Currency exchange to Indonesian Rupiah 2016: AUD=10,000 USD=13,600 EUR=15,000 GBP=19,700
Art, culture, cuisine. Boutique shops, crafty markets, foodie wonderland. Only an hour and a half from Bali’s Denpasar airport (allowing you to make a quick getaway from sleazy Kuta), Ubud is nestled in among the rice paddies, a gem for holiday makers and hard-core travellers alike.
Touristy? Hell yes. Seedy? Not at all.
Ubud really does have it all. It offers an array of accommodation, varying hugely in style and price. If you are looking for a top-of-the-range Spa and Resort, this quickly expanding town has plenty to offer. If, like us, you are more of a budget conscious traveller, there are hundreds of homestays, small hotels and hostels to choose from. Many will be located on one of the main streets, Jalan Raya Ubud or Jalan Monkey Forest, but it is easy to get further away from the hustle and bustle of the ‘city centre’.
Yes, I said touristy – you may have heard of Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ which boosted tourism in Ubud – but it has retained it authentic Balinese feel and charm. Once you have found a place to stay, look into renting a motorbike. This shouldn’t cost you more than 50k a day, and will give you the freedom to explore Ubud’s beautiful surroundings. If you do not feel comfortable amongst the local traffic, explore on foot and you will still be able to reach the local rice fields. Pop into one of the many tourist information booths and enquire about day trips and excursions that depart daily. A drive around the area in a bus, with routine stops at different attractions like temples and caves, or if you are feeling a little more adventurous, opt for the 2am wake up call and trek up Mount Batu to watch the sunrise! You will still be back in time for breakfast. Whether you have two days, or two weeks, you will find many activities to keep you occupied!
Ubud is well known for its local crafts. Why not give it a try yourself? Sign up for one of the many classes that are available in the workshops across town. Almost all of them are three hour classes, and cost 350k rupiah up no matter what the subject. You can learn how to make you own Balinese style kite, how to whittle wood to perfection, cook the classics, or make your very own piece of silver jewelry. I opted for the latter, and spent three hours in a one-on-one class making a necklace that I love! Get a better feel of what the lessons are like by reading about mine here.
To Elizabeth Gilbert, Bali made up the ‘love’ section of her memoir, but to me it will forever be engraved in my mind as ‘eat’ (which is pretty damn close to love really). Lunch time in Ubud counts as an event more than simply a meal. If you are in Yoga Centre to cleanse your soul, choose from the array of vegan, vegetarian or raw food cafés. We sampled a few on our visit last year, I admit it felt pretty good to eat something healthier than our usual carbs with a side of carbs (aka rice with noodles) but remained way out of our budget to be a regular occurrence. We did however fall somewhat in love with a beautiful, Japanese run restaurant about 7 minutes drive from the centre: Secret Garden. It is exactly as the name suggests, and oh so much more! In fact we love it so much, it was our main reason for returning to Ubud. We dedicated an entire post to it, which you can read here. Our love knows no bounds, but our funds are limited, so we also sought out some more budget friendly eating options.
Most lunch times, you would find us at – brace yourselves, it’s a mouthful – Puteri Minang Padang Food, a warung (small local restaurant) on Jalan Raya Ubud, right next to Bali Buda Bakery. We love the principal behind the Indonesian warung. Dishes of food stacked high are displayed on two or three shelves in a large lit window, giving on to the street. They entice you in with piles of fried chicken, whole salted fish, fragrant curries, and at least three different style of eggs. Choose you rice, veggies and sides (I suggest the potato cakes or spring rolls) and add curry sauce on top. You come away with a delicious, wholesome and filling meal, for a grand total of around 20,000 rupiah (avoid chicken and fish to keep the price down to a minimum). My mouth is watering just thinking about this place!
Once dark had fallen and the humidity levels dropped a little, we would prowl the streets in search of the cheapest food carts around, usually stopping a minimum of three times to make up an entire dinner. Why not start with some Sate Ayam (chicken satay), or a steaming hot bowl of Soto Ayam (chicken soup is good for the soul, so they say). Follow that with some juicy, crispy, tender, finger lickin’ good Ayam Goreng (fried chicken) that could put the Colonel out of business. Then on to the main event; everywhere you go you will see little teepees made of brown paper. It doesn’t matter what is in there, for 10,000 apiece, grab two and enjoy the surprise of unwrapping the unknown little parcel. You will usually discover a mound of either white rice, or fried rice, maybe with some egg, chicken, noodles, the list goes on. I think we can easily say that food carts, as well as motorbike food vendors are our favourite way to eat: food and adventure in one!
Once you are nicely full, the evening’s entertainment can begin. Ubud has plenty of bars; you can grab a few drinks, listen to music, and chill with fellow travellers, or why not check out one of the Kecak dances held around town. Traditionally performed by minimum 100 men wearing checked cloths around their waists, the only instrument involved is the human voice. If your show follows tradition, you will witness a piece called the Ramayana Monkey Chant, where the bare chested choir chants a chorus of ‘cak cak cak’, and you sit, mesmerized, as they shimmy their shoulders and wave their arms. Most of these spectacles go on for around an hour and a half, entailing two or three different plot lines, almost all will involve fire too. It is an awesome way to experience some real Balinese culture.
If you are after adventure, but don’t want to wander too far, then take a walk through Ubud’s very own Sacred Monkey Forest. It is a nature reserve that also houses a Hindu temple complex, as well as a lot of cheeky macaques. It costs 20,000 to get in, and you can buy bananas at the entrance to entice the monkeys closer (if you really want to get up close and personal). To make your visit even wilder, before or after your stroll, ride your motorbike around the edge of the sanctuary along the narrow path that follows the park’s perimeter. Thick, luscious jungle to one side, fences with monkeys sitting atop on the other, the path winds left and right, up and down, over a stream and around a sharp bend. It gets particularly interesting when someone is coming the other way!
Last but not least, Ubud is of course known as a place of yoga and meditation. Everywhere you turn, you will see classes advertised. Wake up early enough and you will spot a few people ‘saluting the sun’ wherever you are staying (do you salute the sun in yoga or am I getting confused?). Being about as flexible as a wooden post, and usually sporting a full belly, I am afraid I am not much of a yogi. If like me, yoga is not high on your to-do list, why not go for a different type of therapy? Therapy of the retail variety, perhaps? The central market in Ubud is a bustling maze of colour, great for souvenirs, gifts, clothes, or just some little knick-knacks. There are dozens of stunning little boutique shops too, just keep an eye out for those uneven paving slabs as you are window shopping!
Ubud, I reiterate, has something for everyone. We tend to avoid tourist traps like the plague, yet Ubud has gained itself a place in our hearts through the kindness of its people, and its charming personality. Returning there felt a little like coming home. Must just be that it has a soothing effect on the soul. When in Bali, be sure not to miss it, and say Selamat Pagi from us.