Ubud

Puri Saren Agung (Water Palace) in central Ubud

Ubud, a town in central Bali, is far removed from the drunken bikini scene in Kuta, and is regarded as the cultural centre of Bali. It is famous as an arts and crafts hub, and much of the town and nearby villages seems to consist of artists' workshops and galleries. There are some remarkable architectural and other sights to be found, and a general feeling of well being to be enjoyed, all thanks to the spirit, surroundings, and climate of the place.

Understand

While Ubud seems to outsiders like one small town, it is in fact fourteen villages, each run by its own banjar (village committee). Ubud has grown rapidly, and some central parts are creaking under the strain of coping with the number of visitors. That said, most development is sympathetic to the zeitgeist, if not designed specifically in the local style. Growth continues apace, but there are still terraced rice fields along the rivers, and away from the town centre, regular, quiet village life carries on relatively undisturbed.

History

In many ways, the history of the Ubud area (not so much the modern day town) is the very history of Bali itself.

Ubud has a known history back to the eighth century, when the Javanese Buddhist priest Rsi Marhandya came to Bali from Java, and meditated at the confluence of the two Wos rivers at Campuan, just west of the modern day town centre. A shrine was established and later expanded by Nirartha, the Javanese priest who is regarded as the founder of Bali's religious practices and rituals as we know them today. At this time the area was a centre of natural medicine and healing, and that is how the name Ubud originated: Ubad is ancient Balinese for medicine.

Further temples and monasteries were established over the next 400 years or so. The temple complex at Gunung Kawi, and the cave temples at Goa Gajah (just east and northeast of Ubud), are architectural remains from this period. Many of the dances, drama and rituals still practised in Ubud today, originated at this time. King Airlangga ruled all of Java and Bali in this era, and his seat of government was located in what is now the village of Batuan, just southeast of Ubud.

The Javanese Majapahit kingdom conquered Bali in 1343, and the key final victory was against the Pejeng Dynasty centred at Bedulu, just to the east of Ubud. A great flowering of Balinese culture followed, and the ancestry of Ubud's current day aristocratic families can be traced back to this period. In the sixteenth Century, there was a total transplantation of the Majapahit Kingdom to Bali as the Islamisation of Java forced them eastwards. Power flip-flopped between various dynasties and feudal lords, but the Ubud area remained a very important cog in the various regencies which ruled the island.

Goa Gajah originates from the 9th century

In 1900, Ubud became a Dutch protectorate at its own request, and the colonialists interfered little, allowing the traditional arts and culture of the area to remain relatively unchanged. The modern era of Ubud perhaps began in the 1930s, when foreign artists were encouraged by the royal family to take up presence in the town. From their Ubud base, the likes of Walter Spies and Rudolph Bonnet were instrumental in promoting an understanding of Balinese art and culture worldwide. From the 1960s onwards, travellers started to arrive in earnest, mostly intrepid types as the infrastructure was still very limited indeed. Since then, Ubud has developed rapildy into a high profile, top class international destination, whilst still maintaining its integrity as the centre of Balinese art and culture.

Orientation

Orienting yourself in Ubud is fairly straightforward. The town sprawls for several kilometres in all directions, with all of the small villages within a five km radius of the central market being loosely referred to as "Ubud". If you choose a reasonably central place to stay, it is easy enough to get around on foot.

Central Ubud has three main streets: Jl Raya Ubud, Jl Monkey Forest and Jl Hanoman. At the intersection of Jl Raya and Jl Monkey Forest are Ubud Market, Ubud Palace, and the main bemo stop unsurprisingly, there's also a near-permanent traffic jam here.

Jl Monkey Forest, which runs south through town to the Monkey Forest, is a built-up area, and home to a wide array of accommodation, art galleries, and cafes, as well a number of local services such as schools, a sports field, pharmacies, and travel agents. Jl Hanoman, which runs parallel to Jl Monkey Forest just to the east, is a bit quieter and makes for more pleasant walking.

