The Travel Darling Newsletter
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Nestled in the lush jungle and surrounded by rice fields, Ubud is the spiritual heart of Bali. Writers, yogis, soul searchers, and dilettantes of all backgrounds come here to recharge and find inspiration.
Walking along the streets it’s hard to miss the smell of burning incense and the offerings made of flowers and palm leaves on every doorstep. Balinese women take such care in creating these daily offerings called canang sari — they are a way for them to express gratitude and devotion. In the Kawi language, ca means “beautiful” and nang means “purpose.” Likewise, many Westerners come to Ubud to unearth their purpose.
My first trip to Ubud was in 2010, and I have visited twice since, most recently spending six weeks completing my yoga teacher training in October. Bali teaches me something new each trip – it’s a place I hope I’m fortunate to revisit throughout my life. I wanted to share my favorite spots and tips to unlocking this city.
Get a scooter. Scooters are a cost-effective, fun way to discover Ubud. There are hidden gems outside the city center that can be a half day’s walk in near 100% humidity to reach, but scooters make these places accessible. Finding a scooter is easy. Ask your homestay or hotel to arrange one for your stay. For one month, I paid $50. Riding a scooter requires confidence. It can be intimidating braving the crazy streets at first, but it takes about a day to get the hang of it. They drive on the left side of the road in Indonesia, and be warned that traffic signs in Bali are more like guidelines – there’s no method to the madness.
Traveling as a couple? Rent two bikes. It’s tricky navigating the winding, unkept Balinese roads with someone on the back on your bike. To fill up the tank, visit a local warung (shop). Those that have gasoline for sale display it in large water bottles full of yellow liquid. It typically costs less than $2 to fill up a tank.
Check Airbnb first. The streets Jalan Raya Ubud, Monkey Forest, and Hanoman are in the very center of town. If you want to be within walking distance to the action, I’d recommend staying at least one or two streets away. To me, the city center is overwhelming with throngs of tourists and shops owners vying for your business. I need a refuge from noise. There are a lot of newer homes overlooking rice terraces in Penestan, but it’s a 10-minute scooter ride to Ubud center. It’s a beautiful area, though.
Get an air conditioned place if your budget allows. The first two weeks of this trip we stayed in an upscale eco lodge – I envisioned us completely blissed out in a tropical oasis and “one with nature,” or whatever. In reality, it was an open air hut in freaking Southeast Asia with creepy crawlies and mosquitoes entering the house at they pleased. We slept upstairs under a mosquito net, but every morning I prepared myself to face a different critter in the open air bathroom downstairs. Some mornings it was only frogs. Other days it was the neighborhood tabby cat. And every morning a rooster jumped onto our concrete walls and crowed as loudly as possible, almost like he was alerting the neighbors that someone was showering. Wake up! Someone’s naked! Like clockwork. It was unsettling. It didn’t take long for us to move to a hotel. Maybe I’ve gone soft, but a place with actual walls and air conditioning is a wonderful thing. Many apartments and rental homes have pools, which is always a plus. You don’t have to look very hard to find a place that includes a pool.
The Yoga Barn is my home away from home and is where I did my teacher training. Take advantage of the different activities they offer – yoga, lectures, ecstatic dance, kirtan, meditation, and holistic therapies. It’s tucked away from the main street and can be tricky to find, but it’s truly an oasis.
Radiantly Alive is also popular. I can’t fully recommend it as I haven’t made it to a class yet unfortunately, but I trust my yoga friends who have been there before. The word on the street is to take vinyasa on Sunday at 9:00 am with Daniel.
If you only drink putrid green vegetable juice and bathe yourself with coconut water, you’ve come to the right spot. Maybe it was practicing yoga six days a week, or the vegetarian diet I adopted, or the no-alcohol-October, but I felt supercharged during my time in Ubud. Here’s a list of my food staples:
Pomegranate Cafe. You definitely need a scooter to get here. Either that or take a taxi or commit to walking 30 minutes through rice fields to get here. Stunning sunsets over the rice fields. You feel like you’re eating in an open-air circus tent.
Sari Organik. Close to Pomegranate. I’ve never been, but it looks absolutely beautiful and is a staple in the Ubud food scene.
