Ubud

Ubud, Bali – Where to Eat, Play & Stay

Indonesia

Ubud is a bustling city in the heart of Bali, abuzz with merchants and markets, temples, spas, yoga studios and retreats, co-working spaces, health food, arts, culture and innovation, all surrounded by some of Bali’s greatest natural attractions. The city has become a haven for travelers, especially yogis and digital nomads, and is really a must visit when in Bali. Below are some of our favorite places in and around Ubud, with our travel tips learned along the way.

 

Getting There

Ubud is inland and situated in the southeastern part of the island, only an hour from the major airport in Denpasar, and the same distance from Canggu by car (where we stayed prior to our visit). Though the drive can be upwards of an hour and a half during rush hour. Growing up driving in New York and Boston, we have to say that traffic in Bali is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Narrow and winding streets not built for the volume of traffic they currently support, many without traffic signals, flood with motorbikes and cars during the heaviest commuter times. The jostling stop and go of such a drive can be nauseating. Best to pack some anti-nausea precautions. We were always stocked on Fisherman’s Friend mints, which did the trick 95% of the time (and they’re pharmaceutical free, yay!). Nausea aside, we enjoyed the scenic ride through villages and forests on the way to the city once leaving the populated seacoast.

 

Where We Stayed

Chadley singing songs on the balcony at Bisma Jaya.

There are hundreds of hotels, bungalows, hostels, AirBNB’s and guesthouses to choose from in Ubud, which can be a bit overwhelming. We pored over accommodations until we discovered Bisma Jaya on AirBNB, a relatively new guesthouse that was almost too-good-to-be-true affordable, with a pool, free breakfast, a secluded, jungle feeling yet within walking distance to all the city has to offer. Most notably, it’s just a 10-minute walk to Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, one of our main draws to the city.

We stayed at Bisma Jaya for about a week and loved it. We were lucky to have the guesthouse almost entirely to ourselves and enjoyed spending hours every day writing and playing music on our balcony overlooking the lush gardens backed into thick jungle. The location was even better than expected, truly tucked away from the hustle and bustle, yet right in the center of it.

Good to Know: After booking our stay we received a message from the owner through AirBNB saying she couldn’t accept payments through the site, and asked us to cancel our reservation. Through a series of messages our stay was guaranteed and we arranged to pay in cash on arrival. We were a bit nervous about the potential for misunderstanding, but our fears quickly dissipated when we met the friendly guesthouse manager, Made. However, to avoid this confusion, we recommend sending the guesthouse a direct message through Facebook to book a room.

 

Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

The Monkey Sanctuary is home to 600 feisty Balinese monkeys, also known as long-tailed macaques. This sacred swath of forest is protected by a local village, features several ancient and active temples, and fantastical sculptures. It was so much fun to coexist with the monkeys for a few hours in their surreal surroundings. Read more about our visit to the Monkey Sanctuary here.

Tegallalang Rice Terraces

A 25-minute drive outside the city lies a Unesco World Heritage site: the lush and storied rice terraces of Tegallalang. Like the Sacred Monkey Forest, this is a busy tourist attraction, but large enough to find solitude. We felt transported to another place and time as we strolled through an intersecting maze of picturesque and tranquil rice paddies where a traditional form of agriculture has remained intact for over 1,000 years. After wandering up and down this vibrant valley we made our way to one of the many restaurants overlooking the terraces to sip on fresh lime infused coconuts before catching a cab back to our hotel. We enjoyed a pleasant ride through the rural outskirts of the city passing farms, temples and villages. Take a look at our article on what it’s like to visit Tegallalang.

  

See a Kecak Fire Dance

The modern Kecak Fire Dance has evolved from traditional trance rituals that feature an acapella male chorus. The dance was adapted in the 1930s by German artist Walter Spies, who was living in Bali at the time. Spies tailored the Kecak Dance to Ramayana, a Hindu epic poem that depicts the struggle of a divine prince rescuing his wife from a demon king. Kecak itself has been historically performed by groups of 150 or more men wearing traditional checkered Balinese sarongs repeatedly chanting ‘cak’ while carrying out a synchronized dance. It has roots in an exorcism trance-inducing dance called sanghyang. The first women’s kecak group began in 2006.

