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Ubud, Bali – The Ultimate Travel Guide (2020)

Ubud, Bali - The Ultimate Travel Guide

With its seductive nature and rich artistic and dance traditions, Ubud is one of the most popular destinations in Bali. This town has a lot to offer- from sybaritic spas, yoga retreats to splendid restaurants, volcano hikes and rice field activities. In this Ubud, Bali Travel Guide, we’ve narrowed down the top attractions as well as the top eating, drinking and shopping spots to help you make the most out of your stay in this sublime town.

Top Attractions

Ubud’s Rice Terraces

Ubud, Bali - The Ultimate Travel Guide

In fact, there’s nothing like a walk through the verdant rice fields of Ubud, Bali to make things all right with the world. These unbelievably green and ancient terraces spill down lush hillsides to rushing rivers below. As you wander along, you can hear the symphony of frogs, bugs and the constant gurgle of water coursing through channels. Most importantly fields produce three crops a year and even on a short walk, you’ll see tender shoots, vibrant seas of green and the grain-heavy heads of mature plants.

Museum Puri Lukisan

Ubud, Bali - The Ultimate Travel Guide

It was in Ubud, Bali that the modern Balinese art movement started when artists first began to abandon purely religious themes and court subjects for scenes of everyday life. This museum displays fine examples of all schools of Balinese art, and all are well labeled in English. It was set up by Rudolf Bonnet, with Cokorda Gede Agung Sukawati (a prince of Ubud’s royal family) and Walter Spies.

Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

Ubud, Bali - The Ultimate Travel Guide

This cool and dense swathe of the jungle, officially called Mandala Wisata Wanara Wana, houses three holy temples. The sanctuary is inhabited by a band of over 600 grey-haired and greedy long-tailed Balinese macaques who are nothing like the innocent-looking doe-eyed monkeys on the brochures. Nestled in the forest is the interesting Pura Dalem Agung temple.

Neka Art Museum

Ubud, Bali - The Ultimate Travel Guide

The creation of Suteja Neka, a private collector and dealer in Balinese art, Neka Art Museum has an excellent and diverse collection. It’s a good place to learn about the development of painting in Bali. You can get an overview of the myriad local painting styles in the Balinese Painting Hall. Look for the wayang (puppet) works.

Pura Taman Saraswati

Ubud, Bali - The Ultimate Travel Guide

Waters from the temple at the rear of this site feed the pond in the front, which overflows with pretty lotus blossoms. There are carvings that honor Dewi Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and the arts, who has clearly given her blessing to Ubud in Bali. There are regular dance performances by night.

Agung Rai Museum of Art

Ubud, Bali - The Ultimate Travel Guide

Founded by Agung Rai as a museum, gallery and cultural center, the impressive ARMA is the only place in Bali to see haunting works by influential German artist Walter Spies, alongside many more masterpieces. The museum is housed in several traditional buildings set in gardens with water coursing through channels. The collection is well labeled in English.

Balinese Farm Cooking School

Spend a day out in untrammeled countryside 18km north of Ubud, Bali and learn how to cook Balinese food. This highly recommended cooking course is held in a village of lush gardens and run by villagers who are passionate about organic farming. Students learn about local produce and foods, and it’s all cleverly designed for tourists: herbs are grown in raised beds so there’s no stooping etc.

Casa Luna Cooking School

Ubud, Bali - The Ultimate Travel Guide

Regular cooking courses are offered at Honeymoon Guesthouse and/or Casa Luna restaurant. Half-day courses cover ingredients, cooking techniques and the cultural background of the Balinese kitchen (note, not all courses include a visit to the market). Each day has a different focus so you can return for many days of instruction. Tours are also offered, including a good one to the Gianyar night market.

Blanco Renaissance Museum

The picture of Antonio Blanco (1912–99) mugging with Michael Jackson says it all. His surreal palatial neo-Renaissance home and namesake museum capture the artist’s theatrical spirit. Blanco came to Bali from Spain via the Philippines. Playing the role of an eccentric artist à la Dalí, he is known for his expressionist art and illustrated poetry that incorporates a mix of styles and mediums. Enjoy the waterfall and exotic birds on the way in, and good views over the river.

