Ubud – Bali’s Culture & Temple Central

One of Bali’s most visited areas and for good reason – Ubud has something for everyone (except a beach)

The thing about Ubud is that the town itself isn’t exactly chock full of sights. Sure you can do craft courses or watch Balinese dancing, but mostly it’s a great location to see so much more of Bali.

As a town it isn’t perfect – the traffic is horrendous and there is no doubt it’s firmly on the tourist trail – undiscovered gem this is not. But the town has developed in a better way than some areas of Bali. There is stacks of little boutiques if shopping is your thing, and it’s also easy to eat very, very well.

Balinese cremation ceremony happening as we walked through Ubud

Balinese cremation ceremony happening as we walked through Ubud

We actually visited Ubud twice – the first time with friends for just 2 nights, and then again by ourselves as we liked it so much. In the first 2 days we actually saw more than we saw in 5 days the second time. We used the second visit as a chance to relax, eat good food but still do a bit of sightseeing.

Unless you fancy doing planned tours, renting your own scooter is almost a necessity here, due to the distances between sites (even walking from one end of town to the other could take half an hour). Luckily as with most of Bali, scooter rental is obscenely cheap at 50,000IDR (£2.50!) per day.

Our first trip was a rushed day of visiting 3 sights – Goa Gajah, Tirta Empul and Gunung Kawi.

Goa Gajah, otherwise known as the ‘elephant temple’ is very close to the town, though still not within walking distance. After walking down some steps, some pools and sculptures are visible, along with an interesting cave with a sculpted entrance.

We kept walking down a trail, thinking there was something else to see, ended up giving a ‘tip’ to a random guy to go further only to find there was pretty much nothing except a tough walk and possible dengue fever. All in all the site wasn’t the best start and we started to wonder how good the temples really were around Ubud.

Goa Gajah

Goa Gajah

Next we visited Gunung Kawi and got our answer. After walking down several hundred stairs (great on the way down, killer on the way back up) passing by beautiful rice terrace views, we were instructed to sprinkle holy water on our heads and enter a gate. Inside you are in a valley, with huge carvings out of the rock on both sides.

GunungKawi2

Tirta Empul was also unique but in a different way. It is the site of some holy hot springs, and locals and tourists alike bathe in the baths. We didn’t as we hadn’t brought any spare clothes but it was a fascinating site.

Bathing at Tirta Empul

Bathing at Tirta Empul. Katy looks bemused

In the evening we took in a traditional Balinese Legong dance at Ubud Palace. Not usually the sort of thing we attend, we were seriously impressed by it. Sure it is a show just for tourists but it is an authentic art and extremely impressive. The accompanying gamalan musicians were equally impressive. We’d highly recommend attending a show here, there is a different one every day of the week.

In the morning before we left we managed to race over to the Tegallalang rice terraces – the ones you see in all the pictures. Due to lack of time and a bit of laziness we didn’t actually descend down the terraces, mainly because the best view is from the top anyway. And what a view it was.

RiceTerraces2

This wasn’t actually at Tegallalang but still very attractive!

On our second visit we took things a lot easier and spent a lot of time just wandering around the town and central market and filling our bellies with tasty food. We managed to try the famous Babi Guling – roast suckling pig. While it didn’t blow us away as much as we expected, it was still awesome.

We took visits out to see the temples of Taman Ayun which was ok and Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, next to beautiful Lake Bratan. The temple was nice enough but the stunning scenic ride up into the mountains was the highlight.

Taman Ayun

Taman Ayun

Lake Bratan - not the image that comes to mind when you think of Bali

Lake Bratan – not the image that comes to mind when you think of Bali

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan - this would look better in wet season as the temple would 'float'

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan – this would look better in wet season as the temple would ‘float’

Our lowlight was without a doubt the attempted phone theft from our scooter on our last night – Katy was holding my phone and some kids rode up next to us and tried to snatch it. They didn’t get it but it left us both a bit shaken, and reminded us that however safe a place feels (Bali in general feels very safe) you always have to be careful.

Luckily that incident wasn’t enough to put us off Ubud, it’s an awesome town and despite almost collapsing under the sheer weight of tourists, the surrounding area is stunning, and you can always find a spot of untouched Bali.

Practical Info

Ubud is around an hours drive from Bali airport, though with Bali’s horrendous traffic it could take far longer. Sadly there is next to no public transport running around Bali , unless you fancy spending hours in Bemos (Indoenesia’s shared taxis). A taxi from Seminyak cost us 250,000IDR (around £13) which is rather a lot.

Taxis within Ubud are not metered and ask for insane fares, the minimum seems to be 50,000IDR, even just to go down the road, which is extortionate for Indonesia. Some hotels have free shuttles but it’s far easier to just rent a scooter the whole time you are there.

The first time we visited, we stayed at Kertiyasa Bungalows, which is without doubt the best hotel we have stayed at in a long, long time. However it wasn’t cheap, coming in at 525,000IDR per night.

When we returned we needed to save money and chose somewhere a bit simpler – Sakha House. Around 1km from Ubud centre, this tiny homestay (it only has 4 rooms) was amazing. The family were so friendly and helpful, and the room basic but perfectly functional. It makes us realise we prefer smaller personal places over high end resorts. Oh and it was only 190,000IDR (£9.80) per night!

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