The dance is performed at temples throughout the city every week. You can even see it at the old palace downtown. We caught one at a nearby temple and were blown away by the hypnotic acapella paired with the fluidly orchestrated dance. The costumes were also original, depicting larger than life characters like a white monkey king. And of course, the finale in which one of the dancer’s kicks flaming coconut shells toward the audience was a thrill all its own. We highly recommend checking out this one-of-a-kind, affordable cultural experience.

  

More Local Jams

Below are a few extra tips to guide you through this electrifying city.

  • Yoga, Yoga, Yoga – Ubud is a yogi haven with an abundance of styles, studios and retreats to choose from. Way too many to count, with more are cropping up all the time. For a recent review of the city’s myriad of yoga studios check out this list by the Never Ending Voyage.

  • Green School Bali – Ubud’s Green School is a non-profit, K-12 private and international school focused on sustainability from its curriculum to the physical space. Travelers can make an appointment to tour the school and even apply to volunteer.

  • Hubud – There’s a ton of innovation happening in Ubud, which draws digital nomads from all over the world. Across the street from the Monkey Sanctuary, Hubud is a busy co-working space that’s open 24-hours and fully equipped for getting work done, including access to printers, meeting space, private rooms, a small kitchen, café, and a lovely green patio. Take a peak at their promo video for a look inside.

  • Kopernik – We sat down with Kopernik’s Chief Strategy Officer to learn about what this non-profit is doing to improve the lives of people in poverty. With products ranging from solar lights, to eco-friendly stoves, and water purification systems, Kopernik is helping people in the most remote regions of the planet through technologies that focus on energy, water, sanitation, agriculture, fisheries, health, education and women’s economic empowerment. Check out their work to learn about all the people they’ve reached. If you’re looking for even more inspiration, this video is for you.

  • Atman Kafé – Absolutely, one of our favorite restaurants in Bali! With careful attention to clean, healthy, delicious food, Atman Kafe's enormous menu is filled with organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free goodies (they have meat, too). In Hindu philosophy, Atman means inner self or soul, and is defined as the spiritual life principle of the universe. True to it’s name, Atman Kafé definitely felt like it was on another level of awareness. We adored the watermelon salad, falafel beet balls, decadent smoothies and butter coffee.

  • Hike Mt. Batur – Mount Batur is an active volcano an hour and twenty minutes north of Ubud that’s famed for sunrise hikes.

 

Reality Check: Avoiding ‘Bali Belly’

What sounds kind of cute is actually an unpleasant right of passage many travelers endure in foreign lands, the dreaded stomach bug. A simple rule: don’t eat raw fruit or veggies washed in unfiltered water. We made a point of eating at health centric restaurants that boasted washing their salad greens in purified water, but the slightest slip up can really cost you! Takesumi activated bamboo charcoal and clay tablets work wonders for both avoiding and treating the symptoms. We cannot recommend these natural remedies enough. They were so effective we never had to use the heavy pills we brought along “just in case.”

  

Enjoy Your Visit!

It seems there’s something for everyone in Ubud, from the gorgeous rice terraces of Tegallalang, to taking in a fire dance, walking with primates in the Sacred Monkey Forest, or discovering the plethora of shops, restaurants, yoga studios and co-working spaces that make this city so exciting to explore.

Visiting: The Tegalalang Rice Terrace in Ubud, Bali

Indonesia

Tegalalang is a dreamy delight. Just 25 minutes outside of busy Ubud, emerald rice fields cascade from parallel slopes into a lush, rich valley, transporting visitors back in time. The pace of life slows down here once you dip off the main road that overlooks the terraces, which comes well stocked with taxis, tour buses, restaurants and shops.

