Sunday, 25 November 2018

Ubud, central Bali, Indonesia

After two very relaxing nights in the Uluwatu area of Bali (read here) and a two and a bit hour taxi, we arrived in Ubud. Centrally located Ubud is described as the cultural heart of Bali, and is a beautiful and thriving tourist area, set amongst rice terraces and nature. 

We stayed at a villa resort called Calma, which was a couple of miles out of town. The view from the dining area and pool onto the rice fields was incredible and it was a very quiet and chilled place to stay. Calma offer a regular shuttle service into town, however it was easy and pretty cheap to get a taxi to and from town, outside of the Calma shuttle hours. Ubud has an abundance of accommodation in different price ranges; it appears that many of the more spacious and quieter options are a bit further outside the hustle and bustle of the main town.

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Terrace River Pool Swing in Ubud

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Calma resort in Ubud

The main town of Ubud itself was very enjoyable to explore, with a mixture of souvenir shops and stalls, and recognizable brand name shops. As with any tourist spot, there was an element of people trying to sell you their services or wares, but it didn't feel too full on, as it can do in many places. The only strange and irritating thing we found is taxis honking their horn at you to see if you want their services, which gets a bit repetitive. The taxi to people ratio in Bali seemed to be very high! 

Ubud has so many great places to eat and drink - many of them with nice seats out the front, overlooking the street, which are perfect for people watching. Our friends Kirsty and Dan visited Bali last year and gave us some recommendations, including visiting the restaurant Kismet. As with many places in Bali, and particularly in Ubud, Kismet is a vegetarian restaurant and had so many great menu options. I've been a vegetarian for over ten years and have had mixed success with finding good veggie options in various countries I've been to. Most of the Asian countries I've visited have had a reasonable amount of veggie options, particularly Thailand, however Bali was by far the best place I've visited to have such a wide variety of veggie spots and things to eat. 

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Tirta Empul Water Temple

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Temple in Ubud

On our second day in Ubud, we booked a half day tour with a taxi driver via Calma. This seems to be the easiest and most popular way to explore the area. We had a knowledgable and funny driver named Wayan. We met several Balinese men named Wayan and later discovered that this means "first born". 

Wayan first took us to Terrace River Pool Swing, where there are several giant swings that sweep out over rice terraces, and offer some nice photo opportunities. There are several similar operations in the area (including Bali Swing) but having seen others whilst driving around, this seemed to be one of the better looking facilities. It's worth noting that Wayan asked us on the way if we'd like to go here, which we did, and as with many things on these tours, it's clear that the driver gets a commission if you go ahead with the activity. We wanted to go here and were happy with the facility, but if you have a particular location in mind, you will need to be clear with your driver where you want to go. Terrace River Pool Swing was quite expensive in the grand scheme of other costs in Bali, but we did feel safe with the high number of staff and safety equipment they had.

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Terrace River Pool Swing in Ubud

After a fun stop at the Terrace River Pool Swing, Wayan dropped us off at the Tegallalang Rice Terraces, for a self guided tour. This was a pretty and photogenic place to explore, with nice walkways looping around, up and down the rice terraces. The weather was very hot and we were pleased to stop for local coffee at a small cafe with a nice veranda overlooking the terraces.

Next stop was Tirta Empul Water Temple. This has natural spring water flowing into pools in the centre, bathing in which many people believe has healing powers. We opted to stay dry and enjoyed wandering around the grounds, which included some vibrant pools, filled with giant fish. We enjoyed our visit here, but we were disappointed that the "exit through the gift shop" consisted of a very long labyrinth of market stalls, all selling the same stuff.

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Tegallalang Rice Terraces, Ubud

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Tirta Empul Water Temple, Ubud

After lunch, we decided to head back and relax by the pool at Calma. Our friends Kirsty and Dan had highly recommended we do a Mount Batur morning sunrise trek, which we had been planning to book. This involves being picked up from your hotel at 2am, to drive to the area, climb before sunrise and have breakfast at the top of this active volcano, with (hopefully) incredible views. As much as we loved the idea of most of it, and with only a short time in Ubud, we decided we couldn't face the early start and writing off most of the next day. 

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Ketut himself at Ketut's Cooking Course, Ubud

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Emily at Ketut's Cooking Course, Ubud

As an alternative daytime activity for the next day, we booked a cooking course with Ketut's Cooking Course Bali. We've done cooking courses in Thailand and Vietnam in the past and really enjoyed them, so we thought this would be a fun way to spend part of our last full day in Ubud. Ketut's is highly rated on various sites and reasonably priced. We were picked up from our hotel and taken with other people to the local market to be shown and taste local produce. Upon arrival at his home facility, Ketut and his family welcomed us and approximately a dozen other people with welcome drinks. Ketut was a warm and funny guy, which is one of the reasons why we enjoyed this course the most of the three Asian cooking courses we've done. 

Ketut showed us how to make traditional Balinese coconut oil, which is a surprisingly simple, but laborious process. The freshly made coconut oil was used in many of the delicious dishes that Ketut and his family helped us create. After a couple of hours of culinary magic, we sat down to eat the feasts we had created, which for me was a vegetarian menu of curry, noodles, tofu peanut satay and several other small dishes. 

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Eating our creations at Ketut's Cooking Course, Ubud


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Ketut and his wife, with Emily and me, at Ketut's Cooking Course, Ubud

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Crazy spider outside Ketut's Cooking Course, Ubud

Later in the day, we headed back into the town for more exploring. We checked out the Royal Palace grounds, which is free to enter and decided we would return later in the evening to watch a traditional dance. Ubud has regular dance performances and parades, and we wanted to make sure we got to see one before we left. We sat on a rickety looking bleacher stand and enjoyed the impressive show, which was performed by many dancers, along with a large percussion band. We were also entertained by the persistence of the ladies trying to sell beer and other drinks to the audience, which although funny, did get a bit much after a while.

If you're visiting Bali, Ubud is an essential stop. We loved our short visit and easily could have filled  another couple of days of exploring in the area and enjoying more of the local food and drink spots :)

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Entrance to someones home in Ubud 

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Royal Palace in Ubud by day

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Traditional dance performance at Royal Palace, Ubud at night

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