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el2995 Ubud - A travel report by USC
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Ubud,  Indonesia - flag Indonesia -  Bali
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el2995's travel reports

Ubud: Evolving…But Still Enchanting

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Though now heavily touristed, and perhaps to some far past its prime due to overdevelopment, Ubud is still a gem for the first-time visitor, providing a glimpse into the heart and soul of Bali and making for a most memorable experience.

Picturesque Temple Southwest of Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest
Picturesque Temple Southwest of Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest
An exhibit of Balinese handicrafts and B/W photos of village scenes, rice terraces and elegant legong dancers at a local college years ago positioned a trip to Bali prominently on my ‘life’s list of things to do’; countless viewings of my TV-to-VCR copy of National Geographic’s spellbinding documentary “Bali: Masterpiece of the Gods” (1991) provided further inspiration to one day make that dream a reality.

Having just returned from Southeast Asia (December 2007), I can say that the present-day Ubud still proved to be the Bali that I had been hoping to experience. The appeal of Ubud lies not only in its numerous intricately-carved temples set amid both lush forests and the more contemporary structures of its quaint streets which convey a real sense of history, and its myriad picturesque rice paddies that at times extend up to the backs of the shops, hotels and open-terraced restaurants that line Monkey Forest Road, but also in the warmth and friendliness of its people and the way that Ubud reveals the soul of Bali through the fruits of its artisan’s creative labors and in the skill and commitment to both detail and tradition exhibited by its performing artists. Ubud exudes the atmosphere of a laid-back hamlet with the promise of a rich and exotic personality waiting to be revealed to those who seek it out, and readily welcomes the traveler with its magical embrace. The few minor less-than-positive aspects of Ubud – namely, the surprisingly large number of ‘rainy/off-season’ (October to March) tourists encountered, the countless street inquiries about my present or future need for ‘transport’, and the sometimes intimidating territorial posturing of the ‘all bark/no (or rarely) bite’ local dogs – should be taken in stride…or with a grain of salt. Note that during the rainy season moss can make shaded stone steps quite slippery, that one should watch for broken and/or wobbly sidewalk tiles spanning the gutters, and also avoid stepping on the myriad ‘daily offerings’.

Favourite spots:
Pura Dalem Agung Temple, Sacred Monkey Forest
Pura Dalem Agung Temple, Sacred Monkey Forest
At the top of Monkey Forest Road, Ubud Palace is worth checking out on a day that it is open to the public (part of it is opened nightly for dance performances), as is a stop across the road at the Ubud market (be prepared for the ‘hard sells’). Next, walk down Monkey Forest road past the myriad craft and souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, hotels and ‘transport drivers in waiting’ to the base of the hill and enter the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary to see the various temples, moss-embossed statues and hoards of monkeys. After the ‘Sanctuary’, a desirable option is to procure a knowledgeable guide/driver to explore the main sites of interest outside of Ubud (Gunung Kawi & Yeh Pulu rock-cut carvings, Goa Gajah ‘Elephant’ Cave, Pura Tirta Empul Holy Spring Temple) and take in the scenic beauty of terraced rice paddies flanked by lush forest. Arrange a guided 2-hour nature trek through the local river canyons along the levies of terraced rice and crop fields beneath quaint villages.

What's really great:
Gunung Kawi Monument, Outside Ubud
Gunung Kawi Monument, Outside Ubud
If the duration of your stay in Ubud limits you to just a few hours of sightseeing a-field, I highly recommend the 11th century Gunung Kawi rock-cut monument located near Tampaksiring village. The monument consists of a total of 10 funeral shrines 7 meters in height carved into two rock cliff faces that form the sides of a ravine which flanks a stream and waterfall. The walk down to the monument involves numerous steps and moderate grades, and does require some effort; the just compensation for the effort is a scenic view of some photogenic terraced rice paddies along the way which, coupled with the awe-inspiring sight of the monument (said to have been completed in one day by divine hands) makes the venture well worth while. The hauntingly beautiful A cappella singing of an old Balinese devotional song by the wife of a wood carver while seated amid hanging wooden masks on the straw-matted veranda of a trailside stall as I stopped to take in the view will always be a fond memory.

Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple, Near Kintamani
Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple, Near Kintamani
Ubud’s location makes it a good base from which to explore much of Bali’s noteworthy sights. Bangli’s Pura Kehen, a miniature version of Besakih, the ‘Mother Temple’ (but without the tourist scams and hard sells associated with Besakih), is considered the finest temple in east Bali and was very enjoyable; also visit the nearby picturesque Bangli Putera village (closer to Ubud and purportedly much more tidy than Tenganan village…which is said to be more ‘old-school’ traditional with its unique geringsing double ikat weaving, but also USD $70 per head per day through the J.E.D. organization). The drive to Kintamani (Kintamali) - known for both its local coffee and dog breed - offers scenic views of both Mount Batur and Lake Batur; the Pura Ulun Danu Batur temple, with its picturesque multi-tiered Meru’s, was very interesting, but the over-charge for the tourist’s obligatory sarong and sash to enter (Rp 10,000) is a rip-off compared to the normal ‘recommended donation’.

High Tea by the Pool - Komaneka Resort
High Tea by the Pool - Komaneka Resort
We stayed at the Komaneka Resort on Monkey Forest Road (the same family runs the Komaneka Tanggayuda Suite, also in Ubud but away from the city center). The resort bungalows, laid out in a pleasing garden setting, are quite nice and are set back far enough from the road to mute the sounds of the city…especially when the frogs in the adjacent rice paddies begin to chime in come nightfall. Breakfast (Western or Indonesian) at the hotel’s open-air restaurant and afternoon High Tea near the pool is included with the room, as is free admission and transportation to the affiliated Neka Art Museum. The front desk can arrange a driver/guide (I highly recommend Mr. Ngakan Arnawa) and tours, and have a schedule of the cultural performances held nightly at the local temples; a laptop and net connection is available in the reception area. One drawback in that the myriad tropical flowers artfully/romantically floated on the full bath tub must be skimmed before draining the tub for a shower.

