Ubud is a town located in the heart of Bali, Indonesia. It is known for its beautiful and lush greenery, cultural heritage and spiritual vibes. The town is surrounded by rice paddies, forests and rivers, which add to the charm of the area. Ubud is a popular destination for tourists looking for a more authentic Balinese experience, as it is less crowded and commercialized than some of the island’s other areas.
One of the main attractions of Ubud is its rich cultural heritage. The town is home to several Hindu temples and shrines, and visitors can experience traditional dances and take part in various cultural ceremonies. Ubud is also famous for its arts and crafts, including wood carvings, silver jewellery and batik textiles. Visitors can explore the local markets and workshops to see these crafts being made and purchase items to take home.
Ubud hosts a sophisticated food scene, with restaurants serving delicious creations from all over the world at every price point. Everything from local Balinese food, to right across the global spectrum, you’ll find high quality dining choices within a few meters of your hotel. Every trip we make to Bali, the food scene continues to evolve (typically upmarket), but there continue to be great traditions like Naughty Nuri’s and other local restaurants that continue to prosper while sticking to their roots.
Ubud is also a great destination for nature lovers. The town is surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes, including the Tegalalang Rice Terrace and the Monkey Forest. Visitors can take a stroll through the rice paddies or take a hike in the forest to experience the natural beauty of the area. There are also several waterfalls in the area, such as the Tegenungan Waterfall, which are popular tourist destinations.
Finally, Ubud is a great destination for those seeking a spiritual experience. The town is home to several yoga studios, meditation centres and wellness retreats. Visitors can take part in yoga classes, meditation sessions or other spiritual activities to recharge and rejuvenate. Overall, Ubud is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a mix of natural beauty, cultural richness and spiritual vibes. With its warm hospitality, delicious cuisine, and diverse attractions, Ubud is a travel destination that is sure to leave visitors with unforgettable memories.
I should however inform you about a negative unforgettable memory that we experienced in Ubud that we subsequently learned happens far too often to tourists. From everything I’ve been able to read online, Indonesia and Bali have legalized online ride-share booking via apps like Grab and Gojek. We used them extensively in Canggu without issue. I saw several tourists standing around in both Canggu and Ubud waiting patiently for their private taxi to arrive, with that distinctive mobile phone in hand pose.
As we had done several times in the previous days, we booked a Gojek car in central Ubud to take us back to the hotel after spending copious amounts of money in the local Ubud economy. As our Gojek arrived, I could sense something strange was about to happen. I could feel people starting to come towards us. As we got into the car, our driver was approached by guys that looked really rough.
The rough guys surrounded our car and demanded the driver tell them if we booked him via an app or if he was from our hotel car. Some very loud shouting ensued between the driver and the rough guys and suddenly the back door was opened by one of the rough guys. He demanded we get out of the car and and to use his taxi instead. What idiot would take a ride with a raging psycho at that point?
We ultimately had to exit the vehicle and were forced to walk 1km away from the city centre with these goons walking close behind us to make sure we didn’t get into the same car again. Once outside of the city centre, we booked another Gojek which swiftly and safely took us back to our hotel. We subsequently learned that the local taxis donate money to the local temples while the ride sharing companies share their revenue at a provincial or federal level, which is the root cause of this behaviour.
Regardless, it’s a very poor experience for tourists to be harassed in this manner by the “taxi mafia”. As was the case everywhere else in the world, if you want to compete with the ride sharing companies, match their capabilities or do better. We were ripped off several times by local taxis and ended up preferring the safety and predictability of the ride sharing platforms.
Bali is a heaven for luxury resorts. You have everything from immersive Balinese architecture and experiences through to transporting you to an environment that would fit in at a European beach front resort. In between, there’s an abundance of choice at all price ranges. While we’ve stayed at a number of budget hotels in Bali, I’d like to share a few that we’ve recently experienced that left a strong impression.
Ritz Carlton Mandapa
Perhaps the best hotel experience we’ve had anywhere in the world would be at the Ritz Carlton Mandapa. It’s a sensational property that has to be experience with your own eyes. Everything from the authentic Balinese experience to the lush location make this a stunning property to call home for your next vacation.
