Asia · Indonesia

Ubud, Bali

I managed to squeeze in an hour around the pool in Sidemen before it was time to travel to our final destination, Ubud. I’d read so much about Ubud as the artistic and spiritual heart of Bali (as well as being the setting for ‘Love’ in Eat, Pray, Love) so I was looking forward to it but I was also sad to be leaving our rural sanctuary. Even though there wasn’t very much to do there, it was just so stunning.

After the peaceful and quiet in Sidemen, we were slightly taken aback by the traffic chaos in Ubud. There was just so much of it! My first thought was: how can you be spiritual here? We managed to find our guesthouse, which was perfectly located for us, just off Jalan Bisma and not reachable by car (meaning it was super quiet) and overlooking the rice fields.

We ventured straight out and visited Pura Taman Saraswati, which is a temple in the centre of Ubud honouring Dewi Sawaswati (the goddess of wisdom and the arts). It was a very pretty temple, with a large pond at the front overflowing with lotus blossoms (not in bloom but still a nice sight). We couldn’t go inside as you had to wear traditional dress e.g. sarong tied around your waist. We then went to Ubud Palace, which is where the local royal family still live. Again we could wander around the buildings but it wasn’t particularly large and many of the sections were closed off.

We then wandered down a random street just off the main road from Ubud – Jalan Raya Ubud – and just kept walking when suddenly the road turned into endless rice fields. It was lovely to briefly escape the hustle and bustle of central Ubud and retreat back into a rural setting. We then looped back into town and walked down one of the other main roads – Monkey Forest Road – and took in all the shops, restaurants, cafes, and massage shops. We had to really pay attention to the ‘pavement’, which dipped all the time and was very slippery. One thing I loved about Ubud was the access to vegan cake – yay for me! One big slab of vegan chocolate cake served as my afternoon snack… it was a happy afternoon.

We then went for one of our favourite meals in Indonesia, which was another BBQ (who know Indonesia was so good at BBQs?!). The food was amazing and following a great mojhito, the Bintang (Indonesian beer) was flowing. Afterwards we met Donna (who had come to Ubud as well that day) in a place called Cafe Havana where there were salsa dancers shaking their stuff on the dance floor.

Everything you read about Ubud tells you to visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. So, even though I don’t like monkeys, we dutifully did. It’s an area of jungle just outside the densely populated urban of central Ubud that houses three holy temples. Unfortunately, as the name suggests, it’s also home to Balinese macaques. It has an Indiana Jones feel to it and it started off well at the first temple with the small river running through and all the roots of the trees and carvings of monkeys everywhere (although thankfully no real monkeys) so I started to relax a bit and thought that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.

We then walked to the main temple where there were tons of people and even more monkeys. I’ve never understood why people find monkeys cute and cuddly: they are wild animals. Some of the monkeys were fighting each other and I saw another monkey jump onto a woman’s back and not let go and I just completely freaked out to the point where I think I was on the verge of having a panic attack. Luckily we were right by the south exit, but there were still tons of monkeys all around. We ended up walking about 45 minutes in a loop around the forest before we got back to Ubud centre. I would have walked for hours if it meant I didn’t have to see any more monkeys. Never again will I visit somewhere that I know monkeys will be! So the Monkey Forest was an epic fail.

I soon felt a bit better following a shake and vegan cake in a cafe. We were lucky because as soon as we arrived at the cafe it started chucking it down with rain, pretty much unheard of during the dry season. The rain would unfortunately be a recurring theme theme over the next two days (although luckily it didn’t affect anything we wanted to do). Once the rain had stopped, we wandered around the main market in Ubud, which had tons of incense sticks, statues, clothes, Faye Bans (fake Ray Bans) etc.

In the afternoon we had another hour long massage, during which I fell asleep for the first time ever during a massage. I blame the stress of the monkeys! At 5pm we went to a yoga class at the Honeymoon Homestay on Jalan Bisma with Donna, which was the best yoga class Simon and I have ever done. It was yin yoga and you hold some simple poses for ages but the guy running it was excellent and explained everything really well (even though it was very difficult to hear him due to the torrential downpour outside). After an hour and a half we felt great. We then walked up to a lovely restaurant a couple of doors down and had a very relaxing dinner with excellent food and excellent company.

