The first time I set foot in Ubud was in 2009 but it was just a drive through its town and villages en route from Mount Batur in Kintamani to Kuta in South Bali. I remembered I was knackered from the mountain hike that I wasn’t interested to stop for sight-seeing except for one photo stop at the popular Tegallalang rice terraces. Suffice to say, I hardly saw Ubud until recently when I took the opportunity to attend my friend’s wedding and to explore in and around town for nearly a week.
Places to visit and things to do in Ubud
While places like Kuta, Legian and Seminyak highlight the beach and parties in South Bali, Ubud is all about culture.
Ubud is home to rice fields, temples, art and dance workshops, restaurants, cafes and shops, many selling items from the region’s artisans. The town is also renowned as a spiritual centre with yoga and meditation studios. The spiritual aspect of Ubud has always been part of the Balinese culture but yoga and meditation centres sprung up and mushroomed in the last couple of years as a result of the Eat, Pray, Love phenomenon which brought on the popularity of Ubud especially from 2010 when the movie was released.
Most tourists stay a day or two in Ubud or some spend just a few hours in town as part of a day tour around the island. But I would like to recommend that you spend a couple of days, if not, a week to immerse yourself in the artful, creative and calm atmosphere of Ubud. Or in my case, it was six days 😊 Here are recommended things that you could do and see when you have six days in Ubud:
Ubud Palace or officially known as Puri Saren Agung is a historical complex of Balinese architecture serving as a cultural centre of arts, dance and literature. The Palace was built around the 16th century when Bali was ruled by kings and princes, and the site is divided into various courtyards of which the Ancaksaji court is used for the Balinese evening dance performances – the Legong and Barong Dance.
Ubud Palace is regarded as the main landmark of Ubud – the community hall is opposite the Palace, Ubud Market and restaurants are a stone’s throw away.
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a natural forest sanctuary inhabited by a band of grey long-tailed macaques. Monkey Forest is located approximately fifteen minutes’ walk from Ubud town centre and easy walking distance from hotels and guesthouses along the main roads of Jalan Monkey Forest and Jalan Hanuman.
Once you walk past (and ignore) the feisty monkeys, you will come across Banyan trees, ancient temples with guardian statues and relics, some covered with moss due to the thick forest, giving the area a sort of Indiana Jones or mystical feel. Owing to a strong community-based program, Monkey Forest Sanctuary is well-preserved.
Just remember: do not touch or feed the monkeys, and do not wear sunglasses on your head or wear something that will be easy for the monkeys to snatch.
I didn’t go to Monkey Forest because I’m not a fan of monkeys especially when they jump around making unexpected moves. I was promised, however, that the monkeys would not come near me if I do not have food and that I would be rewarded with magnificent scenery and atmosphere of the forest once I walk past the monkeys. I’m still not convinced, hmm, probably next time.
*Also Read: What to see at Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur
Rice fields are everywhere in Ubud! The verdant rice fields of Ubud was the reason why I wanted to spend more time in the area. I have always loved the views of rice fields for they evoke a sense of peace and calmness in me.
You can find rice fields close to your accommodation (which is what I did) or you could go to Tegallalang Rice Terraces for that is the best photo opportunity with dramatic vistas of the rice terraces sprawling down the slopes and across the valley. That said, the area is a tourist spot, so be prepared for crowds at certain hours and some landowners may ask for money if you want to walk across their rice terrace for photos. Alternatively, you can go to Tegallalang at sunrise for the best shots when hardly anyone is around at that hour.
If you hire a driver or rent a motorbike, explore Ubud especially in the inner villages where the surrounding countryside remains unspoiled with lush rice terraces, towering coconut and palm trees and less tourists.
*Also Read: Kandy Guesthouse in idyllic Peradeniya
Apart from views of rice fields, Ubud provides plenty of opportunities for those who love to go for nice scenic walks. Campuhan Ridge Walk is one of the must-do walks in Ubud as the starting point is close to the town centre and the paved trail provides views of small village communities and the forest.