I won’t give too much away with photos because the element of surprise is part of the charm of this hotel, but needless to say, it’s spectacular and grand, while somehow being intimate and cosy.
Como Uma Ubud
On a previous trip to Bali, we spend a few nights at Como Uma Ubud. Como Uma is an interesting hotel chain focused on wellness. Their design is all about maintaining harmony with nature and humans. Their service is easygoing and supportive, without being too formal or forward.
We really enjoyed our last stay there, so we decided to spend five nights at Como Uma Ubud and splurged a bit for a larger room. Something that makes Como Uma Ubud special is it’s location right in the heart of the jungle. You can choose rooms that sit above the jungle (which we did on our last trip), or go for a room right in depth of the jungle.
There are pros and cons to each approach. Sitting above the jungle, you certainly face less insects and little critters, but being right in the jungle gives you a feeling of adventure and tranquility. There was something magical about hearing all the rain falling on the trees while out in our private pool.
As will be mentioned below in the restaurant recommendations, Como Uma Ubud happens to have one of the best Italian restaurants on the property, Uma Cucina. We had an absolutely amazing Christmas Brunch there with unlimited Prosecco and Italian food. To say they were generous with the pours and food would be an understatement. A great time was had by all!
Usually a second visit to a hotel leads to disappointment, but that was not the case with Como Uma Ubud; we enjoyed it just as much as before. It’s very interesting to note that several staff said the same thing to us during our first day, “welcome back to your home”. It appears that many customers visit several times and the staff are well prepared to make sure we felt even more comfortable on our second trip than our first.
Overall Como Uma Ubud continues to have that charm of being nestled in nature while still being close to the action. The service continues to be top-notch, which makes up for a bit of the wear and tear visible in the rooms. I should note that we noticed some maintenance work ongoing so perhaps the rooms will get a light refresh in the coming years.
We also spent a few nights at Kappa Senses, a new French luxury resort. It provided a totally different experience than Como Uma Ubud. Kappa is a brand new property so all the greenery still needs time to make itself at home. Everything feels a bit too polished and new, but it’s to be expected of a brand new hotel. We stayed there during a soft opening so it operated as expected; the hardware is excellent, but the software needs some time to sort itself out.
In terms of the location, the hotel looks out on working rice paddies. This made for some great views from our room. I spent copious amounts of time hanging out on the small patio while watching the workers doing their thing. We also had a few visits from roosters and friendly dogs from the neighbourhood. While we had a nice pool in our room, the temperature was so cold that we onl dipped into it once or twice.
With some time, I think Kappa Senses will be an excellent choice for families travelling together. The large communal pool, large property with several food choices and huge number of staff, would all work towards ensuring a family is kept entertained, occupied and well fed.
Bill Bensley’s Capella Ubud
While we didn’t stay at the Capella Ubud, we had friends that did. We did however eat at the Api Jiwa Restaurant where we were served at the Robotayaki grill. Bill Bensley has created some of the most iconic hotels in the world that consistently rank in the world’s top 10.
His designs are meant to evoke a period of time from the past while providing modern amenities. In some of the hotels, such as in Ubud, I feel this is contrived when the buildings are new construction; part of the beauty of history comes from its wear and tear and all the stories that were produced through the years. I do however admire his approach of creating an experience as if you were living in that time and place.
Our friends found the environment and room fun, but also noted that it felt a bit like being in adult Disney Land. It’s a great place to go once, but they wouldn’t go back again. Furthermore, they felt that two nights was sufficient to enjoy the room and hotel and then decided to cut their stay short and move to another hotel.
In regards to Api Jiwa, the food was good, but certainly not up to the standards expected of the price point. Furthermore, the service overall was disconnected and lacking. When checking into the restaurant, we were made to feel like we didn’t have a reservation at two of the four touch-points required to get to the restaurant (front gate, reception desk, restaurant level, bar). It’s strange that a 5-star hotel has such a lack of internal communication.
