Vivid green rice paddies, yoga and meditation, organic healthy eating, scooters everywhere, the smell of incense, women in brightly coloured outfits carrying offerings effortlessly on their heads, children playing football and flying kites, traditional Balinese dancing, silver, batik, ikat…welcome to Bali’s cultural centre Ubud.
There are some incredible first class hotels in and around Ubud, the kind with private villas and infinity pools overlooking the cascading hills and rice paddies. You know the ones, you’ve seen the photos. The swimming pools at Hanging Gardens Ubud have featured in enough top 50 luxury travel lists that you’ve almost certainly sat at your desk huddled over a cup of tea sighing wistfully over them as you scroll through a slideshow designed to destroy your soul. I cannot help you with specific recommendations on such hotels, as much as it pains me to say it. Please, do enjoy your booking experience with your local Abercrombie and Kent travel agent. I hate you.
Luckily for us mere mortals, Ubud is dotted with homestays of varying quality every 10 metres or so, and the general course of action – like anywhere in Asia – is to ask to see the room before bargaining on a price for the night. Depending on the quality of the rooms, the facilities (a swimming pool is the main sticking point in Ubud, as wifi is readily available pretty much everywhere now) and the length of your stay, you can expect to pay anywhere between 100,000 IDR and 250,000 IDR a night as standard. Economies of scale help hugely in Ubud, and price per night decreases dramatically the longer you agree to stay.
If you happen to be heading to Ubud for a more extended period, like I did, you may want to book somewhere in advance to save yourself the trouble of finding a good room for several weeks or a whole month. Understandably there are risks with this, as I would always usually check the room before agreeing to forking out for a month. However if you are willing to book on recommendation alone, I would highly recommend Jati Homestay on Jl Hanoman. The location is perfect: in the centre of Ubud, a 15 min stroll from the Yoga Barn and 10 mins to the main road and Jl Monkey Forest. The rooms are lovely, clean and homely with a balcony or terrace, full mosquito net, hot water(!) and brilliant beds (a rare commodity in Asian guest houses). The staff are friendly and happy to help in any way they can, headed up by owner Dewa, a wonderful man with a huge smile and very good English, who said a blessing for me in the run up to me trying to get Glastonbury tickets (it worked). Sadly the property doesn’t have a swimming pool and there were enough ants around for my new zen demeanour to be crushed by muttered expletives, but that’s Asia, and you will be hard pushed to find another home stay of this quality for 4.5m IDR a month (around £230) bed and breakfast.
Jati Homestay, Tel: +62 (0) 361 977701, Email: email@example.com
Getting around Ubud is made easy by the locals. Pretty much every 10 metres or so you will face a call of “TAKSI! TAKSI?” And I’m not saying it’s not annoying – my God, for the first few days of being in Ubud I’m ready to punch every guy who so dares asks me, despite the friendly smile that always comes with the question. But it does make it easy. And after a while you just learn to phase it out; it’s just a part of Ubud life, like a signal failure on the tube in London, or needing a cab in switchover hour in Hong Kong.
The streets of Ubud are lined with Honda scooters, this being the standard mode of transport in Bali. Therefore, a “taksi” in Ubud often means a scooter, and they won’t give you a helmet, so if you’re not comfortable with this, make sure you’re agreeing a price for a car instead. As a general rule, a lift on a scooter should be no more than 20,000 IDR, and a car 50,000 IDR.
The Yoga Barn, Jl Raya Pengosekan, down the street from Coco Supermarket, just behind Siam Sally. Tel: +62 (0) 361 971 236 OR +62 (0) 361 971 407. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Chances are if you’re planning on going to Ubud, you’ve already heard of The Yoga Barn. A local institution, it is widely regarded as the go-to place to practice yoga in Ubud, although of course there are other options. Yoga Barn is set back off the road, away from the cries of “Taksi! Taksi?” and the noise of the dozens of passing scooters. The whole place is beautiful, with the huge main yoga studio being set on the first floor of an impressive and spacious wooden building. If Yoga Barn has anything, actually, it’s space – five yoga studios, a large decked area, the organic and mostly vegan Garden Kafe, a shop that meets all of your yoga needs and Kush Ayurvedic area, offering an array of healing therapies and treatments.
