25 Things To Know Before Visiting Ubud, Bali (Indonesia)

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Canadian Journeywoman, Amit Janco entertained notions of working as a documentary filmmaker, news producer or lawyer. After two life-altering experiences, she read the writing on the wall and joyfully opened up to doing what she does best: traveling and stretching every creative muscle in her body, spirit, and soul. Amit has been thriving in Ubud for over a year and is installing an all-natural labyrinth at a local meditation retreat center. She blogs about her healing journey at healingpilgrim.wordpress.com. This is what Amit told us about her Ubud and surroundings …

1. Crème de la crème.

You’re in Bali, after all, so live like a princess whenever you can! If you’re looking for the most hedonistic sleeping splurge around, head no further than the Four Seasons Resort, in Sayan overlooking the Ayung River and some of the most spectacular lush scenery in Bali. Other equally self-indulgent options include the Uma Ubud, Five Elements Resort and Spa in Mambal, or the Alila and Amandari resorts, also in Sayan. If your budget doesn’t stretch quite that far, drop by to gawk at the vistas or for some oohing and ahhing at the gift shops

2. Affordable sleeps…

For reasonably-priced guesthouses, a stone’s throw from the madding crowds of Jalan Hanoman and Jalan Monkey Forest (Jalan = JI. = Street), ask your driver to drop you off on Jalan Kajeng – a narrow road with hand and footprints embedded into the cement pathway. A little further off, the neighborhood of Tebesaya boasts a number of compounds-cum-homestays, hidden behind shops and warungs, where you’ll want to stick around long enough to attend at least one of the family’s temple ceremonies. At Jalan Sukma 39, within easy walking distance of the city center, the reasonably priced Family Guesthouse welcomes every visitor with a smile. That’s just one of the reasons that many guests return year after year. While mingling with travelers from all around the globe, you’ll enjoy a breakfast of fresh fruit, banana pancakes or jaffle sandwich amidst their lush tropical garden. For a different experience, book yourself into the Suly Resort and Spa in the village of Peliatan, Ubud. The Bali Global Foundation established this hotel and tourism school five years ago to support and provide skills-training to underprivileged youth. Student trainees aren’t merely staff at the Suly Resort; they also entertain, dance and play in the resort’s gamelan performances.

3. Where to eat …

A wide range of warungs (restaurants) offer local fare all over town. On Jl. Sukma in Tebesaya, pop into Mama’s Warung and try the nasi campur (mixed plate of vegetables, tofu, tempeh, and rice, (and available with chicken, too). Other good bets are Lada Warung on Jl. Hanoman and on Jl. Gootama, check out, Dewa’s WarungWarung Lokal, and Warung Saya – with 3 small tables, it must rank as the tiniest restaurant in Ubud. If you’re on a tight budget, stop in at any Padang restaurant, where you can find a wide array of vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs, cooked jackfruit salad and more all laid out in a buffet-style display case. A favorite among locals is Puteri Minang Masakan Padang on Jl. Raya near the Ganesha Bookshop. Finally, if you are travelling with your partner and looking for a romantic place to dine, the upscale iconic Bridges restaurant in Campuhan is the place to be.

4. Organic smorgasbord! …

If you’re looking for organic edibles, you’ll have struck gold in Ubud! Dig into a scrumptious salad, creamy soup, towering sandwich or nutritious smoothie at Bali Budha, Kafé, Down to Earth, Soma, Juice Ja or Yellow Flower Café. Strolling through the rice paddies? Take an organic health-food break at Sari Organik. Or drop by the weekly organic markets, where you can find nature’s best – from organic ginger and kombucha drinks to moringa powder and mouth-watering beet brownies. Here’s the current list of markets: Pizza Bagus (Saturdays) and Café Arma (Wednesdays) in Pengosekan, Warung Alami (Tuesday mornings) in Penestanan, and Warung Sopa in Padang Tegal on Sundays. After a busy day of shopping, museums or walking about town, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as a daily glass of coconut water (es kelapa muda)- or go for the whole coconut, more freshly and cheaply sold by local vendors with carts.

