To kick off 2018 properly, I went to Bali for 9 days. Despite having been to Bali many times before, Ubud is the one place I had always wanted to visit but never got the chance. I had heard great things about Ubud and a quick search revealed plenty of exciting activities and places, so we allocated an entire week just for staying in Ubud.
Here is what I’ve discovered from that week:
An Overview of Ubud
Located in the mountainous region of the island, Ubud is known as the center of arts and crafts of Bali. The city is hardly “new” or undiscovered – in fact, it is a haven for visitors. All the infrastructure that caters to tourism is already well established here – locals speak fluent English, there are many villas and hotels to choose from, lots of activities to do, places to visit and plenty of meal choices from the vegan organic cafes to authentic local food. Best of all, the costs are also still relatively affordable.
Where to stay in Ubud
We stayed at a villa called Mule Sayana Villas and I would highly recommend them. Everything was exactly as pictured – a one bedroom villa with attached spacious bathroom and private pool, a small shed in the garden where you can chill while looking out to the vast rice fields that surround this villa. However the downside is that it’s very secluded, it takes about 15-20 mins by motorbike to the central part of Ubud each way. It might not seem like much now but if you have to do this every day, it gets a bit old. But still, I loved my stay at the villa.
How to get around in Ubud
Ubud (and the rest of Bali, really) is best enjoyed on a motorbike. Most the roads in Bali are quite narrow so you’ll mostlikely to encounter some traffic jam. It’s easier to navigate through the jams on a bike. Renting bikes in Bali is very common for tourists and quite affordable – it only cost you Rp 60,000 – 70,000 / day, and fuel is about Rp 30,000 for a full tank.
Aside from the bikes, while there are ride sharing services like Uber and Grab (the local competitor of Uber), they don’t seem to be very well received in Bali – you can see many anti-Uber/Grab signs throughout the island – and the legality is still questionable in Indonesia. It’s fine to use them for longer journeys (We used Grab from our villa in Seminyak to Ubud) but your best bet for a short distance transport if you don’t want to bike is probably a taxi or hire a private driver.
Map of Ubud – Attractions and Restaurants
For your convenience, I’ve made a map of all the restaurants and activities I will mention throughout this article.
What to do in Ubud Central
Goa Gajah means “Elephant Cave” in Indonesian. It might be worth getting a guide here since there is no explanation whatsoever inside. We didn’t, and I had no idea what the place is about until I read up after. Outside the place, there will be ladies trying to sell you sarongs which you have to wrap around the lower half of your body before going in to the temple. You could buy from them, or you can just use the cloth they rent out at the entrance of the temple. The sarongs are prettier but you shouldn’t pay more than Rp 30,000 for them – you have to haggle a bit for this price. At first I thought we got ripped off buying sarongs here, but we ended up using it a lot on the trip (as sun protection while biking, or as an extra layer at other temples) that I think it was a worthy purchase.
Campuhan Ridge Walk
This is a short and very very easy walk (well-paved) with an abundance of greeneries around the trail. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to go to the end of the ridge and then back, but you might end up spending longer time here if you’re taking pictures. There is almost no shade throughout the walk so I recommend doing this in the morning or late afternoon.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
I was reluctant on going to the sanctuary since I heard stories about the monkeys being aggressive and would attack if you have a backpack with food. While all of that is true, they are quite okay as long as you heed the warnings posted all over the forest: do not look at the monkeys in the eyes, do not taunt them with food, and most importantly do not pet the monkey even as they are perched on your head eating bananas. Personally, I wouldn’t even try to feed the monkeys.
Please take this seriously as some visitors do get bit by the monkeys there. We saw a guy getting bit by one of the monkeys because (I think) he had bananas inside his bag and the monkey was trying to get to it – he swatted the monkey away and got bit in the process. So yeah, keep your distance and don’t keep food in your bag!
The place itself is very beautiful. It’s surrounded by lush rainforest and stone architecture that makes it look straight out of Indiana Jones set. So even if you decide that the monkeys are too scary, you’d still enjoy walking around the area.
Kecak Fire & Trance Dance Performance
Kecak is a traditional Balinese dance involving fire and the Hindu Ramayana story. They perform every Wednesday and Saturday at 7:30pm. During non-peak periods, you can just buy the ticket at the door or any ticket seller on the street around Ubud. They cost the same everywhere – Rp 75,000 per person. It’s also recommended to read the story ahead of time (the event booklet will have this info) as the entire story portion of the dance is performed in Balinese – I speak Indonesian fluently and I still didn’t understand a word. To end off the night, there will be a trance performance called Kuda Lumping, where a performer in trance would step all over burning coal without getting hurt.
Activities a little outside of Ubud
Ceking Rice Terrace (Tegallang)
This place is quickly becoming a famous tourist spot thanks to Instagram. It’s not very close to Ubud central – it’s about 30 minutes ride on the motorbike up north. There are plenty of rice terraces in Ubud but the ones here are special because the rice fields are located on a cliff which makes for amazing photo location.