Showing Respect

Dos & Don’t

  • You’ll see shorts and short skirts everywhere on locals but overly revealing clothing is still frowned upon, as is wandering down the street shirtless quaffing a beer.
  • Many women go topless on Bali’s beaches, offending locals who are embarrassed by foreigners’ gratuitous nudity.
  • Don’t touch anyone on the head; it’s regarded as the abode of the soul and is therefore sacred.
  • Do pass things with your right hand. Even better, use both hands. Just don’t use only your left hand, as it’s considered unclean.
  • Beware of talking with hands on hips – a sign of contempt, anger or aggression (as displayed in traditional dance and opera).
  • Beckon someone with the hand extended and using a downward waving motion. The Western method of beckoning is considered very rude.
  • Don’t make promises of gifts, books and photographs that are soon forgotten. Pity the poor local checking their mailbox or email inbox every day.
  • Cover shoulders and knees if visiting a temple or mosque; in Bali, a selandong (traditional scarf) or sash plus a sarong is usually provided for a small donation or as part of the entrance fee.
  • Women are asked not to enter temples if they’re menstruating, pregnant or have recently given birth. At these times women are thought to be sebel (ritually unclean).
  • Don’t put yourself higher than a priest, particularly at festivals (eg by scaling a wall to take photos).
  • Take off your shoes before entering a mosque.

Eating

Locavore

The foodie haven in Ubud,Bali. This temple to locally sourced foods is the town’s toughest table. Book weeks in advance. Meals are degustation and can top out at nine courses; expect the joy to last three hours. Chefs Eelke Plasmeijer and Ray Adriansyah in the open kitchen are magicians; enjoy the show (and go for the wine pairings).

Pica

Much-acclaimed, the South American cuisine here is surely one of Ubud’s culinary highlights thanks to the young couple behind this excellent restaurant. From the open kitchen, dishes making creative use of beef, pork, fish, potatoes and more issue forth in a diner-pleasing stream. Also the house sourdough bread is superb.

Warung Teges

The nasi campur (rice with a choice of side dishes) is better here than almost anywhere else around Ubud, Bali. The restaurant gets just about everything right, from the pork sausage to the chicken, the babi guling (suckling pig) and also the tempeh. The sambal is legendary: fresh, tangy, with a perfect amount of heat.

Moksa

Forget that farm-to-table stuff, at Moksa it’s farm-to-fork-to-farm. Based on their own permaculture farm, the restaurant shows the extraordinary meals that can be made with vegetables prepared simply. Half the dishes are raw, half-cooked. The changing menu usually features the popular ‘Lasagne Love’, which includes nut cheese and pesto. The setting is rustic with polish amidst the farm.

Hujon Locale

From the team of the critically acclaimed Mama San in Seminyak, Hujon Locale is one of Ubud’s most enjoyable restaurants. The menu mixes traditional Indonesian dishes with modern, creative flair, from Achenese prawn curry to slow-braised Sumatran lamb curry. The setting within a chic colonial-style two-story bungalow is made for a balmy evening. Great cocktails.

Drinking

Freak Coffee 

The name is appropriate here as these people are coffee fanatics. The best Bali beans are hand-selected and then roasted with precision before being brewed with an attention to detail that would please a persnickety mad scientist. Overlaying this is a quest to produce fantastic coffee with the lowest carbon footprint possible. Enjoy the results at this simple, open-fronted shop.

Room 4 Dessert

Celebrity chef Will Goldfarb, who gained fame as the dessert chef in Manhattan, runs what could be a nightclub except that it just serves dessert. Get some friends and order the sampler. Pair everything with his line-up of classic and extraordinary cocktails and wines, then let the night pass by in a sugary glow.

