Ubud, Bali, is probably Indonesia’s most famous spiritual centre. As Julia Roberts discovers in Eat Pray Love, (which bookshops in Bali show, is still a huge plug for the destination) the town is an idyllic getaway from the stresses of everyday life. Massages are cheap and plentiful, good food in abundance, and the focus on traditional arts and crafts allows you to explore a hobby you may never know existed.
My boyfriend and I visited Bali last month, staying in the resort town of Seminyak. However, with the island being so small, many destinations are easily reachable within a couple of hours. So, one day, we decided to escape the sandy beaches (!) and head into Bali’s heartland: the idyllic uplands of Ubud.
Getting to Ubud is relatively easy. If you’ve got money to spare, most tour companies will arrange transport and perhaps even a guide for you too. However, if you prefer to explore the town on your own (or are penniless students, like us), there are other, cheaper ways to get there. Taxis cost a fraction of the price they do in the UK, so this is always an option too. We opted instead to use the Kura-Kura bus, a shuttle service that operates its mini-van-like buses around the main tourist areas of Bali – Seminyak, Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua, South Nusa, and Ubud. For just a trip to Ubud, the ticket price is 120K IDR, however we worked out that it was actually cheaper and more benefical to get a 3-day pass for 150K IDR. This way you don’t need to worry about getting a ticket to the bus bay, which is where most of the lines (excluding Seminyak) start and end. It also means that you can have another 2 days to explore the rest of Bali hassle-free!
The Kura-Kura buses have wi-fi and air-conditioning, and as far as we can report, were relatively on time. In fact, the early bus to Ubud goes from Seminyak at 7:15, so was perfect for our trip. Be warned though – looking through the companies twitter did show that a lot of their buses can be late or diverted due to religious festivals. Luckily, this never affected us, but is something worth checking if you are sticking to a rigid schedule.
The first stop for us in Ubud was the popular Holy Monkey Forest. Filled with hundreds of adorable monkeys and many spectacular Hindi temples, it’s no surprise that this place is a hit with tourists. Thanks to previous research we knew to get there early, which is a tip that I strongly pass on. We got there about 9am, which may sound too early for some, but by the time we left around two hours later the forest was definitely a great deal busier. It was rather relaxing to share the forest with just a handful of tourists in the early hours…not to mention the heat and humidity of the forest that only increases as the day goes on!
Entrance to the forest is 50K IDR and is well worth it. You will also get chance to purchase bananas from local vendors inside to feed to the monkeys, however I’m not sure entirely how I feel about this so we opted not to. Whilst having a monkey crawl all over you may make a great photo, you need to remember that we are invading their natural home. My boyfriend and I chose to keep our distance from the monkeys (especially the baby ones, as hard as this was!) and observe from afar. My prior research also unveiled some horror stories of people getting bitten or scratched by angry monkeys, a chance we were not keen to take. From what we observed, if you didn’t have food, a visible water bottle, and kept your distance, the monkeys paid you no attention whatsoever.
Coffee and Shopping
By the time we left the Monkey Forest it was just the right time for a mid-morning beverage, and thankfully Ubud is famous for its coffee. If you follow the road round from the forest, you will soon find yourself immersed in the best that the town has to offer in terms of food, drink and shopping, along a road heading directly to its beautiful temples.
We escaped the muggy morning and headed for a cosy looking cafe, ordered iced coffee, Indonesia’s famous black rice pudding, and granola and fruit. Cafe Maha was reasonably priced, and the whole lot came to (the equivalent of) under £7 in total.
Next…shopping! Of course, Ubud has the usual tourist-aimed stalls filled with postcards, patterned trousers, and key-chains galore. However, it really is legendary for its arts and crafts, and this is what I wanted to buy. Thankfully, the Ubud art market has an abundance of handmade and unique art pieces that are a small dent to even a students wallet. I managed to pick up a beautiful hand-painted scene for about £12. I probably could have haggled the price down, but after playing with the stall-owners adorable children I was happy to pay the asking price.
