After an amazing time in Flores and the beautiful Komodo National Park, where went scuba diving and visited Komodo dragons, it was time to check out Bali and see what all the fuss was about. We already spent a night in Kuta, an area in south Bali, and weren’t too impressed by the city that was overrun by tourists. We would head to a quieter area not far from Denpasar this time, a place called Ubud.
We planned to head to Ubud from Bali Denpasar Airport and after looking into different options how to get there, we decided to take an Uber (use code 9wdbwue when you sign up for a free ride!). The fare for the hour long drive was around $9, and it would have been the same price for two people to go by minibus with the company Perama. A taxi would have been more than double the price after haddling from what we had been told. Despite Ubud only being 30km north from Denpasar Airport, it took us an hour and a half to get there. Our homestay, Pande Guest House, turned out to be a great choice. The family was super nice, the rooms clean, and it was only $11 a night.
Ubud seemed a little nicer than Kuta and had a sort of hippie vibe to it, with tons of vegetarian/vegan cafes, yoga studios and art shops. Most restaurants on the two main street are quite expensive (mains starting at more than $5) and it took us a while to find something decently priced. If you’re up for a quiet night, the Paradise restaurant, has a big cinema room where they show different movies every day. Tickets cost about $4 and that can be used toward food or drinks, which are all vegetarian or vegan and quite pricey. The movie theater was pretty nice with comfortable seats and couches where you can eat your dinner while watching a movie.
Ubud Monkey Forest
One of the main draws for us to come to Ubud was visiting the Monkey Forest. This Hindu temple complex is also home to hundreds of macaque monkeys, which are fed and taken care but can roam freely in and out of the complex. The monkey forest is only a short walk from Ubud’s main street and for a small entrance fee of roughly $3 you get to wander through the temple complex and sanctuary.
Only a few meters after the entrance we were greeted by a group of monkeys hanging around a few women who were selling bananas to the tourists to feed the monkeys. The people who bought them were in for a surprise – the moment the bought the bananas various monkeys starting jumping on top of them and fiercely grabbing them out of their hands. A few girls got pretty upset and scared and tried to get the monkeys off of them. We watched that spectacle for a bit before walking further into the sanctuary. Apart from tons of monkeys, there are a few beautiful Hindi temples and an old stone bridge with beautiful carvings and tree roots hanging above it, which made us feel like we were in a jungle rather than in the middle of a town.
We walked around Ubud Monkey Forest for almost two hours, as we couldn’t get enough of watching the monkeys play. A lot of them had cute little babies, which made it even harder to eventually leave the place.
Tegallalang Rice Terraces
Next on our list were the most popular rice terraces in Bali, the Tegallalang Rice Terraces. The terraces are only about 10km north of Ubud and you can get there by renting a motor bike (the cheapest option) or hiring a driver to take you there by car. After our last experience riding a motor bike on Flores Island and the intimidating traffic in Bali, we decided to hire a driver to take us to a few places around Ubud. The owner of our homestay organized a driver for us for $30 for the day.
After about 20 minutes we arrived at the rice terraces. We had to pay a small entrance fee of around 80 cents to some guys sitting on the side of the road. The terraces could be seen just from the side of the road and there were tons of small shops and restaurants all catering to the masses of tourists that are typical for Bali. We headed down to the terraces from the road to get a better look and wander around them for a bit. Once we had come down from the one hillside and crossed a small foot bridge, a lady asked for a “donation” to be allowed to continue on further into the rice fields. She expected something like 10,000 rupiah each, which equals about 80 cents, but she settled for 10,000 total without a fuss.
We walked a little further up the terraces on the other side, before running into the next person who was blocking the path and wanted a donation to continue. At that point we decided to just take the view in from where we were and then walk back. In the meantime tons of other tourists had arrived, which made the decision to head back easy.
Bali Pulina Coffee Plantation
From the rice terraces our driver offered to take us to a coffee plantation, where we could try the famous Luwak Coffee. This coffee is called the most expensive on earth, and is so special because the coffee berries are eaten by a civet (Bahasa: luwak) and then the coffee beans are taken from their droppings and further processed.