5. Sweet tooth? …

If you’re an early riser, you can see local women at the market dishing out bubur injin, a sweetened red-rice porridge, sprinkled with palm sugar syrup. And local food vendors set up shop just about anywhere, selling mini green crepes filled with grated coconut and sugar, boxes of cookies, round cakes, fried dough, and brightly sugar-colored muffins. Later in the morning, head over to Kue on Jl. Raya for some of the city’s freshest chocolate croissants, truffles, cookies, and cakes. White Box on Jl. Andong(just north of Delta Dewata supermarket), daily whips up quiches, tarts, and a fabulous mango yogurt mousse. If you’re a chocoholic like me, you won’t want to miss the chocolate and avocado cake at Clear Café and other locally-grown cacao-based goodies at Alchemy.

6. Free ‘n Easy…

Everybody loves a few freebies. Start by dropping in at the post office on Jl. Jembawan, where you can choose from a selection of postcards (card free, you pay for postage). Then, take a walk up the street to the Love Space, where you can dance, join a yoga class, paint, read or just engage in conversation with other visitors – all gratis! After that creative activity, you’ll surely want to relax. Head over to Namaste where Wednesday evenings are dedicated to screening movies with a spiritual message. Further up, at Black Beach Restaurant on Jl. Hanoman, hunker down for Italian movies on Wednesday nights or French cinema classics on Thursday evenings, all starting at 8 pm See www.blackbeach.asia. Finally, want to get an idea of what Bali was like before the tourist buses arrived, Rendezvousdoux on Jl. Jembawan screens a continuous loop of a silent, black and white documentary film about Balinese dance in the 1930s. Enjoy!

7. Jam Karet…

This is a common Indonesian phrase that translates loosely into ‘rubber hour’ or ‘elastic time.’ Punctuality is neither a priority nor a virtue in Bali, so if you must be somewhere on time, you’re better off setting off earlier than intended. Or, better yet, remove your watch and follow the day’s clock: Rise at dawn, meander through town – especially the morning market – to watch daily life unfold. Take a break from the heat by watching Balinese women weave and prepare their intricate offerings for the next day. Gaze at the effects of the sun rippling on the water in the lotus pond in front of the Pura Dalem Saraswati on Jl. Raya. If your timing is right, a midday gamelan performance or dance rehearsal might be in progress in the Royal Palace courtyard. 

8. A Reader’s Paradise…

Feeling guilty about all that lazing around? Take a break by picking up a book or two. Pondok Pekak, library and learning centre adjacent to the Monkey Forest football field is a good starting point, where you can borrow a book and stick around for an Indonesian language class, Balinese dance lesson or coconut leaf décor workshop. You can watch women’s gamelan group rehearsals and the Genggong Frog Dance (the only one of its kind in Ubud, Fri evenings at 7:30). Buy a second-hand book or make a donation in support of the library’s efforts to increase Balinese literacy and preserve traditional arts. As an extra bonus, the library is also one of the few places in town where you can refill your water bottle cheaply. Other options for your inner bookworm include Periplus on Jl. Raya. At the centrally-located Ganesha Bookshop, browse through the array of locally-authored books, recipe collections, books about Balinese architecture and festivals, then stock up on new or secondhand bestsellers .

Is the drinking water safe?

If you want to avoid contracting Bali Belly while you’re enjoying your stay in Ubud, please take note. Pack a reusable water bottle and refill (at a low cost) with safe drinking water at various locations around town. Two easy ones to access are Bali Buda and the Pondok Pekak Library. You can also purchase small or large plastic bottles of water at shops and supermarkets everywhere – though it’s not advisable to buy more than one; recycling is still virtually non-existent. Restaurants provide bottled water as well. And remember that it’s hot in Bali so stay well-hydrated.

9. Health Issues?

Toya Clinic in Pengosekan and Ubud Clinic in Campuhan have English-speaking staff and extensive experience providing medical aid to foreigners. The prices for consultations, minor tests and treatments are reasonable and you can fill any necessary prescriptions at the nearby Kimia Farma in Peliatan. If you need urgent dental work done, head over to the plush surroundings of Sayan Aesthetics at The Mansion in Penestanan.