Seniman Coffee. One of my favorite coffee shops in the world. If you’re a coffee snob like me, meaning you want real coffee – single origin served black – go to Seniman. The cold brew is excellent, too. If you want to take the snobbery up a notch, take one of their coffee workshops. Tyler and I enjoyed their coffee roasting workshop.
Watercress Cafe. Lovely open air cafe with rustic charm that feels like it got trapped on Smith Street in Brooklyn. You’ll pay a premium for the dishes, but the ingredients are fresh, and everything I’ve eaten there was perfect. Great place to sip coffee and people watch.
Kebun Bistro. Upscale Mediterranean spot. Perfect place to enjoy a glass of red wine and a steak. Fabulous full fat, non-vegan desserts!
Clear Cafe. International food options with organic ingredients. Find a couch and chill out. Pro-tip: Go during sunset. The cafe sits on top of a hill, and there’s a beautiful view of a temple down in the valley.
Soma Cafe. Asian fusion and vegetarian-friendly. Good spot to hang out for the evening. Try their raw desserts.
Taco Casa. Some days you just need Mexican food. The owner lived in San Diego before, so he knows what he is doing!
Alchemy. Raw, vegan cafe and juice bar in Penestan. Relatively expensive.
Kafe. Chill bistro vibe with international selections. Cozy outdoor seating area great for people watching. Sister restaurant to The Yoga Barn’s Garden Kafe.
Tyler mapped out a few of these places here.
Hubud is the only place to go to be productive it seems. Superb coworking space with the fastest wi-fi of anywhere in Ubud. Relaxed outdoor cafe and workspace overlooking rice paddies.
Tipping isn’t expected in Bali. Many restaurants already include service. I typically round up to the nearest whole number when paying.
Be careful when taking money out of ATMs. Keep tabs on your bank statement. There have been several reported debit card clonings in Bali. Tyler has had this happen to him twice – once this trip and once in 2013.
Thankfully, I’ve never had this problem. Just kidding! After I typed that sentence, I learned my debit card had also been compromised. Thankfully my bank was quick to spot it before the would-be thief could successfully take out money. It’s a huge pain to have your card canceled, so I recommend having a back up of another currency to exchange should you run out of rupiah. Credit cards are also more widely accepted but still not used everywhere.
Take advantage of the good, inexpensive massages and various therapies. Most places I’ve found charge $8-$10/hour (you can even go cheaper!). Massages could cost up to $20/hour if you want to get f a n c y. Typical Balinese massages are light-touch, and if you’re like me, you want a a big, strong Helga absolutely beating the shit out of your muscles, so be sure to talk with your therapist first.
I always had a good experience at Putri Bali. They have 2 locations, both are great. Try their ayuryoga therapy massage. KUSH at the Yoga Barn offers holistic and ayurvedic treatments as well as massages. It’s more expensive than what you’d find on the street, but it’s lovely and worth it to splurge. If you want the name of the best osteopath on the planet, send me an email.
Jungle Fish. Incredible infinity pool overlooking a lush, jungle ravine. Fun for a lazy afternoon. It’s a trek to get out there, but it’s worth it. Post up for the day with a coconut by the pool, then head upstairs for lunch at the restaurant.
Bisma Eight. Boutique hotel with incredible rooftop – the perfect location to have a sundowner. Excellent cocktails. They also have an infinity pool overlooking a verdant landscape, but we didn’t discover it until our last night in Ubud. I challenge someone who reads this to find out if it’s open to non-hotel guests!
It’s easy to arrange day trips from Ubud. Check with any of the dozen tour companies along Monkey Forest Road.
Uluwatu Temple. Majestic Hindu temple on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
Tegalalang Rice Terraces. Easy to do for a half-day trip. Ride a scooter there, or arrange a car. Tours will usually tack on a visit to a coffee plantation.
Sunrise Hike on Mt. Batur. Leaves early in the morning for sunrise at the top. The hike is a quick 2 hours up. Spectacular view.
Tegenungan Waterfall. Quick escape from the city center.
Monkey Forest. You can walk there from Ubud’s city center. Be careful. The monkeys are aggressive! They sell bananas at the entrance. The last time we were here, Tyler bought some and as soon as he stepped foot inside the forest, a massive monkey clawed his way up his body, and forcefully yanked the bananas out of his hand. Terrifying for him, hilarious for me. You have to visit Monkey Forest as least once, just watch your belongings because they will steal your your stuff if you’re not careful.