We began our Bali adventures in the cultural heart of the country; Ubud.
1.5 hours after leaving Denpasar airport we arrived in Ubud just as the sun was setting. Although there are lots of taxis waiting at the airport, we’d prebooked a driver for 300,000 rupiah to make the start of our journey as easy as possible. We’d originally planned to sleep the drive but the views from the taxi window were too good to pass up.
Things to do
Due to Ubud’s reputation as the cultural heart of Bali, there’s no doubt that there’s lots to do. The streets are lined with shops and clothing boutiques, as well as restaurants, art stores, home stays and lots of yoga studios. It’s impossible to walk down any of the central streets without seeing a tourist with their boho clothes carrying a yoga mat. There aren’t too many night activities in Ubud apart from dinner, drinks and watching the traditional dancing so once the sunsets at around 6pm each night most people are ready for a chilled evening. This does mean that you’re able to wake up nice and early the next day to get out before the hottest point of the day, and you can also try to avoid the mosquitos which go hand-in-hand with the jungle climate of Ubud.
Monkey forest: Mandala Wisata Wenara Wana
One of the main draws of Ubud is the Monkey forest. Home to about 700 macaques, the nature reserve is huge, although they do still venture out into the nearby streets and shops….
After reading the brochure we found out that there were around 5 different tribes of monkeys within the area and walking around the site you really get a feel for it. Although you won’t go longer than five minutes without seeing a monkey whilst you’re in the nature reserve, there are a few large groups gathered around the site… sometimes terrifying the tourists.
Feeding the monkeys
On entry into the monkey forest you’ll see lots of signs telling you what you can and can’t do e.g. don’t bring water bottles with you, or try to take back food from the monkeys, and you shouldn’t even bare you’re teeth at them (i.e. don’t smile like I do in photos). With all this in mind, the whole site is a pretty chilled place. There are a few site employees dotted around encase people get nervous around the monkeys, we saw them move some monkeys on a few times when they showed even the slightest sign of aggression. This was a good thing for the monkeys as well as the visitors because obviously a small confrontation/ episode would not be great for anyone.
You also have the opportunity to buy bananas at the site entrance to feed to the monkeys (although you can bring in your own). Keep a look out around this area because there’s lots of monkeys waiting near by on the look out for their next snack. Although like I said earlier, there are monkeys everywhere so once you feed one, you’ll most likely be bombarded by monkeys until they’ve taken your last banana.
After a few minutes you’ll realise how intelligent and resourceful the monkeys are. We saw one monkey climb up and unzip a girls backpack before jumping down with the whole bunch of bananas in hand – an extremely funny thing to witness. We also saw a monkey reach into a man’s pocket and take out a banana (keep this in mind because they’re known to take phones, jewellery and camera’s out of pockets too).
Photo’s with the monkeys
Towards the centre of the nature reserve there’s the opportunity to have your photo taken with the monkeys. All you need to do is buy a bunch of bananas from the kiosk, hold your hand up in the air and a monkey or two will come to you. Although you can do this anywhere around the site, there are a few staff members around the kiosk encase the monkeys become over excited – we saw one monkey rub his balls on a girls face as he clambered over her head in search of the banana….
Monkey forest thoughts
Keep in mind that these monkeys are wild animals still so their behaviour is completely sporadic. I personally didn’t want my photo taken with the monkeys because I wanted to impact them as little as possible – I was merely there to spectate and watch them go about their little daily lives. I think that the nature reserve itself is a great idea because it provides a home to the monkeys, and is somewhere where human impact is actually monitored. I can imagine that if the monkeys kept venturing out into the nearby villages and causing mayhem they wouldn’t be as taken care of as they are in the reserve. It’s quite nice to know that the monkeys are not restricted to the reserve at all (as we frequently saw them wandering outside of the grounds and running around the nearby rooftops) but they still seem to return most days so they can’t be too unhappy there.
Ubud is home to the most famous and most photographed rice field in Indonesia; Tegalalang. Although it’s only a short 15 minutes drive out of central Ubud we visited one just on the edge of Ubud and didn’t feel like we missed out. From photo’s on Instagram and google, Tegalalang is a huge rice field, with a beautiful house, set in a picturesque back drop – and this is what we found in Campuhan.
