Ubud has probably been the best part of Bali. Ubud might not be as famous as Kuta, but it is surely a place that is loved by many. While Ubud might have been a long-time favorite among tourists, it recently received a publicity stimulus from the movie Eat Pray Love. From Italy where she reacquainted her passion for food and life, Liz (starring Julia Roberts) headed to India in search for spiritual answer before landing herself in Bali. Ubud is an inextricable part of Liz’s journey in Bali where she eventually found the love of her live and regained her balance in life. In her book, Liz speaks affectionately about Ubud and how she met many friends such as Ketut Liyer (her spiritual guru), Wayan (her healer), Mario and Robin (from the Bumi Sehat Foundation).
Ubud really is a phenomenal place where unique traditions, pristine greenery, terrace rice fields and exquisite arts blend harmoniously.
Daytime activities are plenty. If you have booked yourself a room / villa in one of the splendid hotels such as Four Seasons, Alila Ubud, Ubud Hanging Garden, Kupu Kupu Barong, Samaya (and the list goes on), you would be pampered by the comfort and luxury that would probably make you think twice or thrice before stepping out of the hotel. While these hotels are perfect for honeymoons and perfect indulgence, they are not too friendly to your pockets and probably not a very clever plan if you intend to truly discover Ubud and spend most of your days out of your room. The next best accommodation alternatives such as Tepi Sawah, Bali Rich, The Mansion (and the list goes on) are not bad at all and this could easily slash your accommodation budget by half. If you have an exhaustive list of activities on your itinerary and few hours are all you have to stay in the room, even budget-friendlier alternatives are available that cost as little as 30-40USD a night.
Ubud is most famous for its duck delicacies – Bebek Bengil and Bebek Betutu. There are many places where you can try them, but since I am a vegetarian, I am not able to give any recommendation. One of the must-try experience while in Ubud is a lunch by the rice field. Many restaurants offer a dining experience by the rice field (and Tepi Sawah is popular among artists) with some of them offering peculiar view of the rice field. The feeling is exhilarating.
If you are an animal lover or a city guy who lives in brick jungle everyday, you may want to visit the Monkey Forest. Here, you can see the wildlife habitat of monkeys. Monkeys are generally notorious for their rascal behaviors and monkeys here is of no exception. While the monkeys here are known to be less atrocious than those in places such as Uluwatu, precaution is always better. If you decided to visit the forest, my best advice is to take off all valuables – chains, bangles, hairbands, sunglasses (they can tell if it is Oakley sunglasses), caps (they know if it is Nike) – and your risk of material loss is much reduced.
Ubud art market is another popular spot among tourists. A wet market at dawn and an art market during the day. At Ubud art market, you can find almost everything that Bali has to offer – from colorful handmade bangle to necklace, from rattan bag to decorative, from Balinese sarong (clothes) to natural aroma-therapeutic soap and from kitchen utensils to herbs essentials. Do be warned that ferocious bargaining is a must. If you felt that you’ve been cheated, do not worry. There is a tourist police station right next to the market. You can lodge a complain there and the unlike many other places in Indonesia, the police officers there would be happy to help you (at no cost of course).
If you are an outdoor guy or you want to get close to Mother Nature, cycling is something that you can add to your checklist. Bicycle rental is common in Ubud. For Rp. 50,000 (less than USD5), you can rent a bike for the whole day. Normal biking trail starts early in the morning when the weather is relatively cooler, the roads are less congested and of course the air is at its freshest and ends depending on how much time you have and how much you want to see. Imagine riding through the scenic mountain, passing by the green rice fields, watching ducks marching, passing by the Ayung river, listening to the gushing river current, watching children bath and play. A vitalizing experience indeed!
When the sun comes down and nighttime sets in, head your way down to catch one of the theatrical traditional dance performances. One long-time and still popular dance is the Legong dance. The origin of Legong dance dates back to early 19th century. Each Legong dance performance displays an intricate mix of finger, footwork, eyes and gestures movements. Another popular performance is the Barong dance. The main character in none other than the mythical Barong itself, which today is still regarded as a sacred character by the Balinese. In brief, the show tells a story about the fight between good and evil. To tourists spectators, Barong dance might just be a theatrical show. But to Balinese, Barong dance is part of their religious ceremonies. Nonetheless, immense rituals and preparations are performed before each Barong dance show. What makes it so mystical is the fact that real priests are involved and many of the casts are really possessed by spirits to make them immune against the knives that are used in later part of the show. It is said that to get rid of the evil possession, they have to gobble black chickens after the show.
Kecak fire dance is another spectacular traditional dance. Each performing troupe consists of at least 100 performing crews. Kecak dance shows a mix of sights and sounds – from the subtle movement of Balinese lady dancer to the mass movement, from the spellbinding chant to the sound of gamelan. Despite being shown almost every night, Kecak fire dance still continue to fascinate its audience even until today.
Whether you are looking to recharge your romance, or looking for an avenue to distress yourself, or an exotic lunch picnic by the rice field, Ubud is probably one of few fascinating places in the world with something for everyone. Truly, Ubud has managed to retain its Balinese root while transforming itself to become one of the tourist magnet of the world.