10 Things to Do in Ubud, Bali
If you’re planning to travel around Asia, then Ubud should certainly be on your bucket list.
Ubud is a delightful town set in the lush and picturesque Balinese countryside, that despite growing in tourism development, is one of the most cultural immersed and charming places you can visit. Often conjuring up images of rice fields, temples, waterfalls and yoga retreats, it is a cultural pot brimming with things to do, both in the town itself, and also the surrounding area. Whether you want relaxation, peace and tranquillity or action-packed things to see and do, Ubud can offer either, or a combination of the two.
Here is my list of the best things to do in and around Ubud and the reasons to add it to your essential must see travel bucket list.
1. Head to the Ubud Monkey Forest.
A cool forest on the edge of the town, intermingled with ancient 14th-century ruins; and of course monkeys. This natural domain of these Balinese long-tailed monkeys; that flock to greet the visitors, is a must do. Be careful though, these mischievous animals are not immune to climbing on your head and searching for food in your bag, and they are somewhat experts at it!
Located on the edge of the town so, within easy walking distance, it makes an accessible and inexpensive place to go to.
2. Get in Touch with Nature.
Within minutes of the busy town centre, you can find yourself at the Campuhan Ridge Walk; a scenic hillside trek along a paved path, overlooking a valley either side, with tall palm trees towering above.
The whole length of the walk is nine kilometres and you can either trek the whole breath or just take a short stroll; but be sure to at least go as far as the Karsa Kafe, approximately thirty minutes; this is also the point where the landscape opens out to reveal rice fields.
The cafe itself is charming, open air with wooden terraces positioned over a large colourful pond filled with lotus flowers; and a menu that includes cold drinks served from coconuts. It makes for a delightful place to quench your thirst; and as you sit and admire the tranquillity and beauty of your surroundings, you will probably be hard pushed to want to move on.
Smaller Earth top tip: A popular time to do the walk is in the evening when it is not only cooler but you may even catch a sunset.
3. Shop at Ubud Market.
Head to Ubud market in the centre of town, you can't miss it. The one word that I feel best defines this colourful market is abundance! It is literally overflowing with items. In recent years the quantity of goods on offer has more than trebled; from pretty clothes and costume jewellery to interesting art and crafts to include beautiful wooden carved items.
Smaller Earth top tip: Surprisingly, it is normal to bargain the prices here, the vendors will deliberately suggest a high price so that you can barter with them in a friendly way.
4. Find a Spot to Read a Book.
Take it easy in the most tranquil of settings, especially if you are staying on the outskirts of town - relax, recharge, find yourself, but most of all read a book.
There's a great English bookshop in town, if you need it, with both new and used books. In fact, it has been there for many years; and once you have read your book you can exchange it with another one at a 50% reduction.
Ubud is one of my favourite places in the world to sit and read a book, overlooking the lush green rice fields, with only the sound of the birds in the background.
5. Meander Around the Interesting Town.
Head out early in the morning when only the roosters and the locals are up and about, and explore this interesting town as you admire the Balinese architecture that rubs shoulders with modern shop fronts and galleries. Wander around the various temples in the town such as Pura Tama Saraswati with its pretty lily ponds and take photographs without the crowds.
You will have noticed both in your accommodation and as you wander around, that everywhere you go, on the edge of the pavement, on steps, in temples; are small squares made from leaves filled with a colourful assortment of flowers, sometimes food, and often with an incense stick laid across. They are religious offerings called Canang Sari and are an important Hindu tradition that is done daily in Bali. At this time of the morning, you will see locals clearing them away to make room for new ones, and others carrying fresh ones to put out.
After you have explored the town, head off to one of the many restaurants for breakfast, and in Ubud, there is no shortage of choice, from traditional and inexpensive Balinese food to vegan and more modern establishments selling western food; but I recommend you opt for the local cuisine, plus its cheaper too.
6. Admire Breathtaking Rice Fields.
Ubud is an ideal base to visit the iconic rice fields that Bali is so well known for. The beauty of these rice terraces lies not only in their dense green colour, lush vegetation and palm trees generously dotted about but in how they cascade in layers down the hillside.
One of the more popular ones is Tegalalang, about twenty minutes drive from Ubud, and whilst stunning it has become somewhat over commercialized; with not only too many vendors but also too many crowds. However, it does have an amazing huge swing, that you need to be strapped into. You will have to queue up for some time to use it though; but for the experience, it will be worth it.
