From arts, crafts and culture to yoga, spas, wildlife and some of Indonesia’s finest coffee, you can get a whole lot of bang for your buck with just a little bit of planning ahead. Set right at the heart of the island, Ubud is under two hours’ drive from the airport, making it a great choice for a long weekend.
Craft and culture
After an early breakfast, beat the worst of the crowds to Ubud’s spectacular Monkey Forest Temple, a Hindu temple complex set amid mossy trees and dangling vines, along a striking gorge. It opens at 8.30am and admission costs US$3.75.
Then get in touch with your crafty side by designing and creating your own piece of silver jewelry at Pondok Pekak, at the edge of a football field. Book the three-hour class ahead of time (fee is US$23.) Linger over lunch before heading to one of Ubud’s most celebrated art galleries, NEKA Art Museum (Jalan Raya Sanggingan; admission is US$5.75), where you can take in works by Bali’s finest painters, including Arie Smit.
The great outdoors
The countryside is all around Ubud if you just know where to look: get out there with the Bali Bird Walk (US$37). Curious travelers will find the tour worth every dollar: as you stroll through the rice fields you’ll spot egrets, herons, kingfishers and amphibians, and learn about the traditions that have shaped these ancient landscapes. The tour includes an Indonesian lunch at Murni’s Warung (Jalan Raya Campuhan), Ubud’s first real restaurant, dating all the way back to 1974: the nasi campur (rice with a range of vegetables and curries) is a classic choice. Once you’re done, head over the bridge to the historic Tjampuhan Hotel (Jalan Raya Campuhan) and buy a day pass (US$8.50) for the spa. Luxuriate in its ornate stone-carved hot and cold spring pools, grottos and steam bath, all set into the side of the Ayung River gorge, or opt for a Balinese massage at an additional charge.
Ubud is Bali’s spiritual and wellness epicenter, so get in the mood by starting the day with aerial yoga, a style of yoga that uses acrobats’ hammocks for gravity-free stretches and a delicious sense of freedom. Astudiom has classes every morning (88X Jalan Raya Sanggingan; US$8.50). After lunch, explore central Ubud, including the Ubud Palace (free admission), and shop for souvenirs. Be sure to break for your choice of beans from across the archipelago with Indonesian caffeine gurus Seniman Coffee Studio (5 Jalan Sri Wedari; coffees from US$3). Then catch an arthouse film or vintage movie at Paradiso, “the world’s first organic, vegan cinema” (Jalan Goutama Selatan; tickets US$3.75).
Where to stay
Booking homestays is a delightful way to scrimp on accommodation and meet the locals. Heads up: rates are seasonal, so check out booking sites for the best available deals. Here’s a sampling of what’s on offer in the heart
A delightful gem along a quiet street next to relatively bustling Jalan Hanoman offers spacious rooms, air-conditioning and free WiFi. Rates start at US$29 for a room for two.
Ayani Good House
Enjoy cool upper-floor rooms with great mountain views and a real homey vibe. Rates start at US$12 a night.
Right in the heart of Ubud; rooms are spacious and come with private bathrooms. Rates start at US$25 a night.
The scooter option
If you have a motorbike license, scooter is the best way to explore Ubud. Most hotels and guesthouses can arrange scooter rentals from around US$5 per day; good-quality pushbikes start from US$3 per day.
Where to eat
- Eat like a local at Ubud’s early morning market: go before 8am to enjoy ayam betutu (smoked, spicy chicken) and a host of brightly colored sweets.
- Get a taste of beef rendang and other classics of Sumatra’s Padang food, at Puteri Minang Masakan Padang (77 Jalan Raya Ubud; meals from US$3).
- Babi guling (suckling pig) is a Balinese classic: if you don’t want to eat at the market, try it at one of Ibu Oka’s suckling pig eateries (Jalan Tegal; meals from US$6).
- Discover magic made out of only raw and vegan ingredients at Moksa: the raw “cheesecake” is amazing (Gang Damai; meals
- Don’t miss the fabulous modern and exciting gelatos at Gaya (Jalan Raya Sayan) or Gelato Secrets (Jalan Monkey Forest); scoops start
What to buy
Most craft pieces and sarongs on sale in Ubud are of terrible quality: if you’re after fabric, head to the wonderful Threads of Life (24 Jalan Kajeng), which has hand-woven pieces using natural dyes sourced from artisans across the archipelago. For something a bit more affordable, check out the ceramics at Gaya (105 Jalan Raya Sayan), which supplies Michelin-star chefs, or Kevala (Jalan Dewi Sita), handmade papers at Kado (Jalan Dewi Sita) or Lingsir (Jalan Dewi Sita), silver jewelry at Studio Perak (Jalan Hanoman), Chez Monique (36 Jalan Hanoman) or Yin (Jalan Dewi Sita), or soaps and edibles at Kou (Jalan Dewi Sita).
This story first appeared in the November 2017 issue of Smile magazine.