Beyond the “Eat, Pray, Love” experiences being sold by every travel agent in Bali, Ubud has a lot to see and do to make you feel like you’re back on track exploring after you probably spent longer-than-needed in Kuta. There are still some attractions worth skipping, but most experiences in Ubud are rather unique and enjoyable.
- Stay on the outskirts. You’ll definitely pop into the centre to find a shop or a restaurant, at which point you’ll realise it’s just one street of traffic and the same stuff as everywhere else. If you choose a hostel further out you can enjoy more the natural surroundings people visit Ubud to enjoy.
- Climb a volcano at sunrise. There’s three major ones that are all plagued with tourists that make it feel like less of an adventure but it’s still great fun and truly breathtaking watching the sun emerge over the horizon from over 1,700 metres. A lot of people try going alone to avoid the fees, but they’re minimal and cover transportation there and back (plus guides will hassle you once you’re there) so I’d advise just paying for the tour through your hostel – it’s so much easier and they often include a boxed breakfast you should eat before the monkeys at the summit snatch from you.
- Skip monkey forest. It’s probably on your to-do list, but it shouldn’t be. The price seems to be different depending on who you ask, but the stories are all the same; you walk through a small forest getting bitten by monkeys that also steal all your stuff. There’s also monkeys in a lot of other places you’re likely to go (like the volcano mentioned above).
- Elephant caves are a filler. Most hostelmates hadn’t even heard of the elephant caves, so I was excited to visit something that might be a little less busy than the usual temples and sights. This place was still busy and rather lacking in things to do and see. I’d still reccomend stopping by if it’s on your way somewhere or you have an hour to kill, but it’s kinda naff. It’s also nice and cheap.
- Rain is scheduled. Unlike the other parts of Bali and countries I visited having a bit of a downpour, Ubud seemed to have a pretty consistent rain schedule. Every day it would rain really heavily from around 1pm until 4pm and then dry up just as the sun started to go down. There genuinely wasn’t a single day it rained at any other time, which made it easier to anticipate but also meant every day I had a couple of hours stuck indoors. Weird, right?
- Food is exceptional. It’s still all the same dishes as you’d find in other parts of Bali, but it all seems to have a little more effort put into it with an extra ingredient or two that enhances the flavour. Your typical Mie Goreng and Nasi Campur tastes less oily and more natural. There’s an absolute plethora of organic, vegetarian and vegan restaurants around, but the best part of eating out in Ubud is the warungs.
- Always eat at warungs. Most restaurants will say the word “warung” somewhere on their signage – these are not what I am talking about. The warungs I’m talking about are small family-run businesses serving a buffet of Indonesian food throughout the day. Once your plate is full of whichever dishes you choose, the chef will look at what you’ve picked and give you a price for your plate. It’s almost always under £1. Whilst warungs are all over Bali and the rest of Indonesia, my favourites were almost all in Ubud. I strongly reccomend Warung 9 in Ubud; it’s vegetarian and has no staff – instead you’re asked to wash your own dishes before you leave and payments are handled with the honour system.
- Commit to the location. Ubud is small and easy to navigate, so do a little research and pay a bit extra to find the accomodation that suits you and stay there for your entire Ubud trip. For me, this was Lagas Hostel – I highly recommend it. Once you arrive go and find yourself a scooter rental for the duration of your stay as there’s plenty to see but it’s all dotted in different directions so walking is a bit of a pain.
- Rice paddies are beautifully boring. Tegalalang’s rice terraces are undoubtedly a must-see in Ubud, however they are nothing more than a wonderful sight. The same goes for all the other rice terraces you’ll see during your travels really – they’re lovely to look at but then you’re done. I wouldn’t advise walking around them; there’s nothing more to discover once you’ve seen them. Instead just go and grab lunch at one of the restaurant with a balcony that overhangs the rice terraces and enjoy looking out over vast greenery without a single road or building in sight (don’t turn around). In my opinion, Tegalalang’s rice terraces were also the coolest ones around.
It felt weird writing a rather positive post about somewhere, but Ubud really is wonderful. Sure there will be many travellers with smelly dreadlocks saying it’s still too developed and they’d rather live in a fort made of elephant poo in a jungle located hundreds of miles under the earth’s crust, but those idiots are everywhere. Ubud has the exact right balance between feeling like you’re exploring somewhere natural and being able to find some home comforts and luxuries.