Ubud, Bali – Eat, Pray, Beat the Crowds
Before going over to the Gili Islands, we spent a couple of days in Ubud, Bali. Ubud is located about 45 minutes north of Denpasar, and you can reach it by taxi (probably not much less than 15s0.000 IDR) or with the more budget-friendly shuttle bus (Perama tours, 50 – 60.000 one way) or a public bus – though these offer limited departure times. Ubud is historically known as a lush and successful kingdom of central Bali, and, given its location in the serene heartland of the island, it has come to host the tradition of well-being and self-care. As a result, Ubud also attracts a very health-conscious, eco-minded yoga crowd, while also catering to mainstream tourism.
Accommodation in Ubud
As far as accommodation goes, in Ubud you will find a variety of options, ranging from hostels, through bungalows, to high-end spa resorts and eco retreats. We went for option number two and took a bungalow at Swan Inn, a family-run homestay that has significantly expanded since our last visit We paid around 16 Euro per night for the bungalow with a terrace, full bathroom, a kitchen, and air con, including WiFi and breakfast (which is brought to your terrace!). Located off the busy Monkey Forest road, it’s a quiet little oasis, where you can turn off and chill out.
However, if you’re not a fan of booking things online, you’re in luck. Bali, and especially Ubud is a place that is saturated with homestays that choose to stay offline – and ultimately get their business by word of mouth or with walk ins. So even if it seems like everything is booked out online, you can rest assured there will always be a plance to sleep in Ubud – for every homestay listed on a hotel search site, there are 5 others that aren’t listed – yet. Had we had a longer stay in Ubud, we would have just walked through the small alleys and yards in the search of a fitting place. We’ve done this in other locations around Bali and Lombok, as well as in Thailand, and it typically never takes more than 3 or 4 visits before picking a fave.
What to Do in Ubud
There is a lot to see in Ubud – and there are plenty of opportunities to take it slow. If you’re a fan of the outdoors, you can visit the Tegalang rice terraces, which are located about 15 min away from Ubud. We were too lazy, though, and we actually already saw the terraces during our car ride on the previous day, so we just took a walk to the nearby fields which, while not as impressive as the steep terraces, were still nice to visit. Also – there were 0 other people around.
The Campuhan trail is also a lovely little trek – with gorgeous vistas, super walkable, and with way fewer crowds! And, of course, there are LOTS of temples in and around Ubud. We didn’t go see the most popular ones in Tanpaksiring because we were already all templed out, but therefore we just got a closer look at some of the smaller temples in Ubud itself, which were lovely.
Get Lost in the Ubud Market
We also spent a significant amount of time at the market. You always hear about how you need to haggle in Indonesia for a good price; well, in this place you can really let loose and get some good deals. The market here is quite big, and it has some outside streets, but also some inside areas. Here are some tips for your market run:
1. Go towards the back of the market, either on the ground floor or upstairs
Most tourist hang around the entry to the market, and don’t make it this far in, so the deeper you go into the market the more negotiating leverage you have.
2. Walk away from a bad deal
If you’re not happy with the price you worked so hard for, just turn around, get to steppin – and watch what happens then. (most of the time you will get chased back with a better deal)
3. Have a close look at what you’re buying
You can find some nice things at these markets, but the majority is, frankly, cheap junk that’s not worth more than a dollar or two – no matter how much the seller insists that it’s one of a kind. Also, have a close look at the things that are advertised as silver – check for the 925 stamp (although that still doesn’t guarantee that it’s 100% silver, but still better than nothing).
4. Practice your haggling
Do some test runs to see what tactics work best and to get a price overview. This is how I found out that none of the sellers will go lower than 20.000 Rupiah (about 1.30 Euro) for a sarong – so if someone’s asking price is 5 times that, you’re being taken for a naive westerner.
The market is a place that’s best experienced at a slow pace and with low expectations. It’s people trying to make a living at the most fundamental level, supply and demand. At the same time, I’m always fascinated by the dynamics that so strongly demonstrate between the purchase-happy tourists, and the sales-hungry merchants – and how this mirrors how we, the visitors, come across.
The Monkey Forest
Ahh, the famous Monkey Forest – perhaps the most visited place in Ubud. If you’re into animals, you’ll like it. And even if not – you won’t be accosted by monkeys from all sides, don’t worry, and you’ll have a chance to visit a gorgeous forest, with some of the most majestic trees I’ve seen to date. The 30.000 IDR entrance fee is also manageable.
So, as the name suggests, this is a forest (or, I’d say, a park) full of macaques. They seem to not be as annoying as the monkeys in Uluwatu, in that they don’t snatch your sunglasses or cameras, but they will steal food that you’ve hidden in your pocket (we’ve seen this happen) and they will occasionally grab a shiny trinket if you have something hanging off your bag (we’ve also seen that happen). Otherwise, they are fun to watch. Very crafty too.
Other than monkeys, the Monkey Forest also has some temples as well as a cremation and burial site. Despite the abundance of fuzzy primates it is still advised to be respectful and calm while visiting. There is a relatively large staff that is available for any questions – whether about monkeys or anything else.
Me Time in Ubud: Food and Massages
We’d be amiss not to take advantage of Ubud’s most notorious product – wellness. Ubud really is the ideal place for this not only due to its history, but also due to the fact that it has a reputation to uphold, so I think the standard here tends to be higher than in other major tourist spots – even if you’re on a tight budget. The prices for a 1-hour long Balinese massage range from 50.000 IDR upwards, with the most mid-range places charging around 100.000. With a limited budget, you can aim a bit lower and still get a professional, clean and thoroughly enjoyable spa treatment. We went for the aforementioned 1-hour massage at the 3 Point Spa, which we chose based on the favorable TripAdvisor reviews. No, we did not enjoy a view of the rice fields during the massage, but the room was clean, the staff was professional, the massage itself was very good, and the price was right (60.000 Rupiah, or 4 Euro!!).
When it comes to food, you’ll be spoiled for choice, and I would recommend eating out in warungs, as opposed to some chain restaurant or westernized monstrosity. What are warungs? Well, it’s as if your parents said ‘ok I’ve got a kitchen here and a few chairs – lets’ sell food!’ – and voila, there goes an eatery! In truth, warungs range from really small setups in someone’s backyard, where you will actually use the family bathroom if you have to go, to very elaborate establishments that resemble western restaurants. My favorite in Ubud is Warung Garasi, with a cool theme, friendly family-run vibe, and a strict no wifi/please talk to each other policy. Another fave is Warung Boga Sari, located in family’s front yard off of Jalan Raya Ubud. Have the pepes ikan laut and you won’t regret it. Both have been equally excellent each time we visited Ubud, and I will surely go there again when we visit next time.