Lovely Legong Dancers - Ubud Palace
Lovely Legong Dancers - Ubud Palace
In the evening, most visitors will opt to take in one of the nightly Balinese cultural performances accompanied by a traditional Gamelan orchestra held at the local temples and other venues around town (generally starting around 7:00-7:30 pm). Personally, I preferred the Legong performance, in which young girls costumed in beautiful courtly attire execute a highly-stylized dance that incorporates very precise head and body movements with somewhat exaggerated facial expressions (particularly with the eyes) to convey emotion, and the rhythmic fluttering of fingers that, when combined with the shimmering and hypnotic metallic tones of the Gamelan, can be downright mesmerizing. The Kecak performance, mixing chorus chants & trance dancing with a story from the Hindu ‘Ramayama’ legend, and the Fire Dance, featuring similar chorus chants with dancers performing in trance (one ritualistically performing barefoot through a bed of hot coconut shell embers at the climax) was also fascinating.

Lively Jam Session at Warung Bamboo
Lively Jam Session at Warung Bamboo
If you enjoy Reggae, Putra Bar Restaurant, on Monkey Forest Road up the street from Komaneka Resort, has live Reggae during the week (M, T, Th, F) from 9 - 10 pm, with a DJ providing 'ja' music the rest of the time. If you enjoy singing along (sans karaoke microphone) to live acoustic guitar and bongo renditions of classic and modern rock hits (and the guitarist knows 'em all and takes has a great voice to boot!), then check out Warung Bamboo on Dewi Sita Street (north of the soccer field) for a lively and enjoyable evening; the only caveat is that there is no set schedule for the improvised performances, but the bar owner said the two talented gentlemen come by to jam almost every night. For live acoustic Jazz, Dragonfly, across the street and not far from Bamboo, offers it on Saturday nights from 8 - 10 pm. For a place to hang out for a spell during the day, enjoy a coffee, something sweet and the air conditioning at Café Moka on Raya Ubud Road near Ubud Market.

Ibu Oka Warung Babi Guling
Ibu Oka Warung Babi Guling
One of the culinary ‘Must Try’s while in Ubud is a visit to Ibu Oka, a warung (open-air restaurant) not too far north of Ubud Palace that popular wisdom holds is THE best place to eat suckling pig ('babi guling') in all of Bali; our guide, a vegetarian the vast majority of the time, confessed that even he occasionally visits Ibu Oka when he needs a meat fix, as it is so good. The melts-in-your-mouth, mildly-spicy pork is pulled from the bone and served on steamed rice with a small portion of what looked to be a cold cut string bean salad and a dark fritter that turned out to be fried pork stomach (none for me, thanks…I'll pass), which is all best accompanied with a cold Bintang Beer. Another hot (meal) ticket is the ‘crispy duck’ served at Bebek Bengil on Padang Tegal Road, around the corner from the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary; also try the beef mie goreng while enjoying the upstairs view of the rice paddies at Three Monkeys Cuisine & Art Café on Monkey Forest Road.

Other recommendations:
Sunset on Jimbaran Bay
Sunset on Jimbaran Bay
We spent the afternoon of our last day in Bali on the coast before the evening flight back to Singapore. Our guide took us to the Pura Luhur Uluwatu directional sea temple, which was a worth while side trip (time did not allow us to stay to watch the sunset, and the popular Kecak performance that follows it). We then briefly stopped at the nearby, newly-opened (but still under construction) Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park, the grounds of which has been artfully excavated on an epic scale out of a massive limestone plateau. The huge Wisnu statue was the only one of the three namesakes to be fully assembled and the park was still being landscaped, so the 45-minute stop didn’t quite give us the ‘bang for our rupee' (Rp 15,000 per person), but the park should be well worth it when completed. We finished off our 5-day stay in Bali with grilled seafood and a couple of cold Bintang beers on a beach in Jimbaran amid a glorious sunset, thus bringing a ‘longtime dream’ to a happy ending.

Published on Tuesday January 1th, 2008

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Sat, Jan 26 2008 - 02:27 PM rating by alfonsovasco

great report, it is very good

Thu, Jan 17 2008 - 12:13 PM rating by bineba

You do visit some great places and make them come alive in your reports. Well done!

Thu, Jan 03 2008 - 10:05 AM rating by murrayskinner

Cold beers, an exotic destination with sunsets on the beach!!! Love it!!

Thu, Jan 03 2008 - 01:17 AM rating by downundergal

What a great report! Full of travellers tips.
I was disappointed the last time I went to Ubud, I found the hordes of starving stray dogs and the open drains offputting but in your report you have been able to again catch some of the magic that I recall on my first visit.

Wed, Jan 02 2008 - 06:42 PM rating by britman

Excellent report bringing back lots of memeories

Wed, Jan 02 2008 - 08:21 AM rating by marianne

Very nice and comprehensive report.

Tue, Jan 01 2008 - 07:42 PM rating by rangutan

Another perfect exotic report! N'Geographic inspired me to travel also but you are becoming an important source of tips too! That "Gunung Kawi" makes north/central European sculptures seem petty, the traditional costumes too. Just wonderful again!

Tue, Jan 01 2008 - 05:12 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Excellent report with lovely pictures! I noticed that you did not visit the extraordinary Antonio Blanco museum, a Spanish painter who spent the last years of his life in Ubud.

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