Ubud (25 kilometers from the airport ad 16 kilometers from Denpasar) is a once lovely little village that has become a bit overdeveloped in recent years but is still nice. Regarded as Bali’s cultural capital, it is famous for its paintings and is filled with art galleries and craft shops. You can see traditional dancing and take meditation classes and eat at some excellent restaurants. Attention was drawn to the place in the 1930s when Walter Spies set up a painting school here. Many of the expatiates that spend a lot of time here regard themselves as writers, artists and film directors. Some are just from rich families and don’t have to work.
Perhaps the with nicest thing about Ubud are the guest houses nestled among the palm trees and rice terraces outside of the town. At night the sound of frogs and crickets emerge from the rice paddies. Along the long and often steep main road are a number of galleries, temples, shops, museums and bookstores. . There is a crafts market and many cheap places to stay around the Monkey Forest Road. Trips can easily be organized to temples and performances of gamelan music and Balinese dance are held almost every night.
Steeped in culture and enhanced by magnificent vistas, Ubud is cosmopolitan community that pampers visitors in body and soul. Fine dining restaurants and spas delight and relax the senses. A walk through the lush paddy fields, watching colorful processions of women gracefully balancing piles of fruit offerings on their way to the temple leave a lasting impressions.
The best way to observe Bali’s traditions and culture is through mingling with the locals and watching their daily routine. In and around Ubud, you can visit the temples and villages that have remained relatively unchanged through the years. It’s no surprise that many people come to Ubud for a day or two and end up staying longer. Ubud is where the writer Elizabeth Gilbert found inspiration and time to reflect to create her best selling memoir “ Eat, Pray, Love”, which was made into a film starring Julia Roberts. Indonesia’s own Christine Hakim plays Wayan, the local alternative healer, in the film.
Sights and Activities in Ubud
Ubud is situated on the gentle. lower slopes of Bali’s central mountains. In recent year this once small village has expanded outward and now embraces the villages that surrounded it such as Camoaun, Pemestanan, Padangtegal, and Peliatan which are now regarded as neighborhoods of Ubud. The center of town is marked by the market and bemo stand, The main thoroughfare is the Monkey Forest Road. The main east-west road is Jl Raya. Around the town are villages that specialize in certain crafts. West of Ubud is a steep downhill to the old suspension bridge (next to a newer bridge) at Camouan. Further on is Pentestanana, known for it painters. Much of the land around Ubud is owned by the family of Prince Sukawati. Hotel Tjampuhan is built on the site of Walter Spies's home. The nearby village of Pejeng is the home of Moon Temples that houses a gong said to dat back to the 3rd century B.C.
The Museum Neka and Museum Puri Lukisan in Ubud are two of the finest art museums in Indonesia. The former features art with different themes displayed in different pavilions. The latter has an excellent collection of Balinese art and Ubud painting and is surrounded by a beautiful gardens set around a gorge and spanned by a bridge that leads to a lily pond. The Agung Raul museum is also set among landscaped gardens. It host dance performances, including the monkey dance show around the time of the full moon.
There are a number of galleries in Ubud, including ones that specialize in art by Balinese, Indonesian and foreign women. the home of the artist I Gusti Nyoman Lempad and Antonio Bianco can be visited. Mountain bike tours are offered in the area. White water rafting is done on the Ayung river Courses are offered in art, cooking, batik making, silver jewelry-making and meditation. There are also some trendy bars, golf courses and spas where you bath in spice-scented water. Ubud is the home of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (www.ubudwritersfestival.com) where book enthusiasts, writers and readers around the world gather annually and share their experiences and of course, stories. This festival is usually held in October every year.
The Kecak, Legong and Barong dances are performed weekly as are the classical Ramayana and Mahabharata dance-dramas, gamelan recitals (orchestra comprising traditional musical instruments) and the wayang kulit (traditional Indonesian leather puppets) performances. Performances of the monkey dance, trance dances, wayang kulit puppets, and gamelan are featured on a nightly basis either in Ubud or the surrounding villages.
But in recent decades, some of Ubud’s charm has been lost. The main strip is full of karaoke bars, "antique reproductions" shops and young Japanese, Australian, American and European travelers. And there are the big resorts and the people they bring. The Four Season resort with a swimming pools, massage rooms, a health club, a temple and individual villas with their own guardian shrines.
Monkey Jungle of Ubud
The Monkey Jungle is Ubud’s best known attraction. Watch you belongings, the monkey have been known to snatch glasses and wallets and take them up into the trees. It is also a good place to take walks. If you go back to some of the of-the-beaten-path villages one thing you will notice is an overabundance of dogs-that all seem to be the same breed. Walking destinations include the artist colonies of Penestanan and Sayan and Kedewatan. Hundreds of herons nest in the trees around Petulu.
The Monkey Forest is a nature reserve and temple complex. t houses approximately 340 monkeys which are known as long-tailed Macaques (Macaca fascicularis). There are four groups of monkeys each occupying different territories in the park. The Sacred Monkey Forest is a popular tourist attraction in Ubud, and is often visited by over 10,000 tourists a month.
