Experiencing a new place is as much about you, your mindset, your choices, your likes or dislikes as that point in time. For me, Ubud was a trip like that. I was weary from work and travels, and wanted nothing more than to take things slow, eat well, sleep and not do much else. And Ubud is perfect for that. It’s leisurely, staying in bed is the norm and not the luxury, meals can be savoured, there isn’t no “getting out of the house” and “doing this and that”, evenings wind up early, and there is ample time to catch an afternoon nap and read at will.
Frankly, Bali wasn’t on my radar till a family wedding cropped up, and since I was going to take this rather long flight (there are no direct flights from Delhi), I thought it was worthwhile to extend the trip by a few days and see more of Bali. I gravitated towards Ubud, for it’s tropical, green and laidback vibe. I can’t really tell you to do this and that in Ubud, as I didn’t “do” much. I slept well, ate a lot, roamed the streets, stayed in two parts of town (one more central and the other very quiet), got a massage, attended a yoga class, visited a few flea markets. And that’s about it. Things typically Ubud. But all put together they made for a wonderful five days, that had me relaxed and rejuvenated.
If you are looking for nightlife, architecture or a constant stream of activities to do, you will find Ubud too slow and boring. However, if slowing down is on your mind, Ubud can be a charming little getaway with loads of peace and sunshine.
For the first leg of my trip, I stayed in a quiet street, just off the Monkey Forest Road, which is one of the busiest roads, dotted with people, art, markets, restaurants and cafes. This was an Airbnb, on Jalan Bisma No.97 which is a cool street with a couple of spas, bars, restaurants and a few luxury properties. The Airbnb was rustic, with a semi-open bathroom overlooking a rice paddy. It was basic, but the people were warm, and the location was great. We rented our scooter here as well.
The second place was really the stuff of dreams. It was a private bungalow, with its own pool and a wonderful view of rice paddies, in a tiny arty village called Penestanan. The house was made in traditional Balinese style, with intricately carved wood but all modern amenities. Much quieter and very private, this was like my own retreat in the middle of a rice paddy.
Tip: The town centre is extremely busy and touristy, and I don’t recommend staying there. Pick a quieter back lane or stay in Penestanan and rent a scooter to get around.
Ubud is a delight when it comes to food, and there are no dearth of places serving traditional Balinese dishes such as Nasi Goreng, Nasi Campur, Gado, Satay etc but you can also get your fill of fusion or western food (though I am not sure WHY you would do that). Infact, the food scene in Ubud had gotten fairly premium with world renowned chefs setting shop, waiting lists stretching to days or even weeks, and a meal setting you back INR 5000 per person. Of course, without alcohol.
But like I said, Ubud is full of all sorts of places to eat, from cafes and bars to warungs (local restaurant or café), and to suit all budgets.
I know that I am contradicting myself here, but the wood fired oven and the smell of fresh dough and melted cheese was something I just couldn’t resist as I was passing by. The pizzas are thin, fresh, the variety is immense, and the rates are decent.
Wayan Café and Laka Leke
Run by the same owner, the restaurants are airy and beautifully made. There is an option to get a table or have a cosy floor set up with cushions. This was one of the fancier meals we indulged in, but it was totally worth it. I preferred Wayan Cafe over Laka Leke, both for its vibe and food quality.
Full of healthy, vegan, gluten free options and free Wi-Fi, you will find a lot of people working or just hanging around this café. Their sourdough bread with sambal is to die for, and the organic coffees, fresh juices and daily specials are fantastic.
This is a raw vegan food café and has a sort of a cult following in Ubud. I tried a pizza and zucchini pesto pasta, all raw. The place is Instagram worthy, but the food didn’t do it for me, and it was fairly expensive. I like food that is hearty and found Alchemy to be overhyped.
Ubud Raw Chocolate Factory
In one word: AMAZING! From truffles to dark chocolate to cacao chips to cheesecakes, this is a haven for the serious chocolate lover.
Tukies Coconut ice cream
I was walking in town and came across this shop with coconut shells by the dozen outside. Now, I am a big fan of coconut, in all shapes and forms so my interest was piqued. I realized that they sell ice cream and went inside to get myself a cup. OMG! This is a wonderful treat in balmy Ubud. The perfect creamy coconut ice cream topped with roasted coconut shavings. I would go back just for this.
Another Ubud cult, Sari Organic is a social organization and also runs a farm and café. The plus – a ride on a scooter or foot through amazingly lush rice paddies gets you to this warung. The views are to die for if you love nature. The minus – definitely not even close to my top meals in Ubud, it’s not bad food by any standard, it’s not exceptional either. The setup is extremely charming, and for that it definitely warrants a visit.
Get yourself a scooter – It’s the best way to navigate the crowded streets in Ubud and a wonderful experience to go through the rice paddies.
Spa – I tried one (interestingly on another blogger’s recommendation), but I wasn’t satisfied so not recommending it. However, every corner you turn you in Ubud you will see a spa and locals will be happy to give you great recommendations. Putri Spa was close to the Airbnb I stayed in and looked great, judging by how busy it was always. Treatments aren’t really expensive, so if you like a good massage (who doesn’t), this is definitely an affordable activity to do a few times.
I tried the very popular Yoga Barn and it was a great experience. The place is scenic, quiet and feels very spa like, what with the greenery, incense and soft music. An individual class comes at 130,000Rp but depending on how many days you are in Ubud and your interest in yoga, you can take a package. You can check out the full schedule and rates here.
Traditional Balinese Dance
Unfortunately, I missed this, but I had great recommendations for Puri Lotus (temple right next to Lotus cafe on Jalan Raya Ubud). There was no performance the night I went because of the festival of Galungan which is massive in Bali.
Street and flea markets are aplenty but frankly I didn’t find them exceptional. Lot of cotton clothing, trinkets, crochet, ikat and batik prints, woven bags and baskets. Nothing eye catching that I wouldn’t find back home in India. However, if you do want to buy some very good quality indigo dyed cottons, check out Threads of Life. It is such a beautifully done up store and you can just get lost browsing the amazing things on display. From the local markets, below are the three things I enjoyed getting back home
- Balinese Coffee or Kopi as it’s called.
- Crunchy Peanuts – you will get these in every supermarket, they are salty and super crunchy. I guess they are fried but whatever it is, they taste darn good.
- Woven bags – locally made and super cute, you can find these all around and for a fraction of high street costs.
Did I love Ubud enough to want to go back soon? Not really. There is no direct flight from Delhi, and the stopover costs you at least 11 hours of flight time one way, which is tedious considering this is Southeast Asia. Secondly, and more importantly, this sort of tropical, food centric, yoga and organic, flea market experience for me can be found closer back home, with better infrastructure and cheaper costs.
I did enjoy the down time though, and would love to see more of Bali in general and explore some of the beach towns next time.
(In April 2018, Indonesia’s national airline Garuda has started a direct flight from Mumbai).