To the immediate west and northwest are the villages of Campuan (Tjampuhan, Campuhan) and Kedewatan, home to some of the most upmarket hotels in the whole of Asia, with views over valleys sculpted by the Ayung and Wos rivers.

Directly to the south, past the Monkey Forest and still within a twenty minute walk of the central market, is Padang Tegal which then runs into the southern villages of Nyuh Kuning and Pengosekan, about three km from central Ubud. Directly to the east is the village of Peliatan, and then Teges and Bedulu, home of the ninth century Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave).

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 31 31 31 31 31 31 30 31 31 33 32 31
Nightly lows (°C) 21 21 21 21 20 20 19 19 20 22 23 22
Precipitation (mm) 191 136 102 66 22 15 13 1 10 31 53 131

Due to its elevation at 600 m above sea level, Ubud enjoys cooler temperatures than the coast, and it is sometimes necessary to bring a pullover for the evening. The midday sun can still be scorching though and the humidity often relentless; a murderous combination for an outing of 'temple tramping' which, in hilly Ubud, usually requires climbing up and down staircases. (Head out early to beat the heat and the crowds.) If there is a time to avoid, it would be the depths of the wet season in January and February — when it rains in Ubud, it really rains.

Tourism information office

Get in

Map of the Ubud area

By bemo

There are regular public bemos from Denpasar's Batubulan terminal to Ubud which cost Rp 8,000, and take about an hour. Most bemos run in the early morning, and you will not find any after 4PM. In the opposite direction, bemos depart every morning from the central market (northern entrance) in Ubud.

By taxi

If you want to take a taxi to Ubud from South Bali, it is best to charter the vehicle for a return trip, otherwise, you'll be hit with a 30% fee for going out-of-town. Metered fares, one-way and not including surcharge, are around Rp 150,000 from Denpasar and Rp 200,000 from Kuta.

By bus

Perama offers daily direct transfers to Ubud from Sanur, Lovina, Kuta, Bedugul, Candidasa, and Padang Bai. When coming from Ngurah Rai International Airport you need to take a taxi to Perama's Kuta branch first, when going to the airport direct transfers exist. These are convenient and inexpensive; e.g. four times per day to the airport for Rp 50,000. Rather less conveniently, the Perama terminal is not located in the centre of Ubud, but about two km south in Padang Tegal, on Jl Hanoman just south of the intersection with Jl Monkey Forest. A shuttle service to and from most destinations within Ubud is offered for Rp 10,000.

You can go to the "official Tourist Information" (just in the middle of town, on the big crossroad, opposite the market at Monkey Forest Road/Jalan Raya Road) and buy your ticket there (official outlet, same price) and Perama will pick you up there, to transfer to the Perama Bus Hub out of Town.

Get around

Central Ubud can be covered on foot, but you will need some form of transport to explore the extended vicinity.

Ubud is generally a little quieter, and the streets calmer than the more urbanised parts of Bali. So whilst traffic is slower than in downtown Kuta for example, the sidewalks are often blocked by motorbikes, or a collapsed section necessitates a step off the sidewalk potentially placing you in the path of traffic. That traffic could be a tricycle or a truck, so keep your wits about you.

The EPL Phenomenon

Blame Elizabeth Gilbert. Those of you who managed to make it through the turgid best-selling novel Eat, Pray, Love, might have an inkling of what is coming up. Ubud features quite heavily in our heroine's search for fulfilment, and the knock-on effect in the town has been huge. Acolytes have swarmed to Ubud looking for (and sometimes finding) places and people referenced in the book. The actual characters mentioned are surely sick and tired of rather desperate looking thirty-something single women turning up on their doorsteps. The economic benefits of the novel to the area ratcheted up a whole other notch in mid-2009, when the eponymously named movie was shot in and around Ubud, Julia Roberts and all. Just be aware though that Ubud cannot necessarily guarantee a remedy for every mid-life crisis.

