Discover Bali | Ubud

Dolce far niente: the pleasure of doing anythingElizabeth Gilbert Eat, Pray, Love

We were both pretty excited about the second stop on our Bali adventure, Ubud. While Denpasar may be the official capital of Bali, Ubud (pronounced Oo-bud) is most definitely the heart and soul of the island embracing culture, creativity and spirituality. Don’t worry I haven’t gone all Julia Roberts in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ on you just yet, but I’m close!

Our driver for the day suggested a couple of traditional Balinese attractions on the way. First stop was a Batik showroom followed by a brief visit to an Agrotourism coffee plantation to try the much hyped Luwak coffee (Kopi Luwak). The cat-like nocturnal Luwak’s (Civets) are caged and force-fed a diet of coffee beans which they then poop and the beans are extracted, roasted and brewed to produce the world’s most expensive cup of coffee, which to be honest was super bitter and strong. The conditions and the treatment of the Luwak is characteristic of the goose and the foie gras debate, it’s all a little controversial not just because of the process but because in the wild coffee beans only make up a small part of their diet. We wished we had done more research beforehand and given this a miss, but on a positive note we also tried a range of fruit teas and coffees that were very good.

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What we did….

Temples (Pura) – Four temples, a rice terrace and some cheeky monkeys sums up our first full day in the Ubud area. Our very personable driver Dewa took us on a whistle-stop tour of the sights scoped out by the other half. First stop was Goa Gajah, the famed Elephant Cave and temple where he thoughtfully produced sarongs and sashs for us to wear, a requirement when visiting religious sites. Next stop was to Tampaksiring to visit the monument and temple, Gunung Kawi which is located deep in the valley of the Pakrisan River and home to ten rock-cut shrines (candi) memorial to Balinese royalty. The shrines are carved into the cliff face and shaded by beautiful ancient Banyan trees, it’s such a majestic, stunning place that is accessed via 270+ steps (trouble is it’s also 270+ steps back up) which are thankfully broken up and lined with market stalls. When you reach the bottom you find yourself immersed in a scene that would not be out-of-place in an Indiana Jones movie. The final temple on this part of the tour was Pura Tirta Empul, one of the island’s most important religious buildings and site of the Holy Springs. The water is believed to have magical powers and hoards of people, local and foreigners were bathing in the free public baths.

Ubud ActivitiesRice Fields – With a break from temples we made our way to Tegallalang for lunch in a restaurant that afforded views of the amazing rice terraces. Once you get past the tourist trap of locals pedalling their wares (some more forceful than others, a polite ‘No, Thank you’ is usually sufficient) you are faced with the incredible sea of green symmetrically planted rice terraces that rise up to quite a height. Steep and awkward to access it’s well worth the climb to the top where you can sit and drink from fresh coconuts while enjoying the view. Tolls are dotted about as you cross from one farmers land to another but the fee is minimal.

IMG_0748Monkey Forest – Back in Ubud we stopped at the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, a small jungle enclave just off the main road that houses three temples and is home to the grey haired, long-tailed Balinese macaque monkey. These active primates are decidedly more friendly than the breed that lives at Ulu Watu temple but don’t let their cuteness fool you as they can be lethal especially if you have food and are not impartial to taking a bite out of you. Despite that fact you can’t help but coo at the babies that cling to their mothers as they swing through the trees and sit around the Dragon Stair by the main temple, our last sacred site of the day.

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Mountain Trek – Off the beaten track (literally) for a sunrise trek up Mount Caldera. So traumatising (for this expat princess anyway) that there’s a separate post (read that here soon). I obviously survived, making it back to the hotel in time for breakfast. I went into full recovery mode on a sun lounger by the pool with a large glass of wine! I think we can conclude I’m not a natural trekker! Coincidentally the couple next to us at the pool that afternoon were fellow British expats newly relocated to Abu Dhabi so we whiled away a few hours chatting to them, small world right!

Ubud Market – Capitalising on my ‘I did your trek‘ you have to come shopping leverage, we set off late afternoon to the famed Ubud market to buy some cheap souvenirs and apparently ‘More shit we don’t need!’ It’s a colourful place with pushy vendors competing for your attention as stall after stall offers the same wares. Whatever they ask, offer half or less, go to walk away and the price drops further. Good local silver shops located in most streets and even a Pandora and Accessorize!
IMG_1043Campuhan Ridge Walk – More exercise the following day with a walk around the shops and up to Campuhan Ridge (meaning where the two rivers meet) for a walking tour along the river valley lined with fields of lush green Elephant Grass that is used to thatch roofs. Crossing over the river this path ascends up towards the rice fields that surround Ubud and offers stunning views across Gunung Agung. The path continues along the road lined with a multitude of artist houses and studios in little clusters of villages until you reach the rice fields filled with gaggles of ducks searching for scattered grains of harvested rice in the water-logged fields, quite a sight!

Massage and Yoga – After a healthy lunch back at KAFE, we popped in Yoga Barn which is set riverside among the trees next to our hotel. I wish we had time in our schedule to take a class but that was not to be this visit but its most definitely on my Ubud ‘to do’ list. The space was huge and offers a full programme of yoga, Pilates and dance. Founder and owner Meghan Pappenheim is also the inspiration behind the popular annual Bali Spirit yoga, dance and music Festival that occurs each April. The other half had a massage at Zen spa, a small place next to the hotel which was unbelievably cheap.IMG_3699Food is big business in Bali and there appears to be a gastro revolution taking place. Ubud has an unbelievable amount of dining choices from cheap street food to amazing high-end refined eateries and everything in-between. All types of cuisine and budgets are catered for with something for every palate from International cuisine to authentic Balinese dishes of suckling pig, freshly caught seafood and local produce. Warung’s (translated as food stall) are everywhere and found in the majority of restaurants name.

