Ubud is one of those places that brings up images and expectations when you hear its name. We wondered if the place will live up to its expectations when we visit. Ubud’s popularity shot through the roof after the Eat, Pray, Love and not only good has came from the movie. So we thread carefully into Ubud and hoped to see some of the original Ubud. To have a better feel of the place, we decided to stay for at least a week and what better way to get to know it then to eat, pray and love our way through Ubud.
The first thing that will influence your stay in Ubud is where you sleep. We chose a small guesthouse among the rice fields just off the main street on Jalan Bisma. Three Dewi’s was a delight to stay at as you are staying in the family compound and can witness the daily offerings made to the gods by the family members. Waking up to a view of rice paddies with breakfast of green Balinese pancakes, fresh fruit and wonderful Bali coffee served right on your balcony was the best way to start your day.
Rice fields surrounding our guesthouse
Bali offers endless choices when it comes to food. From organic huts amidst the rice fields to Balinese hole in the walls to 10 course European chefs preparing your (very expensive) dinner. Our favorite meals were Nasi Campur, Nasi Goreng and Gado Gado, easy but oh so good. We loved these at Biah Biah and Warung Lokal. A warung is a restaurant which can range from a couple of tables and chairs to a full on restaurant. The Jalan Gootama was a great place to search for a place to eat. Another must for was our daily Avocado Shake, served with a swirl of chocolate sauce. Best was to get it at any small shack with a blender, and all that for only 50 euro cents.
Ubud, being surrounded by coffee plantations, was an easy place to find a good cuppa. The Bali Kopi is a strong cup of coffee which is drunk black or with copious lashings of sweetened condensed milk. Watch out not to drink all the way to the bottom as the grounds sit on the bottom of the cup. On one of our days out we visited a Kopi Luwak plantation. Kopi Luwak is known as the world’s most expensive coffee. The wild civets swallows only the best beans and poos out the bean (still intact). Due to the enzymes in its stomach, the beans acquire a special taste. We thought it was something we should try once in our lives and it was good, just don’t think of its origin.
You can easily fill a day visiting the many temples dotted around town. The temple in the monkey forest, the Ubud Palace and our favorite, Pura Taman Saraswati are the most famous temples set in town. Note that some temples are not open to the public as they belong to the Royal family or have ceremonies and can be seen only from the front gates. However, not less impressive are the family shrines that are smaller but equally beautiful. You can find these in the small streets around town. Our favorite big temple Pura Taman Saraswati is the temple set in the water lilies pond. From the street you can’t see much but walk in and an intricately decorated temples looms in front of you. For a small donation you can borrow a sarong and sash so you can be properly dressed for the temple. Adding to all the beauty are all the water lilies in full bloom.
A beautiful Balinese doorway, a sign on the doorpost lets you know how many people live in the house
The best way to get away from the crowd is to hike in one of Bali’s gorgeous rice field. An easy day hike is to way out from Jalan Kajeng (off Jalan Raya Ubud) and follow the street out of town which leads to the rice fields and lush greenery. The total hike is only around 5 kms and you can have pit stops at one of the beautifully set wooden restaurants. You have the choice between Sari Organik, Pomegranate Café or the Dragonfly Café, and I’m sure more will pop up soon. It’s a good place to sit back and enjoy the calmness and sea of green rice paddies. When we were there, it was nearly rice harvesting time so the farmers have come up with all kinds of genius solutions to scare off the hungry birds eying their rice. Your calm was only punctuated by the click clacking of bamboo scare-crowers. Ubud being a haven for artists has small art stores with varying quality all over town. And even here between all the rice, you will be able to find lots of artists in their makeshift store.
Our pit stop at the Pomegranate Cafe
Two other popular hikes are the Campuhan Ridge walk and Penestenen / Sayan hike which are both very easy to do. They start a very short distance from Ubud main street and range from 4 – 6 km and can be easily done as half day trips. To start the Campuhan Ridge walk, walk out of town on the Jalan Raya Ubud towards the old suspension bridge and make a turn at the IBAH hotel. There are small signs posted at the spot leading you to the ‘trail’. The walk is beautiful with views of lush paddies, and takes you through small villages, water lily ponds and back roads before winding back to town. Penestenen /Sayan is a bit more of a hike and we started at the edge of town down at the water rafting landing. You might need to ask around but we were lucky to spot the place when we saw trails of people who have just finished rafting snake up the road. There is no real trail but just follow the path next to the river. It’s steep at times but the view of the river is gorgeous. You can choose to stop and get back to the village at several points of the trail. Along both hikes, it’s easy to see how people live their everyday life and be part of their Ubud.
Sharing our trail at the Campuan Ridge
Water lilies and rice fields, beautiful Bali
More glorious rice fields along the Campuan Ridge hike
Following the Sayan river on our hike
There are so many Hindu temples around Ubud which makes for easy day outs. One afternoon we rented a car and driver which was cheap as we split between Len and I and our visiting friends Maarten and Lenny. A car and driver for the afternoon was around € 20. We started off at Pura Gunung Kawi, which has an Indiana Jones feel to it and it was so peaceful to walk through the ruins and temple remains. Our next stop was Tirta Empul. The holy baths with all the faithful dipping in the water after placing offerings was a sight to behold. We have only seen small offerings set around till now so to see huge multi-level offerings filled with sweets and fruit was impressive. From the distance we heard gamelan music drifting over and we couldn’t believe our luck when we found ourselves to be in the middle of a procession. We later heard that these big processions were held only once in a couple of months. Rows and rows of beautifully dressed women with towering offerings on their heads walked by followed by men dressed in burgundy and white with music instruments and more offerings. We were speechless at all the beauty surrounding us. We then decided to wrap up our day at a coffee plantation which was in a small botanical type garden where we saw the origin of spices of course coffee. A coffee tasting ended the day with the sunset behind us, what a day.
Pura Gunung Kawi
Pura Gunung Kawi
Devotees at Tirta Empul
Praying in solitude, Tirta Empul
After a long hot day, the best way to wind down and relax was with a great Balinese massage. Balinese massage turned out to be a great mix of strong muscle pressure with not too many stretches. Walking down an Ubud street, it would seem that every third store is a massage salon, with prices ranging from dirt cheap to European style pricing. We searched for a good clean place with nice prices as we planned to have as many massages as possible and found a great little place called 3 Point. For an hour long Balinese massage we paid € 4. We found this to be a great place to just pop in to have a small treat without having to think of the price.
Each night you can choose one of the many dance performances set around town. Performances range from Balinese dances Legong and Barong to Kecak Fire chanting shows. Small tables are set up in front of the venue where tickets are sold for the night’s performance for around € 5 per person. We normally don’t go to these types of shows however we were persuaded by the mesmerizing music we heard night after night. The locations of these performances are all part of the experience as they are mostly at temples or palaces which were beautifully lit creating a magical place. We chose the Legong dance at the Pura Taman Saraswati temple and sitting among the water lilies to watch the dance was great. We really enjoyed the evening and can definitely recommend it.
Ubud has so much more to offer but this was our Ubud that we found to have lived up to our expectations. Go and Eat, Pray, Love Ubud.