Unlike Tegalalang, we only had to share the rice fields with some ducks, the rice farmers and a few tourists that had stumbled upon it like we had (by stumbled I mean trecked up an overgrown thin path for about 15minutes leading into what looked like the middle of nowhere).
We luckily set off first thing so made it to the rice fields before 9.30am. After an hour or so wandering around the site and buying some bananas from the workers, we were feeling pretty hot. The sun just doesn’t let up in Bali so by midday most people make their way inside or at least into the shade of the trees.
We left the rice fields via the main entrance (which we missed on our morning treck), passing a school, a few houses and shops before meeting up with the main road running through the middle of Ubud.
Although we didn’t make it to the main rice field in Bali I don’t regret our decision. When you take a taxi to any of the temples, waterfalls or other sites, you’re inundated with beautiful views of the lush green rice fields so as long as you can stay awake in car journeys you’ll definitely get your rice field fix (and maybe even that Instagram shot that you’re after).
Bali is a pretty religious country with the majority of the population practicing Hinduism. This meant that there were lots of Hindu temples and shrines to visit whilst in Ubud (although I’m really not religious at all, I always find temples and other religious buildings beautiful to see and I love to watch how people interact with them). We only had a few days, with lots of activities to do, so narrowed this down to three.
The first set of temples we visited were in the monkey forest;
- The main temple: The Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal (“Padangtegal Great Temple of Death”)
- The Pura Beji, or Beji Temple, in the northwestern part of the park, is used for the worship of Hyang Widhi in personification of the goddess Gangga. A “Holy Spring” bathing temple, it is a place of spiritual and physical cleansing and purification prior to religious ceremonies.
- The Pura Prajapati, or Prajapati Temple, located in the northeastern part of the park, is used to worship Hyang Widhi in personification of Prajapati. A cemetery adjacent to this temple receives the bodies of the deceased for temporary burial while they await a mass cremation ceremony, held once every five years.
Although we couldn’t venture inside most of the temples as they were closed, they were really great to see with all of the monkeys running around. They’re said to be built back in the 1300’s so as you can imagine the crumbling statues and buildings created a real beauty mixed with Indiana Jones feel.
Tirta Empul – the water temple
We visited the next two temples together after hiring a taxi driver for a few hours from the centre of Ubud. We drove to Tampa Siring, a good hour drive away, to visit Tirta Empul. The drive was beautiful and a great way to see a bit more of Bali, from the comforts of an air conditioned car. Once at the water temple you need to pay an entrance fee of 15,000 rupiah and cover up as according to the site rules – this meant borrowing a sarong (free) from the entrance office for both men and women.
The temple is built around a natural holy water spring and is split into areas where visitors are allowed, and out of bounds prayer areas. The outer ground of the temples are almost deserted apart from the odd few tourists walking around admiring the architecture and seems like a completely different place away from the main spring which is filled with tourists lining up (literally) to bath in the spring. We didn’t, but if you want to anyone can bath in the spring and the temple even has a changing area for afterwards.
Although it was slightly odd watching a bunch of tourists lining up to bath in the spring, it did still look beautiful with the different colour sarongs and robes set against the weathered temple buildings. I can imagine getting there very early in the morning would be a much more peaceful experience.
After visiting the temple our driver took us to a nearby restaurant to get some lunch. The sceptic in me thought that he’d be taking us to his family/ friends restaurant to get ripped off (as some people did in Thailand) but the restaurant he took us too was really impressive. Waroeng De Koi (I think that was it’s name) was set in a beautiful garden with tables on pagodas over a fish pond, the food and drinks were great, and it was all a really decent price.
Goa Gajah – The Elephant cave
Next up was the elephant cave about an hours drive from the water temple. Although it’s called the elephant cave, there aren’t actually an elephants there now. There are a few theories floating about around the name but my favourite is that the cave and it’s facade of Ganesha – the Hindu god who has some features similar to an elephant- were created to keep demons out.
For me the cave’s facade was the most impressive part of the site, there were some shrines inside the cave but it’s pretty dark inside so the interior details are difficult to make out. The cave is set in grounds which take around half an hour to wander around and are beautifully kept.