Where we ate….

Fair Warung Balé had great TripAdvisor reviews for both its food and ambiance. Run by the Fair Future Foundation, its motto is ‘Eat, Drink and Save Lives’ is achieved by serving top-notch affordable food and supporting and funding a public healthcare programme. For every tasty meal purchased two free medical consultations are given to people in need, how awesome is that! Located upstairs, this small quirky restaurant decorated with tiny primary coloured Buddha statues and pebbles customised by former guests has a large menu offering Balinese cuisine along with salads, sandwiches, fresh juices, crepes and desserts, I recommend you check it out if you ever find yourself in Ubud.

Room 4 Dessert is an establishment owned and run by former Manhattan celebrity pastry chef Will Goldfarb that serves only hand-made posh desserts and signature cocktails, my sweet tooth was doing the macarena in celebration. A re-creation of his New York venue of the same name, Goldfarb has brought his combined interest in food and science to Bali, first at Ku De Ta in Seminyak (more on that to follow) and more recently to his own concept in Ubud. Celebrating their first anniversary in business last month, the restaurant offers delightful cocktails and high-end desserts made in front of you by Goldfarb (if you are lucky which I was) and served on quirky plates made locally by Gaya Ceramics. I have to say my Chocolate Caramel Creme Brûlée was heaven on a plate but I’m glad we burned off significant calories walking up a steep hill to find the place. This is a mecca for anyone who loves dessert and doesn’t mind paying top dollar for it (in Bali terms that is). The shabby chic reclaimed decor continues out back in the garden where the recent addition to the Goldfarb vision, L’Hort has opened offering Spanish snack food, sangria, cava and cocktails. The name is a nod to a bar that Goldfarb frequented during his training days at the famed elBulli restaurant in Roses, Catalonia. (Read more about Room 4 Dessert in Munchies).
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KAFE is a two-level organic cafe serving excellent food on the main Jln Hanoman road. A haunt for expats, yogis fresh from class, backpackers huddled around their devices caning the wi-fi and couples enjoying a good bottle of wine, it has something for everyone. Not deterred by the slow service on our first visit for dinner we returned for lunch as the food was worth a second chance (the service and the wi-fi were better second time round too). Refusing to serve soft drinks everything is fresh, healthy and good value, the juices were so good. Add in daily specials, salads, mains, loads of veggie treats and good coffee and you can see why KAFE is so popular. Affiliated to Yoga Barn they have a small outlet there in the garden too called Little K. Definitely worth a visit, my advice would be to grab a seat upstairs on the big cushions or balcony.

Naughty Nuri’s Warung and Grill is a renowned and busy expat hangout mainly due to its potent martinis and mention in every guide-book. Located next to Room 4 Dessert it attracts new customers with the aroma of its large smokey barbecue on the street filled with ribs, steaks and burgers. The large wooden tables are hard to come by so it’s a share your space kind of place and we were joined by a lovely extended Australian family from Perth and their driver Dewa (who we subsequently hired for three days), definitely one of the great things about travelling is the people who you meet along the way! The restaurant has benefitted from a stamp of approval by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain who claimed the martinis are the best he has sampled outside of New York.

Barcelona (La Xurreria) is a tiny tapas bar we stumbled across while walking up Monkey Forest Road. The owner, Pablo is an eccentric Spanish chap who offers a small menu of authentic and tasty tapas and large jugs of sangria from his open-fronted bijou restaurant. Great atmosphere and loud music complete the scene, look out for it though as it’s easy to miss and definitely order the churros with dulce de leche sauce!

Maha restaurant has a Happy Hour. Need I say more? All the yummy cocktails are two-4-one and a selection of international and local cuisine. Food was ok but not amazing but did I mention there’s a Happy Hour! Well located on Monkey Forest Road it was always busy as we passed it anytime of the day and apparently they serve superb coffee and have a lovely garden.

Laughing Buddha is another great place again on Monkey Forest Road for late night drinks and live music. Open-air and relaxed, we enjoyed a variety of rock classics courtesy of The Cooltones, a guitar heavy local band were churning out some quality music to a packed audience. The lead singer had fantastic vocals and a guest spot by one of the lady guests, singing blues and jazz was awesome. Great atmosphere, good selection of drinks (food available too but we had already eaten), a fantastic end to our Ubud experience.

Where we stayed…..

We spilt our time in Ubud between two hotels, one in the hub and the other in the rainforest. Our first destination for three nights was The Alaya boutique hotel, an open fronted sanctuary of serenity and sophistication. Set in perfect harmony to its rice terrace surroundings its near proximity to an abundance of shops, galleries and cafes and the famous Monkey Forest (read Boutique Style: The Ayala Ubud Review) makes it a perfect location to explore Ubud on foot (uneven pavements are the trickiest part). Our final two nights were at the luxurious Bidadari Private Villas and Retreat, a spectacular rainforest resort located just out of the main drag in a nearby village (read Rainforest Retreat: Bidadari Private Villas and Retreat).

IMG_0778I had fully envisaged embracing my inner spirituality in Ubud, taking yoga classes and snoozing in the sun, reading my book and wandering the streets stopping off for a green juice and fresh ground coffee whilst wearing beads and baggy printed trousers bought cheaply from the market but instead I did the most exercise in five days since my last skiing holiday in 2013! This just means one thing, we need to return to Ubud and do all of that as well as hiring scooters and staying in an eco lodge wearing the aforementioned trousers and beads or yoga gear, don’t worry I’m already researching it!

Read previous Bali posts In Pictures – A Postcard From Bali, Discover Bali – JimbaranBeachside Beauty: Intercontinental Bali Resort Review and Rumah Desa: A Balinese Home and Cooking studio. Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved.