When picturing Bali, it’s easy to think about drunk Aussies partying in Kuta and Seminyak. We delayed visiting Bali for a long time due to this reputation, not to mention that whenever we had time to go it was often during Indonesia’s wet season. It’s a scary thought to be confined to a room while the rain belts down when you’re supposed to be out and about exploring.
However, we had always wanted to visit Ubud, the culture capital of Bali. The area is full of temples, galleries, museums and trendy restaurants and bars. It may not be the quaint, hippy hangout it once was (we are probably at least 20 years late to that party) but that feeling still lingers in certain corners.
When thinking about where to stay, it depends on what you want to get out of your trip here. The town centre is very built up, and you will have no trouble finding what you need. This convenience comes with a price though, that being major traffic congestion and lots of touts.
Finding a nice guesthouse or villa just outside of town is where you will find that sense of Bali magic. We stayed at Amora Ubud Villas and were very happy with our choice. The property is a couple of kilometres outside the town centre and you’ll get to enjoy complete silence in the evenings and awaken to beautiful views of the lush green landscapes around the property. Walking into town was amazing, as it sits towards the end of the Campuhan Ridge Walk. The property also offered a free shuttle service into town.
If you are staying for more than a few days you might want to consider renting a scooter, or at least staying a walkable distance to the city centre as you may feel stranded when the evening hits, and most of the great bars and restaurants are concentrated in the town centre.
Our flight had arrived the night before, and after a delicious (and much needed) breakfast served at our villa in the morning we set out into town for some essentials like a sim card and to get a lay of the land.
First things first though, we needed coffee. Finding a great coffee shop in any new town we visit is always of a high priority. Our resort dropped us off just outside Ubud Palace (The unofficial centre of town) and we were on our way. The Seniman Coffee Studio located in the town centre was a great first stop to experience the coffee culture here, ‘Seniman’ means artist, and it shows here as you can tell this studio takes their craft seriously. I went for the 3 coffee taster that included 2 cold brews and a single origin espresso.
After our caffeine boost we set out to find a sim card and inadvertently had a whirlwind tour of the centre as we just couldn’t find the mobile phone shop that was appearing quite clearly on Google Maps. We ended up buying 15gb of data for 200k each, we may have overpaid a bit, but we needed it quickly and it still worked out pretty cheap, plus the man at the shop set it up for us. This article by Travel Tom Tom breaks down the different telco companies nicely, we used Telkomsel and had no problems throughout most of our trip.
Pura Taman Saraswati is located a short stroll away from the Ubud Palace. This temple is devoted to Hindu Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of learning, literature and art. An appropriate Goddess considering the cultural significance of Ubud.
This temple is surrounded by a beautiful garden and lotus pond and boasts that unique Balinese architecture. It was one of the more picturesque temples we saw during our travels in Bali. Located next door Cafe Lotus, which has an outdoor seating area overlooking the temple gardens and would be a great place to people watch for a little while with a tea or smoothie.
After heading back to our villa we decided a massage was in order to fully immerse ourselves into travel (and relaxation) mode.
The Ubud Traditional Spa makes up for its lack of a creative name with it’s reasonable prices and amazing services. They offer a free pick up if you are staying in the Ubud area and from the moment you arrive you will feel incredibly relaxed and well taken care of. They prepared some lovely welcome drinks and you get a nice snack after your massage is finished.
We went for the 90 minute Balinese Traditional Massage. The 90 minutes flew by and I may have dosed off at one point from feeling so relaxed. It’s worth getting in contact with the more popular spas earlier in the day as they tend to book out quite quickly, so reserve a time to avoid disappointment.
After our massages we felt recharged, although our calve muscles seemed to have been slightly shattered from it. We decided to head out to the Kajeng Rice Fields for a trek and find a nice base to watch the sunset and have dinner.
We walked around half of the Ubud Kajeng Rice Field Trek route in absolute awe of the scenery around us. It feels like you are entering another world once you get started. Surrounded by rice terraces and peace and quiet. It’s a nice opportunity to see a more authentic look at the local life here, as you see the Balinese people out doing their day to day activities. We were surprised that you could see this kind of thing within 20 minutes of leaving the town centre.
The area is only accessible with bikes or by walking, as the path is very narrow. Along the route you will find guesthouses, cafes, art shops and small convenience shops. This route is also home to the popular restaurants Cafe Pomegranate, Sari Organik and Sweet Orange Warung.
We made it all the way to Joglo Organik where we stopped for a shake. The views from their upstairs seating area were phenomenal, and we had the place all to ourselves. The only sounds were the family’s laughter from downstairs and the animals living on the property.
Lastly, we stopped at Cafe Pomegranate for a delicious dinner. This restaurant was opened in 2012 by 2 Japanese brothers. One of them was an interior designer and it shows here, as the architecture of the building is it’s strongest aspect. Completely open to the elements with an excellent view and on clear days you can see the mountains ahead.
As the sun started to set, the atmosphere felt perfect, and walking back through the rice fields we were treated to a purple glow from the sunset that made the area look spectacular. A perfect way to finish our first day in Bali.
We didn’t have much of a plan for Bali outside the areas we were staying in and a few things here and there we wanted to try. We knew that the central location of Ubud relative to Bali would make a great base for exploring some of the sights that are far away from the main tourist hubs though, so we contacted Bali Ari Tours & Driver to ask them if it was possible to to fit our itinerary in for the day.
Despite a slightly later than expected start, we were on our way to see some waterfalls, temples, rice terraces and another temple (just in time for the sun set) with our driver Komang. We had a great time with Komang, he is a great driver and host to his country, giving us great insights into the local life and driving at a good pace.