10. Taxi Ibu, yes? …

It’s a rarity to walk down a street in Ubud without being propositioned – by a taxi driver (car or motorbike), a souvenir seller or a massage therapist. Taxi miss, yes? Balinese massage? Best in town? Morning price, ok? Transport? Cheap price? If not today, maybe tomorrow? Keep in mind that many goods and services are negotiable in Ubud, especially with these transport-hawkers. They’ll try to charge you upwards of 20,000 Rps (about $2.25 US) for a trip inside city limits (one driver asked for 40,000), but a more reasonable fare should not exceed 10,000 Rps. Private taxi fares from the airport hover around 200,000 Rps; but if you don’t mind joining others traveling to Ubud, head to the shuttle pick-up point where you’ll pay about 50,000 Rps.

11. Ceremonies galore…

It’s hard to plan ahead if you’re interested in observing a uniquely Balinese event, the unforgettable cremation ceremony; but ask at your hotel or the Tourist Information office in front of the Royal Palace in case your timing is right. Otherwise, you might be lucky to stumble across one of the many temple festivals, weddings, cock-fighting (and gambling) gatherings, tooth-filing and baby-touching-the-ground ceremonies that are held nearly every day and night in Ubud. Many take place within the privacy of family compounds so though more difficult to find, it’s worth the effort to try and locate them via word of mouth.

12. Festivals for movers and shakers …

The Ubud Readers & Writers Festival, a popular literary event, is held every October. Authors, aspiring writers, editors, and publishers descend on this city in droves from around the world. Participants attend workshops, lectures, readings and panel discussions covering a wide range of themes and topics. Book your trip now if you want to attend next year’s event because accommodations are hard to find at this Festival time. If your tastes lean more towards moving than reading, you’ll have to wait for the next incarnation of the annual BaliSpirit Festival. This highly-touted celebration of yoga, dance and music return in March with presenters and yoginis arriving from near and far. You’ll get your body pumping (or relaxing) and your creative juices flowing in no time when you register for a day-long schedule of Kundalini, Power Yoga, Yin Yoga, Ashtanga, Hoop Dancing, NIA, African Dance, and Watsu. And finally, the Bali International Meditators Festival is held in Ubud every September.

13. Get out of town for the day…

A short drive from Ubud’s center brings you to Goa Gajah, a.k.a the Elephant Cave, a site covered with finely carved relief images. Goa Lawah is a temple in East Bali set inside the front entrance of a cave covered in bats. From there, it’s a stone’s throw to one of only two sea-salt making workshops. Stop in and watch the workers dredge salt from the sea, it’s quite a sight (you can actually see the small salt-making huts and coconut-drying trunks from the road). A visit to Tenganan in East Bali gives you a peek into a secluded village where the Balinese still live much as their ancestors did. The White Sand Beach (Pantai Putih) close to Candidasa is situated in a bay at the bottom of a winding road, but well worth the effort getting there; take a dip, lay back under the shade and sip from a coconut, then top off your day with a grilled fresh fish of the day. If your tastes lean towards wood and sculptural carvings, the village of Mas is the place to go. Take a boat from Sanur or Padang Bai to Nusa Penida where you can explore the underground holy caves where priests and healers are known to go to strengthen their spiritual energy. Spend a day surrounded by lush greenery at the Botanical Gardens in Bedugul or visit the Green School, recently anointed the Greenest School on Earth, for its eco-environmental philosophy and all-bamboo architectural design. The school’s campus is also home to Big Tree Farms’ Bamboo Chocolate Factory, producers of high-quality, locally-grown organic cashews, coconut palm sugar and cocoa powder.

14. Explore the outdoors…

Rent a motorbike and scoot around town, stopping in at  Café Vespa in Penestanan. Join a bicycling adventure tour to the volcanic Mount Batur. Take a rafting trip down the Ayung river. Stroll through the rice paddies on the way to Sari Organik and Cantika Spa. Climb the small hill to the Campuhan Ridge, enjoy the 360-degree views and feel like you’re on top of the world. Keep your wits about you while you amble through the Monkey Forest down to Nyuh Kuning, the monkeys are plentiful (some more friendly than others) and happy to rustle through your bag for food if you make it too easy for them. A trip to Bali is not quite complete without a visit to some of Bali’s holiest sites; the water temples of Tirta Gangga and Tanah Lot, the towering Mount Agung, or its most important temple, Besakih.