Obviously I took a ton of pictures at this spot so I’ll make a separate post on it with more tips and my recommended walking route, but if there is one thing you should remember about visiting this place is: go very early, like 7-8am early. We came here at 10am – the place was already hot. When we left at noon, it was boiling hot and pictures just don’t look as great because of the strong direct sunlight. We’ve resorted to wearing our sarong as a cape to shield our shoulders from the insane Bali sun.
Also, bring some cash because you will be asked for small donations at certain spots (Rp 10,000). There are also drink stalls at the top of the rice terrace where you can get chilled drinks.
Tirta Empul Temple
I recommend visiting this temple together with the Ceking Rice Terrace since it’s also located to the north of Ubud and not that close. It takes about 15 mins more from the rice terrace by motorbike. Tirta Empul is a natural hot spring that is considered one of the holiest temples in Bali. Locals believe the water has magical power. Inside the temple, you can rent a sarong and go into the water for a blessing or you can walk around the courtyard and see the source of the water that is still bubbling.
Kanto Lampo Waterfall
Kanto Lampo is a hidden terraced waterfall close to Ubud central. Okay, maybe not so hidden but it’s definitely less touristy than most other waterfalls (like Tegenungan for example). To get there, follow the pin on Google Maps but keep your eyes open for local road signs once you get close to the area. They’ll lead you to the entrance of the waterfall, where you pay a small fee of Rp 10,000 per person. The waterfall area is actually quite small – after the entrance, you go down a set of stairs and it’s immediately to the right. There isn’t much else to do aside of the waterfall itself and swimming in the small river below, but it does make a great picture doesn’t it?
We were also shown the way to a second smaller waterfall by a local guy, but the way to get there was kinda troublesome. You have to go further down the river, which is not very far but you do have to go through slippery rocks and wade through thigh-deep water on some parts, so it’s not worth going unless you’re into that kind of stuff. And the first waterfall is already amazing anyway.
Disclaimer: I didn’t go here because I ran out of time.
I’ve seen images of this giant swing overlooking amazing rice terraces all over Instagram and I’m sure some of you have too. Well, Bali Swing is the place where everyone took the photo. Bali Swing has five single swings of varying heights (5m, 10m, 15m, 20m, and 78m), tandem swings, two cute nests and amazing stone over the edge above the valley with an amazing view on the canyon and waterfall. They charge US$35 for the entrance fee, unlimited rides on their swings and lunch buffet. I thought the price was quite steep but you’ll definitely get tons of quality photos for your Instagram!
Day-trip Activities from Ubud
Mount Batur Active Volcano Summit Trek
I wrote an entire post about my experience on trekking to the summit of Mount Batur, but to sum it up: This is what I would call a high ROI hiking – the hike was short and not that difficult but the view above is amazing. Mount Batur is right next to Mount Agung, so on a clear day you can see the still-smoking Mount Agung, which makes for an amazing picture. And because you start so early you’re basically done climbing a volcano by 9am!
But, I filed this activity under day trip because even though you finish the trek early in the day, you’ll still have to drive back to your hotel which takes 1-1.5 hours. Then, you’d probably want to catch up on sleep or rest up a bit, so I recommend not doing anything too crazy that day.
Adventure & Spirit Canyoning
We booked this canyoning tour through a company called Voyagin – they had some coupon codes which makes the trip cheaper – but the actual tour operator is called Adventure & Spirit, a Bali canyoning enthusiast group.
So this was my first time ever trying canyoning and… it was amazing! We did the Double K route, which includes rappelling down 15m waterfalls, jumping off 7m cliffs and sliding down 10m ravines. I am actually scared of heights so the 7m jump was especially difficult for me… but in the end, I did them all with minimal hesitation. I had no problems with any of the rappelling though, and I feel like I could have done higher ones.
The Double K route cost US$155 per person. I’ll be honest, when my roommate Jess told me about this a few years ago I thought it was quite overpriced. But after going on the trip I think it’s all worth it! They gave us all the gears we need (thick wetsuit, helmet, booties, harness, etc) – all you had to do was walk in with whatever you feel like wearing. Plus they pick you up from hotel to the location of the canyon, which is in the far north of Bali. Moreover, the guides are very experienced, super fun and I felt safe throughout the entire trip.
What and Where to eat in Ubud
Bebek Tepi Sawah ($$)
Oh my god, I freaking love Bebek Goreng, aka Deep fried crispy duck. I came here from the Ubud Guide blog of my friend Clarinta, who had gone to Bali so many times I totally trust her recommendations. And she did not disappoint with this one. The Bebek Goreng here is indeed very authentic and tasty and the restaurant itself has a great atmosphere – you sit on the floor with a low table while overlooking a rice field (PS: “Bebek Tepi Sawah” means “Duck by the rice fields”).
