Even travel writers need bases, and I chose Ubud in Bali as mine for two years. There's so much to do and see, it would be impossible to fit it all in one blog post! So here's a random collection of my favourite places:
Ubud Bungalows are centrally located, with very clean, traditional rooms, and cheery, helpful staff. The cheapest rooms are VERY basic and are not very soundproof! But privacy is very hard to find in Bali. Rooms are about AUD$35 a night for a fan room.
They have also built some newer rooms recently which are really nice and have air-con, but cost quite a bit more, although they’re still under AUD$100 a night. The highlight of Ubud Bungalows is definitely the lush tropical gardens and beautiful little pool.
Also very central is Artini 2, which features really nice, but traditional older style bungalows which, in true Balinese style, can be a bit dark. The rooms are quite basic but clean and it’s far back from the road, so you get very little traffic noise.
The breakfast is pretty good and you can sit in the little restaurant by the pool to eat it. The pool area is really lovely, with large statues carved into the cliff face at one end, and the gardens are lush and immaculate.
Wapa di Ume is a little out of town, probably about a 10 minute motorbike ride. The rooms are large, featuring big canopy beds and full size bath tubs. The breakfast is great. It also has a sweet little yoga room and an outdoor wedding chapel which overlooks the jungle. The multi level pool is pretty impressive, and the villas have their own private pools.
For absolute luxury and the price tag to go with it, there is Como Shambhala, which is 20 mins out of town, but is absolutely, mind blowingly, beautiful. See the full story on Como here.
PLACES TO GO:
The Yoga Barn is one of the best studios for yoga and other events. They have about a dozen classes a day, all levels. Every second week they have a movie night and alternate weeks they have Dhamma talks on Balinese culture, society and spirituality. There are ecstatic dance classes on Friday nights which are free form and the music is pretty tribal. Sunday morning dance is again free form, but the music is more happy & uplifting. There is also Tibetan bowl meditation, sound healing and kirtan on the schedule. And there’s an ayurvedic spa and accommodation on site too.
Museums – My favourite is Blanco museum. He was an eccentric Spaniard who built a big monument to himself which is European in every aspect and doesn’t even attempt to fit into the local landscape whatsoever. There’s also the Neka museum which has a great collection of Indonesian art and The Zoo is all pop art. Arma museum is also beautiful, but has a much smaller collection than Neka. The grounds are worth having a look at though, and they have accommodation there too.
Botanic Garden – It’s more like an overgrown jungle than a botanic garden, but it’s kind of cool and peaceful anyway. It’s a pleasant 10 minute drive out of town. The last time I went there, they tried to sell it to me!
Champuan Ridge – It’s not a difficult walk and parts of it are really scenic, overlooking the river and jungle. The full circuit takes you through small villages and is about a two hour walk, but there are plenty of refreshment stops on the way. You also have to dodge the young amorous Indonesian couples who sit along the ridge playing cheesy pop music on their phones.
The Monkey Forest – Apart from the monkeys (personally I’m not a fan), the forest is really beautiful and quite peaceful. But unfortunately the tourists carrying bananas make the monkeys go feral. They will also steal anything you have in your hands, and you have little to no chance of getting it back.
Tirta Empul is the water temple which is about 20 mins drive from Ubud. Go with a driver who will take you through an entire purification ceremony. You can be blessed by the priest and the experience can be quite profound. You may just have to wake him up first! You need a change of clothes and two sarongs. There is no hot water in the change rooms, so if it’s cool, take a long sleeve top as well.
Downhill Cycling tour- There’s hardly any actual cycling in this tour, you pretty much just coast all the way. And considering how dodgy most of the bikes are, that's probably for the best. You start the tour with breakfast overlooking the crater lake and Mt Batur, stop at a coffee plantation, cycle through rice fields and stop in family compounds to see how people live. You can cycle the last part uphill or just get in the bus and drive to lunch.
Mt Batur climb – This is not a hard climb, although you do it in the pitch black, starting about 2am to get up the top for sunrise. It takes about 2 hours on the way up and about 1 ½ on the way down. It’s a beautiful view from the top and they even serve coffee up there! The scenery on the way down is awesome and since the sun is up, you can actually see where you’re going. I would definitely get a guide, as there are empty shafts you can fall down if you accidentally wander off the path (I say this from experience!)