I still hold high hopes for staying at one of Bill Bensley’s creations. Perhaps I can try to snag a weekend in his Sanya location before all the tourists come back to China later this year.
Hujan Locale – A restaurant that offers Indonesian cuisine with a modern twist, using locally grown ingredients and international flavours.
Locavore – A high-end restaurant with a tasting menu featuring modern European cuisine using locally sourced Indonesian ingredients.
Fair Warung Bale – An Indonesian restaurant that is also a social enterprise which supports healthcare for the local community.
Mozaic – A fine-dining restaurant that offers French cuisine with an Indonesian twist, featuring a tasting menu and wine pairing.
Swept Away – A stunning restaurant located next to a river, offering international cuisine and a beautiful infinity pool.
Nusantara by Locavore – A casual dining restaurant offering Indonesian street food with a modern twist, using local ingredients.
Uma Cucina – Locally sourced produce and the flavours of Italy rendered in colourful, easygoing options, perfect for sharing with friends.
Murni’s Warung – An iconic Ubud restaurant offering Indonesian and Western cuisine in a traditional setting, featuring a beautiful garden and water fountain.
Naughty Nuri’s – A “hole in the wall” known for its barbecued ribs, featuring a tasty combination of Balinese seasoning, charring and glistening. Lineups are long, but worth the wait.
Room4Dessert – An incredibly unique experience that may not be found anywhere else in the world. A must try while you’re in Bali. Don’t save room for dessert, make it your meal that night!
Like many posts in Bali, Ubud is also a photographer’s paradise, with its lush greenery, traditional architecture and cultural richness. Some of the top photography spots in Ubud:
Tegalalang Rice Terrace: This is one of the most iconic photography spots in Ubud, with its lush green rice paddies that cascade down the hillside. Visitors can capture the beauty of the rice terrace from a variety of angles, including from a traditional Bali swing.
Ubud Monkey Forest: This sacred forest is home to hundreds of Balinese long-tailed monkeys, making it a great spot for capturing up-close photos of these playful animals. It makes for a great test of your camera’s animal eye autofocus capabilities!
Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave): This ancient Hindu temple dates back to the 11th century and is known for its intricate carvings and lush green surroundings. It is a popular photography spot for capturing the beauty of traditional Balinese architecture.
Campuhan Ridge Walk: This scenic walking trail offers breathtaking views of the lush greenery of Ubud, making it a great spot for landscape and nature photography. It also makes for a great spot to fly a drone with the ridge rising into the sky.
Pura Taman Saraswati: This Hindu temple is known for its stunning lotus pond and intricate carvings, making it a popular spot for photographers to capture the beauty of Balinese culture and architecture.
Ubud Street Market: This bustling market is a great spot for capturing the vibrant colors and textures of Balinese textiles, food and souvenirs.
Overall, Ubud offers a wide variety of photography opportunities, from the stunning natural landscapes to the rich cultural heritage. Whether you’re interested in landscape, portrait or cultural photography, Ubud has something for everyone.
Bali is back! The island delivered in spades post-pandemic. Several YouTube videos had shown Bali being empty and deserted during the pandemic, but this is clearly now history. Our experience was a Bali that is better than ever before. More food choices, more places to stay, an entirely new area to explore (Canggu) and the same warm and friendly Balinese people.
The only downsides to our trip were the “Taxi Mafia”, the surprisingly high price for the hotels (seems this is a global issue and not specific to Bali) and of course, catching COVID for the first time in the first week of our trip.
I can’t wait to go back and I’m already planning our next trip! Next time, we’ll focus staying the entire time in Canggu at a villa style accommodation. We will target a wellness trip with exercise everyday and eating healthy, while enjoying sunsets on the beach every night.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short series on Bali post-pandemic. I don’t have any specific trips planned in the near future so I’ll try to complete a few gear reviews and share some images from around Beijing and Hong Kong. I am however contemplating Koh Samui for my birthday in June and Portugal in the fall. If you have any tips for those two locations, please leave them in the comments below.