Coffee Studio Seniman

That ‘coffee studio’ moniker isn’t for show; all the equipment is on display at this temple of single-origin coffee. Take a seat on the designer rocker chairs and choose from an array of pour-over, siphon, Aeropress or espresso coffees using a range of quality Indonesian beans. It’s also popular for food (mains from 50,000Rp) and drinks in the evening.

Laughing Buddha 

People crowd the street at night in front of this small cafe with live music Monday through Saturday nights. Rock, blues, vocals, acoustic, jazz and more. The kitchen is open until 1 am for Asian bites (mains 40,000Rp to 70,000Rp).

Rio Helmi Gallery & Cafe

As tasty as one of their famous cupcakes, this cafe in the eponymous gallery is the perfect place to pause for a coffee and/or an all-day breakfast and to soak up some Ubud vibe. Settle back with a fine beverage and take in Helmi’s renowned photography.

Bridges 

The namesake bridges are right outside this multilevel restaurant with sweeping views of the gorgeous river gorge. You’ll hear the rush of the water over rocks far below while you indulge in a top-end cocktail on the rocks. There’s also a gourmet bites for sharing and a long wine list for exploring, Popular happy-hour drink specials.

Entertainment

Paradiso 

This organic vegetarian restaurant also screens two or three nightly movies at its surprisingly plush 150-seat cinema. The price of admission is redeemable against items from the Earth Cafe menu – so a great deal. During the day it also hosts regular talks and events.

Pura Dalem Ubud

At the west end of Jl Raya Ubud, this open-air venue has a flame-lit carved-stone backdrop and is one of the most evocative places to see a dance performance.

Pondok Bamboo Music Shop 

Short-attention-span-friendly shadow-puppet shows are performed here by famous experts.

Padangtegal Kaja

A simple, open terrace in a convenient location. In addition, this location hints at what dance performances have looked like in Ubud for generations.

Pura Taman Saraswati 

The beauty of the setting may distract you from the dancers, although at night you can’t see the lily pads and lotus flowers that are such an attraction by day.

Arma Open Stage

It has some of the best troupes performing Kecak and Legong dance.

Shopping

Ubud, Bali - The Ultimate Travel Guide

Rumble 

Owned by the drummer of the famous Balinese punk act Superman is Dead, Rumble stocks a cool selection of locally designed streetwear. Fittingly, it’s right at the entrance to the madcap Blanco Renaissance Museum.

Threads of Life Indonesian Textile Arts Center 

This small, professional textile gallery and shop generally sponsors the production of naturally dyed, handmade ritual textiles from around Indonesia. In fact, it exists to help recover skills in danger of being lost to modern dyeing and weaving methods. Commissioned pieces are displayed in the gallery, which has good explanatory material. It also runs regular textile-appreciation courses (classes from 75,000Rp).

Kou 

The perfume of luxurious locally handmade organic soaps wafts as you enter. Put some in your undies drawer and it’ll smell fine for weeks. The range is unlike that found in chain stores selling luxe soap.

Ganesha Bookshop 

A quality bookshop with an excellent selection of titles on Indonesian studies, travel, arts, music, fiction (including used books) and maps. Certainly great staff recommendations!

Ashitaba 

Tenganan, the Aga village of east Bali, is where the beautiful rattan items sold here are produced. Containers, bowls, purses and more (from US$5) display the fine and intricate weaving.

CreArt Story 

The store’s ethos is selling goods that aren’t made by faceless poorly paid people. The handicrafts here are responsibly sourced and come with their own stories of their origin.

Pondok Bamboo Music Shop 

Hear the music of a thousand bamboo wind chimes at this store owned by noted gamelan musician Nyoman Warsa, who also offers music lessons and stages shadow-puppet shows.

Getting There

Taxi 

Taxis with the cartel from the airport to Ubud cost 300,000Rp. A hired car with driver to the airport will cost about the same.

Walk 

Ubud is all about walking, although ubiquitous local guys offer ‘transport’ for about 20,000Rp to 40,000Rp depending on the distance.

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