The Allure Of Ubud
Ubud, Bali, once a quiet village nestled among verdant rice fields that rose to inexplicable fame thanks to the book and movie "Eat, Pray, Love", has never lost its allure. While the town has evolved into a bustling tourists' hub, amidst all the new hotels, development, traffic jams and tourists' buses, you'll still be able to find the magic that makes Ubud what it truly is and the reason why folks from all over the world keep coming back.
In recent years, Ubud has gained a reputation for itself as the centre of healthy living, and with it, the establishments of yoga centres,organic restaurants and healthy lifestyle boutiques. It is also home to some world-class restaurants, cafes, hotels and villas.
Despite its tremendous growth, Ubud is still the heartland of everything cultural and artistic, and despite shops selling identical mass produced items to unknowing tourists, the reason why this town rose to fame in the first place can still be found, if you know where to look.
For decades, Ubud is a favorite destination for art connoisseurs from all over the world. The Balinese art of painting, dance, stone or wood carving truly comes alive here, apart of its unique identity. Performances like Kecak, Legong and Barong are staged every few days in hotels, banjars and temples which you can walk-in and happily watch for a small fee. Classical dance dramas like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Balinese Wayang Kulit (puppets show) and Gamelan (Balinese instrument) performances are also crowd favourites.
It may get a little overwhelming in your first couple of days in Ubud, but the beauty of this place is the fact that you need a few days to explore it properly. Despite booming growth, there are still so many interesting places and hidden nuggets of gems to discover. Plan a gallery hop, and go from one gallery to another and enjoy beautiful artwork from local artists as well as "localized bules" who have made Bali their homes, such as the renowned Antonio Blanco. Tradition stands strong and true here and royal houses proudly open their doors to visitors. Museums, art markets, temples, performances and more are enough to take your mind off the real world for a few days.
Before you call it a day, we strongly suggest that you explore the quieter side of Ubud, places away from the hustle and bustle. Of course, the best way to do this is to ditch the air-conditioned cars and buses, rent a bicycle or a motorbike, get a map and trust your instincts. Explore side streets, pathways and small roads leading into hillsides, rivers, waterfalls and verdant rice fields where children still run barefooted with kites, where flocks of ducks paddling away in the water add a touch of romantic nostalgia to the scene. These are still the best things things about Ubud, the reason why we fell in love in the first place.
Here are some of our recommendations to start with..
1. Puri Agung Ubud (Ubud Royal Palace)
Located in the center of Ubud, the Royal Palace is a prominent landmark and is usually used by tourists as a point of reference. Built in the 19th century, the palace used to be the center of government for the Ubud kingdom. Today, it opens its doors to tourists for complimentary tours, and at night, traditional dance performances complete with Gamelan Orchestras. Tickets for the evening performances are available for sale near the palace entrance in the afternoons. The Palace is also usually the selected venue for opening ceremonies of international events.
2. Taman Wanara Wana (Monkey Forest)
Taken from the Sanskrit word Wanara, which means apes and Wana, forest, the Monkey Forest is one of the more popular tourists' attractions in Ubud and a definite must-visit. Also known as the as the Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtegal, this is the place to be to watch hundreds of long-tailed macaques in their natural habitat. A walk through the stone pathways of the forest is a delight, and visitors will come across carved stone bridges, moss-covered temples and fountains. For the more adventurous, feel free to buy some fruits for sale at the entrance of the forest to feed the monkeys.
3. Ubud Art Market
If you're looking for souvenirs, then this is the place to be. Known to the locals as "Pasar Seni Ubud", the art market is located just metres away from the Royal Palace. Here, you can find items like clothing, silk, batik, wood carving, paintings and more, which are made in the neighbouring villages of Pengosekan, Tegallalang, Payangan and Peliatan.
4. Painting Palace Museum
This museum, also known as Puri Lukisan, houses some of the best collection of paintings from various schools of art and artistes including I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, Ida Bagus Nyana, Anak Agung Gde Sobrat, I Gusti Made Deblog , Mr. Rudolf Bonnet, Walter Spies and others. In this museum you'll learn how Bali's art has transformed from traditional style to modern style, as pioneered by Ubud’s artistes. Located near the Ubud Royal Palace, the museum was established in 1956 by the Education and Culture Minister of Indonesia Republic.
5. Blanco Renaissance Museum
Don Antonio Blanco was and is still known for his flamboyance. The museum, which used to be his house and studio, is located on a hilltop in Ubud and overlooks the Campuhan Valley. The land on which the museum stands was awarded to Antonio by the then King of Ubud. Now, visitors can wander through the house via guided tours to view the artiste's collection, enjoy the house's lush tropical gardens or relax at the in-house restaurant. Born in the Phillippines, Antonio Blanco received many awards for his work, which were mostly of Balinese women. The museum is open from Mondays to Sundays, 9:00am to 5:00pm and charges Rp 50,000 per entry.
6. Setia Darma House Of Masks And Puppets
This is definitely an interesting stopover while you're in Ubud; here in this museum, you can find the world's largest collection of masks and puppets housed in five traditional Joglo and Limasan houses. There are over 1,000 masks and 4,000 puppets from Indonesia, Africa, China, Europe and South America, originally collected with the main intention of preserving Indonesia's vibrant heritage. Located in the quiet village of Tegal Bingin, the museum is a perfect destination for families and is surrounded by lush tropical gardens and tranquil settings. Open Mondays to Sundays, 8:00am to 4:00pm.
7. Campuhan Ridge Walk
For those looking to experience a quiet and peaceful walk amidst unspoiled nature, then a visit to the Campuhan Ridge Walk is a definite must! More of a nature trek, this activity lets you escape the hustle and bustle of central Ubud while enjoying immaculate hillside vistas, fresh air and some amazing Instagrammable moments. Wear comfortable shoes, as this is a 9km trek. It's quite easy to find the trek's starting point; look for "Warwick Ibah Luxury Villas and Spa" where a small concrete path will lead you towards a small carpark next to a temple. Follow the signs "To The Hill" and you'll soon be enjoying your walk in no time!
8. Gunung Kawi
This 11th century temple is one of Bali's oldest and largest ancient monuments. Located in Tampaksiring, this is the site of 10 shrines which are carved directly into a 7-metre high cliffs. 5 shrines on the East are believed to be dedicated to King Udayana, his queen Mahendradatta, and their sons Airlanga, Anak Wungsu, and Marakata. The temples on the west side, across the river, are dedicated, according to the same theory, to the king's minor queens or concubines. To reach the shrines, you'd have to climb down a large number of steps and walk through a beautiful expanse of verdant rice fields before arriving at the site of the shrines. Do keep in mind that this is a holy site and visitors should wear appropriate clothing when entering.
9. Pura Tirta Empul
This is the site of a holy mountain spring and a prominent temple complex. Located in Tampaksiring, the holy spring, which is the meaning of Tirta Empul, feeds various baths, pools and ponds within the temple perimeters with fresh water regularly. Founded in 962 AD, the Balinese Hindus and visitors come to this temple for ritual purification purposes.
10. White Herons Of Petulu
Petulu, located about 2km away from central Ubud, is the site for a magnificent landings of over 20,000 white herons that nest here every evening after 5pm. It is believed that these herons are souls of the victims of the anticommunist massacres in Indonesia during the 1960s.