Aside of the obvious Bebek Goreng, I also got Sate Lilit (per Clarinta’s recommendation – it’s minced chicken skewered into lemongrass stalk and then grilled) and Avocado juice. General tip: If you see Avocado juice on the menu in Bali you should just order them – you won’t regret it. In Indonesia, Avocado juice is more like smoothies where they add condensed milk and chocolate sauce (sometimes black coffee, to counter the taste of the milk). It’s not a healthy drink by any means but it sure is a delicious one!
Puspa’s Warung ($)
“Warung” means a small and traditional, usually cheap, food establishment in Indonesian. Located right in the middle of central Ubud, I am surprised the dishes here are very cheap – they all range from Rp25,000 to 40,000, s0 much cheaper than other restaurants I’ve gone to in Bali.
I recommend getting the Nasi Campur (which by the way, is a must-try dish in Bali), which means “Mixed Rice” this will give you a taste of many dishes all in one. I also recommend Chicken Satay and Guacamole, which comes served in traditional Indonesian chips (called Krupuk) instead of tortilla chips. It surprisingly made a great combo!
PS: Jalan Goutama – Goutama street – itself is an interesting place to hang out – there are tons of cafe, organic food and similar cheap warung around the area.
Warung Pondok Madu ($)
Annoyingly the location on the google maps location is wrong for this place. I’ve tried submitting the correct location, but it seems to have shifted back to the wrong one. Anyway, the location in my map above is correct so you can just follow that, or look for Jati Cottage in Ubud – Pondok Madu is right next to it and it should be near the Monkey Forest.
Like everyone else, I ordered the pork ribs noodle (Mie Iga BBQ) with the spicy sauce. And like everyone else again, I can confirm that the spicy level is indeed Indonesian level. I couldn’t finish all the noodles since it would just be torture but I finished the ribs. I would also recommend getting the Avocado Cup.
Hujan Locale ($$$)
This is another recommendation I took from my friend Clarinta’s Ubud guide. At first I thought the price was expensive – but in the grander scheme of things, it was not. The dishes here were regular priced dishes (US$10-13), which I guess was relatively expensive in Bali where I’ve been spending less than $10 for food, but not too outrageous.
But once the dishes came, I was very satisfied with all of them. At Hujan Locale most of the dishes are a fusion of local cuisine from all over Indonesia. I got the Duck leg with green chili and my boyfriend got the Solo Braised Soy beef. The beef, in particular, was amazing. Their portion is also quite large. We came here quite late and I wasn’t able to try their Rawon (it sold out for the night), but I definitely would go for that next time.
Fair Warung Balé by Fair Future Foundation ($)
While dining at Hujan Locale, this place across the street (or more like the alley) caught my eyes. It is food for a good cause – the profit from this restaurant goes to pay medical bills for those in need. The food itself was tasty too – I recommend getting Opor Ayam (Chicken cooked in curry sauce) and Capcay (mixed stir-fry vegetables), both dishes you can commonly find throughout Indonesia.
Naughty Nuri’s ($$)
I don’t think this place needs much introduction since Naughty Nuri is not a secret or hidden place, everyone knows their pork ribs and how delicious they are. Definitely get the pork ribs and some sides, that’s all you really need to get from here. And perhaps some Bintang to wash it all down!
Other places to check out
Art Teas was a happy accidental find for us – we were just walking around Ubud central and needed a place to chill for half an hour and get a drink, so when we walked past Art Teas we just went in. To our surprise, they had a great variety of teas to choose from – a few local teas from Bali and Java, Chinese teas, Chai from India, just to name a few. What makes this place truly unique is that each table is equipped with a stove and tools for proper tea brewing. We ended up getting a pot of jasmine tea from Java, and the waiter proceeded to ceremoniously brew and pour the tea for us – reminded me of a Japanese tea ceremony!
“Jamu” is an Indonesian traditional herbal drink I had been drinking since I was young. Indonesians believe Jamu has health benefits, especially for women, so my mom would force me to drink Jamu everyday. As a child, I hated the taste but as an adult now? I love it!
Jamu is traditionally sold on the street by women carrying the Jamu ingredients on their back, and when you call them over they’d mix the Jamu fresh in front of you. Sadly this tradition is difficult to find now but I started seeing Jamu popping up as drinks at the organic cafes – mostly going for Rp30,000 – 40,000. Well, at Djamoekoe you can get a huge bottle for the same price! There are actually many different concoctions of Jamu, and I was delighted to find they have the same variety I used to drink as a child which is “Kunyit Asem” – consisting of turmeric, tamarind and cinnamon. If you like herbal healthy drink, I recommend you to visit this place!
This is another recommendation I took from my friend Clarinta’s Ubud guide. The spa is very simple and not overly decorated, but their massage is amazing! All of the masseuse are properly trained and their quality is consistent. Go and book the 90 minutes Balinese Massage – we booked 60 minutes massage and it was over too quickly. We learned our lesson and immediately booked 90 minutes massages for the next day.
Ok, that was a long guide to write! I really hope you find this useful. As always please feel free to let me know of ay feedback and if you have any questions in the comment section below.