Temples, temples, temples, museum
The art market is ideally located just across the road from the Ubud Palace, and a short walk from the towns other temples and the Museum Puri Lukisan. Whilst the Palace wasn’t open when we were there, I am told that some beautiful dance performances usually take place there if that is something you are interested in.
The temples however, were available, and are also free to visit. Both men and women are required to be modestly dressed before entering them though, but if you do forget then complimentary sarongs are provided. The temples are a great place to embrace fully the serenity of the town, and a chance to appreciate the detail that goes into creating such a beautiful place. This was definitely the place where I took the most photos, that’s for sure!
Along the same road is also Museum Puri Lukisan, the oldest art museum in Bali which specialises in modern traditional Balinese paintings and wood carvings. However, at 75K IDR entry, if art isn’t your thing this can probably be dropped from the itinerary. We did get a discount with the Kura-Kura bus ticket, paying 120K IDR in total, and the ticket does get you a free drink each at the cafe. Although, I can’t say that we got our money’s worth. It may have been that we were perhaps tired and the heat had worn us down even more, but I probably spent more time standing in front of the fans instead of looking at the actual art-work! The museum grounds are beautiful though, so perhaps even just a visit to the cafe is advisable. Enjoying an ice-cold lemonade in an expertly designed garden was the highlight of our museum visit, although I’m not quite sure if that’s a good or bad thing.
For anyone who’s visited South East Asia, you’ll know how much they love to promote a massage. The whole holiday we’d been used to saying no, politely shaking our heads, and carrying on down the street. However, with some time to kill in Ubud, we decided to go ahead and take someone up on their offer…and at £3 for a 30 minute head/back massage, you can’t go wrong. Like most places in Bali, the street-side massage parlors are available pretty much at every other door. Take some time to find a good deal though – for example, shops just outside major attractions will charge more than those just a five minute walk away. After settling on a place, we decided to waste 30 mins being truly pampered. What are holidays for anyway?
Campuhan Ridge Walk
The ridge walk is best done later in the day, hence why we decided to wait a little and get a massage before commencing the trail. Initially getting to the walk is actually rather tricky, and we ended up in the grounds of some resort by accident, much to the delight of one angry member of staff. To get there, you basically need to follow the road down past the museum and keep going until it veers sharply off to the left. Here, there will be a steep driveway which you walk down, and you will see yet another temple. Signs to a cafe and consequently the walk signal the start of the Campuhan Ridge Walk.
Even though we waited until later to complete the walk, we were still pretty tired and hot, so unfortunately did not complete the whole trail. However, from what I’ve researched I’m pretty sure we covered the main section…i.e, the part where all the photos are from. The walk offers some sweeping views of Ubud’s traditional landscape, and the breeze on a hot day is always welcome too. Even if you are short on time, I’d still recommend getting out on the ridge even if for just 20 minutes or so. It shows a side of Ubud and more importantly Bali that contrasts so much with the beach-side resorts which tourists are often used to seeing.
Hands down, Cafe Lotus is the best place to eat in Ubud. We’d spied the restaurant on our visit to the temple earlier in the day, and I was instantly sold on it’s serene surroundings and the fact that you get to sit on the floor when you eat, Asian-style. Whilst the prices may be a little more than what you usually pay in Bali (and the portion sizes considerably smaller), it’s still a fraction of the price you’d pay for an experience like this in the West.
They offer traditional Balinese cuisine, as well as Western favorites too. I had the chicken satay and my boyfriend had a lamb burger, which we were both happy with. The dining area overlooks the lovely lotus pond and the nearby temple, which also means that the restaurant cannot serve beef. We still only paid around 250K IDR in total, which also included drinks and a tip, and was certainly an ideal way to end a great day out in Ubud. The spiritual town is a place that will always hold a place in my heart, and now also my photo album!