The Monkey Forest is owned by the village of Padangtegal and village members serve on the Monkey Forest's governing council. The Padangtegal Wenara Wana Foundation manages the Monkey Forest and serves to maintain its sacred integrity and to promote the sacred site as a destination for visitors. The forest comprises approximately a tenth of a square kilometer (approximately 27 acres) and contains at least 115 different species of trees. well as a "Holy Spring" bathing temple and another temple used for cremation ceremonies. In the Pura Dalem Agung (Temple of the Dead) look for Rangda figures devouring children at the entrance to the inner temple.
Don’t wander off the main path. The forest is lest travelled for a reason: it may provoke the monkeys into thinking you're trying to invade their home. Treat the monkeys with respect. Don't feed them unless you're accompanied with a guide to supervise you. You used to be able to buy bags of peanuts to feed the monkeys but that practice is now discouraged. If the monkeys "borrow" one of your possessions, go to the nearest guide and ask for his help.
Eat, Pray, Love & Ubud
According to Lonely Planet: “'That damn book' is a common reaction by many Ubud residents, who fear the town's popularity is driven in part by “Eat, Pray, Love” fans. “Eat, Pray, Love” is the Elizabeth Gilbert book (and not-so-successful movie) that chronicles the American author's search for self-fulfilment (and fulfilment of a book contract) across Italy, India and, yes, Ubud. [Source: Lonely Planet]
“Some criticise Gilbert for not offering a more complete picture of Ubud's locals, dance, art, expats and walks, warts and all. And they decry basic factual errors such as the evocative prose about surf spots on the north coast (there are none), which lead you to suspect things might have been embellished for the plot. Then there are the genuine fans, those who found a message in EPL that resonated, validating and/or challenging aspects of their lives. For some an ultimately self-fulfilling journey to Ubud wouldn't have happened without EPL.
“Two characters in Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love are easily found in Ubud. Both receive large numbers of EPL fans and have lucrative livelihoods because of it Ketut Liyer The genial and inspirational friend of Gilbert died in 2016. After the book came out, he was in huge demand for an audience from Westerners. Most paid US$25 or more for a short and public session during which they were told a variation that they were smart, beautiful, sexy and would live to 101 or 105 etc. The actual Liyer compound, just south of Ubud, was used in the movie, although Ketut was played by a schoolteacher from Java. Wayan Nuriasih Another star of Eat, Pray, Love, Nuriasih now operates an extremely successful business on the northern edge of the town centre. Customers give varying assessments of her services.
“Most of the Bali locations for Eat Pray Love, the movie, were filmed in and around Ubud. However, don't be surprised if on your walks in the area, you find beautiful rice fields that surpass those shown in the movie. The beach scenes were shot at Padang Padang, on south Bali's Bukit Peninsula. Oddly, the real beach is more attractive than the sort of grey version seen in the film. But for those hoping to imbibe at the beach bar where Julia Roberts meets Javier Bardem, there's no point trying, as the bar was created for the movie.”
Accommodation, Restaurants and Shopping at Ubud
Various lodgings are available in Ubud, from a simple bed & breakfast to resorts and private villas. Good choices for comfort and services at Monkey Forest Street are Komaneka Resort and KajaNe Mua Villa. A bit far, but worth the distance are Maya Ubud Resort & Spa and Four Seasons Bali (at Sayan, Ubud). Modest accommodation or even homestays are available for those who would prefer to watch Balinese daily life up close.
On the Monkey Forest Street and Jalan Hanoman you’ll find many choices of restaurants, from western cuisine to Balinese dishes. Sample authentic Balinese dishes made from fresh ingredients at the local warungs (street stalls). Or indulge in a gourmet meal at one of the classy cafes or restaurants. Check out Bebek Bengil about 500 meters from the Monkey Forest. It's a popular restaurant at Jalan Hanoman (Phone: +62 36 197 5489), known for its fried and roasted duck specialties. Also try the ribs. During the filming of “Eat, Pray, Love,” Julia Roberts was invited by the local ruler to dine in an enjoyable restaurant in Ubud. That restaurant was The Lotus in Jalan Raya Ubud.
In south Ubud, you can find hundreds of craft shops offering art products and handmade souvenirs, especially made of stone or wood. If you are planning to stay for a while, ask the artists to custom make your order. Try Pasar Seni (Art Market) at Jalan Raya Ubud, the Monkey Forest Street, Jalan Hanoman and Jalan Dewi Sita. Shops at Monkey Ubud Forest alone offer a wide variety of beads, baskets, wooden carvings, ikat textiles, paintings and silver jewelries.
Between Denpasar and Ubud are numerous towns and villages that sell crafts and often specialize n one craft. Among these are Batubulan, known for stone carving; Celuk, a silver and goldsmithing center; Sukawatio, known for its temple umbrellas, wind chimes and dyed palm baskets; Batuan, a famous painting center; and Mas, famous for its woodcarving.