With your back to the modern age, the countryside feels vibrant and alive in a place where man’s relationship with the land is the same today as it was over 1,000 years ago. The gentle flow of the subak, a traditional Balinese irrigation system, provides a soothing backdrop of trickling and bubbling that blends into the ethereal and picturesque landscape, providing a serene experience to its visitors.

 

The Subak System

Subak Tegallang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

Tegalalang relies on subak, an irrigation system built on Tri Hita Karana, a Hindu philosophy focusing on how humans can maintain a harmonious relationship between themselves and fellow man, their environment, and spirituality in daily life.

The subak system of cooperative water management obtained through the use of canals, tunnels and weirs is a cultural landscape consisting of five rice terraces and their associated water temples spread across 49,000 acres. The system, which comprises egalitarian and democratic farming practices, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 9th century. Not only does it support a dense population, subak is so effective that it makes the Balinese the most successful rice growers in Indonesia.

 

Getting There

Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

From the center of Ubud, traveling to Tegalalang should take 20-30 minutes, depending on traffic. If your driver knows the scenic route through the farm country it will mean a shorter and much for pleasant ride for you.

Uber is available in Bali for a much cheaper rate than the typical taxi fare, but like anywhere where Uber is transforming the marketplace, taxi drivers abhor it. If you choose this option, note that your driver will want you to be as discreet as possible so as not to draw the cabbies’ ire. We booked our driver from a restaurant and waited inside until he was about to arrive. With Uber, we paid about $3 to get to Tegalalang, and double that on the way back to our hotel by taxi.

 

Entrance Fees

Bamboo Bridge Tegallang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

There’s no entrance fee to Tegalalang, but you will be expected to pay a donation of a few thousand Indonesian Rupiah at various check points manned by local farmers across the terraces in order to continue on your journey. This is to help support the system, upkeep bridges, and so forth. We saw a few travelers putting up a fight about the small fees, but to put it in perspective, 10,000 Rupiah is less than one U.S. dollar. Considering the amazing work being done and how much foot traffic Tegalalang absorbs per day, this is a small price to pay. (Note that you’ll only be asked to pay on your way up and across the terraces, not on your way down.) We spent several hours exploring Tegalalang and only paid twice.

 

Fees for Photos

Love Bali Sign Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

You may encounter farmers offering to pose with you while balancing their rice basket on your back, or to take your photo at the ‘I Love Bali’ sign in exchange for a tip. In general, we’ve found that any local who offers to take your photo at a tourist attraction – even if they're a police officer or a park ranger – will expect money in return. Remember that you are visiting a developing country in which many locals are struggling financially, and especially those in rural areas. If you can shell out an extra dollar in exchange for that special photo, don’t feel bashful about it. Go ahead! At the same time, if that’s not in your budget, it’s lousy to feel like you’ve been duped by what seemed like someone’s kind gesture. Having this in the back of your mind can help you make a fast decision in those moments when you may feel pressured by locals and uncertain of what to do. Simply put, if you don’t want to pay, kindly decline the offer.

 

Exploring & Capturing This Inspiring Landscape

Balance Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

Expect to see hundreds of fellow tourists during your visit, potentially even arriving by the busload. But don’t fret! Patience pays whether you simply want to enjoy this magnificent and historical treasure on your own, or if you’re in search of that perfect photo without another soul in your shot. The further you explore into the paddies, the fewer tourists you’ll encounter and the more intimate an experience you’ll have the privilege to take home with you.

 

Dining

Farmer With Rice Basket Tegallang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

After trekking up and down the terraces you’ll likely have worked up an appetite. Luckily, there are plenty of restaurants lining the hilltop above the rice fields where you can enjoy a bite or a drink with a gorgeous view. Finding the restaurants closest to the tour path to be the most crowded and expensive, we chose to wander further down the main road, and settled on the last restaurant in the row where we enjoyed good prices, free WiFi, and a relaxed environment with a splendid overlook. We highly recommend the coconuts, which come filled with ice and slices of lime. A Tegalalang specialty. Yum!

