Ubud is the cultural and geographical heart of Bali. Tourism boomed after the book and movie “Eat, Pray, Love” and how could a single girl not want to look like Julia Roberts and fall in love with Javier Bardem in the rice fields? Come to think of it, I did see a disproportionate number of single women walking around Ubud but also saw throngs of families, couples, backpackers, partiers, etc. Ubud certainly is a busy tourist town, and this is how I spent one week in Ubud.
Many people just spend a couple days here but since I had time before flying home, I decided to stay for a week and make it a home base to see other parts of the island. The town was so geared towards tourists – it was very easy to book tours for the coming day. I really liked Ubud but found myself thinking “get me outta here” at least three times. Keep reading to find out why and found out how I spent one week in Ubud.
Fire Dance, Frog Dance, Barong Dance
There are several venues around town and about 5 cultural shows nightly. I attended three of these shows, all very different – from the types of instruments used, the dancing, and the costumes. The shows that I attended cost 75,000-80,000 IDR ($6) each.
Bali Breeze Downhill Biking Tours
There are tourist booths all around town selling various downhill biking tours. An incredibly cheap 250,000 IDR($22) delivers a jam-packed day. I got picked up by air conditioned van and we started driving northeast of Bali, through areas with many art stores and fruit orchards and stands. We stopped at a famous rice field terrace (in fact, the Obama family had just visited there a week earlier) and a coffee/tea tasting garden. The driver finally stopped on a ridge overlooking the largest mountain and lake of Bali island and we had a late (11 am) breakfast of an omelet and fruit. We were then equipped with a helmet and a bike for our downhill ride. When they advertise this trip as downhill, they were correct – I barely pedaled the entire ride, with the exception of two steep uphill jaunts that were so steep even the strongest bicyclist had to get off and walk their bike up. In fact, I found myself braking pretty much the entire way. We had a few interesting stops along the way including a small village and temple, some rice fields, and a woodcarver’s shop. We finished biking by mid afternoon and then had a buffet lunch before driving back to Ubud.
Go Walking in the Rice Fields
Considering how many tourists were in Ubud, I was surprised to see how little one needed to walk out of town to dodge the crowds and stroll in the rice fields. You can see that the rice fields are being developed with several guesthouses, restaurants, and art shops with more construction and several “for sale” signs attached to various fields. It will be interesting to see this spot in 5 or 10 years. I met some Australians and had a beer as the sun set over the rice fields.
Shared Taxi Tours
The taxi association of Bali has created a set of 10 tours around Bali that allow you to share a taxi with others and see many sites in single day. This can be a good deal for solo tourists as the trips cost 175,000-225,000 IDR(around $20). The advantage is that you get to see many of the main sites in a short period of time, but the disadvantage is there is little time spent at each. For example, we’d stop at a spot and the driver would say “you have 35 minutes here”. I was glad I wore a watch.
Insider tip: these tours seem cheap on the surface but end up quite expensive after you add in the admission fees for the various temples, ranging from 10,000 – 100,000 IDR $1-8 and lunch. For lunch they always go to a spot with a nice view, but a relatively expensive buffet 130,000 IDR($10) for a country as inexpensive as Indonesia. Also, if you’re traveling with one or more other people, it might be better to get your own car for the day and go at your own pace. You can get a car and driver for about 550,000 IDR.
In the process of taking two of the shared taxi tours, I had a chance to visit several Hindu temples. I liked the elephant temple (you can walk into its mouth which is really a cave) and the Holy Spring Temple, where you can bathe in the holy water. Insider tip: if you bathe you cannot go into the temple as they don’t allow wet clothing. Also, take a sarong or buy one – all temples require a sarong. If you negotiate, you can purchase a sarong for as little as 20,000 IDR ($1.50)
My favorite of all temples was Tanah Lot. This temple is on the wild west coastline of Bali and a very popular place for sunset. You can go out to the temple during low tide. This temple is famous for snakes. You can touch a sacred snake for a small donation in the caves opposite the temple.
