The shopping scene in Central Bali, including its main tourist hub of Ubud, is a pale shadow of South Bali's as far as the number of shopping malls and warehouse outlets are concerned. But Central Bali, less taken by the temptations of modernity, possesses a vibrant retail scene of its own.
Start shopping at the sprawling Pasar Ubud at Ubud's town center, then explore the streets radiating away from it - Jalan Monkey Forest, in particular, is lined with boutiques selling upmarket soaps, jewelry, and preserves.
Drive out of Ubud and you'll soon reach a number of craftsmen's villages, where generations of villagers have made a tidy living manufacturing jewelry, sculpture, and textiles for Bali's noble and priestly class. These days, they've turned their skills to supplying tourism- and export-driven demand. Their wares are available at any shopping mall in South Bali, but if you want to get fine gold jewelry or exquisite wood carvings at wholesale prices, visit their workshops a few minutes' drive from Ubud to snag a bargain.
Shopping at Ubud Market (Pasar Ubud)
Generations of Ubud's nobles served as patrons to Balinese artists and artisans, a role they continue to this day. From the beginning, the craftsmen would create their handiwork in their villages, then bring the finished products to sell at Pasar Ubud, next to the Ubud royal palace.
Prices are relatively low at Pasar Ubud, due to the short distance from workshop to market and the absence of middlemen. Tourists can walk into Pasar Ubud from the entrances along Jalan Raya Ubud and browse among two levels of shops selling clothes, paintings, perfumes, incense, leatherwork, and interesting souvenirs like bottle openers shaped like penises.
Only part of Pasar Ubud is properly called the "art market," more specifically the western section, which is open from 8 am to 6 pm. The eastern section caters to locals, doing the thing traditional markets do: Sell meats, vegetables, and other daily necessities. It's still worth a look if you want to see how Asian traditional markets operate.
The variety of merchandise can be overwhelming. The art market sells plenty of art with traditional and religious themes, from Buddha heads to topeng masks to statues of Wisnu and Garuda. You can also pick up hand-painted kites, brightly colored sarongs, and intricately-patterned batiks. Home décor and houseware make a strong showing at Pasar Ubud, too, with a proliferation of incenses, fragrances, ceramics, wall hangings, and carved picture frames for sale.
The second floor of shops can be quite claustrophobic, as the darkened aisles are narrow and the merchandise is piled up to the ceiling. But the stores in the second story of the market may be more amenable to bargaining.
Bargaining is key. Haggling over your purchases is expected - experienced Bali shoppers know the baseline for every item on sale and try to keep prices to that level as they bargain good-naturedly with the sellers. You'll be safe by starting at 50 percent of the quoted price, then try to keep it as close to that price as you go along.
Vendors tend to be more agreeable to the first buyers of the day. Be there by 8 am to have a look around and get what you need before the tourist rush comes in at about 10 am. By then, you'll have plenty of competition and the vendors won't be as lenient.
Boutiques Along Jalan Monkey Forest
From Pasar Ubud, walk down Jalan Raya Ubud to the west to the point where it intersects with Jalan Monkey Forest. The latter road runs from north to south, downhill to the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest; both sides of the narrow lane are crammed with boutiques, shops, and cafés.
Weather willing, the shops along Jalan Monkey Forest are fun to browse: Most of them have large glass displays that make window shopping a breeze, and the artsy, back-to-nature feel of the merchandise on offer allows you to pursue retail therapy with little to no guilt.
The overall shopping experience here is quieter, cooler, and more laid-back than any retail outing in Kuta or elsewhere in South Bali. Tourists just need the presence of mind to navigate the narrow footpaths and the speeding motorcycles rushing down Jalan Monkey Forest.
Other streets connecting from Jalan Monkey Forest have a number of cafes and boutiques too. Jalan Dewi Sita branches off from Jalan Monkey Forest where the soccer field begins. As you walk further east, the road merges into Jalan Hanoman, which connects with Jalan Jembawan and Jalan Sugriwa south and east.
The merchandise on these streets can be cheaper, or its sellers more amenable to bargaining, compared to the more exclusive shops on the main road.
Art Galleries in Ubud
Ubud Art Market and the shops along Jalan Monkey Forest can provide plenty of artsy accents for around the house, but if you're in the market for expensive art, Ubud can meet that too.
Ubud has long been a haven for artists, thanks to the area's vibrant culture and the warm patronage of the local nobility. You can buy paintings, reproductions, and art books at the art galleries sprinkled throughout the countryside.
Craftsmen's Villages in Central Bali
The whole regency of Gianyar is filled with craftsmen churning out quality work for Bali's markets, shops, and boutiques. You can avoid the middleman by visiting their villages and buying the stuff straight from the source.
- Around Tegallalang and the nearby towns, you'll find plenty of wood sculpture at wholesale prices - these parts are famous for their skilled wood carvers. Their work can also be found around South Bali but at a heavy markup.
- Batubulan is the place for stone sculpture, generally hewn out of the abundant volcanic rock quarried from around Bali. You can custom-order your sculpture and have the heavy lot shipped back to your home address (volcanic rock is a bitch to carry on your flight).
- The town of Celuk makes a tidy living from churning out gold and silver jewelry. The workshops of many Balinese jewelry brands are located here, and their main road is lined with shops hawking their most recent work.
- Bamboo is the main draw for Belega and Bona: The area's workshops transform the humble grass into furniture, wind chimes, musical instruments, and bags.
The craftsmen at these towns can create your requests made to order if you show up with an idea and the money to pay for it.
You'll need to hire a car to reach these towns.