Please Note: It’s my personal preference to walk to most places but nearly all my friends here in Ubud rent motorbikes. They are affordable (typically ~$5/day) but, without experience and a helmet, it can be tricky to maneuver the pot-holed and partially unpaved roads. Accidents can happen. Caution is to be exercised at all times. P.S.When I need to get somewhere farther away, the taxi driver I usually hire is Joni and his number is +62 (0)812 4667 1020

15. Spa Central…

When you’re done with all that outdoor exploring, you’ll need a place to unwind. You cannot walk more than a few meters anywhere in Ubud without passing a seated woman handing out spa brochures. Just a sampling: Cantika (2 locations, both of which overlook rice fields, and Fresh (Dewi Sita) use only herbal and organic products. Try the traditional Balinese massage or Javanese Lulur Scrub. For that ultimate splurge, try the Five Elements resort, the Tjampuhan Hotel grotto where you can slip from freezing cold waters to a hot pool (which is, apparently, a boon to circulation), then follow up with a massage overlooking the river . Ubud must have the highest proportion of massage therapists to tourists anywhere in the world. Some of the reputable places include Bodyworks on Jl. Hanoman, Body and Soul on Jl. Raya and Kayma Spa on Jl. Monkey Forest. Then again, why not treat yourself to a more hedonistic four-handed massage at Spa Hati on Jl. Andong, or seek out a sensual chocolate massage available at various spas in town.

16. Healing haven…

Ubud is best known as Bali’s center for healing (Ubud originates from the word Ubad or Obad which means medicine) and a hive of creativity that attracts practitioners, healers, and yoginis from around the world. If that’s not enough, you can always check into Alchemy or Ubud Wellness Centre for a spot of colonic therapy. The Ayurvedic Health Centre and Yoga Barn’s Kush offer hot oil treatments or panchakarma programs. Give your body a break, give it a detox at Ubud Sari Health Resort. If you don’t cringe at the mere sight of needles, take a stab at an acupuncture session at Ubud Holistic. If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, there is a constantly revolving door of ex-pat practitioners offering crystal bowl tuning, tarot card readings, raw food courses, chiropractic, craniosacral therapy, and a vast array of healing modalities, some of more questionable value than others. If you have serious health issues, you may also want to consider seeking out a bona fide Balinese healer (balian). A word of warning: Ketut Liyer (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) has amassed a considerable following and fortune, but he has also been known to dole out the same pricey prognoses and prescriptions to dozens of women. Editor’s Note: As in all things pertaining to your health, none of these places are sanctioned by Journeywoman. We ask each reader to carefully research each center and each practitioner and to make their own carefully reasoned choices.

17. Stray off the beaten path…

Stray off-the-beaten arts path with a visit to the Blanco Renaissance Museum (where quirky, eccentric, baroque and overstated works take center stage.) The late artist Antonio Blanco established this studio and museum to display his grandiose paintings and artworks. Worth a visit even for the pleasure of strolling through the grounds, and inviting a Bali Starling to perch on your shoulder. Other notable museums and galleries include Puri Lukisan (Jl. Raya), Komaneka Gallery (Jl. Monkey Forest), Gaya Fusion Art Space (Sayan) and the Tony Raka Gallery (in Mas). The Neka Museum. in Sanggingan now boasts a collection of over 200 traditional ceremonial daggers (kris) and is one of the most visited museums in Bali Why not combine gallery-viewing with your lunch by stopping in at Café des Artistes or Adi’s Gallery and Komang’s Café on Jl. Bisma, or Il Giardino, a spacious Italian resto set amidst the lush tropical gardens of Galerie Han Snel on Jl. Kajeng.