There are two monkey forests in Bali. One is in the center of Ubud, on “Monkey Forest Road” and the other is outside the city. I visited the one outside the city on the shared taxi tour, and also visited the one in central Ubud. Both have many, many monkeys and you can watch their funny antics. The babies are so sweet. One of my favorite spots was the pool where monkeys would leap from high branches onto other unsuspecting monkeys in the pool. You also might get a lesson in monkey sex education. It was mating season so you can imagine what occurs.
The monkeys are quite aggressive so don’t be surprised if one or more jump on you. I found a couple monkeys jumping on me to the point I thought “get me outta here!” If you don’t want unwanted attention from the monkeys, don’t look them in the eye or carry anything they might think is food, specifically plastic.
There are many bars around Ubud geared towards tourists/backpackers. Some have live music most nights. I did go to one of the popular ones called The Laughing Buddha on Monkey Forest Road. The place was packed but I felt being in a place completely full of white faces – except for the staff and the band – with overpriced beers and the band playing songs from Adele and Coldplay.
Ubud has become a yoga mecca. There are 100’s or 1000’s of people in Ubud every day that attend various classes around town. Yoga Barn is probably the largest – a huge complex with hotel rooms, organic restaurant, juicery, and a “barn” where up to 65 people at a time attend one of 10 classes a day.
In addition to yoga, there are some new age classes and a couple of people told me that they recommended a class called “Shamanic Breathing”. Not knowing anything more about it, I showed up 30 minutes before the class. I paid my 130,000 IDR ($10) and went into the class where the male teacher told us to grab mats, pillows, etc. Anything to make us feel “comfortable”. 15 minutes before the class, he instructed us to pick a tarot card and take a look at the meaning of the card in some textbooks he had. This was the first warning sign of what I was about to get myself into. The class begins and he tells us to lay back and get comfortable. He also says we’re all adults and by starting the class we need to finish it. No one is allowed to leave the room once the 1.5 hour class starts. He instructs us to slowly and deeply breathe into our nose and out of our mouth. He plays a drum, a wooden flute and says something on about “mother earth”. Then the trance music starts. I continue to breathe in an out as others have already ended up in the shamanic state. So I’m laying there while listening to people crying out loud, shaking, and yelling things like “I’m not going to let you do that to me.” It was sort of traumatic but all I could do is lay there and secretly whisper to myself: “get me outta here!”
Commentary: sorry if you believe it this stuff – it obviously works for some but I learned it’s just not for all.
Get Rained In (Out?)
For my last day, I had grand plans to return to the Monkey Forest, get a massage, and buy some souvenirs but alas, it was pouring raining for the last day and a half. I sat on my covered balcony and watched youtube videos and the rain. Occasionally it would slow to a drizzle so I did go out to get some souvenirs and go to one last cultural show. After a week of sightseeing, most of it solo, and all this rain, it was time to “get me outta here”.
Where I Stayed
Dewi Ayu Accommodation – this place with many buildings was on Monkey Forest Road, half way between the forest and the palace. I had the most basic room for 150,000 IDR ($12) per night that included a fan-cooled huge room, private bathroom, balcony with chairs and table, swimming pool, and a big breakfast (egg, banana pancake, lots of fruit, and Balinese coffee). They had rooms for different price points. I got to check out the room of a Chilean woman who was staying for a couple months – for 300,000 IDR she had a gorgeous newly constructed room with A/C and bathtub and balcony overlooking the river.
Where I Ate
You can eat any cuisine in Ubud… from pizza and burgers, to waffles, to tapas with blaring Spanish Music. I had a lot of good meals around Ubud but nothing noteworthy. Many restaurants are western priced but I found a few warungs (local restaurants) in the alleys off Monkey Forest Road that were serving good and traditional Indonesian food.
If you’re in Bali, you should definitely check out Nusa Penida.
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