While I was reluctant to go to Monkey Forest, I was excited to go on the Campuhan Ridge Walk. Unfortunately, I busted my right knee just before arriving in Ubud, thus I had to curtail a number of walking activities limited to the town centre only ☹
Before the days of veganism, spandex-and-bikini-top yoginis and artisanal lattes, Ubud was mostly famous for its art scene. There are numerous art galleries, studios and spaces set up in Ubud and in recent years, private and artist-driven initiatives have been attracting non-commercial and experimental artists who are now driving the development of contemporary art in Bali.
If you enjoy art but do not have time to search for non-commercial art spaces in Ubud, then check out the Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA). The impressive ARMA is a museum, gallery and a cultural centre exhibiting paintings and various artwork on loan from the founders Mr. & Mrs. Agung Rai. The massive collection ranges from traditional to contemporary by Balinese artists and foreign artists who have lived and worked in Bali.
For more flamboyant and eccentric art, visit the Blanco Renaissance Museum and house of artist Antonio Blanco who specialised in erotic art and illustrated poetry.
If you’re non-vegetarian and love pork, then you have to try babi guling that Bali is famous for. Babi guling is spit roast pig which is cooked with garlic, galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, chilli and coconut milk. The pig is then roasted outdoors for several hours.
One of the best places to have babi guling is Ibu Oka Warung. Ibu Oka Warung has three locations – I went to Ibu Oka 3 which is five minutes’ walk from Ubud Palace. I ordered the special which served a generous amount of pork, blood sausage, shiny crispy skin and local vegetables cooked with turmeric and grated coconut – deliciously mouth-watering!
You might have read that the late Anthony Bourdain had eaten babi guling at Ibu Oka but I’m not sure of which location. Yes, prices have increased since his visit as the establishments have become tourist magnets. As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t know that Ibu Oka was linked to Bourdain (until recently) and Ibu Oka 3 wasn’t crowded with tourists when I had my lunch there.
*Also Read: Waterfall lunch at Villa Escudero
Other than roast pig, try their nasi campur which means mixed rice. The dish typically consists of rice, chicken or beef, vegetables, crispy crackers and a satay skewered meat. It’s wholesome and reasonably-priced costing as little as US$1.50 in some places.
You can shop till you drop in Ubud but be warned that most of the stuff sold is the same old tourist-oriented junk that you can find in other parts of South-East Asia as well. However, there are some items unique to Bali that are worthwhile to browse such as soaps, silver jewellery and jam preserves.
Do check out Jalan Gautama in the town centre where upcoming Ubud entrepreneurs and designers set up their quirky boutiques and cute-looking cafes here. The street is closed to vehicles in the evenings, thus this area is one of the few places in Ubud that you can walk around freely without worrying about traffic…or falling into pavement holes!
*Also Read: 3Cs of Chiang Mai: Scenes from the city
Day trips outside Ubud
There are many places to visit outside of Ubud which can be covered on a half day or full day tour, depending on what you want to see or do.
I opted for a private half-day tour covering Goa Gajah, Pura Gunung Kawi, Tirta Empul Temple and a brief stopover at Tegallalang rice fields. I wanted to spend more time at each place rather than whizzing past them on a full-day group tour which includes Lake Batur in Kintamani and a couple of other places.
*Also Read: Breakfast above the clouds on Mount Batur
Just chill out at cafes
Or if you prefer not to do lots of sightseeing in Ubud, there are numerous artsy cafes and restaurants that you can chill out and relax with a café latte or Bintang beer. One of my favourite cafes is Atman Nourish Café where I had the best breakfast – gluten-free pancakes served with palm sugar syrup and coconut cream (yum, yum!) and the best view, overlooking the rice fields.
You can also sign up for yoga classes or attend a meditation or healing session at spiritual centres located in and around the town.
Where to stay in Ubud
There are plenty of accommodation in Ubud available to suit every budget. There are luxury villas (usually located outside the town centre), boutique hotels, budget hotels, Airbnb homes and backpacker hostels.
I stayed at the 4-star boutique hotel called Tegal Sari, situated about fifteen minutes’ walk from town centre and a few metres away from Monkey Forest. Tegal Sari was like a calm oasis, giving me refuge and respite from the traffic congestion and moped noise on the streets – and of course, it has views of the lush rice fields.
*Also Read: Tegal Sari, Ubud – Review
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