By bemo

Bemos ply the main routes in and around Ubud, and the main stop and gathering point is Ubud market at the junction of Jl Monkey Forest and Jl Raya Ubud. Most bemos stop running in the late afternoon, and are always more frequent in the morning.

By taxi

No metered taxis operate in Ubud, and any you see will be dropping off passengers from further afield.

By local car

Most local transport comes in the form of SUVs or minivans that can be hired with a driver for specific trips. Look for the circular yellow "E" logo on the windshield certifying them as Ubud Transport Association members. You can (and should) haggle a bit over the price, and pay less than for the equivalent journey in a metered taxi. A short trip should be less than Rp 20,000, and drivers will be glad to wait for you for a return fare.

Also, there are guys on motorbikes who will also offer bike rides (ojek) and are about half the price of those in a car.

By hotel car

Many hotels are located out of town, and are happy to offer regular, complimentary drop-off and pick-up services to central Ubud. Expect to pay higher than taxi prices if you are intending to go further afield.

By motorbike

As elsewhere in Bali, motorbike rental is widely available, and you will not be short of options. Expect to pay between Rp 40,000 and 80,000 per day for a late model motorbike in good condition. Look for rental agencies on all the main streets, or ask your hotel to organise for you. Navigation can be confusing, as signage is limited and all the roads look pretty much the same at first, but take it easy and stop to ask for directions if (when) you get lost.

By bicycle

You can rent bicycles for about Rp 20,000-30,000 per day. There is a large selection available at the corner of the football field on Jl Monkey Forest. Beware though: Ubud is very hilly, so cycling can be hard, sweaty work. Traffic on the main roads is heavy and drivers rarely pay heed to cyclists.

See

Ubud is so crammed with attractions it can almost seem like a visual assault at times. Try to make sure you allocate at least a week for your visit here, and take your time to explore properly. Visitors who jump up to Ubud for just two or three days of their Bali holiday, stand little chance of understanding much of what is going on around them.

The key historical sites are located out of town, some as far as 20 km away, and you might find it worthwhile joining a tour to visit these. If you do visit attractions such as Goa Gajah, Gunung Kawi, Pura Kehen and Tirta Empul under your own steam, try to find a knowledgeable guide when you get there. Whilst you will certainly appreciate the beauty of these places, their cultural and spiritual significance may be lost without a guide.

Temples and historical sites

Gunung Kawi, Tampaksiring
Hot springs at Tirta Empul, Tampaksiring

Museums and galleries

Landscape

Rice terraces near Ubud

The area around Ubud is characterised by gently rolling rice paddies, and these create an impression of greenness which can be quite startlingly beautiful. This is especially true to the south and southeast of the town. Any visitor approaching from the south will appreciate this and it is worth a stop just to absorb the gentle beauty of it all.

Northeast of Ubud town centre the land starts to become more undulating, and this is a good place to view Bali's classic rice terraces. The village of   Tegallagang. is very much a tourist trap, but it is worth braving the hordes of trinket peddlers to view the stunning terraces there. From the town centre, take Jl Raya as far east as you can go, and then turn north and continue about nine km until you reach Tegallalang. Look for the picture postcard rice terraces on you right-hand side. For those moving on north to the Kintamani area, this is on route and makes for an easy stop.

Far more off the beaten path is to explore the rice fields immediately north of town. A good route is to take Jl Raya eastwards from the town centre and turn north up the small road immediately adjacent to the BCA Bank building. Proceed up this road through the village of Kutuh and just keep going, turning where you feel like it. This is a very gentle, rural area with some lovely landscape. A great way to explore is by bicycle as there are no steep hills to negotiate here.

