When planning our trip Bali was probably one of the spots Katie was looking forward to most, and within Bali Ubud was what had her most excited. Expectations were high and we took a day from our Seminyak time to extend our time in Ubud.
Ubud is best known for the “love” section in Eat, Pray, Love where Julia Roberts lives with the locals, sorts her life out with a local healer and meets Javier Bardem. It’s set amongst beautiful rice fields and is the spiritual centre of Bali, with yoga, juice bars and meditation all the rage.
On our first day we were staying at a home stay with a local family. You really don’t see them unless you want to but it’s a great way to get a feel for the place, seeing their home temples. The only downer was that we’d picked a really central location (just off Jl. Raya Ubud) and places that are known for spiritually and mediation rarely come with expectations of a constant flow of scooters and bus loads of Japanese tourists. Apparently, over the last ten years Ubud has exploded, much to the locals disappointment and rice fields are being replaced by Holiday Inns. This was a bit depressing so we decided to cheer ourselves up by tasting their local specialty – suckling pig!
We ordered the special at Warung Ibu Oka and sampled pork about six ways. The pork was good but the sauce on it was fantastic. It was a great pick me up. From there we grabbed a few happy hour drinks and ended up at Nomads next to a couple from the UK doing our trip in reverse. We had quite a few large Bintangs and swapped travel stories. As it was getting late again and we were having a great time we ordered some tapas at the bar and continued our chat, planning to meet up again at 7pm tomorrow.
Well… that was the plan. Somewhere between Ibu Oka and Nomads Katie and I both picked up a bout of Bali Belly with all the accompanying symptoms. We had barely any sleep and having to move hotels was painful. We checked into Tegal Sari which, for $10 more a night, was such an upgrade and has been the best place we’ve stayed on our trip! At the South end of town, set between two rice fields, that air of tranquility we were after was finally found. We snoozed by the pool, cooled off in our AC room and finally ventured out for some pasta. We were really glad we’d booked an extra day in as the food poisoning cost us a lot of time, but in the morning we were finally ready to see Ubud properly.
Our first outing was to see the templates around Tampaksiring, about 18km north of Ubud. We hired a driver for three hours (IDR 200k) who drove us to each site and waited whilst we were inside. Our first stop was Gunung Kawi (IDR 15k/pp. You must cover your legs, but if you’re in shorts they’ll lend you a sarong) which is an ancient temple with an Indiana Jones feel to it.
You descend 270 (!) steps to a river valley, passing rice fields on the way, to see about ten huge shrines carved into the rock face. I was expecting something ornate, it wasn’t quite that, but they are still quite impressive. Being in a river valley it’s quite humid, we were both very hot and our camera gave up.
Back on the road our second stop was at Tirta Empul (IDR 15k/pp, IDR 5k for locker hire). These holy baths are ancient and were rediscovered in the 10th century. You need to cover yourself with a sarong again, they’ll lend you one, but men can go shirtless. The water is believed to have magical powers and the spring provides the source to the Pakersian River. In the baths the locals proceed down the line to each spout praying to a different god at each one. Katie accidentally bathed in the Hindu’s only section, but it’s not sign posted so it’s not her fault that she’s now a Hindu.
There were a few large koi in the baths with you that don’t seem bothered by your presence and there were tons of koi in another pond getting fat from the food visitors throw in. In another pool at the back you can see the springs in action, quite violently coming up from the ground.
After drying off and fighting our way through a huge maze a tack sellers we were back at the car and made it back in the predicted three hours. You may want an extra hour to not make the trip as rushed if you do it, and do the trip early in the morning. Tirta Empul was definitely the highlight of the two and, despite the water being a little cold, we were really glad we got in (unlike most of the tourists).
On our final day we wanted to tick the rice/paddy fields box. We looked into guided bike rides, but at $45pp that was quite steep. There are UNESCO protected rice fields up at Jatiluwih an hour north but we managed to find some in Ceking, Tegallalang only about 30 mins away. There are no mention of these in the LP which we were annoyed about, but also happy as it would keep numbers down. We booked a driver for two hours (IDR 150k) and set off.
We grabbed breakfast over looking the rice fields and soaked in the views. There are loads of cafes/restaurants over looking the fields and getting breakfast or lunch there is highly recommended. We saw a couple walking around on them and a local showed us the steps down (200 of them!) to the bottom of the field.
It’s become so popular now that the owner has set up a station asking for donations. He wanted IDR 5k for the two of us but settled on 4.4k (all my change). From here you’re free to walk all over the rice fields for as long as you want. We probably spent about 30 mins admiring the views and taking photos. I nearly lost a flip flop in the sloppy mud, and walking along a two foot path could be a little daunting to those who are scared of heights, but the experience was fantastic.
Leaving the rice fields we were thoroughly satisfied and it was probably the highlight of our time in Ubud.
From there we headed to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (IDR 20k/pp) which is a jungle area containing three temples, but in all reality people just come here to see tons of monkeys going crazy. They are everywhere and if you want one to climb on you just hold a banana above your head. Otherwise they were pretty harmless and mostly groom, play and squabble with each other.
There were a lot of babies with their mothers and the monkeys all sit on the sacred statues. I love monkeys so was having a great time, but as it’s in the jungle it gets extremely humid. After taking our 500th picture we decided to call it a day and hit the pool.
In the evening Katie got a pedicure (IDR 95k) then we went out for dinner at the other highly recommended eatery, Bebek Bengil – The Dirty Duck Diner. Crispy duck is the specialty here and our bill for one of those, duck fried rice, five beers and dessert was under $30! It was incredible.
On the way home we stopped in at the Melting Pot, a local pool hall full of ex-pats. They have flags all over the walls and you can write your name on your home flag. I’d have loved to had seen by diplomatic/UN friends attempt to name them all.
The next morning we learnt that the weather was bad an we had to cancel our diving trip to the Gili Islands, but the fact that we’d had such a good time in Ubud neither of us were that upset. This is what traveling is about I guess and we’ll make up some plan on the fly. Until wherever we end up…