Ubud, Bali – You will love it … or not!

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Ubud Tegalalang Rice Terrace

As we planned our Indonesia trip, we were looking for a place to visit between our stays in Java and Lombok. It goes without saying that Bali was a quite inevitable destination: it is neighbouring both islands and almost all our friends and acquaintances advised us, by no means to miss out on Bali. Both were decisive ingredients to our planning! Funnily, I also noticed that there wasn’t a single person who hadn’t already been, or wasn’t planning a trip to Ubud. 
Yeah, Ubud was literally on everyone’s lip! So, even though Bali was no bucket list destination for us, we just decided to go for it.

Ubud, enlightenment for the masses?

Everyone agrees: Ubud is THE place you should visit if you’re in pursuit of spirituality or on a quest to find your inner peace. Well, this might be true if you stay at a retreat or hotel outside of the buzzing town center. As for me, from the moment on I set a foot into the town centre, my inner peace went into hiding, far away from the zillion honking tour buses or revving scooter engines and it somehow never showed up again.

Ubud is THE place you should visit if you're in pursuit of spirituality Click To Tweet

Today I still don’t know exactly what to think about Ubud. Unlike all my friends, I was not so much in awe about the place and all infatuated with the ambiance, the temples and the healthy food. I even think it was one of Indonesia’s destinations on our trip I talked the least about when we got back home. Let’s say my opinion is divided.

What made me cringe in Ubud

Mass tourism

So, here’s news for those who haven’t been to Ubud yet and are still dreaming of some miraculously preserved and idyllic small town: Ubud IS mass tourism!
Every sight to see in, or around, Ubud that is featured in a travel guide inevitably leads to a lot of queuing up. And this to such an extend, that it even becomes a contest to outrun the other travelers with wit and tricks. Your perpetual quest is to get the best shot of the best sight with the least tourists on your camera.

Tanah Lot Temple outside of Ubud. My only shot without the masses.
Beautiful Tengalalan rice paddies

The ever-congested roads

Traffic jams: Everywhere. Every Day. At Every Time. I still don’t know how it is humanly possible to create that much congestion in the streets with the majority of the vehicles being scooters… I mean, how? Driving on the main traffic arteries quickly becomes a never-ending nightmare.

Eat.Pray.Love-Wannabes & disrespectful tourists

Pilgrims searching for spiritual enlightenment come to Ubud en masse just like Julia did in the movie. Some of them dress up in sarongs, wear dreadlocks and walk bare feet; they are selfless and on a serious spiritual quest or just on a fun and not so serious break. They love nature, smoke the occasional joint and tell you they are totally detached of material things, while playing with their iPhones or surfing on their MacBooks. 
I mean, I totally understand that you want to become a spiritual person but don’t be someone you are not and for god’s sake, don’t dress like Captain Jack Sparrow or Janis Joplin!

The other type of people who made me cringe even more, were the bare-chested half-naked, lobster tainted posses, who were screaming and pushing their way through the crowds just to meet up at the next Starbucks. Their pilgrimage is often accompanied by the reckless trashing of the offerings, which the locals put out in front of their homes. I mean, come on, what happened to the when-in-Rome attitude?

Distant locals

What I love about Java and Indonesian people is that they always have a smile on the corner of their lip. There’s always time for a chat or a joke. I guess that this got a bit lost along the road in Ubud. But seeing how some of the visitors behave I can totally understand that too.

Organic extravaganza

Organic food is great. Unfortunately in Ubud compared to the great local cuisine it comes sometimes with a (ridiculously high) price!

What I really liked about Ubud

The awakening of the senses, no joke!

The Road entering Ubud… without a traffic jam for once!

In spite of the congested streets and the hassle with overcrowded sights, there is something graceful about Ubud, something that awakens your senses. Drop dead gorgeous surroundings, lush nature, wonderful Hindu temples, fresh and scented smells emanating from the flowery offerings and incense, pleasant temperatures… what more could anyone want? With a little help of your imagination you can even guess that before the advent of mass tourism Ubud must truly have been an idyllic place to stay.

Spirituality, health & body balance

One of the many temples you come along in Ubud. It smells of fresh flowers and incense.

With the ancient Hindu culture and that graceful, harmonious ambient, I can understand why people are coming to Ubud for a spiritual retreat. With all the meditation classes, Hindu rituals and holistic lifestyles, there’s definitely something special going on!
Although there are a lot of expensive places, it is a foodie haven for vegans, vegetarians, people suffering from food intolerance or naturopaths. Yoga is very big in Bali.
Ubud is definitely the spiritual and cultural heart of Bali Click To Tweet

Visiting Ubud without the masses

A great way to pull away from the hordes of tourist is by scooter (125 cc) which costs the equivalent of 30€ for 2 full days and nights. Head out on the smaller roads and enjoy the amazing nature. You can also stop at small Warungs (restaurants) or temples and get to know the locals for more authenticity.

A french bakery and café, Warung Gôuthé, that we discovered on our trip with the scooter.

Be aware that weather changes quickly in Bali. So, you’re likely to be surprised by a massive shower. But hey, that’s just part of the game!
Don’t forget your international driver’s license, though, otherwise you might have to buy an authorization to drive if the police pulls you over. They charge around 30€ for it (not so cool, especially when your international drivers’ license is happily waiting for you in your suitcase at the hotel where you left it). 
Another driver’s advice: try to adapt to the Indonesian style on the road… you’ll see for yourself what this entails, but don’t be too hesitant. Tourists cause the majority of collisions.
Another great way to discover the island is by bicycle.

Bali Animal Welfare Association

In Ubud I discovered BAWA, the association trying to help not only stray dogs and cats, but tries also to grow awareness about animal abuse due to tourism. If you have a heart for animals you can contribute. Here’s more information about BAWA.

My top pick in Ubud: The Gajah Biru Bungalows

One of my best experiences of Ubud are the Gajah Biru Bungalows, where we stayed. It’s a privately held compound of homely and cute bungalows in an absolute Zen ambiance. They are situated in the young painter’s village of Penestanan. That’s only a 20 minute walk away from the buzzing town center. The bungalows are true hideaways from the hustle and bustle of Ubud. Your nights’ sleep will only be disturbed by the occasional mosquito!

From the moment we set food inside that harbor of peace, we were welcome and treated like family or long-lost friends. The staff was extremely friendly and genuinely caring for its guests. We had the best night in Bali with the owners (a very laid back Indian guy called Surinder and his beautiful wife Sumi who’s from Bali) and other guests at a diner they’d organized. The Balinese food was just exceptional – Sumi is a fantastic cook – the local wine was delectable and the conversations were interesting, funny and at the end of the night quite blurry.

The next day, walking through the center of Ubud under the scorching heat was a little harder, visiting the market was a little tougher and driving the scooter was nearly impossible. With a cheerful hangover and already a hint of melancholia, we hugged our new family to say good-bye… They truly made my Ubud stay unforgettable!

The colourful restaurant at Gajah Biru Bungalows for yummy breakfasts and great dinner parties!

Would I go back to Ubud?

Although Ubud didn’t sweep me off my feet, I would return for 2 or 3 days. I’d be happy to stay at The Gaja Biru Bungalows again and say hi to Surinder and Sumi. I would definitely rent a scooter again to discover the remote corners of the island we left out. This time, though, I’d make sure to have my international driver’s license with me at all times.

What was your Ubud experience? Do you have some great advice on what else to discover?

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34 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Ariane, I’ve read quite a few blogs about Ubud and I didn’t know it was this commercial. I not too keen on guys walking around with their tops off, unless they are very buff lol. I haven’t been to Bali before and I would to visit Ubud to see for myself. I did visit otres beach in sihanoukville last October and that was very unspoilt, no commercial places anyway.

    • Hi Noi, Well I guess you have to go to see for yourself. I really didn’t hate it… there were just places I loved much more in Indonesia. As for the beaches, the beautiful, unspoiled beaches are not in Bali but in Lombok. Tell me what you thought of Ubud if you are travelling there, I’m interested different opinions 😉

  2. For some odd reason I really liked Ubud despite the masses and the touts. It overwhelmed me at times because no where else in Bali did I feel that ripped off and taken advantage off but there was something that I really really liked. But I do agree with you as it somehow didn’t make sense.
    Mind you, I think it has much to offer for a digital nomad just like Chiang Mai and that is something I can appreciate. However, I would definitely not see it as a place for spiritual enlightenment if it ever was…

    • Yeah, I think Ubud is a difficult place to understand… put it’s also somehow impossible not to like it…I think I need to go back for another Ubud-experience 😉

  3. There’s no getting away from the tourists, most places one goes. What we do is choose the shoulder season, so that its more manageable. From your pictures it seems that you had Ubud pretty much to yourself 🙂

    • We normally travel during shoulder or low season. When we were in Ubud, it was during shoulder season, but I never experienced such a mass of tourists. I tried very heard to have no tourists on the pictures and was lucky enough to succeed with those uploaded 😉

    • Thanks a lot for pinning this post! I guess, that everyone has a different experience of Ubud. It’s always up to oneself how we want to experience a place!

