Virtually every guidebook will describe Ubud as Bali’s cultural center. And virtually every person we spoke to who had previously been to the island recalled the town as their favorite stop. We will join the ranks.
Indeed, this popularity means congested roads as the city has experienced a huge growth in tourism (and commercialism) over the past decade, but away from the main roads we were still able to find quiet on lush, terraced paddies. We, frankly, enjoyed the mix of easily accessible shops and restaurants and serene vistas.
One of Ubud’s best known attractions is its Monkey Forest Sanctuary. We passed through on a couple of occasions—it sits about 15 minutes down the road from Palace.
The forest, with paved footpaths and a central Temple (Pura Dalem Agung Padang Tegal), is filled with long-tailed macaques—all of whom are extremely well-supplied with bananas, which one can purchase at the entrance. It’s a nice place to visit early in the morning, when shops are closed, or in the heat of the day when you are looking for shade.
I was a bit wary of feeding them—not wanting to take any chances for a scratch or bite with Hudson—and was content to observe others let the macaques scale their bodies and climb atop their heads.
The highlight, as with so many things in our lives lately, was seeing Hudson’s reaction. He loved the monkeys and immediately started clapping and mimicking their sounds.
From the monkey forest, you can either continue south into Nyuhkuning, a woodcarvers’ village, or walk back toward central Ubud on Monkey Forest Road. We usually went in that direction, stopping in at any of the shops that caught our eye.
Balinese lace is renowned the world over, and I especially tempted by the shop Uluwatu. I also loved all of the beaded baskets we saw. Our villa had baskets completely made out of white beads (which I loved and sought out for ourselves), but most are finished with bright colors and metallics.
Honestly, there was no end to the things I would have liked to take home. I ended up having two custom shirts and a dress made while I was there, but we saved the majority of our shopping for our final stop.
Everyone was exceedingly friendly, and most adults wanted to greet Hudson and hold him. At first he was a bit shy about all of the attention, but he warmed up quickly enough. This is a consideration an older child might need more advance warning for.
I had been told that Bali is an ideal place to travel with children—that the Balinese will fuss over yours and take them and entertain them while you eat. At first I thought ‘there is no way that’s happening.’ I didn’t think I’d feel comfortable. But I can’t tell you how quickly my attitude changed. On our very first day in town, for example, I stopped for a pedicure (there are opportunities for some sort of spa treatment at every turn). At first Aron took Hudson off to play. But when he came back to check on me, the women in the salon all rushed over and wanted to take him and show him around and give him food. Aron got to sit down and have tea. Um, amazing!
And this was not exceptional! In fact, children are expected to be held until a certain age—I believe 12 months but it may be fewer. And on top of being welcome anywhere, they are not necessarily expected to sit still at restaurants. Our friend’s local sitter expressed surprise at how well Hudson sat for meals (as opposed to our chasing him with bites of food). I don’t know if that’s the case for every Balinese family, but I can’t tell you how nice it is to feel like your child (as unruly as you might sometimes find him) is surpassing local expectations of behavior rather than feeling self-conscious about not meeting them in public places. It really added a value to the vacation that’s hard to quantify.
We saw many children with brooms, required for school to practice instilling a sense of pride in one’s surroundings and the virtue of cleanliness. Sweeping is a daily ritual.
In Central Ubud, Many restaurants stretch far beyond the road, with patios in back that sit on the rice fields.
One of our favorite meals in town was had at Ibu Oka, a warung (eating house) that’s justifiably famous for its Babi Guling (roast suckling pig), which is cooked fresh multiple times each day. In fact, we waited for a man to drive up with the hot, freshly roasted pig on the back of his motor bike as a previous meal cycle was ending. For about $3, you get an amazing platter that includes rice and sambal (a chili sauce with plenty of freshly diced herbs), and a helping of crackling.
In fact, we returned another day to their second, larger location—only this time we ordered extras of our favorite (most bad for you) bits.
We did our best not to contribute too heavily to the plastic bottle profusion by having Bintang and smoothies at lunch and refilling bottles when purified water was available, but I must confess that with hydration a concern we did end up buying quite a few large bottles of water. Check your guidebook to see if it has listings for filtered water suppliers to stop at while you’re out.
You can get directions from the tourist office for walks through the rice paddies within Ubud.
Our favorite walk was pretty straightforward and took us just a short distance to Sari Organik Cafe. It was nice to have a place where we could let Hudson out of the carrier to amble on his own without much worry about traffic.
We just ordered smoothies and coffee at Sari Organik, but I’ve heard they delicious salads and kebabs as well.
Another favorite restaurant stop, also well-known (and quite popular on the tourist circuit, so plan ahead), was Bebek Bengil—famous for their crispy duck. It’s a very large restaurant, but what it lacks in intimacy it makes up for in flavor and setting. I especially enjoyed getting to sit cross-legged the entire time on a raised platform while Hudson slept in the Ergo.
We had breakfast out on one occasion, at a patio that used for musical performances with a spectacular backdrop at night. We tried to order a lot of everything—savory omelets and a fried banana sweet—and I remember that they didn’t serve us each the sweet, explaining that they thought it was probably too much for breakfast. Ha!
More likely is that you’ll find a wonderful Warung with just a few tables and chairs in a kitchen, with food that you’ll remember for years and a name that you’ll never know.
Ubud is also connected to a string of smaller villages, each known by a different craft (silver in Celuk, arts and craft and shadow puppets in Sukawati, painting in Batuan, and woodcarving in Mas, for example). We took a special interest in the giant wood shops and shipped home a gorgeous piece of Saur (a fast-growing, non-endangered hardwood). You might recall that it arrived last Thanksgiving and is now our headboard.
Nyoman was incredibly helpful and entertained Hudson while we belabored our selection. The two became quite the pair during our stay!
Previously: Where we stayed in Ubud.
Next up: Ubud’s colorful markets