 

Making A Difference

Go Up Tegallalang Rice Terrace Ubud Bali

Your visit to Tegalalang supports hard working farmers and an ancient water management system that takes conservation seriously. You’ll leave with a new appreciation of where rice comes from, the labor that goes into growing it along with the extraordinary thought put into the subak system, and a sense of inner peace from simply being in this calming environment.

 

SNAPSHOTS

Visiting: Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Bali

INDONESIA

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, or Mandala Suci Wenara Wana in Balinese, is a top tourist attraction in Ubud, seeing roughly 10,000 visitors a month. If you’re traveling in the area, it’s likely the Monkey Forest is on your list, and it should be. Here, you’ll find yourself tucked away from the hot and bustling city in 30 acres of jungle comprising over a hundred species of trees. Transported to another time, you’ll have the opportunity to cross a dragon bridge amidst temples built in the 14th century all while surrounded by moss-covered statues, and of course, hundreds of monkeys!

Male macaques begin growing their beards and mustaches after they start having babies, as early as 3-5 years old.

 

The Monkey Business

The sanctuary is home to 600+ Balinese Monkeys, also known as long-tailed Macaques, divided into five groups that live in different territories from the main temple to the cemeteries. About 100-120 individuals make up each group and range in age from infants to adults. You will see them everywhere, roaming the premises freely, and even in the surrounding streets, making it important to remain mindful and alert that you are in a wild animal’s territory.

Living in such a large population makes conflicts among the groups of monkeys unavoidable due to territory infringements. This is pronounced in the dry season when certain groups must cross into others’ territories to bathe in the river. You may see some squabbling, particularly at group borders. Though listening to the monkeys holler and watching them chase one another can be a combination of interesting, amusing and intimidating, their disagreements have nothing to do with visitors, who can skirt around the spats without incident. Though the monkeys are not aggressive by nature, they will defend themselves if feeling threatened. This is doubly true when it comes to mothers and their babies.

Seated with two juveniles, a mother holds her baby close.

Although the sanctuary expressly asks visitors not to touch, grab or disturb the monkeys, especially babies, expect to see many visitors interacting with them, feeding the monkeys from piles of sweet potatoes provided as part of their daily diet, attempting to hold hands, and coaxing them onto their shoulders for a photo op. Though this is permitted, it’s not recommended, and injuries can occur if visitors attempt to get too cozy with the monkeys. To help guests better understand how to properly behave around the residents, the staff provides a very comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts.

For an inside look at the Monkey Forest, watch our video tour.

While filming, a juvenile macaque grew interested in Chadley’s camera and started climbing up his leg, but by staying calm and following the procedures outlined below we avoided an incident.

Pro Tips Directly from the Staff: The number one rule is to stay calm, especially if a monkey jumps on you. This will be unlikely unless you’re holding food, hiding food, looking them in the eye (it can be interpreted as a sign of aggression), or anything that might interest them (including your camera) close to their face. If this happens while you’re holding food, simply drop it and slowly walk away. The monkey will jump off for the snack. Apply the same guidelines even if you’re not holding food. Just start slowly walking away and the monkey will likely get bored of you.

Regarding snacks, visitors are asked not to feed the monkeys anything outside of what is provided for them onsite in order to keep them healthy. It’s also not recommended to bring any food into the forest, and both plastic and paper bags are prohibited. This is both to temper the monkeys curiosity and to keep the sanctuary litter-free.

 

A Bit More On the Balinese Monkey

Snacking on offerings on Jl. Monkey Forest Road outside the sanctuary.

Snacking on offerings on Jl. Monkey Forest Road outside the sanctuary.

Long-tailed Macaques are native to South East Asia. The species is not endangered, but like many wild animals continues to face habitat loss. Luckily, they are very adaptable and can live in diverse environments. In fact, the largest threat to the species is hunting, as they are considered food sources and pests in various parts of the South East Asia.

The Balinese Monkey is active by day and rests at night. They are omnivores whose diet in the Monkey Forest consists mainly of sweet potato (given 3 times a day), banana, papaya leaf, corn, cucumber, coconut, and other local fruit. Though they are well fed at home, they will leave the forest to search for food in the busy streets surrounding the sanctuary where they can snag a plethora of goodies from trashcans, restaurant tables and daily offerings placed in front of homes and businesses. On average, male macaques live up to 15 years. Females can live to be 20. 