  4. I’ve wanted to go to Bali for so long, and I would never have thought that would Ubud so thanks so much for the heads up! I had to laugh about the eat pray love wannabes – having recently seen the film again I can completely picture what you mean!

  5. I often don’t like super touristy places either. I like seeing how the people live their lives. And disrespectful tourists bug me too. Like do some reading beforehand and just be a decent person.

    • Exactly, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to be just a bit repectful of the places and cultures you visit. But there are a lot of people who are just a bit too selfish, I guess. Either way, in the end you have to just get over it and make the most of your time.

  6. I agree that sometimes too many tourists can spoil a place but it does seem as though there are still wonderful untouched spots to visit! Ubud is on my bucket list so hopefully will be able to visit before it becomes even more popular…

    • I think if you go to Ubud during shoulder period and try to discover some of the countryside around Ubud, you should be fine… It’s the really popular sights and the streets of Ubud that are normally crammed with tourists.

    • Ubud definitely is interesting… as long as you explore the surroundings on your own, without organised tours and away from the typical tourist attractions.

  7. People either love or hate Bali, but always always the crowds and the touristy nature is mentioned. People either hate it because of that or love it in spite of that. Next time you’re in the area, try the island of Sulawesi. Gorgeous, interesting, and very few tourists about.

    • Yes, it’s a bit of a love/hate relation I had with Ubud… in the end I had a great stay there. I think 3 days were definitely enough time. If I go back to Indonesia, I’ll try to visit Sulawesi, perhaps also Sumatra. Thanks for your advice! 😉

  8. OMG I LOVE this post! I warn people about Ubud ALL THE TIME! I’ve been to Bali a few times and I really can’t stand the cow path of tourism! I am fortunate enough to speak bhasa Indonesia and have a local connection while I’m there (I stay on a farm – in the countryside of Ubud). Bali is SO EASY to get out of tourist hell. Simply don’t go to those places if you can avoid it. Stay off the tourist bus path and take the road less traveled. The eastern and norther sides of the island are much different. If the tourist bus turns left, just turn right and you’ll be good. 🙂

    • Wow, you are very lucky to have a local connection in Bali! How come you speak Bahasa Indonesia? I really loved learning a few sentences!
      In the end, after staying 3 days in Ubud we continued our trip in the north of Bali, which really was very relaxing and people where friendlier as well 😉

  9. Great post, I also rarely like the overcrowded spots and had similar feelings while visited Bangkok and other popular places in Thailand. The way people don’t respect nature is so sad and awful – now I’d rather go to some unknown destination in the Balkans than return to Thailand. Thanks for the advice so now I know probably Ubud won’t be my favorite place, either.

  10. I haven’t been to Ubud but I would say many people share your opinion. It’s too bad that such a spiritual island has become so commercialized and overrun with (disrespectful) tourists. I know some areas of Bali have kept their authenticity which is why I would like to visit one day.

    • That is exactly what we did, try to find the authenticity in and around Ubud. This means that you do not necessairily see the main tourist atractions, but what the heck… I prefer original experiences, no one else has 😉

  11. I laughed and rolled my eyes thinking about the Eat Pray Love wannabes. I don’t really understand wanting to copy another traveler like that. But your photos are really lovely and obviously there are things to do in Ubud other than hang out with annoying tourists.

    • Haha, happy I could make you laugh. Exactly there are many positive things to Ubud and Bali. I think the most important while travelling is to be alsways true to yourself and show some respect towards the locals and their culture.

  12. Every place is a mix of positives and negatives I have seen. While I appreciate your positive feedback I can also relate to the disappointment created by so called iPhone wielding spiritual travelers. I haven’t been to Bali yet, I will now look at it with a more critical eye.

  13. I know it is commercialized, I know it is super turisty, I know the whole old temple old culture old heritage value is almost gone and but I still want to visit Bali! I agree with what you have posted here and guess I will just look at the positive side of it 🙂

  14. I like the lesser explored aspects of Ubud….more authentic and fun to explore. The touristy parts are a little annoying. Glad I finished that years back when it was not so crowded.

  15. “They tell you they are totally detached of material things, while playing with their iPhones or surfing on their MacBooks.” This is so true!
    Reading your post I have noticed how perceptive as a person you are. Congrats!
    Ps. Lovely post, of course!

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