Ubud was the last destination before our long and arduous journey home (NYC)… We had reserved a mere three days for this city, and by the end of it, we were already planning a return trip to this beautiful place!
Bali is truly the land of the mystic, where sacred temples, lush rice paddies, incense scented villages all blend together in perfect harmony. This feels a little foreign at first, stepping into their mythical stories from a sanitized western world; but after a few days with the warmest people on earth, you develop a sense of the familiar…a place where you know you will be back.
To give you a glimpse of our adventures, we give you a
short summary of our Top Experiences in Ubud
1. Check into a gorgeous resort
Exhausted from our speedboat trip under the scorching sun (Lombok – read here) followed by a dusty hour-long car ride into Ubud, we were quickly ushered into a cool and expansive lobby of the Alila Hotel – Ubud.
The staff handed us cool scented towels doused with rose-water to sooth our parched skin, and we downed a couple of tall glasses of chilled lemongrass drinks that were waiting for us as we checked in…
We took in the heavy scent of sweet Frangipani flowers that seemed to be everywhere, and stood gaping at the views of the sprawling Indonesian jungle all around us…a very different view from the beaches of Lombok for sure!
The Alila Ubud hotel embodied tranquility with its enviable location; perched high on the edge of the rich green Ayung River valley in Bali’s hill village of Payangan; and offered incredible views of both the river and the village down below…
The resort is conveniently located 15 minutes from the main city of Ubud, making it easy to hop into the center of town. (Take a cab to and from the central town, you can even arrange one from the hotel).
The hotel architecture blends contemporary design and traditional Balinese architecture offering a feeling of seclusion while still connecting to the nature all around…
Our favorite aspect was the private garden outside the villa where we were woken up by monkeys each morning, and a gorgeous outdoor bathroom where we had chance encounters with a (garden) snake one night (eeeks!) The hotel staff quickly came to our rescue – perils of living in the jungle! 🙂
Once a week, the hotel plans an incredible evening of Balinese culture with cocktails by the pool, traditional music and dance, and a lavish feast with slow roasted pig! We were fortunate to cover this during our stay 🙂 – didn’t take many photos through the night as we were enamored with the food and display, but here is a quick peak at the beautiful decorations for the night!
2. Walk through the lush rice terraces
Search the internet for “rice terraces in Bali”, and you’re likely to get hundreds of pictures of the lush green and immaculate rice terraces of Tegallalang.
About half an hour’s drive north of Ubud, Tegallalang rice terraces offer a splendid view of the staggered rice fields along the slopes in the valley. The roadside location allows you to stop and take photos along the way. Pick one of the fields with a small coffee shop to soak in the view.
We stopped at one of these, grabbed a coffee and walked through the winding trails of the rice fields for a bit.
They also have cycling tours that look incredible (in concept) but we don’t recommend, we’ve had friends describe the dangerous route along steep slopes and rocky trails resulting in accidents
Closer to our hotel (Alila Ubud), we were surrounded by rice fields ready to be harvested.
Another side trip while at Tegallalang is a coffee plantation tour to taste the famous Bali Kopi-Luwak coffee, best described as “an epicure-coffee processed by the Asian Palm Civet.”
The Asian Palm Civet, very similar to a mongoose, is considered to consume the finest and most ripe coffee cherries. These cherries when consumed pass through the civet (read gut) and are collected from its droppings (read poop), washed and cleansed carefully, pounded to remove the covering shell, sifted to separate the bean, and finally roasted & ground to make that lovely cuppa! (Read more here)
We visited the Satria coffee plantation to meet the lovely luwak and sample the coffee. Sure, this may seem like a tourist trap but the process is quite intriguing and the plantation has several local fruits and spices in addition to the coffee, making for a fun afternoon excursion.
As for the coffee, you ask? Well, it was a bitter start with a smooth finish 😉 We didn’t taste the “exceptional” quality but the better commercial grade is known to be sourced from Sulawesi and Jakarta.
3. Go temple hopping
Bali is known as the “Island of the Gods” with an estimated 20,000 puras (temples) and shrines across the island. Hinduism here is an amalgam where gods are worshipped together with ancestors, indigenous deities and sacred places. Religion for the Balinese people is more of a belief system and ingrained in their daily life, seeped in mythology and magic, and energy that can be directed for good or evil. This is most notable in the graceful, content and decorous behavior of the people of Bali! No trip to Ubud is complete without a temple tour, and everyone has their favorites…
Pura Tirta Empul
Tirta Empul (meaning holy water spring) is an important temple complex, located in the village of Manukaya in central Bali. This temple is designated as a national cultural heritage site, and is often visited by local families on holy days and before special life events.
