Ubud was one of those places I was almost certain I was going to dislike. I kept thinking that Eat, Pray, Love would have ruined it for all of us and couldn’t help but wonder if the whole town was going to be full of Elizabeth Gilbert wannabes on a quest to spiritual healing and shakra alignment. Was I going to find myself too “off the beaten path” for a city so taken by the mainstream public’s imagination? Was I going to HATE IT? I was honestly skeptical as our 9th minibus of the day finally drove us into town.
But maybe that was for the best, because expectations kill everything and I ended up absolutely loving Ubud.
Here’s 8 reasons why:
1. THE VEGAN FOOD SCENE
Like many, we love to travel with our taste buds. As vegans, however, things do get challenging and/or repetitive at times in South East Asia (stir fried veggies and rice, anyone!?) Don’t get us wrong, we do enjoy roughing it and the challenge of finding the most unexpected vegan options in a far-flung corner of the jungle is always a rewarding feat, but travelling to places that have it all for vegans is also something we love doing (we’re madly in love with Montreal, New York, San Francisco, Penang and Singapore for that reason). Ubud is all that and then some. We spent three weeks here and still couldn’t make the rounds fully. Read more here. Enjoy a drink? Please read this and be aware of the dangers of drinking in Bali.
2. THE FAMILY COMPOUND GUESTHOUSES
People complain that Ubud is overcrowded and noisy. When searching for accommodation on Agoda, this is the number one issue that came up the most. And we have to agree – Ubud is overwhelmingly crowded and noisy. However, a little more research brought us to two little neighboring guesthouses that were havens of quietude, with a private slice of jungle to boot, in small family compounds. Located at the eastern entrance of Ubud, a short walk down Tebesaya Road, Suastika Guesthouse and Aji Lodge both have four rooms and all the peace and quiet you could possibly be looking for. This little back road truly feels like stepping back to a time when Ubud was just a quaint little village, or so I imagine. We loved staying there so much that we sometimes would spend whole days just lounging around on our patio listening to the jungle noises and reading books. And that’s without mentioning the perks of living with locals.
Balinese Hinduism truly is a beautiful faith to witness with all of its traditions. Granted they’re all across Bali, but to me, Ubud is where they are most prominently on display: the offerings, the healers, the ceremonies, the lace and textile making, the beauty rituals, the jamu (a natural remedy drink), the dances, the music, the architecture and the sculptures – just to name a few! It’s distilled into every street corner and every home in Ubud and it’s part of everyone’s life. Soak it in.
4. THE SELECTION OF INVENTIVE ACTIVITIES
I took a jamu making class and a traditional cosmetic class at Angelo’s while in Ubud. Those are just some of the many original activities you can do here. Also tempting to me were the offering making class, a raw vegan dessert class (including one using durian as a primary ingredient, the dream!), silver smith, glasswork and batik courses, a nature herbal walk and so much more. Do something a little out of the ordinary whilst in Ubud and bring home a slice of Bali!
5. THE PEOPLE
Balinese are notorious for their genuine warmth and hospitality, and Ubud is no exception. Both families we stayed with, as well as the owners of a few restaurants where we became regulars, and the dudes at a local tattoo parlor truly became our friends. The people are what make Bali such a wonderful experience and we felt welcome everywhere in Ubud. Aji, the owner of Aji Lodge, even lent us some traditional Balinese clothing one night and took us to his family temple in an area where tourists are not usually admitted. He also took us to a temple ceremony and patiently explained to us all the rituals that were taking place. He asked nothing from us in return, and we really felt like we were let in on to something special.
6. THE RICE FIELDS
We weren’t here 15 years ago so it’s hard to really assess how tourism and development has eaten away at the rice fields, but wonder off the bustling main streets of central Ubud for just a few minutes walk and you will see there are still some wonderful vistas remaining to be discovered. Our favorite being the one leading to Sari Organik. We also loved Jatiluwi a little further afield (you’ll need a motorbike for that one).
7. GETTING LOST IN THE SURROUNDING TOWNS
Grab a motorbike and escape the mad Ubud traffic within minutes, in any direction. We loved scooting around and discovering the surroundings and Ubud makes a wonderful base for that. Google Maps meant we could just go get lost anywhere and always find our way back. We especially enjoyed the roosting of the herons at Petulu, the rice fields in and around Jatiluwi, the holy bathing water of Tirta Empul and the drive to Bedugul.
When you’re done soaking in all this culture and beauty, Ubud remains a terrific place for a little retail therapy. Local jewelers and fashion designers create unique pieces for all budgets and styles and natural cosmetic companies abound. I was definitely guilty of a few (several) purchases. Great things to purchase in Ubud are laces (Uluwatu is great if a little pricy), mala (or praying) bead necklaces, silver jewelry, natural and local cosmetics from Buddha Mart and Utama Spice and clothes from Corsican brand Karma Koma – their factory is in Bali and they have a shop with much lower prices on Monkey Forest road – I just fell in love with everything and pretty much bought a whole new wardrobe from them.