📍Ubud, 29th of August 2018.
We had heard so much about Ubud, we couldn’t wait to get there. What did we hear? That it is the cultural capital of Bali, that it is very spiritual, that there are a lot of things to do and to see, that it is surrounded by beautiful nature, that it is obsessed about yoga, that it attracts a different kind of crowd than the beaches on the south and that it is not as touristy. Everything besides the last one turned out to be true. Looking back, one of our guides back in Java did warn us that Ubud had changed a lot in the last 5-7 years in terms of tourist arrivals and hence the general vibe in the city, but we had decided to keep our hopes for a magical fairy-tale town in the middle of the jungle alive until proven wrong.
Truth be told, especially in the beginning, we did struggle not being able to decide whether we loved or hated Ubud. I think the problem was in our unrealistic expectations – we thought we were going to see magical hidden gems, but instead got confronted with lucrative tourist destinations, which sometimes resembled “fast tourism” factories. What I mean is that seemingly everything and everyone around these popular destinations do anything possible to make money off visitors as their main daily occupation. This translates into things like a fake “parking manager” charging exorbitant fees in a parking-free zone, crowds of little kids running around making googly eyes selling postcards or older ladies luring you into their shops trying to guilt you into buying something, overpriced water and coffee, unreasonably priced attractions (which are busy regardless), shops after shops selling the same “I <3 Bali” t-shirts and batik, all in an endless buzzing flow of people trying to quickly snatch a picture and then jump back into their bus onto the next destination. Ah. It is exhausting and frustrating, especially when you feel you are being taken for a ride. That being said, afraid to miss out, we still went to see most of the sights (FOMO is a real thing). Under different circumstances we probably would have stayed longer to explore more but opted for discovering less hyped places by ourselves. This strategy paid off.
Bring the love
Once our expectations were recalibrated and once we learned what to avoid and how, our stay in Ubud improved dramatically. Inevitably we fell in love with the place. Since we were sadly not going to continue our Indonesia travels beyond Bali at this time, we decided to spend the rest of our time here. As usual, we had booked our accommodation just for a couple of days first, but just like in Sanur, immediately prolonged it after the check-in. Arya’s homestay - a small guesthouse with just a couple of rooms in a traditional Balinese style and a beautiful green garden, is run by a lovely accommodating family and became our home for over a week. It was absolutely fantastic to be stationed there – not only did we get the ultimately best breakfast served on our private terrace (we will be missing it for weeks to come), but also everything else worked out perfectly – the location was great (being on a small street merely 2 minutes away from the main street, it’s both quiet and very central), the wifi signal was strong so David could work without any issues, the room was clean and big enough for us to unpack properly and not live out of the backpack. The room was also unbelievably cheap (150k IDR per room per night incl. breakfast – roughly 9 EUR), so it was a no-brainer to stay here for a longer period.
Some did yoga, some - worked
I got an unlimited yoga studio access for a week in Radiantly Alive (which was the best decision ever!), where I spent up to 5 hours a day, David used that time to work. In between we did short trips around Ubud either on a scooter or by foot. This translated into a lovely staycation, allowing us to plan our future travels and even more importantly gave both of us time to be alone and do something separately. Being on the road now for over 3 weeks, we were constantly together, it was high time to give each other some space to breathe before somebody (me, most likely) exploded.
A short note on discovering Bali by foot. You constantly get offered a taxi - “taxi? How about tomorrow?”. The best is to just smile and say “no, thank you”. You will get a smile back and the encounter will be over. The funniest is when you say you prefer to walk – the taxi drivers look at you with amusement and bewilderment, trying to decipher whether you are lying or are just insane. This is especially true if a taxi driver meets you on a country road outside the city. People just don’t walk much here. Not sure whether it’s because there are no pedestrian passages or there are no pedestrian passages because nobody walks here. That didn’t stop us, on the contrary, we have decided to undertake a challenge of walking at least 10 thousand steps a day for 21 days straight, with the vision of translating that into a standard daily practice. I know it sounds easy and it is if you don’t spend over 8 hours on a bus moving from point A to point B. On those days we usually end up walking or running around the block shortly before midnight not to destroy our good track record.
What to expect from food in Ubud
When it comes to food, Ubud offers a very wide range of places to eat – anything from a small warung with simple local (e.g. Oka's Warung) or Chinese dishes (e.g. Warung Ijo) to upscale Western-oriented restaurants (e.g. MyWarung Ubud or Warung Pondok Madu), the prices therefore vary significantly as well. With a couple of exceptions, in general, the food is great, but more expensive than on Java. For authentic experiences and the lowest possible prices, we stopped for lunch in villages a couple of kilometres away from the city during our travels on the scooter. If you can communicate on fingers, you’ll be able to get a huge meal for two including juices and coffee for something around 70k IDR or less (4 EUR). The choice of food in these places is limited, but whatever is there, is usually delicious.
The gastro / lifestyle trends we are familiar with back home have reached Ubud as well – those interested would be excited to explore the variety of bio, vegan, organic meals – in creative menus, however also with price tags you’d expect in Berlin. To keep our budget within reasonable limits, we balanced the fancier places with local mom-and-pop’s eateries. To our own surprise, our favourite place in town turned out to be Alam Pizza. It is a small restaurant on a side street from the main road, offering happy hour strawberry daiquiris and delicious thin-dough pizza with seafood and garlic. So, not very local but at the same time not as pricey as other Western food serving places. Alam also has wifi and power sockets, so naturally we came back more than once and happily spent hours there dining, working or playing boardgames. The table situated at the very back of the restaurant faces a swamp, where seemingly tens or hundreds of frogs meet to join their voices in a loud choir – a lovely musical accompaniment to any meal .
Other things to do in Ubud
Going to a traditional kecak dance and a shadow puppet show is a must! The latter was absolutely amazing! We went to see it at Wayang Kulit, where the atmosphere was very intimate with only 10 people in the audience. We were also able to sneak a peak behind the scenes and watch the puppet masters in action (see below). Not without a sense of humor, the show also included hilarious insider jokes in almost incomprehensible English. Highly recommended!
Besides cultural trips and traditional shows, another great thing to do in Ubud is getting a massage. There are salons on every corner offering hour treatments for as little as 80k IDR (5EUR). Although you can’t go wrong by getting a massage in one of the top reviewed salons on TripAdvisor (e.g. Synergy Spa), the smaller dodgier-looking places (e.g. Quelena) are at least as good if you don’t need a fancy reception and a free cup of tea. Rest assured, a petit older lady has both the skills and the strength to unlock any muscle knots you may have ;).
Final interesting observation about Ubud and probably Bali in general – there are no clocks anywhere. I first noticed it once when my phone was out of battery and I wasn’t sure if I was still on time for my yoga class. The following days we actively tried to find any clock either on the street or in a restaurant but didn’t succeed. It certainly feels like time is of no essence here.
|Arya's homestay||150k IDR per night|
|Yoga unlimited weekly pass||909k IDR|
|Shadow puppet show||75k IDR|
|Barber shop||55k IDR|
|Dinner for two||100k-300k IDR|