest port, where boats go to other ports in Bali and to the Gili Islands. It is a hub of yoga, spas and vegetarian food, ideal if you’re looking for a retreat to relax in. However it is in no means boring; there’s a lot to see and do locally and within short driving distances including temples, museums, waterfalls and many other natural sights.
The first place I stayed was called Sapodilla. It’s a beautiful little hotel close to the centre of Ubud and is genuinely the best place I have ever stayed in the world! It’s right off a main road but feels like a peaceful little area of tranquillity; you’d never know you were so close to the centre once you step into the grounds. The staff were incredible and nothing was too much trouble; they learned my name straight away and it felt so friendly. We liked it so much we asked to go back at the end of the holiday but unsurprisingly they were fully booked. Rooms were a really reasonable price and I would 100% stay there again if I returned to Ubud in the future.
The second place was a hotel called Anumana, which is right next to the Monkey Forest. The location was great and they have a little shuttle running into the city and back throughout the day although it’s really not far to walk; I never needed to use it. They also offered a lot of different tours and services including massages. It’s bigger than the Sapodilla was but the pool area was still quiet and the staff were really friendly. Although we were disappointed that we couldn’t return to the Sapodilla, Anumana was definitely a great replacement.
What to do:
- Monkey Forest: One of the main things Ubud is known for is the Monkey Forest. It’s really cheap to get in, around £2.50, and is a great way to spend a couple of hours. The forest itself is really pretty, there’s lots of lovely scenery and intricate little buildings. As the name suggests, there are hundreds of monkeys, I think I read on a sign that it’s around 700 of all ages including tiny little babies! Top tip: don’t take anything with you that you aren’t prepared to lose! They are very adept at spotting food and drink from a mile off and can open bags with ease. There are signs telling you what to do if one jumps on you including staying still and calm and not making a lot of noise. As somebody who had a very large monkey jump on them, I can confirm that this is much easier said than done! Despite being a little nervous after this, I did visit a second time when I had a free afternoon and it was still a lot of fun. There’s also a little free shuttle bus running from the town centre to the forest which goes every 15 minutes or so and is free, so it’s really accessible.
- Puri Sawaswati Temple: This temple is easy to get to as it is in the centre of the main town and entry is free. It’s really pretty and has ponds either side of the entrance walk full of lotus flowers. They also often have traditional dance performances there in the evening. You can’t go further than the first part unless dressed appropriately for entering a temple so I didn’t go past this point. I wouldn’t suggest going totally out of your way to go there, but if you’re in the centre of Ubud it’s definitely worth a little visit.
- Campuhan Ridge Walk: This walk is so beautiful! If you walk the full circle it can take up to a few hours, but most people walk to a certain point called Karsa Café, stop for a drink and turn back. I chose this option – it’s very, very hot so despite being a pretty easy walk during cooler times of the day it can get tough during the hottest parts. I would definitely recommend going in the morning. The scenery is so pretty and as you get closer to the café’s and home stays there’s a few little stalls selling art. The Karsa Café is a lovely space to stop and have a drink even if you aren’t going to turn around at this point. It’s got beautiful grounds with lots of ponds full of lotus flowers and fish, and you can buy little bags of fish food for about 25p. There’s a little rope swing near the beginning too which makes for some cute insta photos.
- Petulu: Petulu is a little village around half an hour outside of the centre of Ubud. Every night up to thousands of heron reportedly flock to a particular tree which is quite a spectacle. You have to pay around £2 to get into the village then go to a little viewing platform which is a few plastic chairs and a stall selling drinks. When I visited there was approximately 30 herons so it certainly wasn’t the experience I had been led to believe it would be! Other people who have visited report seeing hundreds of them so it’s just a bit of a gamble as to whether they turn up or not. The views from the platform over the rice field were really pretty and I saw an amazing sunset so I definitely don’t regret going, but if you do choose to go be prepared that you might not actually see any birds.
- Bali Swing: There are a lot of swings across Bali and from what I can gather this is one of the more expensive sites. It’s around half an hour outside of Ubud centre and can get very, very busy in the day with queues of up to an hour or so. I went in the late afternoon and barely had to queue for anything at all. It was one of the more expensive things we did but it was really fun! There’s 10 swings of different heights and the guys working there are happy to take loads of good photos. They know all the best angles to get some amazing shots for Instagram! The biggest of the swings is not ideal for photos as you have an unsightly red harness around your waist but it’s a lot of fun. From what I’ve read they are a little stricter about the time you can be on the swing for although you can use them as many times as you like, but as it was a little quieter when I went they were pretty flexible. There are also some cute little birds’ nests to sit in and get some nice photos. There’s also an option of going in but not going on the swings which is much cheaper so if you’re with somebody who doesn’t want a go they can still come with you.
- Tegalalang Rice Terrace: This is another amazing place to go for a walk. It’s not expensive and the views are phenomenal. You can walk all through the terraces for as long as you like; again I’d recommend going early due to the heat. There are guides around who will offer to take you around the terraces for a fee though it’s perfectly doable without using one. There’s also a lot of swings here where you can get some nice photos and unlike the Bali Swing the price is negotiable.
- Ubud Market: The market is a great place to get some cheap souvenirs; it’s full of clothes, homewares, little bits of jewellery and other miscellaneous bits and pieces like keyrings and dreamcatchers. Prices are fully negotiable and if you’re buying more than one thing you can often get a pretty good deal, so if you’re going with somebody else make sure you plan ahead and combine your purchases! Top tip: the shops downstairs receive more foot traffic so are sometimes less interested in driving a hard bargain; the shops upstairs often offer better prices for the same goods.
