Ubud, Bali, once a mostly serene “hippie” destination for travelers interested in yoga, healthy food, and fresh air, has grown into one of the busiest and most popular destinations in Bali. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love — and the 2010 film of the same name — permanently pushed Ubud to the forefront of the tourist radar.
But despite the popularity, green rice terraces still cling to the edges of town, defiant against impending development. Vegetarian eateries and hipster cafes serving excellent coffee abound. Boutique shops showcase Bali’s famous craftsmanship. Hindu architecture and peaceful temples compensate for increased consumerism with an air of ancient authority.
You’ll want a few days to get the most from a visit to Ubud, but these tips will expedite the process of getting to know Bali’s cultural epicenter.
Walking in Ubud
Despite the tranquil reputation of Ubud, simply walking around town can be frustrating at times. Jammed traffic — vehicles and pedestrians — and severely broken sidewalks require a bit of energy to navigate. You may find yourself wishing you had packed combat boots rather than flip-flops.
The sidewalks around Ubud are notoriously uneven; broken drainage holes with jagged metal bars pose hazards that injure travelers every year. Transportation touts often congregate on sidewalks along with people selling things. The twice-daily Hindu offerings in small baskets collect in front of businesses and have to be stepped around.
Before stepping off the sidewalk to avoid an obstacle, cast a quick glance over your shoulder to ensure an impatient motorbike driver isn’t zipping along the curb in your direction.
Using ATMs in Ubud
ATMs that accept the usual bank networks are found throughout Ubud. Using an ATM attached to a bank branch is always the safest as there is less chance that a card-skimming device has been installed. Also, ATMs that are physically near their bank sometimes offer higher daily limits.
ATMs often display the currency denominations available. Whenever possible, use machines that dispense 50,000-rupiah banknotes: they are easier to break than the 100,000-rupiah notes. Paying for a cheap coffee with a 100,000-rupiah note is bad form; vendors may have to run for change.
- See what you need to know about the currency in Bali and how to avoid problems.
Nightlife in Ubud
Unlike Gili Trawangan in neighboring Lombok's Gili Islands, Ubud isn’t exactly billed as a “party” place. Regardless, you’ll find a handful of fun places for socializing. Restaurants throughout town advertise happy hours with a set list of cocktails on offer. Bands and guitarists entertain at some places in early evenings during happy hour.
After dinner, things get a little more interesting, particularly at the string of bars around the soccer field located at the north end (closest to Jalan Raya Ubud, the main road) of Jalan Monkey Forrest, at the intersection with Jalan Dewista. CP Lounge is a large, popular late-night place with shisha, live entertainment, pool tables, open-air hangouts, and an enclosed dance floor with DJ. Prices for drinks more closely match what you would expect at home, not in Southeast Asia.
Tip: Although a very popular spirit because it's cheaper than other options, arak is responsible for many deaths per year.
Shopping in Ubud
Haggle, haggle, and haggle some more. Ubud is overflowing with boutique shops and artisan galleries, however, asking prices start several times the value of the actual item. Don’t stress: negotiating prices is a part of the culture and can be a fun interaction when done correctly.
The Ubud Market is a chaotic tourist market of real, fake, cheap, expensive, and everything between. You’ll definitely need to negotiate to score good deals. Begin by following these tips:
- Arrive early; merchants are sometimes more inclined to meet your price if it’s the first sale of the day.
- Shop around; you’ll often find the same items for less deeper inside the market.
- Negotiate hard but always give a little on the final price to help vendors save face.
- Buy as many of your souvenirs as possible in the same place for more bargaining leverage.
Tip: Begin a transaction by asking bisa kurang? (sounds like: bee-sah koo-rong) or “Can discount?”
Eating in Ubud
Ubud has an abundance of good eateries, vegetarian cafes, juice shops, and European-style restaurants. You won’t have any trouble finding healthy food, although menus are a little pricey by Southeast Asian standards.
For a cheap, authentic Indonesian meal, consider eating in the warungs or find a Padang rumah makan (eating house). You can enjoy a plate of rice, piece of fish or chicken, vegetables, boiled egg, and fried tempeh for around 25,000 rupiah (US $2) or less! Look for eateries with food displayed in the window; simply point at what you want to put on your plate of rice.
Tip: There is an excellent Padang eatery on the north end of Jalan Hanoman (left side when facing Jalan Raya Ubud, the main road).