Getting Around and To Ubud
Since Ubud is relatively small, you can explore the town on foot or hire a bicycle or motorbike. Bear in mind that as this is hilly terrain, so do ask locals first which places are easier explored on foot, by bicycle, motorbike or by car. Walking around Ubud is an experience of its own. There's a famous story told by Janet DeNeefe, initiator of the Ubud Readers & Writers Festival, that once, a speaker had a block before his event and decided to went out for a walk around Ubud. He was so fascinated by the beautiful landscapes that he forgot to return for his talkshow. Cars are usually only used when you want to to go outside Ubud.
Ubud is about an hour and a half drive from the airport. If you decide to visit Ubud directly from the airport, you can hire prepaid cabs but the fee may be quite hefty. You can also take regular taxis or rental cars. Any travel agent in Denpasar will also be able to get you there. If you stay in a hotel, the management usually provides a shuttle service for a reasonable fee. Public transportation such as buses can also take you to Ubud.
Near Ubud are a number of important temples and ancient monuments. Among these are Goa Gajah, which dates back to the 11th century is believed to have been a monastery and contains caves flanked by carved images,, pools, fountains an an image of the Hindu elephant-headed god Ganesh. Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) is located about one kilometer from Teges. Llegend says that it was created from a giant’s fingernail. It was probably built in 11th century, during Majapahit occupation of Bali. Dutch archaeologist rediscovered Goa Gajah in the 1920s but the bathing area was not found until the 1950s. It’s interesting to note that the entrance of this cave is carved in the shape of a demon-like creature. The statue of Ganesha adorns the inside. Bathing pools with water spouts are found nearby, and it is believed that the water will make you look younger.
Also worth checking out are Yeh Pulu, a 25-meter-long carved cliff; dated to the late 14th century; and Gunung Kawi, 10 rock-cut shrines that stand in seven-meter-high niches with the a cliff face set in a lush green valley. Nearby is Tirta Empul (15 kilometers from Ubud), a 100-year-old temple built around a sacred spring. It contains two baths whose waters are said to have curative powers. Regular ceremonies are held for purification. It is a beautiful temple and one the nicest things about is its setting on a lush hillside. In Pejeng (8 environmental from Ubud),you can visit the museum and temples and the “Moon of Pejeng” the huge prehistoric kettledrum. While here why not complete your tour visiting the archaeological sites of Bedulu which is only 3 kilometers away.
Between Denpasar and Ubud are numerous towns and villages that sell crafts and often specialize n one craft. Among these are Batubulan, known for stone carving; Celuk, a silver and goldsmithing center; Sukawatio, known for its temple umbrellas, wind chimes and dyed palm baskets; Batuan, a famous painting center; and Mas, famous for its woodcarving. Many of Bali's master carvers still live here. Peliatan is the center of woodcarving, traditional music and dance. Woodcarvers make colorful flowers, fruits and trees. Batuan is also know for its dancing and wood panel carving.
Taman Burung Bali Bird Park
Taman Burung Bali Bird Park (between Denpasar and Ubud) is a two-hectare park with over 1,000 different birds from 125 species. The native Indonesian birds include colorful parrots, cassowaries, black-palm and sulfur crested cockatoos, hornbills and birds of paradise. There are also macaws from the Amazon, African crowned cranes and flamingos from Tanzania and some Komodo dragons. Within two hectares of Balinese landscape and a free range birds. Nearby is Rimba reptile park, with 20 species of snake from Indonesia and Africa, turtles and crocodiles
The park contains a botanical garden that accommodates an amazing display of flora with more then 2000 tropical plants including 50 varieties of palms alone and attracting numerous butterflies. The park’s innovative approach towards the display of rare and tropical birds has progressed from traditional exhibits to that of showcasing mixed species in their natural habitats & in large walk in Aviaries and free range throughout the park. Incorporating a breeding, research and veterinary facility within the complex, the park has a high success rate in the captive reproduction of exotic birds such as birds of paradise and hornbills.
The park is divided into regions that recreate the natural habitats of our birds, complete with indigenous plant life and traditional artefacts for authenticity. Experience the original Jungle birds of Bali and encounter the world's rarest bird, the Bali starling. Discover the exotic birds of Papua and one of the most comprehensive collections of bird of paradise in the whole world. Travel to Far East Indonesia, home to an amazing array of birds as well as the extraordinary Komodo Dragon. See the fantastic Javan hawk and serpent eagles - & listen to the sweet sounds of Java's song birds echoing through the foliage. Visit the deep jungle and misty mountain ranges of Sumatra for rare and strange endemic birds.
Venture to other tropical continents to view our collection of South American exotics such as the scarlet macaw and toucan, witness the Congo grey parrot and other birds of the African savannah. See cassowaries, cranes, storks and pelicans and many more birds as they wander freely living and breeding uninhibited throughout the park. Stroll within the boundaries of our giant walk-through aviaries that replicate the natural eco-systems of the Bali jungle and Papuan rainforest. Pathways and bridges are carved through the dense foliage where only filtered sunlight manages to penetrate the canopy of greenery overhead.
Several vantage points have been strategically positioned to catch glimpses of free flying birds as they follow their survival instincts of foraging for food, nesting and mating. The protected enclosures safeguard rare species from outside predators, whilst still exposing them to the various aspects of living in the wild.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Indonesia Tourism website ( indonesia.travel ), Indonesia government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in August 2020