For people that have heard of Bali, they usually think of a tropical paradise filled with pristine white sand beaches, wonderful natural landscapes, delicious Indonesian cuisine, amazing temples and architecture, plenty of spirituality, yoga bliss, honeymoon perfection, playful monkeys (they’re actually kind of evil!), and of course the lush green rice terraces which many people come to the little town of Ubud to seek out. Thanks to Eat, Pray, Love, Ubud has become quite the tourist destination over the past several years. The Ubud area truly is a beautiful and magical place, with a natural setting I cannot even put into words. I really enjoyed it, and when I was at our villa I definitely found a sense of peace while there, but let’s face it…
The reality is, tourism has been wreaking its havoc on this area just as it has been with most of Bali.
It’s not as bad as down south, but it’s getting pretty busy. That is not to say it isn’t wonderful still and I highly recommend you check it out, at least for a day trip! I feel it’s almost necessary to come to this area while staying in Bali. There is so much wonderful culture and history here and so many incredible sights to see. We did a lot of exploring while staying in this area and learned a lot of interesting history during our stay here.
While staying at our airbnb we got a glimpse of local life in Central Bali, and I wouldn’t of had it any other way. There is a different vibe, lifestyle, and scenery in each part of the island, which is what makes Bali so fascinating to me, so staying in a local’s home really helped us achieve a substantial Central Bali/Ubud experience. Just know that it may be difficult to find the relaxing “Eat Pray Love” feel that most people visit Ubud for, especially if you stay in the heart of town, or very close to it. We stayed in Penestanan which I felt was the perfect place. Close enough to get to the center of Ubud quite easily, but far enough away to really relax and immerse yourself with the locals. It was here where I felt that relaxing atmosphere, but still not quite as relaxing as the tourism websites make it out to be. I suppose if you stay at one of those expensive self contained resorts then it may be a completely different experience.There are also some people that thrive off that very busy, fast paced atmosphere, and if you are one of these people I truly applaud you and by all means stay in the heart of Ubud! Also, I’m sure it is different for expats and such that live in this area and have been here for awhile and have found the perfect places to go, the paths to take, the places to avoid, etc. Anywhere you go you can find peace and perfection somewhere, but I do think it takes time to get accustomed and to find that happy medium. This post is from a very short term vacationers standpoint.
I mentioned the driving in my Welcome to Bali post, and Central Bali was probably the most congested out of the areas we stayed, so we did not attempt to use scooters here (however, we did use them down south, which you can read all about in a couple weeks!). We were very fortunate that our Airbnb host is also a professional driver and tour guide so we decided to spend our first full day in Ubud with him. We originally were not going to do any tours, but we figured why not have a local take us to the best spots. He was a safe driver, but also knew how to navigate the crazy roads efficiently and quickly. He also did not follow us around, he mostly explained where we were going and would drop us off and let us take our time to explore. He would always lead us to someone that would help us with any detailed information about the place and then leave it to us if we wanted them to guide us or not. This really suited our personalities, because I am not a very talkative person and I don’t like having people hover over me. I love learning, but I’m more of a give me all the information you can and then let me explore and take it all in by myself kind of person. Chances are I probably did a ton of research beforehand anyways. Below I will advise you on what I recommend to be worth it and what I think you could probably skip if you are strapped on time and really wanted to see and experience something else. These are my honest opinions so please keep that in mind, and always go to or skip whatever your heart desires!
This is also a long post, so I don’t expect anyone to read every word, but hopefully if you see something you’re interested in checking out, this will help with your final decision.
Our host has a book in his house of the tours that he does but we wanted to be surprised so we didn’t look at it. I did a lot of research before taking this trip, 7 months to be exact, so I knew that if we didn’t like the spots we hit today, we could always make up for it tomorrow. Our host was born and raised here, so I trusted his opinion. We met him bright and early and drove to Batubulan and to our surprise we were treated to the Barong dance. I did want to watch a traditional Indonesian dance so I was happy to be there. The performance is about good (The Barong, a lion like creature) triumphing over evil (otherwise known as Rangda, a witch/demon queen). As soon as I saw the lion come out and a monkey character jumping around the stage, I knew I was in for a treat. It was a wonderful experience, but the downside was having to pay to watch it. It’s not that I don’t want to pay, it’s that I wish my host would have told us beforehand. Actually, practically everywhere we went aside from retail shops had entry fees so keep this in mind for your trip. We expected that for the temples but a couple things did take us by surprise and it would have been nice for our host to let us know this so we could of had him skip certain places that we felt were not worth a fee. When we came back to the villa we looked at the tour guide book and there are no mentions of these fees. But all that aside, I am glad we got to see this dance but if you are on a tight itinerary and feeling unsure about going, I would recommend skipping it. The temple the dance was performed at was beautiful, and I really enjoyed the theatrics of the performance as well as the music, however it got a bit crowded in there and overall felt like a tourist trap. It was also quite comical watching tourists on their phones/camera equipment/etc. taking photos and video the entire time. I understand a snap here and there, I got some, and by all means this is a vacation of a lifetime please take photos! However, it was CONSTANT. I didn’t feel like the vast majority were even really enjoying it, taking it all in, or understanding it. They just wanted cool pictures for social media. The giant iPads being whipped out for photos, that was probably the funniest to me! Overall, great cultural experience, and bonus is I got a beautiful temple sarong while there from a lady selling them out front. I know they provide them for free, but I wanted my own. Anyways, I’ve seen traditional dancing in Thailand and Cambodia which is pretty similar to what I saw in Bali so if I had to do it all over again, for my short time I had there, I think I’d skip it.