The teachers are incredibly qualified, the staff are friendly and the array of classes on offer seven days a week is impressive. A particularly well thought out element are the Intro to Yoga classes, which are perfect for complete beginners, those who need a refresher or for people who simply want to take it slow. There are six intro classes a week, split between different teachers who all have a varied approach and never teach the same class twice, so the opportunity to learn a decent array of basics is great. I recommend you try a few, find out which teachers you prefer, and work from there.
Yoga Barn offers everything from Intro to Yoga, Yin, Anusara, Vinyasa, Hatha, Acro, Iyengar and Power Yoga; as well as a solid range of meditation classes, including the Tibetan Bowl Meditation and Gong Therapy classes, which are so popular you have to get there over an hour in advance to register to make sure you get a spot. The queues speak for the classes themselves.
Fun story: I once got let loose in the Ubud Market and dropped ONE HUNDRED POUNDS STERLING in the space of an hour. Yeah, it’s an alright market. It sprawls out from a three storey building that is impossible not to get lost in on Jl Raya Ubud and spills out beyond into Jl Karna. Stacks upon stacks of batik and ikat in silk and cotton, serving as wall hangings, tablecloths, sarongs or just beautiful lengths of brightly coloured fabric that will have you swearing blind that if you buy some you will make them into cushions at home; wooden carvings and masks and paintings; knock off designer sunglasses and silver jewellery that usually isn’t actually silver despite the 925 stamp on it; essential oils, kites, flower petals, fruit and everything else in between – Ubud Market deserves a few hours of your time, if only to drink it all in.
It is expected that you will barter with the stall holders here; generally they will start high because of this, but you can expect to knock them down to half or two thirds of the starting price. Smile and be polite, the 10,000 rupiah you are bartering over will mean far more to them than it will to you, even if you are backpacking, but bartering is to be expected all the same.
In addition to the extensive market, Ubud is abound with lovely, independent boutiques selling beautiful fabrics, homeware, jewellery (specifically silver – genuine this time) and leather. Some are the kind of shop that wouldn’t be far amiss on the King’s or Northcote Road, truth be told. I’ve actually just returned from another impulse purchase (silver ring, since you’re asking). Make sure you come to Ubud with some extra cash for shopping – it’s hard to resist these shops and at such good value, too.
Some favourites to check out:
Filthy Gorgeous Accessories (jewellery): Jl Raya Ubud no.8, Tel: +62 (0) 8179740569
Shan-Shan (jewellery and accessories): Jl Hanoman no.19. Tel: +62 (0) 361 551 2857, Email: email@example.com
Calico Home (homeware, jewellery): Jl Monkey Forest. Tel: +62 (0) 361 971 354
Uluwatu (clothing, specialising in handmade Balinese lace): Jl Monkey Forest, Tel: +62 (0) 361 977 557 and Jl Raya Ubud, Tel: +62 (0) 361 973 378
Neru Indonesia (homeware): Jl Hanoman, Tel: +62 (0) 361 744 7823, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kunci (accessories and jewellery, specialising in knit and crochet), two shops on Jl Hanoman, Tel: +62 (0) 361 971 050
KOU Cuisine (beautiful homemade jams and salts – particular shout out to the Salted Caramel Jam): Jl Monkey Forest, Tel: +62 (0) 361 972 319, Email: email@example.com
KOU (sister shop to KOU Cuisine, selling gorgeous homemade soaps): Jl Dewi Sita, Tel: +62 (0) 361 971 905, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bali Eco Cycling Tour, Jl. Pengosekan Ubud, Tel: (03610 975557), Email: email@example.com.
Don’t worry – it’s downhill. This tour is a great option for seeing the endless rice paddies everyone expects when they come to Ubud. Starting off with a buffet breakfast with stunning views overlooking the volcano Mount Batur, you are then whisked off to choose your bike for the day before cycling through the quiet roads of the Balinese countryside, surrounded by rice paddies and small villages, with children shouting their hellos as you pass. You’ll have the chance to stop off at a traditional Balinese house to see how their compound works on a day to day basis, learn about the process of making coffee luwak with a full coffee tasting and visit a huge Banyan tree (it really is quite big). The tour includes a traditional Balinese lunch, which was up there with the best meals I’ve had in Ubud, and vitally includes the legendary Balinese smoked duck, a dish that usually needs to be ordered 24 hours in advance from most restaurants. Highly recommended.