Nungnung waterfall is a 90 minute drive from Ubud and less touristy than some of the popular waterfalls closer to Ubud. When you arrive you have to walk down 300 steps to the base and pay a 10k ($1AUD) entrance fee per person.
The waterfall itself is breathtaking, and you can feel the cool mist from it as you reach the bottom of the steps. An amazingly refreshing feeling in the heat. You’ll be sharing this waterfall with only a few other people, as it’s off the beaten track. You can also go into the water for a swim and to get those perfect Instagram shots.
Ulun Danu Bratan Temple, constructed in honour of Dewi Danu, the goddess of the lake that was formed by a volcanic eruption over 30,000 years ago. The main temple itself is fairly small, but the setting and surrounding mountains are stunning. It can get quite busy here, but the temple grounds are big so it never felt too crowded. Entrance fee is 30k ($3AUD).
Walking through the temple grounds I couldn’t help but notice how crisp and fresh the air was. There were quite a few people out on rented boats seeing the temple from a different angle which looked like it would have been fun.
Next up was hiking through some of Bali’s best rice terraces, the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces. These terraces were simply beautiful, and was the highlight of the day for us. Around the area and in the distance you can see huge mountains and everything looks so green and natural! We were here in the middle of the day and were surprised at how few crowds there were. We walked along the laid out path and didn’t run into many other tourists. Entrance fee was 20k ($2AUD).
It becomes quite immersive as you begin your walk though, surrounded by the incredible landscape and walking past the farming houses. At a certain point all you can hear are the cows and tools at work and the subtle sounds of nature.
We had a slight scare towards the beginning of the walk however, as we saw a couple of young Indonesian kids hop on a scooter. We didn’t notice at first, but one of them had a very large rifle on their back. Likely returning from hunting or to fend off wildlife.
Our last stop for the day was the popular and magnificently picturesque seaside temple known as Tanah Lot Temple. After a long day of driving and sightseeing we weren’t quite as keen to go here. When we arrived we got our first glimpse into the ultra touristy side of Bali: Stalls selling beer singlets, Bali bogans and unsavoury propositions.
However, we were here, and wanted to make the most of it. After you journey through all of that nasty stuff you get to see the temples from a distance, which look great with that sea backdrop, especially with the sun setting behind them. The warm colours illuminating the temples and beach were lovely, and created this kind of haze that made you feel like you were in another world.
The best thing to do is to head down towards the larger temple on the beach (perhaps avoiding the blessing they offer unless you are into that kind of thing). From here you can walk along the rocky beach and at low tides you can see little sea critters scurrying around inside the holes from the rocks. There were groups of people surrounding a single tiny crab in absolute awe over it, which was entertaining to watch.
At the end of the beach you can find a nice rock to sit on and to enjoy a Bintang away from the crowds to watch the glorious sunset unfold. We think this is the best way to experience this Tanah Lot.
After 11 hours on and off the road for the day, we felt like we had really seen a lot, and loved every place we visited! The beauty of getting a private driver for the day is that you can pick and choose what you’d like to see, and it’s certainly worth listening to local tips.
By this point in time we realised that we definitely would have appreciated a few more days in Ubud, as there is so much to do.
We had booked a morning cooking class with Paon Bali Cooking Class when we first arrived. They offer free pick up if you’re staying in the Ubud area and the class begins with a tour of the local food market in the town centre.
Seeing and learning about all the different tropical fruits unique to Bali on display (and getting to try them) was good fun. An interesting part of the market tour was learning about the various types of herbs, spices and rices that’s used in Indonesian and Balinese cuisine. After walking through the market, our driver stopped by a rice field village where he talked about the rice farming process. The tours at the market and rice field were a great opportunity to ask questions about the ingredients, produce and food history.
We were given a refreshing lemon juice welcome drink upon arrival at the kitchen garden where we met our host, Puspa, who is very passionate about cooking and her culture. The kitchen is situated in an outdoor garden setting and all the fresh local ingredients were presented nicely on the counter ready for us to cook. Puspa briefly talked about the 9 recipes we were going to cook and provided substitutions for those with special dietary requirements.
The cooking was a hands-on experience shared with a partner and guided by Puspa and her family. The teaching aspect was carried out at a good pace and we learnt a lot about the Indonesian and Balinese culture, cuisine and cooking methods. The new food knowledge we gained definitely helped us with trying the local food for the rest of our trip.
Each of the 9 recipes cooked by all participants of the class was served in a large dish and presented on the counter like a buffet style. The food was of course delicious and very filling!
The best way to freshen up after being out in the hot Bali weather is by having a swim. Amora Ubud Villas had a communal pool that is surrounded by greenery making it feel more relaxing than it already is. It was the perfect way to freshen up and recharge with a cup of Balinese coffee.
As the sun started to set, we made our way into town by taking the Campuhan Ridge Walk, and it was the perfect lighting and timing to capture beautiful photos and moments of one of Ubud’s stunning natural sceneries.
We dropped by No Mas for a drink before dinner. We sat upstairs and first impressions were friendly service, cool interior design and great ambience. The cocktails didn’t disappoint either!
Our cooking class experience inspired us to try some local balinese cuisine for dinner and we stumbled across Warung Biahbiah. This local restaurant seemed to be quite popular for delicious local food at very reasonable prices. The menu offers some Indonesian classics and lot’s of small dishes too. We had Mi Goreng (Fried noodles with an egg on top), Nasi Goreng (Fried rice), chicken satay and a large Bintang to share.
For dinner we stumbled across Warung Biahbiah. This local restaurant seemed to be quite popular for delicious local food at very reasonable prices. The menu offers some Indonesian classics and lot’s of small dishes too. We had Mi Goreng (Fried noodles with an egg on top), Nasi Goreng (Fried rice), chicken satay and a large Bintang to share.