Close to the center of Bali is a city with a history that goes back to the 9th century and its currently famous as an art and yoga town. It’s the city of Ubud, which is surrounded on all sides by rice fields and used to be a place where the sick and weak were sent to heal. This spiritual town is where many of Bali’s religious rituals and practices were founded, when a Javanese priest came to the area in the 9th century. In today’s time it’s still a very interesting place to visit and it attracts a lot of artists, yoga practitioners and tourists.
Ubud is about 2 hours away from the airport and the busy Kuta area. The road to Ubud is a two way street for the most part where many slow trucks are driving around, so it takes some time and patience to reach it.
Ubud itself is quite crowded on most days, even in the low season. Many of the streets in Ubud are one way, which can make it a little hard to navigate through the city on a bike or in a car.
It’s still very visible that this town was once a nice and quiet Sunday town. It does get harder to see Ubud this way, with all the busloads full of tourists coming in everyday. There are at least 5 places that I think are worth visiting in Ubud, so I’ve listed them below.
Hiking the Campuhan Ridge Walk is very popular with tourists, which is exampled by its number one rank on Tripadvisor’s things to do in Ubud. The trail is located on the ridge of a couple of hills that’s passing through an area called Campuhan, hence its name. There are very beautiful views to the left and right side of the trail, which makes the hike very rewarding.
The beginning of Campuhan Ridge Walk, overlooking Ubud cottages
Although there are some steep parts when going up some of the hills, the whole walk is not that demanding and can also be done by people that aren’t extremely fit. The total length is 3 kilometers.
The hot sun, that’s almost always present around Bali, can make the hike a little harder because there is very little shade. I did get burned up a little bit after the walk, even though I put some sunscreen on.
The Campuhan trail is close to the busy Ubud area, but the trail itself is pretty quiet. It’s a very relaxing walk and at the end there are a couple of cheap shops selling fresh fruit juices. They cost about 15,000 Rupiah (1 EUR) and they also sell Indonesian dishes.
This is one of the very old temple areas around Ubud, built all the way back in the 9th century and it’s been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1995. There is a prominent cave at the entrance, that has very impressive stone carvings. The cave can be entered and it contains religious artifacts.
The main figure that’s displayed in the carvings is believed to be an elephant with its mouth wide open and that’s the reason why it’s called The Elephant Cave.
The Elephant Cave has been carved out in the 11th century and it’s interesting to see what people have been able to make during this time period. In front of The Elephant Cave is a bathing pool that was discovered in 1950, which is relatively recent.
The bathing pool is in front of the Elephant Cave
While walking up to the ticket office of Goa Gajah, many people will offer to sell you a sarong for about 20,000 Rupiah. They will say that you need this to enter the area, which is only partially true. Entrance to the area is just 15,000 Rupiah (1 EUR) and a sarong is included.
Many guides will offer their services in the area and sometimes will just start giving their information without introduction.
Going a little downhill from the Elephant Cave, there is a garden area that is very green and beautiful. This is the Buddhist part of the area while the Elephant Cave is in the Hindu part. Once there was a big statue here but it collapsed during an earthquake. The remaining pieces are still laying in the river, at the bottom of a little waterfall.
There is a little temple located in the area, when going up a stairs with a friendly old man waving you in. He wants to do some praying rituals with the tourists but expects some money at the end. Nothing is for free in Bali.
There’s also a sign out here that points to another temple but it’s located somewhere far out in the jungle. I tried to go there but returned after about 20 minutes walking, after several oncoming people told me that it’s not worth going to.
The Monkey Forest is, obviously, a forest filled with monkeys. It’s not hard to find because the monkeys are roaming around the parking lots and the street surrounding the forest, which is called Monkey Forest Street.
It would be a bad idea to carry around too many things here because the monkeys are always looking for anything even remotely edible. People who have food in their handbags shouldn’t be surprised to be chased around the forest by some hungry monkeys.
The main forest area has a pond where the monkeys are walking around and take a bath sometimes. It’s entertaining to watch them monkeying around but pretty boring also after a while. There is, fortunately, another area which is very beautiful and it can be reached by a centuries old, stone dragon bridge.
The Holy Bathing Temple in the foreground, the stone dragon bridge in the background
The stone bridge passes right through a banyan tree and overlooks a stream of water that’s flowing underneath it. This bridge is another good example of the stone carving skills that people in this area possessed, some hundred years ago. The bridge leads up to The Holy Bathing Temple.
It had been raining very hard the day I went to the forest, so the river stream passing here was very wild and noisy. It also brought in a lot of dirty, muddy water. There is a stone pathway passing along the stream for about 100 meters in this area where you’re surrounded by cliffs.
It’s nice to walk around a bit here, peacefully, not having to worry about monkeys jumping on your back.
Unlike the tourist hotspot areas in Bali, like Kuta and Seminyak, there are still a lot of rice fields to be found around Ubud. Some of them are on a level field while others are terraced, which always makes for a beautiful sight. One of the more famous terraced rice fields are the ones in Tegallalang.
The Tegallalang rice fields are only a 10 minute drive away from Ubud center. The good thing about this place is that you can experience the rice fields from up close, as there are several pathways going across it.
The bad thing about it, is that it’s a relatively small area with many people trying to sell all kinds of stuff. There are more beautiful rice fields available in Bali where practically no tourists are, but they are further away and not as easy to get to.
I found another area with some rice fields about 5 minutes walking away from the busy Ubud center area. It’s not as spectacular as Tegallalang because it’s in a flat area. Still nice to see though and I had the place to myself.
Rice fields in the front with Mount Batur in the background, covered in clouds
The busy street that’s intersecting Ubud is called Jalan Raya Ubud, which literally means Main Road of Ubud. it’s a very touristy and overcrowded road where traffic is jammed all day long. It’s also clear when you look around in this street, that more than about half of the people walking around are foreigners.
Jalan Raya Ubud has many restaurants, guesthouses, some temples and many other things that attract tourists. Japanese tourists love the area, especially the Royal Palace. It can be very challenging to make a photo there without a couple of Japanese people getting in the shot.
The Royal Palace, which is located about halfway Jalan Raya Ubud was built about 2 centuries ago and is free of entrance. Some members of the royal family are still living here, which makes some of the areas inaccessible for the public. The public place of the palace is where dance rituals are being performed in the evening hours. These can’t be visited for free though.
Not far from the Royal Palace, Pura Saraswati can be found with a beautiful lotus pond in the front. The area in front of this temple is also used for dancing rituals at night but it can be visited for free in the daytime. The temple itself is closed though. A restaurant was set up right at the border of the pond, which must be a very relaxing spot to enjoy a drink.
What’s always interesting to me is that the most beautiful tourist places often don’t have the most visitors. Goa Gajah was, in my opinion, one of the most interesting and beautiful ones, but there were barely a handful of people there, while some seemingly standard temples have people tripping over each other to make a picture.
I enjoyed visiting Ubud but I wouldn’t like to stay there as its a little hectic nowadays. There is a wide variety of things to see and participate in, but I’m also happy to return to a more quiet place at the end.