Mt Agung climb – This is further away from Ubud and the climb makes the Mt Batur climb feel like a walk in the park. It’s a hard trek up, and there are no safety ropes at the end to help you reach the peak. It’s about 6 hours up and 5 down. Is the view from the top worth it? Absolutely. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be above the clouds, this is your chance. But, I wouldn’t even think about attempting to think about attempting this climb without a guide!
Whitewater rafting – In the peak tourist season (June, July, August) which is also the dry season, there isn’t really a lot of white water. But even if there isn’t, it’s still a spectacular way to see Bali from a different perspective. Some parts are more relaxing than adventurous, but you also get to take a dip under a waterfall or two. And the climb up the stairs at the end is a great work out!
Bridges – Happy Hour from 5-7pm every night of the week with wines from Chile, Australia and South Africa. It’s the only place in town you’ll get a decent wine. The food is very pricey by Bali standards, but it’s incredible and absolutely worth it if you want to splurge. The view over the river is beautiful and the jungle next to the restaurant gives it a very serene feel.
Kafe – Really popular with the yoga set, it’s really relaxed and the food is great and really healthy with heaps of vegetarian and raw options. There’s seating upstairs too, so you can look down over Hanoman street. Little K out the back of the Yoga Barn has the same owners and a similar menu.
Sari organik – One of the only restaurants out in the rice fields. The walk out there is really pleasant and takes about 20 minutes. You can also ride a scooter out there, but the path is very narrow and it’s pretty easy to end up in the rice fields! The food is all organic, with a lot of it actually grown on site. Their salads are fantastic and fresh.
Bali Buddha – Has really healthy, organic food and also a shop where you can buy all sorts of organic and environmentally friendly products. It’s an Ubud institution and when you eat there, you can taste why! I’m not usually a fan of minestrone soup, but theirs is seriously delicious and they have one of the best Nasi Campur around.
Three monkeys – A touristy restaurant on Monkey Forest road with really good pizza and ricefield views in the middle of Ubud. The food is great, but the prices are set at tourist rates.
Taco Casa – awesome Mexican food and Corona to go with it!
Indian Delights – Really good Indian and they have a buffet one night a week where you can eat as much as you like.
Murni’s Warung – The oldest warung (restaurant) in town, it’s set into the cliff side with really lovely views of the jungle and the river. It has 4 different levels, with a cool lounge bar in the middle. The food is pretty decent and weirdly they have a really nice cheesecake!
Laughing Buddha – Really cool, open bar on Monkey Forest Road which has live music 5 nights a week. The drink menu isn’t great though unless you want to go with a Bintang. But since wine is so diabolical in Bali, this isn’t really their fault.
Jazz Cafe - Has decent food and live Jazz almost every night and is really fun if you feel like getting up and having a dance.
Milano Salon – the best hair cream bath in town. They spend an hour massaging and rubbing aloe vera into your head – heaven! The owner, Paris is the only person in town I would trust to cut or colour my hair. They also do decent manicures/pedicures and make surprisingly good ginger tea to sip while you’re having a treatment.
Skin organics – the only place in Ubud that I would personally ever trust for waxing! They also have a full range of beauty services including very good massages and facials, using Sukin organic products. But don’t bother buying the products there, they’re cheaper in Australia. They also use really good quality nail polish in the manicures and pedicures that lasts long after your holiday ends.
Taksu Spa - you'll get one of the best massages in town here. The therapists are very well trained and offer a variety of different massage techniques. The grounds are enormous and you have to cross a flowing stream to get to the treatment rooms. The sound of water is everywhere, which helps make Taksu a very serene experience.
Motor bike hire – Really cheap and easy way to get around if you’re staying a little out of town. Always wear a helmet and if you get stopped by the cops, don’t pay them more than about AUD$5. See tips on riding a motorbike in Bali here. Don't even consider riding a bike if you haven't got travel insurance. I personally use Australian based insurer Fastcover.
Bintang – the biggest supermarket for anything you need.
Tattoos –Dragon tattoo on Hanoman street is where I got my tattoo and I found them really good and very clean, but this is definitely the kind of thing you need to check out for yourself.
Notes: the best time to travel to Bali is June, July and August during dry season
Australians (along with many other countries) no longer have to pay for a visa when entering Bali. You get 30 days free on arrival.
Ubud is about 1 1/2 north of Denpasar airport (depending on traffic).
I'd also recommend always travelling with insurance. I personally use Australian based insurer Fastcover, and you can get a quote for a policy here: https://fastcover.com.au/ref?id=Wafaraway