Ubud is a town of extremes. Some people fall over heels for its yoga-healthy living-new age vibes, while others find it all a bit too touristy. One thing that can’t be denied is the town’s beauty. It’s surrounded by lush jungle and rice paddies, and there are ceremonies almost every day. The name itself means medicine and as such the town has become a magnet for not only Balinese healers, but also Western alterative health practitioners of every kind – something that was only exacerbated by the book and film, Eat, Pray, Love. Steve and I lived there for five months and learned to love the town behind the tourist façade. I also threw myself into the health scene with mixed results.
Ubud travel guide
Here’s a little guide to get you started in Ubud.
Central Ubud is made up of a very busy one-way system, lined with shops and restaurants. At one corner is the Monkey Forest, and at the other end the Royal Palace and Market. Along this circuit and the roads that run off of it / parallel to it is where you’ll find most of the town’s best restaurants. The two main roads are called Hanuman and Monkey Forest Road.
Penastanan is a little village that sits above Ubud, about 20 minutes walk out of town. It’s popular with artists and ex-pats, and is where we chose to live during our time there. It’s much quieter than central Ubud and there are many beautiful villas in the rice fields. The downside of this is that demand from foreigners mean that the rice fields themselves are being built upon at an alarming rate. We didn’t relaise that when we arrived and felt increasingly uncomfortable about out newly-built house as time went on. That said, Penanstanan is a beautiful place with a relaxed vibe. It has a few great restaurants, some with beautiful views across the valley and is a wonderful place to wander around exploring the local art work.
This area is on the other side of the Monkey Forest and is a mostly residential area, popular with ex-pats. It’s also famous for its wood carver artisans.
The rice fields
The whole town is surrounded by rice fields but some of the most impressive terraces are to be found behind the streets at the south end of town where there is a beautiful walk you can do, starting at Jaleng Kajeng and leading to the main Ubud Road (halfway between the palace and the turning for Penastanan, taking you amid the fields and the forest.
Jalan Raya Sanggingan and Sayan Terrace
Both of these roads are lined with hotels/restaurants that have gorgeous views out across the valley and Tjampuhan River. You’d never know it from looking at the roadside, so be sure to visit one of the restaurants and see the view form the other side.
Things to do
Massage / Spas
One of our favourite luxuries in Ubud was a weekly visit to the spa. There are plenty to choose from, ranging from dirt cheap (and not so good quality) to uber-luxury. We opted for the mid-range, with our favourite being Sang Spa 2, which offers a dose of luxury at reasonable prices (around $25 for a two-hour massage, scrub and bath). Kayma Spa was another favourite. If a massage is all you’re after and you’re not bothered about all the extra touches then Golden Hands is a fantastic no-frills option in a tiny shop on Jalen Kajeng. The husband-wife team offer what we considered to be the best massages in town.
Antonio Blanco, a Spanish/American artist, often reffered to as the Dali of Bali, lived in Penastanan from the 1950s until his death in 1999. His estate includes the Blanco Renaissance Museum, which offers a fascinating look at his surrealist art. Look out for nighttime events as the grounds are spectacular place to party.
Ubud is a yoga capital, attracting teachers and retreat goers from all around the world. The biggest and most popular centre is the Yoga Barn, which offers a full schedule of different styles from morning until night. Radiantly Alive, Taksu and Intuitive Flow are also popular.
There is no end of therapies to try in Ubud, from acupuncture to crystal healing to family constellation therapy. The best way to find things is to take a look at one of the many noticeboards in town. The best ones are outside Bali Budda and Atman. Yu can read a few reviews via my Don’t Knock it til you’ve tried It series.
Ubud is well known in Bali for staging some of the island’s most elaborate ceremonies, the king of which is the cremation. Although it sounds like it would be a private affair, the entire village, tourists included, are invited.
Water plays a central part in Balinese spiritual life and people travel from all over the island to visit Tampak Siring, one of Bali’s biggest water temples. The centerpiece of the temple complex is a series of fountains where you can be cleansed. There are guides on hand to run you through the ritual. Although the temple is popular with tourists, the number of Balinese people far outweigh the foreigners. It’s about 45 mins from Ubud.
One of the most popular day trips from Ubud is to drive up to the top of Mount xx in the morning and then ride bikes all the way (downhill) back into town, passing through some small villages and coffee plantations along the way. We’ve nevr got round to it but friends talked about it highly.
We were in Bali for the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in October, which transformed the hippy town into a playground for the literati. It was one of my favourite weeks in town. The Bali Spirit festival is also meant to be great, celebrating all things mind, body and soul.
If you need to do some work while in town, then make sure to check out the awesome Hubud co-working space, which is more like a tree house than an office. They hold lots of networking and knowledge-sharing events and it’s a great place to get to know the town’s ex-pats.
Cafes and Restaurants
There are so many cafes and restaurants in Ubud that it really deserves a page all of its own. Here are our favourite vegetarian restaurants and cafes in Ubud.
Bars / Nightlife
Ubud is not a party town, leaning more towards Kirtan rather than clubbing, and there’s a noise curfew of around 10:30pm. That said, there are a few popular nightspots.
Betel Nut is the best place to see live music in town (try to catch a Nick Walawiki concert if you can). It also hosts the monthly Pecha Kucka night where people talk for around 6 minutes about something they are passionate about. Because Ubud is
The Yoga Barn hosts a weekly program of regular events including kirtan and ecstatic dance. The bi-monthly Monday movie nights are very popular, and our favourite was Sound Medicine on a Wednesday where you’re taken on a sensory journey through sound and smell.
Bar Luna, partner of restaurant Casa Luna, is a popular bar with artists, especially writers in Ubud. It holds literary evenings as well as regular music nights in the bar that spills onto the street.
Jazz Café and XL Shisha
We never actually made it to either of these bars but we hear they are the places to go for late-night revelry and dancing.
Where to stay
One of the nicest ways to experience Ubud is by staying in one of the town’s many homestays. Balinese people tend to live in family compunds and many have transformed part of theirs into a guesthouse. They tend to be cheap, clean, friendly places where you get to sample a slice of the wonderful Balinese hospitality. We stayed at Suparsa’s, which was run by a lovely family who made us feel very welcome.
Other options include renting one of the many villas that surround the town, or even splashing out on one of the spas. There’s certainly no shortage of accommodation. We found our long-term villa simply by wandering around Penastanan and asking around.
Things to be aware of
This is a little controversial as some people love the monkey forest. I thought I would too until one day we were held hostage by monkeys in our own home! Aside from that unfortunate encounter, I still recommend avoiding the monkeys in Ubud. They have a few serious illnesses (including rabies and B virus) that can pass to humans if they break your skin. The Monkey Forest is teeming with tourists, many of whom feed bananas to the monkeys or, worse, tease them. I know a few people who were bitten/scratched. Steve and I grew to see the monkeys as the little thugs of the town. Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact!
How to get around
The most efficient way to get around Ubud is to hire a motorbike. You can also walk to most places but you’ll find cheaper and quieter accommodation outside the main town in which case you’d need a scooter. Be aware that although the main streets in Ubud operate a one-way system not everyone obeys it. That said, if a policeman catches you, you will be fined.
A company called Best Trip Advice offer a discount card on some of the best restaurants, cafes and shops in Ubud. If you follow the banner below and quote the coupon code “bridgesandballoons”, you can get a 10 per cent discount off the card. We also get a little commission from that. Every little helps 🙂 Thank you.