Typical Ubud river valley scenery

On the opposite side of town in the Campuhaun, Sanggingan, and Kedewatan areas, the landscape changes dramatically as great gorges have been carved out of the limestone land base by the Ayung and Wos rivers. It's no surprise that so many five star hotels have made their home in these lush, dramatic valleys. Opportunities for viewing these gorges are many. You can just find your own way and explore by motorbike (it is very hard work by bicycle as the hills are steep). Head west out of town over the Campuhan Bridge and just start exploring. The main road here is Jl Raya Sanggingan, and if you continue heading away from town you will reach the junction with Jl Raya Kedewatan. From that point you can turn in either direction and just keep exploring. Alternatively, you can stop into a hotel or restaurant, have a drink or lunch, and gaze out in very civilised surroundings. If your pockets are deep, the restaurant at the Four Seasons in Sayan probably has the best views of all of the Ayung Gorge. A more budget conscious option is the lovely Indus restaurant in Sanginngan, with tables facing out to the Wos River.

Others

According to local legend, the egrets first appeared here in such large numbers after one of the worst massacres of suspected communists during the troubles of 1965. This led local villagers to believe that these birds are the souls of the slaughtered, and ceremonies to that effect are still held today.
The village of Petulu is reached by heading east from Ubud town centre on Jl Raya Ubud until you meet the obvious junction with Jl Raya Andong. Turn left, and go up the hill for about 2 km until you see the sign posted left turning on Jalan Kintamani to Petulu village. Go into the village and you will see signs and warungs set up in the best places to view the spectacle. Get there by 5:30PM. 15,000 per adult.

Do

As a centre of the arts, Ubud has dance and shadow puppet performances every night. There are also plenty of spas for resynchronising your chakras, and all manner of spiritual classes and treatments, some distinctly less genuine than others.

Puram Dalem dance performance

Art courses

Cooking classes

Cultural performances

Spas

Legong dance performance

Canyoning activities

Whitewater rafting and other outdoor activities

There is good rafting available on the Ayung River at Sayan, just west of Ubud. Almost as good as the rafting itself is the wonderful experience of being right down inside the Ayung gorge. This is the domain of high-end resorts like the Four Seasons and Amandari, and it is a very scenic area indeed. The rapids are Class II and Class III, and best during the rainy season as the river can run a bit dry from June to September. There are two well established operators, both with offices on the main road in Sayan, close to Amandari, however other operators have sprung up recently as well.

White Water Rafting become the most popular attraction.

Cycle tours are an increasingly widespread and popular option.

Yoga and meditation

Buy

Inside Ubud Market

Ubud has a vast assortment of art and jewelry shops. Head for the boutique type stores on Jl Monkey Forest and Jl Raya Ubud for higher quality goods (with appropriately higher prices), or down to the market for bulk-produced cheapies.

Craft villages between Ubud and Sanur

The road to Ubud from Sanur in the south passes through a series of small towns and villages which specialize in the production of particular arts and crafts. The towns are Batubulan/Singakerta for stone carvings, Celuk for silver jewellery, Batuan for paintings, and Mas for wood carvings. The whole area is sometimes referred to as the "craft villages" of Bali, although it is all a bit more built-up and congested than one might infer from the term "village."

This is the best area to see and buy a wide variety of Balinese craftwork in a short period of time. There are many large showrooms where arts and crafts in the Balinese style are offered for sale. Nearly all organised day-tours of central Bali stop at one or more of these showrooms (and the tour operators usually have a financial tie-up with the places where they stop, collecting a commission on purchases.) Be careful, many of these shops specialise in pricing based on huge commissions to the drivers and tour busses.

Other shops & markets

Eat

Ubud is renowned in Bali for its wide range of restaurants, and is probably second only to Seminyak in terms of the quality of the offerings. Travelers on a budget will not be short of options, as there are many simple warungs serving up the standard Indonesian staples.

Budget

Babi Guling is a very popular dish for Balinese as well as tourists, and you can find it at most traditional markets and at roadside eateries as well.

