So, after a few days in Kuta and Seminyak I was ready to leave the westernised part and venture into the inner core of Bali, the village of Ubud. Ubud offers you a jungle escape, a moment of total reconnection with nature and spirituality, as depicted in the book and movie “Eat, Pray, Love”: luxuriant temples, rainforest, waterfalls, yoga and meditation classes… but also adventure activities, traditional village life, organic and authentic Indonesian food, beautiful art. Don’t expect the beach of course, because Ubud is far inside the island… and you don’t really need the beach, because there’s a lot to do and see in this area, I wish I had more time myself!
For my accommodation I wanted something completely different from the hotel in Seminyak. Ubud offers a multitude of private pool villas immersed in nature, where you can really enjoy your stay. I chose Umae Villas and I was absolutely pleased with the choice: perfect location, intimate and quiet, simple and lovely design, romantic and cosy. The pictures below show a few views of the villa we were staying at (Umae Villas count a total of 10 different villas), included the cute square pool (where I even swam naked because yay! it was our private pool) and the ‘rainforest’ bathroom! Breakfast is served in your own garden in the morning, it’s quite basic in terms of choice of food but it does the job (that was the moment I became addicted to having mie goreng for breakfast, to the point of missing it once I was back in London! Insane! Fried noodles?! Me, an Italian?).
Some handy travel tips
When we arrived to Ubud it was raining cats and dogs, and this is a very recurring phenomenon in this part of the island, so if I had to give one precious piece of advice that would be “absolutely PACK A PONCHO”. Umbrellas would ruin your experience, wear a poncho instead and you can dance in the rain while you enjoy your adventures in the jungle. You will soon realise that there’s really a lot to do and see in and around Ubud, and you will have to make the best of your time here. A good thing to do would be downloading the GetYourGuide app and book a private driver for the day: price is usually between 30 and 40£ and you have a personal driver for 8-10 hours (so cheap!), who will follow the itinerary you want, picking you up and dropping you off at your hotel. Here’s a clever use you can do of this service, keep your ears open. As I said, I was staying in Seminyak, which is on the South-West coast of Bali, before going to Ubud. Usually a taxi ride will take around one hour with no traffic (which is basically an utopian scenario in Bali, where streets are always busy) and will cost you the same amount of money as renting a private driver for the day. So why not hiring a driver that would pick you up from an area of Bali in the morning with your suitcases, take you around all day and drop you off in Ubud in the evening? This way you will save money and time, avoiding to waste half a day only to travel to Ubud. 😉 If you don’t want to use the GetYourGuide app, many hotels have their own private driver rental service too, but I’m not sure if it would be cheaper or not. In case, try and haggle a bit.
What to see in Ubud
My villa was very close to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, which I really recommend if you like jungle and animals! This forest is brimful of monkeys and it has an organised pathway you can follow, with members of staff explaining things and helping you getting to know these cute and unpredictable animals. Yep, unpredictable. A moment they are the loveliest thing ever, the moment after they start to fight like in Game Of Thrones trying to bite each other’s head off. A few simple rules when you visit the Monkey Forest: don’t carry valuables (jewellery, wallet, purse…) or at least keep them securely zipped where the monkeys can’t see them, because the little buggers love to jump and steal things; if you want to take pictures make sure you attach securely your phone or camera to yourself and be fast and sneaky, for the reason above; don’t carry food, especially bananas, because they can smell it and attack you. That said, you will be able to experience some beautiful family scenes of these fascinating animals and take the best pictures ever, of them and of the wonderful surroundings (the sanctuary itself is magical and the jungle is lush).
If you watched “Eat, Pray, Love” or if you simply ever typed ‘Bali’ on Instagram you surely have seen the images of luxuriantly green rice fields (paddies), organised in vertical staircase shapes and absolutely beautiful. You can’t go to Bali and not see the Tegallalang Rice Terraces: hire a bike and cycle all along the upper circuit or ask your driver to do a long stop and explore them by walking, so you can soak up all that marvel. These rice fields have some lovely photo spots in the form of suspended nests and cocoons, where you can climb in and have your fantastic picture taken. Ubud is literally full of these photo corners, as much as it’s full of swings, suspended at various (scary) heights. I challenged my irrational fear of height and gave the swing a try… I was launched back and forth in the air and once I stopped screaming like a hyena on fire I really enjoyed it!