BONUS Tip – Shops to look for …

At Momo’s store (Kunti St No. 20, Seminyak ) you’ll be able to order beautiful handmade leather and suede shoes in many colours, for both men and women. In fact, if you bring a favorite pair from home they will copy it exactly! Want a leather coat, skirt or boots made? That’s no problem either. Tel: 0361-732-361. Tailors/seamstresses abound in Bali and JourneyWomen can get clothes made for very reasonable prices. Visa & Mastercard are both accepted in tourist areas, and you can get cash out at most ATMs. In smaller villages moneychangers will cash travellers cheques for you.

Handpainted scarves & sarongs are in abundance in Bali. Visit Gorim’s shop in Ubud (Penestanan – Klod, Tel: 80571) for the most exquisite shawls, scarves and sarongs — approximately US$5-6 each. It makes sense to buy half a dozen for Christmas and birthday gifts.

Check out the Kites Shop On Monkey Forest Road. If it fits in your suitcase, what a great gift to bring for a special kiddie at home!

Important: There are so many beautiful inexpensive items to buy in Bali, but be sure to check on what you can bring back to your country. For example, Australia has to screen every wooden item as well as leather products, very carefully. Woven handbags could possibly be contaminated with tiny little bugs, so shop with your eyes wide open. Ubud is definitely Bali’s shopper’s heaven, but many other wonderful treasures can also be found in the tiny little out-of-the-way villages.

P.S. You might want to pack an extra shopping bag or small suitcase so you’ll be able to bring back all your extra goodies.

Submitted by Teena Hughes, Australia

18. Back to (art) school…

You just might need to extend your stay when you try to decide between the most tantalizing choice of arts and crafts classes you could ever dream of: silver jewelry, carving (wood and stone), batik making, painting, bamboo and lontar weaving, ceremonial offering and mask-making. The Gaya Ceramic Arts Center in Sayan offers workshops in raku, glazing, hand-building, culinary clay and yoga, and clay. If you feel like getting your hands dirty, indulge your inner artist and head up to the BCAC (Jl. Tegallalang) on the first Friday evening of every month for painting, food, and drinks.

19. And now for something completely different…

The Kado boutique of Saraswati Papers on Jl. Dewi Sita carries beautifully textured cards, journals, calendars and picture frames made from recycled hand-crafted paper. Manufactured in partnership with the Bali Safari and Marine Park, many of the products come from the Poo Paper Factory – using tons of elephant dung!

20. Buying local…

Thinking of gifts to bring home for family and friends? You can benefit the local artisan community by seeking out handicrafts made by Balinese craftspeople whenever possible. Start off at the Ubud market to get an idea of what’s available, then stock up there on you souvenirs or, if the crowds are swelling, consider taking a trip to the Sukawati market – a 20-minute drive out of town. Threads of Life on Jl. Kajeng provides extensive descriptions about the origins of their wares, while Seniwati Gallery (Jl. Sriwedari) displays extensive artwork by Balinese women. Their calendars make a perfect souvenir! Other choices for locally-produced souvenirs include clothing, colorful kites, honey, cacao powder and chocolates, Bali coffee (Kintamani or Luwak are best), palm sugar, kris knife, silver jewelry and anything made from bamboo. Mingle Café on Dewi Sita sells their handmade and reusable bamboo straws (buy 10 get 2 free). Homemade low-sugar jams and fruit compotes -papaya, guava, pineapple, tamarillos and more – are concocted locally and available at Confiture Michele on picturesque Jl. Gootama.

21. Calling all yoginis…

The secret’s out: Ubud excels in attracting teachers, advanced practitioners and beginners from around the world, so you will have lots of options to choose from. Intuitive Flow in Penestanan (also known as Linda’s studio) offers classes in hatha and restorative – perfect for a beginner or anyone recovering from injury. The Yoga Barn (Pengosekan) has an extensive menu of classes ranging from flow and iyengar to power, acro-yoga, ashtanga and so much more. Yet more choices are available at Taksu, Taman Hati in Nyuh Kuning and the newest kid on the block, Radiantly Alive, centrally located near the Post Office. Forgotten your yoga gear at home? You’re in luck! A stroll along Jl. Hanoman will lead you to most of the yoga-wear shops, like OmpureWe’arSatyaYoga and Karma Collection (with a second store on Jl. Raya). A sweet little shop called Anjaly Bali on Jl. Dewi Sita sells imported designs.

