Since the 1920s the spin of Ubud has been that of a natural, cultural and artistic paradise, Bali at its most seductive, and although the dirt tracks and coconut groves have long given over to traffic-clogged streets and glass-fronted chain-stores, this Balinese global village still manages to retain the lure that first charmed the international glitterati.
On first impression it’s hard to see past the rapid and (mostly) unplanned development that has resulted in a centre teeming with tourists, but the underlying conservative village social structure is fundamental to the essence of Ubud: just when you think it’s lost in a sea of commercialism, around the corner with a clash of gamelan, time (and traffic) is stopped as a temple procession of exquisitely dressed Balinese, heads piled high with offerings, weave their way along the street. The magic is restored.
Ubud offers plentiful ways to fill your stay: You could spend days gallery hopping at various museums and commercial galleries — learn about the history of Balinese art at Neka Art Museum, Museum Puri Lukisan, ARMA and Museum Rudana. See what drew one foreign artist at The Blanco Renaissance Cultural Museum and learn about the arts and culture of Indonesia at Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets and Threads of Life textile gallery. If you’re inspired, take a course at Pondok Pekak Library or learn to cook Balinese style.
Get out of town and explore waterfalls: Tegenungan, Tibumana, Goa Rang Reng and Kanto Lampo all offer cooling cascades, and for more adventurous folk, Hidden Canyon Beji Guwang is a fun river trek. There’s mountain biking, bird-watching at Bali Bird Park, Petulu Heron Colony, or Bali Bird Walk and butterfly encounters too.
Pura Taman Saraswati
The picturesque lotus-filled pond is the main drawcard for tourists at Pura Taman Saraswati, a stone’s throw back from Ubud’s main road, and it does indeed make a pretty backdrop for a selfie, but it’s worth getting a little closer to admire the impressive paduraksa entrance gate. The temple is dedicated to Dewi Saraswati, goddess of the arts and scholarship. Historically, she may have been a river goddess but has transformed to represent the more metaphorical creative flow. Saraswati Day is celebrated every 210 days according to the Balinese calendar when offerings are made to sacred texts and books are blessed. According to stories from Lempad’s son the design here was inspired in part by the monstrous head carved at the cave entrance at Goa Gajah. You won’t be able to venture beyond the gate unless there is a temple festival when you’ll need full traditional attire to enter.
Tirta Taman Mumbul Sangeh
The water temple, lake, bathing pools and surrounds at picturesque Tirta Taman Mumbul Sangeh is an idyllic and serene spot to take a break and maybe partake in a ritual water cleanse. Not far from Sangeh Monkey Forest, 250 metres down a short steep road from Jalan Raya Sangeh, the area was mostly only visited by locals prior to early 2016, when it was developed as a tourist attraction. Huge trees, shading an expansive clear green pool, more akin to a lake is edged by a beautiful temple, Pura Ulun Mumbul.Across the road what was once a popular fishing pool has been transformed into a bathing area with another spring for collecting drinking water. Lakeside a banyan tree shelters a small statue of a water-bearer, the legendary old woman water seller, who tired from travelling between villages bearing the heavy weight of her water jug, stopped here to rest.
The dry season was harsh and the plants in the area had all but shrivelled. Rather than selling her water, she took pity on the land and watered the plants. The water continued to pour from the small jar until the lake we see today was formed.
Hidden Canyon Beji Guwang
Hidden Canyon Beji Guwang may be hidden, but it’s definitely no secret. This rugged and deep rocky gorge along a section of the Oos River between Ubud and Sanur makes for an adventurous two to three hour trek. On our first attempt the Hidden Canyon remained hidden—flood waters had closed the trek, so to avoid an unnecessary trip, call ahead. If you have trouble getting any response, the local guide association often updates the river’s status on their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/beji.guwang. Even if the weather looks promising, the river may have other ideas. You are going to get wet, so dress appropriately. The area is considered sacred by the locals, shorts and T-shirt (or boardies and a rashie) and more acceptable than swimmers. Local guides suggest going barefoot but unless you have soles of leather, we’d recommend trekking sandals or water shoes or even trainers, as it’s very slippery and rocky and we saw broken glass in some areas. Take plenty of water and a drybag for electronics, you can leave unnecessary bags at the ticket counter. We found trekking poles useful.
The menu is extensive and has a good selection of Balinese specialities, Western standards and freshly baked cakes. Of particular note is the lime tart with its lime curd filling and perfectly crumbly base. The coffee is also quite good and ranks better than most in town and certainly is head and shoulders above Starbucks across the road. Go for seating out the back to enjoy the elevated setting and to dodge the worst of the traffic noise.
Jalan Raya Ubud
T: (0361) 973 282
Bar Luna is a cafe and bar serving delicious international fare and hosting a range of interesting arts and culture activities such as film screenings, literary panels and open mic nights. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for the latest happenings. The well trained baristas serve locally sourced Five Senses coffee while the bartenders whip up great cocktails and the cooks turn out quality tapas-style fare. The real attraction though is the events calendar -- not many places in Bali offer such an array of interesting stuff. Free WiFi is provided here and it's a pleasant environment to have a great coffee and surf the internet. Recommended.
Below Casa Luna, Jalan Raya Ubud (opposite Puri Lukisan), Ubud
T: (0361) 971 605
The downstairs bar and lounge area of Ary's Warung is a fantastic place to sip on a drink and nibble on bar snacks while relaxing and watching the world go by. On most afternoons and evenings you'll find groups of people doing just that. There's an extensive cocktail list, drinks are reasonably priced and we've always found the bar staff to be especially chatty and friendly. Upstairs is the fine dining area which has been serving a very similar menu for the best part of a decade. Many of the dishes are good ones, but are starting to feel a little tired compared to what you'd expect from fine dining in the West these days.
Jalan Raya Ubud, Ubud
T: (0361) 975 959
The food here is delicious and the atmosphere super relaxed. It's a great place for a healthy meal and competes with Kafe further to the south for the mantle of top health food cafe in Ubud. They try hard to make sure all produce is organic and chemical-free, and their food is made fresh daily. This means that you'll sometimes find items not available on the menu due to the produce not being available. WiFi is not available, but delivery is offered.
Jalan Jembawan 1, Ubud
T: (0361) 299 467
Perama shuttles service all the major tourist destinations from Ubud, picking up and dropping off in the south of Ubud on Jalan Hanoman in the village of Pengosekan, just up the road from Warung Enak and across from The Pond.
Sample destinations include:
Kuta/Airport: 08:30, 10:30, 12:00, 15:00, 18:00. 50,000 rupiah
Sanur: 08:30, 10:30, 12:00, 15:00, 18:00. 40,000 rupiah
Lovina: 11:30. 125,000 rupiah
Padang Bai: 07:00, 11:30, 15:00. 50,000 rupiah
Candi Dasa: 07:00, 11:30, 15:00. 50,000 rupiah
Gilis: 11:30. 350,000 rupiah
Gianyar is the closest transport hub and it's here you'll need to transit for bemos to tourist destinations both north and east. For anything west or south, it is best to head to the Batubulan terminal for connections. Bemos wait at the Ubud market for fares in all directions and in the morning they depart frequently. As the afternoon wears on, very few are to be seen.
Batubulan: 20,000 rupiah
Gianyar: 10,000 rupiah
Gianyar to Klungkung: 10,000 rupiah
Klungkung to Padang Bai: 20,000 rupiah
Gianyar to Singaraja: 50,000 rupiah
Bemos in local area: 3,000 rupiah