The silver shop was nice but definitely something I would skip if I had the chance to do it all over again. When we arrived we were greeted with incredible hospitality. We were led to the front of the shop where several women were going through the silver making process. After that you get to go inside and check out all the wonderful silver pieces. They had it all, jewelry, sculptures, silverware, etc. It was all so beautiful, such amazing intricate work, and maybe if I was loaded with cash I would have purchased something, but alas I’m just your average working class citizen travelling on a budget 🙁 I felt bad because the woman who greeted us kept following us around asking if I wanted to try things on. Definitely was a good sales woman but I wasn’t interested in purchasing expensive silver jewelry, nor did I have the money to do so. If you love jewelry and are extremely curious about the silver making process, then you should definitely go! If this isn’t high on your priorities, I recommend using your time for something else.
If you love the amazing artistic carvings, decorations, and architecture of Bali I definitely recommend going to a woodcarving shop!! It doesn’t have to be the one we went to in particular, but I think a wood carving/stone carving gallery is something you shouldn’t miss. One of my most favorite things about Bali was driving past houses that were basically giant works of art. The stone and wood carvings really left me speechless. The immense detail in each carving and just imagining how long it must have taken to create each masterpiece…I wish I had that much creative talent in my hands. I can barely draw a nice looking stick figure! Our host took us to the Karya Mas Gallery. We had a good experience but I did read TripAdvisor reviews on the place, and they aren’t the best. However, just remember that everyone’s experience is different. We didn’t get the best customer service, but they were all nice enough and I loved that every room was filled to the brim with fantastic wood carvings and sculptures. When you first walk to the entrance, there are a group of people on the floor carving more pieces to add to the gallery. We watched them for awhile then went inside to check out the place. On the TripAdvisor reviews, many people were saying that they were followed the whole time. The man who greeted us followed us just for a few minutes and then we were on our own the rest of the time. They had such a wide variety inside…from small pieces with the most intricate details, you wonder how it could even be possible, to big giant sculptures of men, women, crocodiles, elephants, Gods, and more. We ended up purchasing a really small sculpture of the God Ganesha which is now sitting on my boyfriends computer desk.
Our next stop was a painting gallery featuring Balinese artists. We almost skipped this and I am so glad that we didn’t. If you love art, go to this gallery!! We were welcomed by a really nice man who was also very funny! He thought I was Indonesian and asked if I was from Jakarta. Many of the locals thought I was from Bali or another area of Indonesia, and I actually enjoyed blending in. But anyways, this art gallery was HUGE and I’m not exaggerating. There were so many rooms and I didn’t think it was going to end as we wrapped around the building. There were many different styles of painting from traditional, modern, abstract, acrylics, watercolor, oils, etc. My favorite was a painting that had real sand on it. I’m really into textures and I love art that incorporates a combination of our senses rather than just sight. I’m sure there are plenty of worthy art galleries in the area, but I highly recommend this one. No pictures for this place as they are not allowed, understandably so.
