I love, love, love Ubud. So much so that I decided to stay here two full weeks. Why do I love Ubud so much? Funny you should ask!
One of the highlights of a stay in Ubud is seeing a performance of traditional Balinese dance. They happen nightly around town, and a walk after dark is quickly interrupted by touts selling tickets. I chose to go to a performance of the Hindu epic “The Ramayana,” at the Saraswati Temple in Central Ubud, not entirely sure what to expect. The music and chanting were haunting, and the dancing was evocative of the ancient history and culture of the Balinese people. Thankfully, I was able to follow the story thanks to the programs given out at the beginning of the show. Although these shows are often touristy, gaining an understanding of Balinese art and dance is worth it.
Multiple times a day, women (it’s always women) place small offerings of flowers, food and incense outside of their houses, places of business, and shrines. These offerings are known as “canang sari” and are a way of giving thanks and praying to the Gods. Although they are beautiful to look at, my favorite part is how everywhere I walk, I smell incense. Not overpowering incense, but a spicy, fragrant smell that gives the town a magical touch.
There are a number of Hindu temples and shrines in and around Ubud. If you wander around the city, you’ll pass several of the more minor but still beautiful temples. The most important temples are located a bit out of town but they’re easy to see on a day trip from Ubud. Goa Gajah is a temple dedicated to worshipping elephant gods and was built in the 9th century, while Tampak Siring is a still in-use Holy Spring where worshippers bathe under several different spouts. Gunung Kawi is a well-preserved complex of royal tombs dating back to the 11th century. All are worth a visit and can be done on one tour.
Warung Ibu Oka is the best place to try the Balinese specialty of suckling pig. Get the combination special dish to try all of the types of meat, although the pork skin is a real stand out. Be warned, it’s only open for lunch and even then until they run out of pigs for the day. So go early or risk missing out.
If you’re a coffee fan, make sure you go to a coffee plantation to try some Balinese coffee. Of particular interest is luwak coffee, which is made from the beans digested by the luwak (which is a bit like a Balinese raccoon). Yes, that means they take the beans from their feces and clean them before roasting them. Surprisingly, the coffee is quite good.
Get lost among the rice paddies in and around town. There are some nice viewpoints of rice terraces outside of town, but visiting them doesn’t offer the same sense of freedom that wandering the local Ubud paddies does. Walking in any direction will eventually lead to the paddies, which is a nice reminder of how small of a city Ubud really is.
Mount Batur is Bali’s volcano. Many tourists participate in a sunrise trek to see the mountain, but I was a bit sunrised-out after Borobudur and Mt. Bromo. It’s still worth a trip to see the beautiful view of the volcano and the lake.
Ubud is the best place to go to understand Balinese culture. It’s a can’t-miss city and a stop there should be on every Bali itinerary.