Traditionally luwak coffee, also called cat poo coffee by people less familiar with it, was special because the luwak would choose the best berries, which meant the best coffee. Nowadays the luwaks are typically kept in small cages and fed whatever berries the plantation chooses, making the coffee roughly the same as if it hadn’t been eaten in the first place. People say the fermentation in the stomach of the luwak changes the flavor and justifies the cost, but that has mostly been debunked. The beautiful coffee farm was a bit less so as we passed the luwak cages, but we found the rest of the place to be really enjoyable.
Ethically drinking luwak coffee is dubious at best, however with one cup only costing $3 at this coffee farm and with David’s fondness of good coffee, he decided to try it for the first and last time in his life. The coffee was really good, however so was the other Balinese coffee they served. The coffee farm grew its own cocoa, coffee, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, lemon grass, and tons of other ingredients that they used in their coffee and teas. A free tray of eight different coffee and teas was brought out, along with the $3 cup of luwak coffee. The various types of coffee and tea were all amazing and fresh, and the entire business model behind the restaurant portion of the farm is to generate sales in the shop on your way out.
Despite seeing the poor luwaks isolated in excessively small cages, we enjoyed the rest of our time at the farm. The view over the plantation below was interesting as it was terraced similar to rice fields. On our way out I had to take a seat in the awesome tree chair they had, making me feel like I was in a nicer version of Game of Thrones as the queen.
Goa Gajah – Elephant Cave
While temples are abundantly easy to find in Bali, the island is almost entirely Hindu and has thousands of temples in every direction, Goa Gajah is definitely unique. The temple was built in the 9th century and was excavated in the 1950s. From the outside the temple is an elaborate stone carving, with an open mouth in the face where you can enter.
Inside of the temple is a small cave with carvings where offerings can be made. Although the cave is small, it’s interesting to think about the history of the place as you walk through. Outside of the cave are a few fountains that drop into pools. When we visited there were massive fish swimming in the extremely shallow pools, and they often had to swim on their sides since it was so shallow.
It was hot outside and a nearby waterfall, Tegenungan Waterfall, was next on our list. The waterfall is located south of Ubud, a short drive from the Elepant Cave. Ubud isn’t a quiet place or close to being off the beaten path, and as soon as we parked we were greeted by tons of other cars and tourists. The falls were a short walk down some stairs past tons of makeshift restaurants. As it was rain season the water flow was pretty high and the had a brownish color to them.
Tegenungan Waterfall was quite beautiful, but the throngs of tourists in the pool of the falls and on top of them took away from the experience. There was a small paths and stairs on the side of the falls but somebody had set up a stall and was demanding another 10,000 rupiah to go any further. We didn’t see the point in paying more money just to stand at the top with all the other tourists, so we just had a quick dip in the pool to cool off.
Before leaving Ubud we were told we’d have to see a traditional dance. If you walk around on one of the main streets in town, tons of people will approach you and try to sell you a ticket to one of the shows. The different shows locations all seemed to offer similar dances and performances. We decided to buy a ticket to one of the cheaper performances (we paid around $7 each), which would show Legong and Barong dances. There are multiple different Balinese traditional dances, Legong is performed by young women and girls dressed in traditional dresses, and Barong depicts a mythical battle between good and evil.
The Legong dance was first, and had a single dancer performing before being joined by three more. The music was as much of the highlight as the dancers for us. The musicians banged on a much more sophisticated variant of a xylophone and drums in unison while the dancers spun around.
The Barong dance was a bit hard to follow as it’s a story with some spoken words in Balinese. We had read the synopsis before and could roughly figure out what was happening, but often we were lost. Some of the costumes were ornate and traditional, while some were plastic masks that looked like they came from a cheap Halloween store, which may be partially because we chose a less expensive performance.
While Ubud and Kuta may not have been quite the kinds of places we like to travel, we still found quite a bit to like about Ubud. If you can see past the hordes of tourists it has a lot of nice things to see, and the cost of accommodation is still very low. Bali ended up being more of a launching point to see the other, much more adventurous islands nearby in our case, but Ubud is still worth a few days if you can spare them. Our next destination on Java was one of the main reasons we came to Indonesia in the first place, to hike up the active Ijen volcano and descend into the crater to see the blue fire that burns there!