Jatiluwih rice terraces are also stunning but a little further at a one and a half hour drive away, or alternatively head to the Kajeng rice field, just a ten minutes walking distance from town.
7. Take a Class.
Immerse yourself in local arts, crafts and culture. Ubud has always been renowned for being the centre for arts and crafts on the island, with traditional batik painting classes being popular. However, today the amount of classes on offer has vastly expanded; from various art, and styles of painting to wood carving, ceramics, jewellery making and so much more, the list is extensive. Cooking classes are also now big in Ubud, so you will be spoilt for choice.
You can even take a traditional Balinese dance class, but if you do not fancy that you can still opt for the authentic cultural dance experience and go to watch a show. Held outdoors in the Surawati temple grounds in the town, during the evenings, it adds to the whole atmospheric experience.
Whilst on the subject of classes I cannot fail to mention yoga, and in Ubud, it has taken off like a storm. There are many places that offer this and what makes it so wonderful to do yoga here is that you could not get a better view; the classes are usually set in an open-air building overlooking peaceful and beautiful rice fields, perfect.
8. Chase Waterfalls.
It is surprising how many waterfalls one island has, and the good news is that many are within easy reach of Ubud. Grab your swimwear, and a towel, and spend the day chasing waterfalls.
Usually set in beautiful, lush jungle, they make for an awesome place to go, and a few can be visited in one day. You will be surprised how different each one is.
Three of the better-known ones nearer to Ubud include Tegenungan, Tibumana and Tukad Cepung, and a couple more hidden ones, so often less crowded, are Bangkiang Djardan and Kanto Lampo. Admission usually costs anything from 5,000 to 10,000 Indonesian rupiah and most allow swimming.
9. Visit Some of the Many Temples.
A trip to Bali is not complete without visiting at least one temple, and whilst you can find some on your doorstep in Ubud, there a few a little further afield that are well worth a visit. The island itself has an abundance, here are a few suggestions not too far from town.
Gunung Kawi is an ancient temple and one of the oldest, nestled deep in a lush valley amidst rice fields and a flowing river. As you head down steep steps leading to it, you can not help but feel that you are in the deepest of jungle. The buildings are ruins with moss growing over parts, which adds to its mystique. Another popular ancient temple is Goa Gajah known as the Elephant Temple.
Like all temples here though, vendors line the outskirts to sell goods. It is mandatory to cover your arms and wear a sarong when inside all temples in Bali, if you haven't bought one in Ubud market don't worry you can hire one at the temple itself and plenty of staff are on hand to show you how to wear it correctly.
If you are only going to visit one temple, then try to make it Tirta Empul, often referred to as the Holy Water Temple, where both locals and tourists flock. Here you will find a pool with several water spouts, and the locals practice a tradition of purification, praying and dipping their head under the water. Tourists are welcome to get into the pool and partake, and many do but remember to be respectful at all times and don't splash around.
For the full experience, you can hire a guide within the temple for a small fee and they will explain the tradition, help you make a flower offering and teach you the exact ritual practised. It is common to see many tourists taking part in this.
Smaller Earth top tip: I recommend you take your own sarong if visiting this temple, so that you can get it wet.
10. Take a Cycle Tour Through the Beautiful Countryside.
In recent years cycling tours around the countryside in the Ubud area have become increasingly popular and a pleasant way to enjoy the rice fields and jungle landscape. There are many companies in the town offering both half and full day guided tours, some include visiting a local village, a temple and a restaurant for lunch; or even further afield to a volcano.
If you are feeling energetic you can even do a combined trip where you do cycling in the morning and white water rafting in the afternoon.
Whether you want peace and tranquillity, in which case stay on the quieter outskirts of town, especially in high season, or a more lively atmosphere amidst the hustle and bustle, you may even find accommodation with a pool; one thing for sure is that it is not hard to find cheap accommodation.
There is a multitude of excursions, bookable in town, that include the places mentioned but I highly recommend you hire a personal driver and car; a popular thing to do in Ubud. Not only will you cover more ground and see a few different places; you can leave early, and beat the crowds to ensure you get that perfect Instagram shot. Usually, at your accommodation, they will be able to recommend a trustworthy driver and at around 600,000 Indonesian rupiah, it is well worth treating yourself.
As for the locals, I can only describe them as not only extremely welcoming, but happy, smiling people that often possess a great sense of humour.
However you choose to spend your time, you cannot fail to be captivated by the allure of Ubud, and if nothing else it will leave you wishing you could stay longer.