Ubud is on everyone’s to do list when going to Bali. I must admit it wasn’t on mine. Granted, I don’t ever have a “to do list” when I travel, but still, believe it or not, I had never heard of Ubud before landing in Indonesia.
For me, Bali was Uluwatu, Padang Padang, and well, not much else. So how did someone who spent the better part of her month on the Indonesian island in the water end up with a flat bike tyre on a road in the north of Ubud District?
After a couple of weeks in Bali, I did, eventually, hear of Ubud. Thinking it would be great to go and check it out, I left beautiful South Kuta behind me and headed inland. I got to the town late, with no idea as to what I was going to do over the next few days. I met Sophie, a fellow backpacker who was considering renting a bike the next day at the hostel, and that’s how we, Sophie and I, ended up with a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere.
The plan, which was not much of a plan, all things considered, was to drive north, see some rice terraces, a couple of temples, check out Goa Gajah and maybe go to the Monkey Forest if we still had the time.
Of course, once you take into account getting completely lost on dirt roads in the middle of the forest, asking for directions to non English speaking locals, being chased by a couple of feral dogs and blowing a tyre, we didn’t manage to do so much.
The stuff we saw
We started our journey north by going off road and doing a loop in the middle of the forest, seeing small rice terraces and villages, feeling very good about our little adventure.
Eventually though, we got back to the main road and continued north, reaching Tegallalang Rice Terraces about mid-day.
Tegallalang rice terraces
When thinking about Ubud, these rice terraces are what people imagine. It is impressive, and really worth a visit, even if it’s swarming with tourists. It’s free to enter, and you can go and explore – which is what we did. Rice fields and terraces are everywhere in Ubud District, we were even overlooking a small rice field with a solitary worker when we got back to town and sat for dinner at an Italian restaurant. But there is no denying it, Tegallalang Rice Terraces are truly something else.
Gunung Kawi Sebatu Temple
After a well deserved cold Coke, we got back on the bike and headed for the Gunung Kawi Sebatu Temple. It took us a while to get there, and we had a lot to still see on our list, so we didn’t go in. We jumped off the bike and took pictures, observing the locals entering by the side door with offerings. Next time I am there, I will definitely make a point of going back.
The stuff we didn’t see
Now, the reason we didn’t enter Gunung Kawi Sebatu was so we could go and see everything else. And yet, we didn’t actually manage to get anywhere else. This is where the real “getting lost” adventure started. Our offline GPS could not pinpoint us, so we had no idea where we were headed, and it seems both our sense of directions leave a lot to be desired.
On our quest to find Goa Gajah, as well as Tirta Empul, we found numerous villages, an array of amazing off-the-beaten-tracks temples, numerous dogs and a string of laughing children who thought it was hilarious to see two tourists completely lost in the middle of their villages. We didn’t make it anywhere, but I am pretty sure we saw more of the real Bali than if we had. So Sophie and Sarah: 1, confusing and unmarked dirt tracks: 0.
Elephant Cave is an archaeological site with rock carvings, relics, bathing pool and fountains. “Various structures reveal Hindu influences dating back to the 10th century, and some relics feature elements of Buddhism dating even earlier to the 8th century. The cave is shallow; inside are three stone idols each wrapped in red, yellow and black cloths. Black soot lines the cave’s walls as result from the current-day incense burning. Several indentations show where meditating priests once sat. The northern side of the complex is dominantly Buddhist while south across the river it’s mostly Shivaite.” (Source: bali-indonesia.com)
“Tirta Empul is an important temple complex and holy mountain spring, located in the village of Manukaya in central Bali. The site serves as a legendary setting of a traditional tale about good versus evil. It is also a national cultural heritage site.” (Source: bali-indonesia.com)
We blew our tyre somewhere within the north district. Luckily enough, a garage was not far off, and we even got to take part in a photo op with the mechanics who seemed to find us very funny. With a new tyre and giggling uncontrollably, we tried, very hard, to still make it somewhere, anywhere with a semblance of historical relevance (we seriously do not give up easily). After having passed the same “roundabout” multiple times and getting caught in torrential rain, we finally gave up.
We were hungry, disorientated, and tired, so we didn’t even make it to the one place that was just there within our grasp, on the way back to Ubud Town: Monkey Forest.
As its name indicates, this is a forest full of monkeys. Ahem. It is a sacred Balinese Hindu site, and a major tourist attraction, with temples adding to the interest for a visit.
We made it back in one piece, of course, having missed on a lot of touristy things to see, but with a lot of stories to tell. Not having had enough, we decided to continue our little adventure by hiking Mount Batur after 3 hours of sleep. And that was the end of my Ubud experience. I decided to cut my trip short to head back towards the coast; but I am sure glad I took the time to go inland for a bit and check out Ubud District.
I might not be the best person to ask, but for me, Ubud was overrated. Whilst the District was amazing, I could not shake the feeling that Ubud in itself was a “pretend hippy” version of Kuta. Swap the clubs and bars with coffee shops and yoga studios, it’s all the same. Shops after shops after shops…
In my humble opinion, Ubud is worth going to as a point from which to go explore all the amazing back-country, see how people actually live and meet the locals. Worth mentioning, the only homeless people I saw where in Ubud. My guess is, it is a good place to rip off tourists worried about their karma.