The temple complex has three key divisions; front, central and inner courtyard. Visitors to Tirta Empul first come upon the lush gardens and pathways adorned with statues and tropical plants leading to its entrance.
Stepping into the central courtyard, pilgrims first approach a rectangular purification bath where 13 elaborately sculpted spouts line the edge of the pool.
Prayers are offered with hands pressed, and head bowing under the gushing water, following a specific direction of west to east for the first 11 spouts. The last two are meant for purification in funerary rites.
The inner courtyard is dotted with beautiful deities under canopies of traditional Balinese architecture.
As with any Bali temple tour or a visit to a holy place, it is always important to dress respectfully. The simple visitor dress code is a traditional ‘kamen’ wrap around the lower body plus a sash around the waist. All temples have this for visitors at the main entrance.
Pura Taman Saraswati
Saraswati temple is located in the center of Ubud (close to the royal palace) and is an exemplary image of a typical Balinese temple surrounded by water ponds filled with lotus flowers.
I was first mesmerized with this image from a J.crew catalogue that was shot at the main entrance of the temple. This temple is even prettier in-person! The main entrance is brightly colored with beautiful carvings by Ubud artists.
The inner courtyard houses an idol of Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and harmony.
The Setia darma masks are also on diplay, and are used during the elaborate dance performances on special occasions.
Pura Uluwatu and Tanah Lot are other beautiful temples that can be reached from Ubud. We had visited these while in Jimabaran Bay (read here).
4. Wander the Royal Palace grounds
Located in central Ubud is the palace of the Ubud royal family, Puri Saren Agung. The palace is often regarded as the focal landmark of Ubud and was built in the early 1800s. The palace has charming gardens and a dance school by a large banyan tree. The premises are also known to offer dramatic evening dance performances.
Only the front section of the palace is open to the public (complimentary entrance), so take the time to stroll the grounds to admire the beautiful details, well-preserved over the years.
5. Enjoy the view from an active volcano
The mountainous region around Kintamani can be reached from Ubud in about 45 min. Kintamani is a refreshing stop with crisp mountain air and spectacular views of a deep crater lake at the foothills of the active volcano, Mt. Batur.
Mount Batur is actually just a small (but active) volcano, but its setting in the heart of a huge crater 14km in diameter is what really makes the sight! The large and serene Batur Lake surrounded by the walls of the crater rim is a major lifeline supporting the agriculture around, and also a popular fishing spot for the locals of the village.
Most locals still shudder when asked about the great eruption of 1917 that claimed thousands of lives, and destroyed hundreds of temples. The event has an almost mystical sense when described by the people as “the year when the world shook“.
There are several restaurants close-by that offer a near perfect view of the lake and make for a good lunch or sunset spot in the itinerary.
6. Eat your way through Ubud
Indonesian food is simply delicious! If you really asked us to describe the flavors…similar to Thai, with more emphasis on the balance of sweet, salty & spicy. Hmmm…did I confuse you? You just have to try it for yourself!
We typically started the day with breakfast at our hotel restaurant; Bali herbal “teas”, consisting of fresh lemongrass, lime, star anise, cloves steeping in hot water…ah!
The food at the Plantation restaurant (we had a couple of other meals here – but no pics:( ) was bursting with flavor, and just so incredibly delicious. One of my favorite desserts was a pandan pancake filled with grated coconut and drizzled with condensed milk (have to make this at home!)
In the main town of Ubud, we had an incredible meal at the Cafe Wayan; perfectly cooked prawns in a sweet and spicy Indonesian curry (and that Sambal)
Aside from these special mentions, the local Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Nasi Campur (selection of rice, veggies, meat skewers = perfection!), Pepes Ikan (fish smothered in local spices and grilled in banana leaf ) were our other local favorites!!!
7. Get your spa on
Bali has a spa around every corner, and the massages are incredibly cheap and relaxing. We tried the local Balinese massage in our hotel spa right before our check-out. It was a perfect last activity to an amazing trip! (Read more on our Bali massage here)
8. Take a walk in the Monkey Forest
And hold on to your belongings while you’re at it! The Monkey Forest is the home of the rowdy Balinese long-tailed Macaques. Apart from the monkeys there are three temples within the forest, including Pura Dalem Agung (The temple of death) which is known to have some interesting carvings.
We skipped this as we were templed out, and had the opportunity to meet with these monkeys at the villa 🙂
This was our list of highlights from Ubud; we would love to hear other places that you checked out, as we plan our return trip! ❤
And here is our Bali inspiration from J.crew –