Mid-range

Splurge

Many of the five star hotels in and around Ubud have top class restaurants, with the Four Seasons Resort and Maya Ubud being of special note.

Drink

Ubud is emphatically not party town: there are a few places for a quiet drink, but the strictly enforced local regulation that all live performances and loud music must end by 10:30PM puts a bit of a clamp on the local nightlife. More often than not, visitors have a quiet drink with their evening meal, and call it a night.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under Rp 250,000
Mid-range Rp 250,000-1,000,000
Splurge Over Rp 1,000,000

Ubud has a vast selection of lodging for all budgets. Many visitors prefer to stay out in nearby rural areas instead of in the town centre, ideally with views of the famous rice terraces, but this can make it a little difficult to get around. As in most of Bali, in all but the grandest of hotels, check-in and check-out times are a bit of a moveable feast. It is safe to assume about 2PM and 11AM.

Budget

Ubud has many homestays which are the cheapest form of lodging, a good way to meet the locals, and the natural replacement for hostels on the backpacker circuit. If you want to stay in town, the area around Jl Monkey Forest is generally the most expensive little more expensive (from Rp 80,000-100,000 per night). If you want cheaper prices try the areas around Jl Hanoman, north of Jl Raya Ubud and further out in Peliatan. In the low season especially, bargains can be had by those willing to bargain. Jn Kajeng, close to the centre, is a peaceful, mostly pedestrianised street with many small budget to mid-range homestays - those on the west side have views at the rear towards the river, waterfall or nearby rice fields.

There are lots of them in Ubud

Mid-range

Splurge

The quite remarkable Four Seasons Hotel in the Ayung Valley, near Ubud

Resorts

Several of the leading luxury resorts anywhere in Asia are located in Ubud. Expect superb standards, with prices to match.

Private Villas

The following are private, individual villas which only take a single group of customers at a time.

Stay safe

Ubud is a safe town to visit and few problems will ever be encountered. If you are unlucky though the police station is on Jl Raya Andong, just east of the town centre. Follow Jl Raya Ubud east to the end, turn north and the police station is on your right hand side. ☎+62 361 975316.

Be wary around the monkeys that occupy the Monkey Forest. They are experts at stealing possessions like glasses, earrings, cameras and even handbags, and have been known to attack people carrying food. Bali is currently battling a rabies outbreak, and the likelihood is that these monkeys could carry the disease. No matter how cute they look, feeding them is just asking for trouble.

Stay healthy

Dengue fever outbreaks are not uncommon, so be diligent with mosquito repellant. Ubud does not have a fully fledged hospital and the nearest is about 20 km to the south in Denpasar. There are a number of reasonable clinics, though, which are used to treating typical traveller ailments.

Connect

Internet

Most dedicated internet cafes provide computers with fairly low speed access at a low price, Rp 6,000 per hour being the current standard. There is only one truly high speed location, Highway on Ubud Main Road, but be prepared to pay a lot more than in other places.

In cafes and restaurants free wifi for customers is increasingly widespread. If you have your own laptop and don't need high speeds that's probably the best way to go, but beware of the hours internet is available can be fewer than the hours a restaurant is open. KAFE for example has excellent and uncommonly fast internet in a great environment but internet is only available from opening until noon and from 3-6PM.

Post

There is a refreshingly old-fashioned main post office at the Jl Raya Ubud end of Jl Jembawan. If you are staying in Ubud for any length of time, you can use this as a poste-restante office. Make sure you have your passport with you when you want to collect any mail or parcels.

Telephone

The area code for Ubud is 0361. +62 361 XXXXXX for international callers.

All of the major Indonesian mobile telephone networks have full coverage of the Ubud area. If you need to make an international landline call, there are many public phone shops (wartels) in the town. As with the rest of Bali, the few public telephones that exist are extremely unlikely to be in working order.

Go next

Ubud is well located for moving on to other areas of Bali.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 31, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.