By far one of my most favorite places we visited in Bali! Pura Tirta Empul is not to be missed if you are in the Ubud area, please do not skip out on this! It is not in Ubud but nearby in Tampaksiring. This holy spring water temple is absolutely spectacular and quite a sight to see. There are many beautiful shrines and sculptures within the temple and the courtyards, I love that there is so much to take in here. They even have a nice shady area to sit at and cool down. The holy spring waters are of course the main attraction and is very sacred to the Balinese. Many locals bathe in this water for purification rituals. There are also smaller pools around the courtyard filled with koi fish. We didn’t bathe in the waters, one because we still had places to see and I didn’t want to be wet and muggy for the rest of the day, but also I feel a little strange partaking in something so sacred and important to the Hindu religion and Balinese culture when I myself do not practice or am devoted to the religion. It was very busy that day, with many tourists bathing in the waters snapping photos of each other, and I couldn’t help but think wow, this is suppose to be a very spiritual and impacting experience but it seems for most tourists it was really just a social media experience. Many people were bathing in their bikinis and such too, which I thought was inappropriate and disrespectful to the ritual, especially since most locals were bathing in full clothing. If I was invited by a local who is devoted to the religion to partake in the experience and they lead me through it, I would participate in a heartbeat!! But for me to jump right in and pray when I know very little about the Hindu religion, and knowing this is a very important place for the Balinese, I just felt that this was something that was special and I didn’t want to place any disrespect on that. This is theirs, and should be respected and properly participated in. This is just my opinion. I know many may disagree with me, but this is just how I felt about it. I also felt weird when people would take photos of locals praying and doing ceremonial stuff. It felt like it was intruding, an invasion of privacy during such an intimate moment praying to their Gods. Again, just my honest opinions. Anyways, this is a beautiful temple and I definitely think you should check it out! Remember to dress appropriately. The temples normally provide free sarongs. I had my own and my host provided a sash for me which was very kind of him. I also carried a t-shirt with me and threw it on over my dress to cover my shoulders. I didn’t realize that I needed to have my hair tied up until halfway into the temple and immediately threw my hair up. So I apologize in advance for having my hair down in these photos!
This was another favorite of mine! After the temple we went to OKA Agriculture to do coffee, cocoa, and tea tastings and I enjoyed this place so much! We were greeted by an incredibly kind and funny man (are you seeing this pattern? The Balinese are amazingly friendly people) who took us on a tour of their little coffee plantation. The tour was short but very informative and we got to learn all about how they harvest and make their coffees. We even got to see the women roasting the coffee beans by hand in these big woks. We learned all about how Kopi Luwak is made by the undigested coffee cherries of a Civet, and go through a unique fermentation process within the Civet. After the tour we got to sit down in their beautiful outdoor cafe area and do a tasting. First of all, this cafe/plantation is in the most lovely setting…set high up where you get the most fantastic view of lush green tropical jungle-y goodness. By far the most pristine, natural, and gorgeous setting that I have ever sipped a delicious cup of coffee at. Our tour guide gave us 8 samples of different Bali coffees, teas, and cocoa. These weren’t puny little paper cup samples, they were served in the cutest little glass cups, and in my opinion they were generous servings. My boyfriend and I shared them and each got a great fill in. I loved them all, but my favorite was the coconut coffee and the Rosela tea. We even tried the Kopi Luwak, we paid for it, but it was only about $3 a cup. We got to watch how it was brewed in this nifty little contraption pictured below. I thought it was pretty good, it had a syrupy taste and was earthy, which I expected. We rested there for awhile just taking in the beautiful view and enjoying ourselves. The staff was so great there. They were singing and joking around with each other and they genuinely made us smile and feel welcomed. We ended up purchasing some coconut coffee to take back home to the states and we also got to try some blood orange chocolate and chili chocolate while looking around in their souvenir shop. I highly recommend this place, I really think you will enjoy it especially if you are a fan of coffee, sightseeing, and incredibly friendly people!
Kopi Luwak was brewed in this!
A nice warm cup of Kopi Luwak
My handsome love 🙂
At this point we were extremely hungry and ready for lunch. Our host took us over to Mt. Batur/Lake Batur in Kintamani to check out the view while dining at an Indonesian buffet. Be aware there is an entrance fee just to get into the area of Kintamani, which surprised us. I believe we paid 30,000 rupiah a person, but can’t 100% recall…just make sure you have some on hand. When we arrived it started raining but we were still able to snap a few pictures before it really started downpouring. We may have not had the clearest view but I really like these photos with the dark setting and rain clouds. It adds character and really sets a contrast between that lush vibrant green down below. The buffet itself to me was just okay, to be honest. There were a few Indonesian dishes but nothing really rang home to me. I had much better food by our villa, but it was still good and you can’t beat the view you get while eating. I’m sorry I can’t remember the name of the restaurant for the life of me! Of course I tried Google searching, and I found some that looked familiar, but not exactly to the T, and for that reason alone I don’t want to put a name up in case it is the wrong restaurant. I do recommend Mt. Batur/Lake Batur, it is such an amazing view. I hear you can climb the mountain too (best time is sunrise), and I’d love to do that. I don’t really recommend the restaurant though…but since I can’t even remember the name, that’s not much help and I’m sorry about that! There are plenty of Indonesian buffet lunches in the area however, with an equally amazing view!
To finish our long day off we went to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace for sunset. I mean, when in Bali, you can’t miss out on this! I personally despise crowds (it’s the introvert in me!) and I knew it would be bad here, probably the worst I’ve seen all day, but I knew it would be worth the view. You have to pay to enter and park in here as well, I’m sorry I can’t remember the entry fees for everything but it wasn’t very much, I think 10,000 rupiah. It sure does add up when you have to pay to enter pretty much everywhere though! There are plenty of little pockets to walk down below and take in the rice terraces. There are also some shop traps that will post signs saying things like “Great view down here” so that they can sell you stuff, so be aware of that if you don’t like pushy vendors. We found our way down but didn’t go very far with how crowded it was. I also was in a summer dress and sandals so I didn’t feel comfortable walking down the terrace, especially with all the people. I just didn’t wanna risk hurting myself. We got some great photos though and it truly was so beautiful, even with all the people. The hard part was finding our host again as the traffic on the road was bad and most parking spots were filled up. We walked up and down that road maybe 4 or 5 times before we finally found him. I’d love to go back during sunrise and actually walk further down the terraces. It’s on my list now.
I was in a really bad mood the day we went, just call it mood swings, I really don’t know to be honest but I don’t think we explored the place in it’s entirety because of this, which I regret. It’s a beautiful temple and of course most people come to see the Elephant Cave pictured below. This temple has much more to see however, from fountains and pools, sculptures, GIANT trees, and even a little Buddhist temple area. The pools and fountains weren’t excavated until around the 1950’s I believe, which that alone is very interesting to me. It was a really beautiful temple. The cave sculpting is so detailed and of course everyone wanted a picture at the entrance. Once we finally were able to get in, it’s very quick to explore. Probably only a couple minutes to look around the small cave and at the relics against the wall. I wish it was a bigger and deeper cave, but it was still fun to take a look at. My biggest complaint however was the Buddha temple area. I don’t practice any religion, but some of my family members avidly practice Buddhism (we are Cambodian) and to me this just did not represent Buddhism at all. There was an older man up there who was “blessing” people, really he was just mumbling and flicking water on people (took maybe 30 seconds or less), and then he would lift up this mat which had money underneath and push you into giving him money. That is not Buddhism at all. And quite honestly, I don’t even think he was Buddhist. He also was not wearing attire that I am accustomed to seeing Buddhist monks wear. This left a bad taste in my mouth and we left shortly after that. This temple really is a sight to see though, and it won’t take long to see it all, so if you have a lot of time on your trip and really want to see the cave then stop by! Be aware, it gets pretty crowded in the afternoon from tour buses and there are a lot of stairs to walk down and back up, so if this will be a problem for you, keep that in mind.
You know we just had to stop here! Like the rice terraces, the monkey forest is another staple in the Ubud area. Now to be honest, monkeys terrify me. They are so smart and cute but I’m always scared they are going to attack me and give me rabies (haha, half joking)… Again, this is the day I was in a bad mood so we didn’t end up staying very long. The entrance fee to get in was 40,000 Rupiah and 30,000 for children (roughly $2-$3 USD). The forest itself is very beautiful! It is well kept, clean, and has rock wall carvings, sculptures, fountains, bridges, and plenty of other stuff to see besides just the monkeys. You won’t be disappointed either because this place is FILLED with monkeys! There was a monkey everywhere I turned. We even witnessed a monkey steal a bag of bananas from the vendor lady (see, they’re cute but evil! haha) and watched him munch away on his prize. As most people say on the popular trip websites, hide your sunglasses and shiny objects, don’t bring in food, hide anything you don’t want taken from you, and if you purchase bananas make sure to always have enough on hand for the BIG monkeys that will come later…or else 😉 This was a fun place to go, but I couldn’t believe all the people letting the monkeys stand on their heads and shoulders. I just kept imagining the movie 28 Days Later and a monkey biting someone and giving them a disease. I know they are cute and funny, but at the end of the day it is still a wild animal and you never know what they have running through their bloodstream…so be careful! Especially with children. And don’t blame the animal when it happens…I mean, they’re just being animals!
He was so intrigued
The sneaky and quick banana thief!
Well that is it for now! I know this was such a long post, but I really wanted to be informative and help anyone out who might be thinking of doing any of these activities while staying in Ubud. I hope you enjoyed the photos and I do hope you will check some of these spots out on your Bali vacation! Let me know in the comments if you do/did, and if you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts!
Such an amazing place that I’m dedicating a whole post to it! How to get there, what to expect, and a cute little mom and pop place to check out and cool down after your trek. Posting on Sunday!
Until next time,