Goa Gajah Sanctuary (or Elephant Cave) is another lovely place to visit. The cave itself is really small, with a nice facade but nothing major inside… but the surroundings are breathtaking and it’s such a peaceful place. Like for all the temples in Bali, you will be asked to cover your knees and your shoulder: don’t buy the sarong from the vendors in the outside parking lot (unless you like the colours and you want to bring one home with you), because you will be offered one for free at the entrance, near the box office. Don’t laugh at me in the photos below: my red Sarong didn’t really match the blue trainers and the green t-shirt. Fashion faux pas.
The Ubud area is also famous for some gorgeous waterfalls. Tegenungan Waterfall is a great fun place, where you can admire this cascading wonder of Nature and take the best photographs in suspended nests, love hearts or with wooden angel wings. Bear in mind that there’s a steep and long slope with stairs to reach the actual waterfall, which is perfectly fine when you are going down but it’s a bit challenging on the way up (don’t worry there are spots in the shade where you can sit down a few minutes and sip some water. Bring water with you at all times in Bali!). If you have the chance, visit this waterfall in the late afternoon, when the weather is less humid and it’s less packed with tourists.
Here’s a controversial one. The visit at the Luwak Coffee Plantation. Luwak Coffee is known for being the most expensive coffee in the world, with its well rounded flavour and very low caffein content. To obtain the precious blend, the coffee beans are fed to these civet cats that eat them, partially digest (and here is where the fermentation process happens) and expel them from, ehm, their rear exit. The pooped beans are then washed, dried and milled into fine powder. This practice is controversial for a few reasons, all related to the conditions in which these animals are kept (caged, fed a one-food type diet when they would need a variegated one, etc…). The visit to the coffee plantation has no admittance fee and includes a free tasting of many different teas and hot chocolates as well, which are honestly delicious. The staff are welcoming and they show you the different plants of the field, but you will not actually see much of the process of creation of the blend. Altogether it is a nice place to see, with cute photo spots, but if you don’t want to support animal cruelty in any way just avoid to buy or even try the Luwak Coffee, enjoy the teas and chocolates instead. Bear in mind that some of the products you find in the gift shop are available in town in Ubud even at cheaper prices. So yes, I wanted to list this place as one of the things to see but it’s a tricky one, totally up to you.
Kemenuh Butterfly Park! We stumbled upon this place by pure chance and it was a really nice surprise! You walk across a garden full of butterflies with different patterns and colours… You can follow the various stages of growth from larvae to cocoon to fully adult and even keep a giant moth in your hand. It’s quite warm and humid in the garden, so dress light.
The village life in Ubud is busy but very nice. Visit Ubud Palace in the late afternoon and stay to watch the evening Balinese Legong dance, or venture inside the nearby Art & Craft market Pasar Reni to buy souvenirs. Don’t forget to experience a class of yoga in Ubud: Yoga Barn is the more popular studio, but if you want something more intimate you can try Intuitive Flow.
Food & Drinks
Thanks to the tips of my lovely Spanish friend Bea I got to experience the sultry deliciousness of a dish called beef rendang: it’s a sort of sweet and sour marinated pulled beef served with rice and vegetables, and I loved it so much that I had it almost every day when I was in Ubud. You can taste the best beef rendang at Waroeng Bernadette, which is a place that serves lovely Indonesian food and it’s also super quirky! It’s decor is all made with vintage colourful finds from thrift markets and artistic creations (see photos below!). A few steps after Waroeng Bernadette there’s another interesting restaurant called Biah Biah which serves a long menu with many different Indonesian dishes in the form of little tapas, perfect if you want to taste a few options and have an idea of this cuisine. If you fancy a day meal with breathtaking view on the rice fields, check Kampung Cafe or Sari Organik (they are a bit far, so maybe you can pair them to your visit to the rice terraces!). For a coffee & cake afternoon stop or a bistro lunch with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options I strongly recommend the superb Kafe, right in the centre of the city. For night drinks and chill-out vibes I would suggest the candle-lit ambience of CP Lounge, tapas bar with live music.
Ubud is this and much, much, much more, that I didn’t have the chance to experience in the little time I had… This time I preferred to concentrate in terms of distance the things to see and do, but next time I will definitely try and hike Mount Batur to see the sunrise, see the Tirta Empal Temple and the other smaller but beautiful waterfalls that are a bit far out from the city area.
Wanna know how my holiday continued? Swimming with turtles, drinking Lemon Bintang and cycling an entire island in less than one hour? Read My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 3: Gili Trawangan