- Cat Café: The Ubud Cat Café was a strange experience. They didn’t really have anything that was advertised on the menu and didn’t have any cat treats which was disappointing. The cats all looked healthy and were really friendly. The food was pretty awful but I guess you aren’t going there for the food! If you’re a fully fledged cat lady like me then it’s a fun half an hour or so in the afternoon, but don’t go out of your way to go there.
- Spa Treatment: There are a tonne of little spas lining the roads in the centre of Ubud with very reasonable prices. Why not treat yourself to a manicure or a massage?
- White Water Rafting: I went with a company called Mason Adventures as they had great reviews and they didn’t disappoint, the guides were loads of fun and really professional and the rafting was so good! The scenery was incredible too. You have to walk down around 500 steps to get down to the river so it’s a bit of a workout but totally worth it. They do try to encourage you to combine the rafting with a visit to the Elephant Park. I would strongly discourage you from doing this; it is not an ethical park and offers elephant rides all day.
- Cultural Performance: These traditional dances are held every evening at various venues in the centre of Ubud including temples and restaurants. I watched a Kecak Fire and Trance Dance which was excellent. I’d highly recommend going to one of these performances.
Where to eat and drink:
- Maha: In the centre not far from the Monkey Forest is a little café called Maha. I didn’t eat there but the drinks were nice though nothing special. The thing that makes visiting here worthwhile is that they have a little garden out the back where some bunnies live! You can see their warrens in the garden and if you’re lucky you will see a couple running around.
- Swept Away: This is the most expensive restaurant I visited by Bali standards, however if you are used to eating out in the UK the prices are very reasonable; I think we spent around £50 for two mains, a dessert and four cocktails. It’s set in the grounds of a luxury villa complex and you get in a little golf buggy from reception which takes you all the way to the bottom of the site next to a river. There are heart structures lit up with candles on the path heading towards the restaurant and you sit on a platform right on the river bank. They had a whole separate vegetarian menu which was great however a lot of it contained parmesan or prawn crackers so I’m not entirely convinced about how vegetarian it actually was! The food was very nice and there was a lovely atmosphere.
- Karsa Café: I’ve mentioned Karsa Café already but it is definitely worth a visit if you’re nearby!
- Batubara: This is a little Argentinian barbecue place and is rated as one of the best in Ubud. Obviously being a barbecue it isn’t catered to vegetarian food but I had amazing grilled vegetables and they have lots of sides including fries, bean dishes and empanadas. The chef personally comes to chat to everyone and even ran out to say goodbye to us as we were leaving! A must visit if you’re a meat eater and definitely still accessible if you’re not.
- Panorama: A nice little bar to visit looking out onto the road; a great spot for people watching with a yummy cocktail.
Things you should know:
- Bali is a predominantly Hindu island. Each morning you will find hundreds of little boxes called Canang Sari filled with flowers and offerings covering the pavements. Be careful not to step on or over them whilst the incense is burning!
- If you want to visit many of the temples, you must be dressed appropriately which includes wearing a traditional sarong and sash; you can often rent these. You cannot visit with any open wounds or when menstruating.
- You must ask before taking a photograph of somebody; I’m sure this goes without saying but it’s rude to photograph people without their permission!
- Locals will try to sell you things frequently including taxi rides and various wares. These ‘taxis’ are often just a guy with a bike although this can be a relatively cheap way of getting around with a bit of negotiation. A polite “no thank you” will usually suffice if you’re not interested.
- If you are anywhere near the Monkey Forest, you will find monkeys in the streets. The forest isn’t a zoo, they can come and go as they please and they can often be found eating the offerings in the Canang Sari. The same rules apply as within the forest – hold onto your stuff, try not to eat or drink anything within their eyesight unless you’re prepared to lose it, and don’t look them directly in the eye. Mostly they will be completely unbothered by you, but I did have to throw the remains of my ice cream to one to avoid it being forcibly taken!
- Vegetarian and vegan food can be found in abundance in Ubud! I also saw a fair amount of gluten free options. If you have dietary requirements you may have to look a little harder when deciding where to eat, but as a vegetarian I didn’t have any difficulties in eating delicious food every night.
- When shopping at the market and other little stalls, bartering is expected and can actually be a lot of fun. Prices are inflated with this in mind. However, please bear in mind that what is pennies for you can be a significant amount of money to locals. By all means strike a deal, but don’t take the mickey. It could be the difference between somebody being able to buy food that week or not.
- Ubud is an incredibly friendly place and a smile and polite conversation goes a long way! I am a little conditioned to think that if people are talking to me it’s because they want something, especially coming from the South of England where we notoriously don’t talk to strangers. But as with many other places in South East Asia, people just like to have a chat!
- Traffic, though much less chaotic than in other South East Asian cities, is still busy and unpredictable. Be careful when crossing the roads.
As you can see, some of the best things to do are either super cheap or completely free! Hopefully this is a useful little guide but there are so many more amazing activities, things to see and places to eat that I didn’t get the chance to experience. I left Ubud after a week to move on and loved it so much that I made a spontaneous return a few days later!
Check out my Instagram for more photos and I hope you’ll return for my next post about the Gili Islands!