The next day, we woke up to torrential rain again so we had a very long and lazy breakfast, reading our books etc. Once it had cleared up, we went to get our dance show tickets from Ubud Palace for that evening and wandered around the market again so Simon could buy a clean t-shirt for the plane home (he’s not the best packer in the world!). We again stopped at cafe for vegan snacks and smoothies.

As the weather had cleared up sufficiently, we decided to hire a scooter and drive to Tegenungan Waterfall. Once we’d escaped the craziness of central Ubud (including driving the wrong way down a main one way street, to which no-one battered an eyelid), it was really nice driving through the countryside and having the freedom to explore. I think we must have gone to the non-touristy side (not on purpose, just where we put into the map) as we were able to visit the top, middle and bottom of the waterfall whereas there were lots of people coming from the other side of the river who only got to see the waterfall from quite far away.

The water was brown due to the heavy rain, which apparently washes everything down from the mountains, so we weren’t able to swim in it like people are usually able to do. However, it was a really great hour and was the biggest waterfall I’ve seen in South East Asia. The force of the water due to the heavy rain was immense, and once we reached the middle section the sun came out so it was really pleasant. After having some snacks (of course!) at the bottom of the waterfall and admiring the view, we then drove to the coast. Unfortunately the beach we found was a bit rubbish with black sand and tons of cows, but it was still really lovely to drive through the countryside and be able to stop where we wanted. On the way back we stopped at a local restaurant for late lunch before making our way back to Ubud.

In the evening, we attended a traditional Balinese dance show at Ubud Palace. The setting was lovely with the palace lit up and looking beautiful. We had to arrive an hour before to get a good seat (which luckily we did) and as it was outside we were grateful as it was our only night in Ubud that it didn’t rain. The show was 1.5 hours and was interesting but went on for a bit too long. The female dancers were pretty incredible, particularly the way they moved their hands and their eyes. Although it wasn’t a riveting performance, it was good to experience some traditional dancing.

Our final day in Ubud was one of our favourites during the whole trip. We signed up to Paon Bali cooking class having read reviews on TripAdvisor (it’s rated number one), so we were hoping the class would live up to our expectations, which it most definitely did! I had been a bit worried that I’d find it boring as I’m not into cooking, but the class was very well organised and ran at a perfect pace, making it great for those who are both inexperienced (like me!) and experienced (like Simon). We started the day with a market visit, which was interesting but not necessarily an essential part of the experience. The guide went through all the different fruit and vegetables as well as herbs and spices. We then spent the rest of the morning going through the ingredients, chopping and cooking before enjoying all our hard work.

The first dish was a mushroom soup, which didn’t look very appealing but was so tasty. We then proceeded to make seven other dishes, including chicken curry, chicken satay, tuna wrapped in banana leaf, gado gado (vegetables with peanut sauce), and amazing crunchy tempeh (fermented soya beans, which we’d had at many meals throughout Indonesia, not thinking much of it but this one was so good!). It was definitely the tastiest food we had in Indonesia. After all the food we didn’t really want to move(!) so we spent the afternoon relaxing with a massage (and facial for me) and then we had a light dinner at a local restaurant.

Ubud has so much to offer. When we first arrived I was worried that 4 days was going to be too long and it took until at least day three for Ubud to grow on me (maybe partly down to the weather?). But when I think back to everything we did there – sites and temples, cafe breaks, massages, yoga, exploring by motorbike, visiting the waterfall, Balinese dance show, cooking class – we had some really great experiences, including some of our favourites from the entire trip.

Contrary to popular option, my personal perception of Ubud isn’t as somewhere particularly spiritual as even when you’ve gone to a great yoga class or had a relaxing massage, you still have to walk back to your base through all the noise and traffic! I would definitely recommend Ubud for any Indonesia itinerary but I would add a caveat to ignore some of the blog posts that led me to believe I would fall in love with it instantly. There’s so much to do that you can make Ubud whatever you want it to be to get a sense of all things Bali.


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