 

Planning Your Visit

A welcoming committee monkey's around the main entrance.

Have we mentioned that macaques are known for being naughty? When planning your visit it’s good to be aware of what you plan to wear and bring along with you. Definitely watch your accessories while in the forest. Sunglasses, earrings, jewelry, flip-flops, etc. are all very appealing items to steal if you’re a Balinese monkey. We probably went above and beyond in being cautious about our apparel, and opted not to bring backpacks to avoid attracted extra attention from the residents. Chadley wore a shirt with snapping pockets, which was great for storing cash. We made sure to wear the straps on our camera to avoid taking things in and out of our pockets too often. The monkeys are very curious about what visitors might have tucked away.

Hearing that a friend had her sandal stolen off her foot by a monkey in Uluwatu, we wore sneakers, and after seeing photos of women having their tube tops pulled down by the monkeys, I wore a button up shirt and shorts.

As mentioned earlier, it’s best not to bring any food into the sanctuary. The monkeys will know and try to find it. But there are plenty of restaurants and food carts outside for when you get hungry. Most people only spend 2-3 hours visiting, anyway. At the time of this writing, the Monkey Forest is open daily for a small fee. Click here for the most up to date information on hours and pricing. 

Pro Tip: Since the sanctuary hosts over a million visitors a year, it’s good to expect crowds. If you’re looking for solace, however, there are plenty of paths to roam and benches to sit where you can escape the groups gathered at the Main and Holy Spring Temples to watch the monkeys go about their day.

 

Tri Hita Karana – Conservation, Culture & Well-Being at the Core

The dragon bridge at the Holy Spring Temple sits before a wall of banyan tree vines.

The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary upholds the Hindu philosophy of Tri Hita Karana as its principal mission, meaning “three ways to reach spiritual and physical well-being.” With ‘Tri’ meaning three, ‘Hita’ meaning happiness, and ‘Karana’ meaning cause or manner, this philosophy focuses on how people can maintain a harmonious relationship between themselves and their fellow humans, their environment, and god in daily life. As an international tourist destination and ‘living laboratory’ for educational institutions, this philosophy reflects the Monkey Forest’s desire to create peace and harmony with its staff, visitors, inhabitants, plant life, historic temples, local community, and the city of Ubud.

The forest is owned by the village of Padangtegal where it is located in Ubud’s southwestern corner flanked by a multitude of hotels, shops and restaurants. The village considers the sanctuary an important spiritual, educational, economic, and conservation center for its residents, who protect the monkeys and serve on the forest’s governing council.

When it comes to Balinese culture, the forest and its inhabitants play an important role in religion and tradition. Monkeys and their mythology are prominent in Balinese art, for example, appearing in the Kecak and Ramayana dance where the monkey is an important character in the story. And while the forest is home to 186 species of trees, some are considered particularly holy and are used in spiritual practices. These include the Majegan, which is used exclusively to build shrines, the leaves of the Berigan for cremation ceremonies, and the Pule Bandak, which is thought to embody the spirit of the forest and is used to make powerful masks (don’t worry, the trees aren’t killed to make them).

 

Making A Difference

Monkeys are often seen helping one another keep clean.

With a booming tourism industry resulting in increased deforestation and massive amounts of waste, Bali’s environment from its forests to shorelines is under threat, making wildlife sanctuaries like Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest critical to the eco-tourism movement. With Tri Hita Karana at the heart of their mission, the Monkey Forest honors humanity, environment, education, and religion by providing a conservation area for Balinese monkeys, rare plants and those used in ritual to visitors and city-dwellers alike, offering an oasis in an urban environment.

Knowing your visit will not only provide you with lasting memories and a one of a kind experience, but with the knowledge that you are supporting locals and important conservation efforts while you travel feels great, too. Have fun, be respectful, and watch your stuff!

 

SNAPSHOTS