22. Cooking classes…

Want to do your own local food preparation? Want to meet other visitors and locals? Take a cooking class at Mozaic restaurantBumi Bali or Janet deNeefe’s Honeymoon Cottages. Yum!

23. Sky shows…

So much is happening on the ground in Ubud, that you may forget to look to the sky but don’t because there is beauty if you turn your gaze upwards. When school’s out from midday on (during dry season), the skies fill up with kites – of varying sizes and colors. As much as Balinese men love their fighting cocks, the boys love their kites. You may even see two or three boys carrying a large owl-shaped kite to the nearest field to test out. Starting every evening shortly before 6 pm, look skywards and you won’t miss the spectacular dusk migration of white herons to their nests in Petulu just north of Ubud’s center. If you want a closer look, ask a driver to take you to the birds’ village in Petulu, off the main road of Tegallalang. Yes, they have their own village! And if you’re in Ubud during the full moon (Purnama), you’ll see more offerings grace the roads and an unmistakable buzz in the air. If you live in a metropolitan city, you’ll be thankful during your stay in Ubud that there’s not nearly enough light pollution to prevent star gazing. it’s breathtaking!

24. Not tired yet…

No worries, there’s so much more to choose from! First stop should be one of the many dance performances offered throughout Ubud – including Barong, Legong, Keris, Joged and childrens’ shows. If you don’t have time to search further, Oka Kartini on Jl. Raya is the go-to place for a Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet) show. Laka Leke serves up buffet dinner with a view and the fiery all-male Kecak dance. The Chillout Lounge (Jl. Sandat) offers giant Twister, painting, BBQ and “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire” nights. Music plays at numerous places (especially along Jl. Monkey Forest), including Laughing Buddha Bar, XL Shisha Lounge and Bunuté.  The Round Bar in Penestanan boasts furniture made entirely from recycled materials, including bicycle wheels incorporated into bar stools. 

25. Don’t forget to pack…

The roosters and dogs are known to shake many a tourist awake in the too-early morning hours, so earplugs are a must for light sleepers. With a sun that beats down hard, you’ll be glad you brought sunscreen and glasses. A reusable (plastic, aluminum) water bottle is handy and can be refilled with filtered water at your hotel or a few places around town – including Bali Buda across from the post office. You may want to tuck in a collapsible umbrella if you get caught in a sudden downpour while strolling through the paddies. If you plan to rent a scooter while in town – they’re cheap and plentiful, don’t leave home without an international drivers’ license and … travel safely, everybody!

PLEASE KEEP IN MIND: If you plan to visit Ubud during peak season (June-August), be prepared to deal with daytime traffic jams on the main roads in town as they become virtually impassable due to the large number of hefty tourist buses unloading passengers wherever they please and idling for hours on end. Your best bet is to wander beyond the city during the day, limiting your mid-town shopping, spa and dining experiences to the morning or evening hours.

BONUS Tip -What to pack…

I suggest packing lightweight T-shirts, shorts, capris and summer dresses. However, if your budget allows, have some fun. Take very little with you and buy whatever you need for a fraction of what it would cost at home. Sarongs can be worn over shorts for temple visits and slip-on sandals are ideal — easy to slip off before entering shops & places of worship. Don’t forget to pack closed shoes for serious walking (tennis shoes etc.). A hat (foldup is perfect) is essential as it is very sunny and hot year-round with temperatures hovering between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit or 24-33 degrees Celsius. It’s a good idea to take a long-sleeved sweater or shirt for slightly cooler evenings and air-conditioned buildings.

Submitted by Teena Hughes, Australia

Evelyn Hannon

Evelyn started Journeywoman in 1994, and unknowingly became the world's first female travel blogger. She inspired a sisterhood of women, a grassroots movement, to inspire women to travel safely and well, and to connect women travellers around the world. She passed away in 2019, but her legacy lives on.

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