The moment I arrived in Ubud, it felt like coming home. The tree lined and clean streets, the friendly smiles and waves from people on the side of the road, the amazing smells emanating from various Warungs (restaurants), and the multitude of signs advertising yoga classes – it was all right up my alley.
Downtown Ubud however, was nothing as I had imagined. A lot of dreaming (and yes, a little bit of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’) had me thinking that Ubud would be quiet, slow, a nature-lovers paradise. Arriving in “rush hour” certainly showed me I was incorrect! The roads were jammed with cars, shuttles from various resorts, private drivers and taxis all blocked the main road north, Monkey Forest Road. And, as with all of Indonesia so far, the sheer number of scooters ducking and weaving in between astounded me.
As we always do, we had booked our first few nights in a place that was easy to get to, and right in the middle of town. I always use Booking.com for my hotels as they include all taxes and fees in the quoted price and with no booking fee, and Titiwangsa Homestay cost Rp. 260,000 per night (including breakfast, $US19) for the room pictured below. The homestay is about a 15-minute walk to the Monkey Forest. Anywhere in downtown Ubud is handy for shopping, the local art market and dining options (mainly all along Monkey Forest Road). I loved browsing some of the yoga stores, trinket and jewellery shops and the artist workshops that line the streets here also.
The downtown area can be a little overwhelming (given I naively wasn’t expecting it!), and the noise from the cars and scooters can ruin ones serenity (if that’s what you’ve come to Ubud for). Hence, my recommendation is to find somewhere a little further away from everything to stay, and either get a driver/taxi to shuttle you around to the places you want to see, or do like we did, and hire a scooter. Scooter hire is on average about Rp. 40,000 a day for a decent 125cc scooter including helmet (this is a must not just because of the police, but also because of the crazy traffic!). Gas here at the moment is Rp. 6550 / litre, so we were filling up for around $US0.48.
When we first arrived in Kuta and I saw the way people drive around on their scooters, I thought, “No way am I ever riding one of those in that traffic!”. However, after spending a few weeks watching the chaos unfold, there is actually an amazing non-order order to it (trust me, that makes sense!). I have basically concluded that it comes down to everyone being polite and pushy at the same time. For example, if you need to pull into traffic, slowly edge forward until the oncoming traffic has no option but to let you in. It’s odd, but it works.
I found the most important thing for me was to keep checking the mirrors. Scooters appear out of nowhere – just as a massive truck can creep up right behind you without you seeing him until he’s tooting his horn right in your ear to let you know that he’s there.
Once we had hired our scooters in town (directly from Titiwangsa Homestay actually), we used Air BnB to find a house we could rent. We were specifically looking for one that had a kitchen so that we were able to cook ourselves more meals (eating out gets tiresome, and expensive after a while!). We found a spot 2 kilometres out to the east of Ubud town centre amongst the rice paddies. The ride on the scooter took no more than ten minutes to get there from town, and yet it felt like you were in an entirely different place. The pace is slower, the people seem happier and the whole place feels like the Ubud-of-old. The place that we stayed, Villa di Sawah, cost us Rp.500,000 a night ($US37) and was worth every penny, with the full kitchen, air-conditioning, and swimming pool.
Once at our Air BnB, my days consisted of waking early for breakfast, swim in the pool, scooter to town for yoga, maybe have a massage and look around the town, and then home to relax some more. During this time, we also took the opportunity to go further afield in our exploring, and booked a bicycle tour of the rice fields with BaliEcoCycling. They pick you up from your hotel, take you to a restaurant for breakfast that overlooks the crater lake of Mt Batur and then it’s out on the mountain bikes (good quality bike including helmet). The scenery in this part of Bali is amazing – you have rice fields that go for as far as the eye can see, children playing in the street, traditional villages and communities, families drying their rice on the road side, and of course, the odd temple or two to look at. The bike tour does stop at a couple of points for photo-taking, however the actual ride-time on the bikes could have been longer (maxing out at around 45 minutes).
Other days were spent checking out the below:
Monkey Forest – large collection of relatively friendly monkeys. Up to you if you want to purchase bananas from the stalls there as the monkeys get pretty aggressive when food is involved. Make sure you follow all of the little pathways around without just staying on the main ones to get a closer look at the diverse range of monkeys there. Tried and tested advice of the ages: don’t take additional food or drinks into the Forest with you, take off your sunglasses, and hang onto your cameras and cellphones tightly if getting up close and personal with the Monkeys (they’ve been known to swipe all sorts of things). Rp. 40,000 entry fee.
Yoga classes – Ubud offers yoga classes almost everywhere, and for all levels of your practice. I started with a Gentle Yoga class at Taksu Spa in downtown Ubud. I then moved onto a Beginners class at The Yoga Barn and ended with a Body Mind & Flow class back at Taksu. These will set you back around Rp. 300,000 ($US22) per class, but you can sign up for concession cards which decrease the per class price.
Tegenungan Waterfall – This waterfall is beautiful to behold. Even though Tegenungan seems shorter than a lot of other waterfalls in Bali, this one packs a punch. It is surrounded by lush jungle, and flows down to a pool that is full of naturally shaped river rocks. The waterfall itself is located just a short 20 minute drive from downtown Ubud, and down only 160 steps. It’s definitely best seen early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds, as lots of tour buses/cars tend to stop here on a regular basis. Rp. 10,000 entry fee.
Tegalalang Rice Terraces – Their are rice paddies all around Bali, especially around Ubud, but these rice terraces are beautiful to behold. The terraces are about a half hour drive north from downtown Ubud, along one of the best streets in town for souvenirs, knick- knacks, custom-designed handy-crafts, clothes or paintings. It gets very busy, with loads of tour buses and day trippers stopping here. There is no cost for wandering around the terraces, unless you get sucked in by any of the people trying to sell you things (kids selling postcards, workers in the rice-paddies posing for photos, etc).
Ubud was amazing – and of the few places I’ve visited so far, would be a place I would definitely love to return to. We spent a total of 12 days in Ubud, but in an ideal world I would love to spend over a month here, renting a place out in the rice fields and living the quiet life (as it were).
I can also see however, how this place can be a little dull after a while for people who don’t love yoga or meditation or relaxing doing nothing – there’s enough to see to keep the explorers busy for a few days, but any longer would be a waste.
I loved Ubud, but did you? Tell me your thoughts on the area!