Ubud is the first place you should think of visiting on your next trip to Bali.
Occasionally I just want to win at things. Last year Jetstar had an $88 sale to Bali. I knew I could get those tickets, even though everyone on the Jetstar Facebook said they didn’t really exist. I went straight onto their app because their website was down. The app crashed between every single section of the transaction, but I eventually made it all the way through the multitude of options and received a confirmation email. Eight days in Bali in February.
When most people think of Bali they picture one of two things. Drunk Australians engaged in an endless party in the streets of Kuta, or tranquil rice paddies and total serenity and relaxation. In reality both of these are available, you’ve just got to choose the right places to stay.
The last time I went I was 17 on a joint family holiday with no other kids my age. I can clearly remember hating Kuta and Legian, despite thinking they were totally cool when I was 15. We had just stayed in tranquil Ubud, and I found Legian loud and dirty and kind of depressing. So many Bintang singlets.
This isn’t some kind of Eat, Pray, Love thing. This time everyone told me to stay in Seminyak, but my heart belonged elsewhere. I wanted to be surrounded by rice paddies and see museums, art galleries and temples. I was accompanied by my boyfriend who had never been to Bali, and I didn’t want his introduction to be a bar on Kuta Beach. And now that the once thriving pirated DVD industry has been destroyed by torrents, what is the point in visiting Kuta anyway?
I first visited Ubud at the age of 5. My strongest memory is of staying in a bungalow style hotel that had rats. I was obsessed with the rats, and kind of terrified of the idea that they might crawl onto my bed. That hotel still exists; I saw signs for it just a few weeks ago.
Yes, of course Ubud has changed. There is a Starbucks in between Café Lotus and the Ubud Palace! The tourist area has expanded, and once isolated hotels on the fringes of Ubud (like the one mentioned above) are now surrounded by restaurants and shops. But I’m not opposed to development, and Ubud still retains the charm that won over Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. If anything it has resulted in better restaurants, a thriving organic food industry, and plenty of cultural opportunities and activities. Oh and a lot of yoga. It’s still beautiful and relaxing, and you only have to walk for a few minutes to find yourself away from the hectic centre.
We stayed at Ubud ArtVilla which is just outside of central Ubud in an area called Penestanan. It’s walking distance from everything, although when it starts to rain you’ll be begging for a taxi. ArtVilla is a very small villa style hotel with just five rooms. You can hire out the whole lot or just one. The rooms are beautiful with amazing outdoor bathrooms. We were obsessed with our waterfall shower. The grounds are everything you would want from a Balinese hotel, the pool is refreshing, and there’s air conditioning in the rooms.
ArtVilla is owned by an Australian but managed on a day to day basis by Wayan who lives locally. Wayan and his team do an amazing job, starting with a delicious breakfast in the morning. Wayan booked all our tours and activities for us, which is probably a bit lazy of me but it worked out really well. Their driver John picked us up from the airport and then took us on a great day tour of Bali on our first full day.
While in Ubud we ate at:
- Element. This restaurant is just down the road from ArtVilla and has a slightly French inspired menu. The food is amazing. The best we had in Bali. We ate here twice for dinner.
- Alchemy. A raw vegan café. This is really famous amongst the yoga crowd and was just across the road from ArtVilla. We found it was easier to tell a taxi driver to take us to Alchemy because they all knew it! Great smoothies and raw cakes.
- Casa Luna. During a torrential downpour we stopped at this Ubud institution for cake.
We also stopped for snacks and drinks at cafes and bars in Monkey Forest Rd and along Ubud’s main street. We spent a good amount of time just walking around and looking in shops. There aren’t a lot of hawkers and touts in Ubud, people might offer you a taxi or tickets to see the dancing but other than that everyone is relaxed.
No discussion of Ubud would be complete without mention of the monkeys. Yes the Monkey Forest is the same as ever, and the monkeys weren’t even put off by Justin Bieber visiting a few years ago (I would never be put off by that). You can feed them if you feel like having your fingers nearly ripped off, and I saw people kind of touching them and holding them. I stayed at a safe distance. Later we got to watch a free monkey show when a monkey stole a banana from the bar we were sitting in. It was a dream come true. Which describes all of Ubud really!