Other Tips for Saving Money in Ubud
- Minimarts along Jalan Monkey Forest aren't all flat priced. A Coke or bottle of water in "tourist" minimarts may cost as much as three times more than regular price at a shop just down the street.
- If yoga is going to be a big part of your visit to Ubud, ask up front to book a package or bundle of lessons rather than paying each time. You'll often receive a discount for committing to several classes; sometimes accommodation is discounted with yoga bundles at places such as Yoga Barn.
- Many homestays and guesthouses in Ubud offer free breakfast — choose a place that does and take advantage! See some tips for choosing a hotel in Bali.
- Walk directly to the Perama bus station to save the commission charged by your guesthouse for booking a ticket. The same applies to hiring private drivers.
Renting Motorbikes in Ubud
Much of Ubud’s charm lurks in the green areas just outside of town. In 15 minutes or less, you can be watching white herons pick through verdant rice terraces. Many good homestays and eateries are located just outside of walking range.
Only travelers experienced with the ins and outs of driving in Asia should consider renting motorbikes. Traffic in Ubud becomes chaotic. Don’t accept offers from people offering to rent you their personal motorbikes — these sometimes result in expensive scams. Instead, ask at your accommodation for a more legitimate rental. Take photos of the motorbike and point out any existing damage and scratches to the owner so that you won’t be held responsible later.
Although many travelers drive without one, you’re supposed to have an international driver’s license to drive in Indonesia. The local police are renowned for stopping travelers on the outskirts of town. If stopped, you’ll be asked to pay a “fine” on the spot — often all the money you have in your pocket. Keep money in two separate places in case you are stopped, and always wear a helmet.
You’ll find rural scenery, vibrant rice terraces, and small craftsmen villages along the three roads that head north from Ubud. Driving north toward the Kintamani region of Bali is eventually rewarded with great views of Mount Batur — a big volcano — and its adjacent lake. You’ll be expected to pay 30,000 rupiah to enter the Kintamani region. Dip into one of the hot springs in the area to relax a bit before driving back. Stop off at one of the many orchards along the way to buy fresh oranges and other fruit for the cheapest prices on the island.
If you prefer to stay closer to town, consider driving to Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave), a Hindu temple in a cave that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cave is only around 10 minutes southeast of Ubud.
Tip: To save money and get better engine performance, fuel up at proper petrol stations rather than buying bottles of gasoline from vendors on the side of the road.
Dealing With the Monkeys in Ubud
The famous Monkey Forest in the southwest corner of town is unsurprisingly filled with photogenic monkeys. But the mischievous macaques don’t stay within the confines of the forest — they are free to roam and often hang around Jalan Monkey Forest just outside the reserve. The monkeys are well trained at efficiently robbing tourists, and you’ll definitely be targeted if you walk past the forest with food. Even a water bottle may attract attention.
Snacks in a purse or daybag can be quickly detected by the vigilant monkeys that then team up within seconds to investigate. Don’t play tug-of-war with a monkey that grabs onto something; if bitten, you'll have to go for a series of rabies shots!
You’ll need proper dress (covered knees and shoulders) to enter the monkey forest because of the several Hindu temples located inside. Be careful with phones, cameras, backpacks, and other belongings inside — the monkeys are curious and regularly climb on tourists.
Entering Temples in Ubud
You’ll find a handful of interesting Hindu temples dotted around Ubud, although they may be closed for prayer times and special days on the Hindu calendar. Don’t wear shorts if you plan to explore the temples.
Men and women are expected to cover themselves with a sarong; some temples provide them for free at the entrance while others will rent you one for a small fee. Always remove your shoes before entering a religious place.
Getting Out of Ubud
Unfortunately, bemos — Indonesia's dirt-cheap, shared transportation option — have largely disappeared from the island. Tourists are pushed toward using private taxis, obviously the most expensive option, for moving between destinations in Bali. Don't despair, there are some options for saving money when it's time to leave Ubud:
- Check for buses at the Perama station on the left side of Jalan Hanoman after it splits away from Jalan Monkey Forest and becomes Jalan Raya Pengosekan Ubud. Look for a simple, green sign with covered bus stand and ticketing counter.
- Consider using Grab, a ride-sourcing app in Southeast Asia similar to Uber. If not already a member, you could get enough free credit for the first ride just by signing up!
- Travelers often visit the same places in Bali and may be going your direction. Ask around to see if anyone is interested in sharing a taxi to split costs.
- The airport serves as somewhat of a hub for public buses. If you absolutely can't get a ride somewhere, you can always get back to the airport then go from there.