It may be counterintuitive around the holy sites but this is where we found the best market stalls. To get to Tirta Empul and especially Goa Gajah you have to pass through a few market stalls and on the way out you have to pass through a forest of them.
The stalls are full of the classic tourist/ backpacker attire and trinkets that you can expect to see; sarongs, dresses, monkey statues etc. Although every stall seemed to have the exact same merchandise, their prices really varied so before you enter a shop, have a think about how much you want to pay and stick to that no matter the starting price. A dress I liked started off at 200,000 rupiah and I thought I did well to barter it down to 100,000 but when I went into the next stall I was offered 50,000 for it….
The markets in and around Ubud were the best that we saw in the whole of Bali so if Ubud’s your first stop, and you’re not planning on travelling around too much, it’s a good idea to stock up here.
Here are some prices that we paid:
- long summer dress; 100,000 and 50,000 rupiah
- Aladdin/ travelling pants; 30,000 rupiah
- sarongs; 20,000 rupiah
- playsuits; 40,000 rupiah (bought in Kuta so a bit more expensive)
- came tops; 2 for 50,000 rupiah (bought in Kuta so a bit more expensive)
The food in Ubud is pretty good, but the food in Bali as whole doesn’t come close to South East Asia for me. It is very easy to be vegan here though as there are quite a few vegetarian dishes (even some national dishes are vegetarian) and lots you can just simply request no egg. Gado Gado (vegetables in satay sauce with rice) and nasi goreng (vegetable fried rice) were my particular favourites. I did have a vegetable curry in Ubud but it was more like yellow Thai curry (my least favourite). I like a bit (OK a lot) of spice in my food but the Balinese don’t seem to.
Given the yoga scene in Ubud there are lots of speciality vegan restaurants selling everything from vegan dinners to raw brownies and avocado everything. When I’m travelling I tend not to visit too many vegan specific restaurants as I want to try as many national dishes veganised, rather than vegan dishes that I can easily get back in the UK. I also hope that requesting veganised and vegetarianised dishes in local restaurants make them more aware of vegan and vegetarian preferences (ideally including specific dishes on their menu).
As always the prices vary in most restaurants but the vegetarian dishes I mentioned above were around 50,000 rupiah each. Meat and fish dishes were usually around 70-80,000 rupiah so compared the UK and other western countries, it’s extremely cheap to eat out.
Smoothies and coconuts
I don’t usually write a specific section for smoothies and coconuts when I travel but since coming home last July, I’ve been craving a good cold fresh coconut and a freshly pressed watermelon juice. And boy did Ubud not disappoint. Most restaurants and cafes sell fresh smoothies and juices for 15,000- 40,000 rupiah depending on what ingredients you chose. Coconuts in Ubud were around 25,000-30,000 rupiah and if they don’t have any chilling in the fridge when you get there you can always ask them to add some ice (and lime – it’s great!).
Accommodation: Permana cottages
We stayed in the Permana cottages for three nights and were really impressed. Each night worked out at only £8 each for three people sharing a room and were much better than we expected. Although a little out of the way (you have to walk down an alleyway to get there), you’re rewarded by unspoiled views of rice fields each morning and the sunsetting over the rice fields each evening.
Aside from the views the guys that worked at the hotel were really friendly and helpful.
Each morning the put a jug of hot water on our balcony so we could have coffee as soon as we woke up and as soon as we asked they made us a spread of fresh breakfast; fresh fruit salad, a mixed fruit juice, toast with jam and egg (scrambled or fried).
The room was everything we needed and the aircon was great, the only thing that let it down was the bathroom which was just a bit outdated.
Running in Ubud
I didn’t actually end up running in Ubud at all this trip. A week before I’d just ran a marathon (and bonked hard) and there’s lots of strays so I didn’t fancy chancing it. If you’re up for running though the roads around Ubud are pretty steep so you’d get in some good hill training (and interval work running away from the dogs). Instead of running I made the most of the beautiful view from our balcony each morning with a resistance bands workout overlooking a rice field…. oh Ubud ❤
Ubud is a great place to start off your travels in Bali. We only had a few days there but we could have easily stayed for a week. If we had longer I would’ve loved to do some yoga (although we can do this anywhere in Bali) and visit the nearby waterfalls.