Experienced guide, transfers, helmets and mineral water all provided. As with any tour, your home stay, guest house or hotel will be able to book this direct for you, or you can barter with any of the tourist stalls along the streets of Ubud.
SPA TREATMENTS AND WAXING
SKIN Spa and Organic Waxing Salon, two locations: 24 Jl Gootama, Tel: +62 (0) 361 975 615 and 36 Jalan Sanggingan, Tel: +62 (0) 361 975 604, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open 10am – 8pm daily.
Ladies, if you need a wax, I cannot recommend SKIN spa highly enough. They wax AND thread you, it’s quite something. Perhaps more expensive in terms of Balinese prices, but a bargain compared to home. They also do a great OPI pedicure. Must book in advance, they are that good.
Rembulan Spa, Jl Hanoman no.1, Tel: +62 (0) 361 976 694
Amazing foot massage (45,000 IDR for half an hour or 80,000 IDR for an hour). Very good manicure and pedicure on the cheaper end of the spectrum too (60,000 IDR and 70,000 IDR respectively).
Excellent massage which you pay a bit more for in comparison to some other spas but entirely worth it in my eyes. I mean, it’s still less than £10 for an hour’s massage, and they clearly know what they are doing here. Massage rooms set in beautiful compound and you are served hot ginger tea after your treatment, to enjoy in the peace and quiet at your leisure.
For those staying in places without access to a swimming pool, the following are good options to use for the day:
25,000 IDR for use of the swimming pool for the day. Gorgeous pool and quiet, but not many sunbeds so get there early if you can. The pool is a decent enough size and depth to swim in. Towels included, there’s wifi and you can buy soft drinks and beer there.
RICE PADDY WALK
There is a beautiful, quiet and easily accessible rice paddy walk off of Jl Raya Ubud, the main road in Ubud. Walk up Jl Kajeng and carry on until this turns into small paths around the rice paddies. There will be locals and farmers who can direct you should you be unsure of your path, but it generally loops round to eventually pass Sari Organik, a great restaurant with beautiful views over the paddies with volcanoes in the distance. This path leads back down to Jl Raya Ubud.
Two things I love: sunsets and booze. Having a drink as I watch the sun go down is one of my favourite things in the world, so naturally I tried to find some good spots in Ubud as soon as I arrived.
Cafe Pomegranate, open 9am – 9pm, map can be found on their website. + 62 (0) 878 60803632. Wifi available.
A beautifully designed tented bar/restaurant that is tucked away in the rice paddies with amazing 360 degree views. I suspect the fact it’s so out of the way (a 15 minute walk up a dirt track inaccessible to cars) is what keeps the drinks cheap, because a view like this would usually hike up the prices at least three fold. A large Bintang is 35,000 IDR here and a glass of Balinese Hattan wine 30,000 IDR (not the best wine in the world but tastes like heaven after weeks of zero wine let me tell you).
Absolutely worth the walk, though be careful if you’re returning to Ubud’s centre in the dark – use the torch on your phone and be aware that you are surrounded by rice paddies and this means NATURE. Maybe stamp your way back just as a warning to any snakes that you’re around…or just don’t stay too long after the sun’s gone down.
Blackbeach, Jl Hanoman – near the Jl Raya Ubud end, Tel: +62 (0) 361 971 353. Wifi available.
Blackbeach is a three storey restaurant, with the middle tier dedicated to the staff and the kitchen and the top floor tall enough for views over Ubud. Happy hour runs here between 4pm and 7pm, with large Bintangs coming in at around 30,000 IDR. Perfect for sunset whilst staying in town.
Recommendations coming soon at First We Eat.
Disclaimer of sorts: The above is based purely on my own experiences on things I have personally done and places I have actually been. It is by no means an exhaustive list – I’m not Lonely Planet, they are just my own recommendations. Prices correct at time of writing (October 2014).