It is impossible these days to think about Ubud -- Bali's cultural heart -- without also considering the enormous success of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love. While you will find no shortage of local travel companies promoting Eat, Pray, Love “experiences”, there is more to Ubud than spirituality, rice paddies and fortune telling medicine men.
Unless you have the luxury
of endless time, you might find that a trip to Bali can only include a few days
in Ubud. For that purpose, here is a four–day itinerary for this breathtaking
Getting there and settling in
If you are travelling directly from the airport, make sure you use an official
metered cab. A one-way trip to Ubud will cost around 100,000 rupiah and will drop you straight to your hotel or
guest house. Nick’s
Pension is a popular choice for accommodation, with reasonable rates. If you
are after more seclusion and some killer views, try Villa Indah. It is a little pricier
than a homestay, but with significantly more privacy and a small staff on hand
24 hours a day.
Day one: Getting a feel for the place
The most touristy part of Ubud can be found on Monkey Forest Road, where touts
and hawkers line the streets offering transport or entry into their stores.
While it can get a little overwhelming, the best thing to do is relax – most
people are just trying to make a living, and they will leave you alone if you
politely refuse their offers. Remember that the first sale of the day is
considered lucky, so salespeople will be more willing to give you the best
Head to the Sacred Monkey Forest at the end of Monkey Forest Road. A lush jungle sanctuary, the forest
is full of cheeky macaques all vying for your attention (and food). Be warned
that they will come after any treats you have on you, so check your bag and
pockets for any food before you enter. Similarly, the macaques are invariably
protective of -- and competitive with -- their young. If they perceive you are giving
them too much attention (or food, again), other macaques may snarl or hiss at you, sometimes even
attacking. Be careful.
You should try eating at a
streetside warung where the food
comes on plastic plates and there is only one kind of beer – cold. But if you
would rather ease into your culinary adventures, Ubud has no shortage of
delicious restaurants serving both traditional and Western food. Australian
Janet de Neefe has built a small empire of restaurants in Ubud since her
arrival in 1974, and any one of them is well worth a visit. Try Indus or Casa Luna, both located on Jalan Raya, and enjoy exemplary service, the freshest
of ingredients and delicious Balinese cuisine.
Day two: Culture meets bliss
In addition to her restaurant ventures, Janet de Neefe has been offering cooking classes in Ubud
since 1987. With a different class offered each day, visitors can choose
anything from a beginner’s class to a market tour to the very special Sunday
evening smoked duck twilight class. A cooking class with de Kneefe is a must-do
on your stay in Bali and will take you through until the early afternoon.
You might also like to
visit one of Ubud’s many spas
to unwind. Although you will have no trouble finding one along the shopping
strips of the town centre, for a little bit extra you can double your
experience. Tucked away in the folds of the jungle, clients at Bali Botanica can finish full body massages and scrubs by
luxuriating in a rose petal bath that overlooks a mass of greenery. Bookings
are essential but your hotel can arrange this for you.
If you are after somewhere
stunning for dinner, you cannot go past Murni’s
first real restaurant, Murni opened the warung
in 1974 and has been operating it ever since. With four stunning levels
overlooking an intimate river setting, the food is sensational and the service
extremely charming. Alternatively, try local legend Naughty Nuri’s. It is a must-do in Ubud, famed for its pork ribs and brutal martinis.
Day three: Adventure
Although Ubud has a reputation as a place of relaxation, there are actually a
number of activities on offer for thrill seekers. Bali Adventure Tours operates various
options for those wanting to really earn their massage. From white water
rafting along the Ayung to downhill mountain cycling and river kayaking, there
is plenty available here to get your heart racing. Those after a little less
exhilaration can head to the elephant sanctuary 16km north of Ubud at Desu Taro.
An adventure tour will take
around half a day, but you will probably want to relax a little afterwards. Have
a nap and another massage, followed by cocktails at Bar Luna. The latest feather in the cap
for de Neefe, Bar Luna has only recently opened and is already attracting
praise for its embrace of writers, performance and music in the small open
setting. With cocktails a steal at two-for-one between 7:30 and 8 pm, Bar Luna
is also a great place for satisfying food options before heading out to a
dance performance. Ticket vendors sell along Jalan Raya all day, and there are a number
of dances available. Ask around for advice on the best ones to see.
Day four: Winding up and saying goodbye
This is the time to do all the last-minute shopping you thought you would get
done during your four days here. There are some wonderful shops along Monkey
Forest Road where you can purchase batik sarongs, brooches and mementos of your
stay. Check out some of the stores selling paper goods and handmade jewellery,
the profits of which go to support small villages in the region.
The final stop you need to
make is for lunch at Sari Organik. Located off the main road in Ubud in the
middle of a rice paddy, it is about a 20-minute walk through parts of Ubud you
might not have yet seen. Instantly rural and picturesque, Sari Organik is
an experimental organic farm that practises fair trade and the promotion of
local produce. Owned by a local Balinese woman, it is a truly unique experience
and is the perfect way to end your time in Ubud. Relax on a pile of cushions
while drinking organic beer and eating the freshest of produce, and reflect on
the magical four days you have just enjoyed.
The article 'Four days in Ubud: Beyond Eat, Pray, Love' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.