If you love long rice field walks, 10th century temples, culture on a daily basis, art galleries, dance and music then Ubud is a must-do when coming to Bali. It’s a 90-minute drive from Denpasar and on arrival you have over 350 restaurants and bars to choose from and if you have a leaning towards health food, vegan, vegetarian or raw food – well, welcome to paradise. Many people visit Ubud just to eat out.
The drive takes just over one hour from Denpasar and, as you gently wind your way up towards the central mountains, you pass through woodcarving villages, many galleries, rice fields, quiet countryside and rural scenes that make you forget modern life.
Ubud is a charming town, but not the quaint and remote place it was famous for in the 1930’s, when Western artists like Walter Spies, Colin McPhee, and Rudolf Bonnet frequented the town. The town now has a mixture of trendy cafes, high-end restaurants perched on hilltops overlooking ravines and jungle, art and crafts shops, stylish clothing boutiques, antique stores, spas and many art galleries. Shopping at the traditional market, at the top of Monkey Forest Road reveals a patchwork of stalls, art treasures, curios and batiks.
Daily Balinese traditional dance performances can be seen at the Ubud Palace, Lotus Cafe, Arma, and Blanco Museum and in the nearby villages of Peliatan, Batubulan, Batuan and Bona. My favourite is the Monday night Junjungan Temple (3 kms from the Post Office), on Jl Tirta Tawar, in a traditional village. The Kacek fire dance is performed at an ancient temple with 60 dancers from the local village – don’t miss it if you are in town on a Monday.
Walks around Ubud
There are many interesting walks around Ubud and one easy self-guided walk starts opposite old Dutch bridge on Jl Raya Ubud, opposite Murni’s Warung, at the Gunung Lebah Temple. The Campuhan trail is easy to find the trail, which starts, at the back of the temple. Simply follow it uphill and walk the spectacular ridge with jungle on either side. You will end up at Karsa Cafe (with Karsa Spa – top ranked Trip Advisor Spa of Ubud), which is a great spot for lunch overlooking the rice fields, three volcanoes and rice fields. You can walk back or organize a local driver to take you back to Ubud. A one-hour walk at easy pace, taking in the small art studios along the way. For a guided walk and a explanation about local birdlife check out www.balibirdwalk.com
Rafting & Jungle Trekking
River rafting happens either in Ubud or you can take a day trip to Klungkung on the Telega Waja River. Its worth the three hour trip to the Telega Waja river and it will challenge your rafting skills with plenty of “boom-booms”, “paddle left” and “paddle right” instructions along with lots of laughter and includes lunch at the end. As you negotiate the rapids you take in the rural village life, sweeping panoramic rice fields, thick jungle and dramatic gorges
Taksu Photo Gallery
This new gallery on located on Monkey Forest Road opened in August, 2015. When you step inside, you take a visual journey around Bali and Indonesia. The gallery showcases the stunning work of local photographer, David Metcalf. Featured photographers also have work displayed and there is a range of travel books, cards, calanders and full printing services available with a colour calibration technician on site so you can print your own photos and get your best holiday shot printed on canvas or paper. Photo tours operate daily to unique temple sites and local markets with expert photo guidance and tips will show you the culture side of Bali. These tours operate with a minimum of 2 people and include hotel pickup www.taksuphotogallery.com
Located beside the old Dutch suspension bridge, overlooking the sacred Campuhan River, just a short walk past the temple and down the hill is an Ubud iconic an old-time favourite restaurant. Even before Ubud got electricity in the 1970’s, Ibu Murni has been offering her guests a fine selection of good Indonesian food, a Thai menu and Western dishes and the best apple pie in town. The specialty of the house is the Balinese smoked duck. The restaurant has four levels and sits high above the river affording stunning views of the jungle ravine below. Murni has been serving food to foreigners for over 30 years, so you are in good hands, plus she is an art collector, so make sure you stop at her shop at the front of the restaurant.
On Jl Raya Sanggingan, this restaurant has the best views over the valley and, in fact, you may see people walking the Campuhan trail from here. The restaurant was named after the Indus, one of the oldest living civilizations on earth (5,000 years old). The Indus valley and river winds through Pakistan, Northern India, The Himalayas and China. The restaurant has a beautiful outdoor setting, the finest quality of food and a gallery as well. A relaxing place to hang out for hours and take in the stunning jungle clad ridge with a cocktail in hand. You can seek out the comfortable purple cushions as well.
Ubud Night Life
The music and entertainment scene is very casual and low key in Ubud. There are no flash nightclubs but plenty of dance and music venues, most of which close at 1200 midnight.
Laughing Buddha Bar offers live music with a great vibe starting from 5 pm happy hour and on any given night you can hear blues, jazz, funk or reggae. They bash out the latest tunes and serve great cocktails to a warm and friendly clientele.
Bar Luna is a cool little bar, now relocated in the basement of Casa Luna Restaurant. It’s a hangout for poets, writers, artists and lovers of good music and great food.
Cafe Havana is the scene for salsa dancing. Music most nights and the waiters will dance with you if you show up without a partner. Great atmosphere. Good margaritas and super friendly atmosphere.
There are many styles of accommodation in Ubud to suit all budgets. You will find budget priced rooms to five star high-end resorts.
My favorite is Murni’s Houses. The prices are very reasonable and the location is perfect. You are within walking distance of all the fine eateries, galleries and places of interest. The spacious gardens are delightful and you can stay in a small homestay room or a spacious villa. The exotic Tamarind spa is on site, which has been voted in the top 10 on Trip Advisor. If you are after a real local experience, this is the place for you. The front desk will arrange tours and transport without the normal hotel booking charge.
Villa Damee is a private villa set in the rice fields. This is a treasure of a find and located 4.5 kms out of Ubud, in a peaceful, quiet setting in an ancient traditional village. Here you can walk through the village or take a bicycle rides (or a scooter) along the quiet roads. 3 bedroom large spacious private villa with private pool, cook and 5 staff to look after your every need. Ideal for couples or a group of 6. Complimentary village river walk to adjoining World Heritage Listed river. Yoga platform designed to catch the breezes. Yoga instructors on call and massage.
Pita Maha – A stunning property perched on a cliff overlooking the Tjampuhan valley in Ubud. 24 private villas and a stunning restaurant. Its high end with high views. You overlook a raging river below and the property is studded with gorgeous carvings and stone work throughout.
Ubud is a place of spiritual beauty and arresting charm. It simply unfolds around you, in subtle ways. Life moves at a slow pace and the joy of the experience stays with you long after you return home. Discover for yourself the place where two rivers meet and allow the beauty of this very special place, located on the island of the Gods, to renew and refresh you.
Story by Stephanie Brookes
Photos by David Metcalf