Ubud really does have something for everyone, depending on your objectives and what you want to get out of your trip, of course. Naturally it’s most famous for yoga, meditation and healing courses.
Ubud on a motorbike
However, if like me you prefer to get under the skin of a place and be surrounded by nature and local culture, I would suggest hiring a motorbike. The beauty of a motorbike is that you can speed through traffic quickly, and stop easily to observe daily life and the stunning scenery.
Best of all, you are able to venture off the main roads and find yourself coasting on narrow tracks between the paddy fields with just a green horizon ahead of you, dotted with the odd Villa or Warung. This is the closest you’ll get to replicating a scene from Eat, Pray, Love. Although, if I re-call rightly, Julia Roberts was on a pushbike.
Hiring a bike like this is also possible, but requires a lot more work to get around.
Unfortunately, the centre of Ubud seems to be straining under the influx of mass tourism that has invaded this once quiet artisan town. The main road running through is so busy with motorbikes that it’s difficult to walk. There is a daily market selling mostly artisan items for tourists, but if you search carefully there are some shops selling well designed porcelain and kitchenwares.
Tegalalang Rice fields
If you after something specific, I suggest driving up JI. Rya Tegallalang road, where you’ll find countless workshops and shops with beautifully crafted furniture and ornaments. This is also the main road which takes you to the famous Tegalalang Rice fields, which are worth a look if your headed in that direction.
Beware though, they have been transformed into a type of “Rice Field Theme Park”, with so many tourists all waiting in line to get there photo on the famous swings. I would suggest venturing off any nearby side road you will see almost the exact same landscape but with no tourists.
The focus of life in and around Ubud – apart from work – revolves around family, the temple, ceremonies and all the preparation that goes into creating decorations and offerings. We were lucky enough to visit Bali at an auspicious time. It was the build up to one of the biggest holy days of the Balinese Hindu Calendar: Galungan.
Celebrating the Victory of Good over Evil
This is one of Bali’s major festivals celebrating the return of Balinese gods and ancestors to Bali. For ten days, Balinese families will entertain and welcome with prayers and offerings, along with ceremonies to cleanse and balance the inner and outer energy of the island.
Galungan features, among other things, barong dancing from temple to temple in the village. The festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. The origin of Galungan is a mystery, but essentially it is believed to be the beginning of the week in which the gods and ancestors descend to earth, and good triumphs over evil.
The holiday is celebrated by the fitting of ‘penjor’, tall bamboo poles beautifully decorated with woven coconut palm leaves, fruit, cakes and flowers, on the right side of every house entrance. People are attired in their finest clothes and jewels on this day too. We noted how stunning many of the women were. Often walking down the road with the offering balanced precariously on their heads or they were perched on a motor bike with the offerings balanced upon their laps.
During the three day festival we visited a number of temples in the villages around Ubud and witnessed families arriving at the temples to receive blessings and give their offerings, once or twice people were kind enough to give there food offerings of oranges and biscuits to Isabella and Maya. There was real community spirit and jovial mood in the air, people were extremely welcoming towards us, and didn’t mind us observing their rituals.
Due to the centre of Ubud being so busy I would suggest staying a few miles from the centre, as we did. We had picked an unusual place to stay: Luxury Glamping amongst the rice fields. We arrived at Sandat Glamping in a tropical rain storm, but this almost added to the drama of the occasion.
Sandat Glamping is tucked away in a secluded spot a few miles outside the busy centre of Ubud. As you drive through the archway there is air of calm and peacefulness that washes over you. In general, the Balinese have a calm demeanour. They hardly ever raise their voices or get too excited, in contrast to our more excitable western tendencies.
The setting is everything you would expect from five star Luxury Glamping. The tents are an unusual choice for such a hot and humid place, though, as usually you’d find these type of tents on the game reserves in the hot and dry plains of South Africa. However they really do work here too, as the concept is to bring nature inside.
I wasn’t convinced that it would be so relaxing going to sleep with the tent open to the elements with only the insect screens down. But actually, the symphony of the frogs and crickets had a calming effect and we all slept really well in the tent.
If you would prefer not to sleep in the tent there are also three traditional Lumbung; typical structures which were once used for storing rice, the bedroom is upstairs and a lounge area downstairs with an open air bathroom. They are beautifully furnished with handmade furniture and large shared swimming pool.
Sandat’s five tents are very secluded, giving that feeling of being very much on your own. Sandat have done a fantastic job of nestling each tent amongst nature; each tent looks like it has always been there, with huge architectural plants carefully positioned.
Of course, when staying in places like this you would expect some creepy crawlies and bugs as well as mosquitos, but I can honestly say we didn’t have any. I believe that with a careful selection of indigenous plants and trees it is possible to create a natural defence.
This is just one of the thoughtful and carefully considered aspects of Sandat Glamping, as there are also very subtle touches that add to the ambience of the place. For example, there are no TVs or telephones. To call reception you use a musical instrument like a tambourine. Check this video out.
The interior design of whole camp is of impeccable taste, with the Italian owners certainly showing a flair for design while using all locally made Balinese furniture and accessories.
The lounge and dining room area is housed under a huge cathedral-like structure made from bamboo and palm leaves. The focal point of the dining room is a huge eight metre long dining table made from one tree trunk.
The owners certainly showcase the best of Balinese craftsmanship, which is great to see. We ate breakfast and lunch at the grand dining table and the quality of the food matched the ambience of the resort. It was simple, fresh, local produce everything from the home made cakes at breakfast to the daily lunch specials.
We had a wonderful stay at Sandat Glamping. It was fantastic to feel surrounded by nature, but also have all those little luxuries on hand. The staff were so friendly and welcoming especially towards our two daughters, who loved the experience as much as we did.
Monkey Forest – Even if you don’t particularly like monkeys the setting of the forest is stunning especially for families with children. It feels like you are on the set of an Indian Jones movie. A word of warning though, the Monkeys can be aggressive so keep young children close and ensure you don’t take any food or drink into the forest. The minute we walked into the forest a monkey leaped onto Marco’s back and tried to open the zipper on his rucksack.
Tirta Empul temple – 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, bring your swimming costume to bath in the sacred pools. It really was an enriching and holy experience that we felt privileged to experience with local people.
Warung Biah Biah – in the centre of Ubud great for tasting lots of different local specialities.
MyWarung Ubud – a very hip and happening place with more western style food, great atmosphere with some unusual artwork on the walls.
Sandat Glamping – 5* luxury tented camp set amongst the paddy fields.
Look Out For
Be very careful riding the motorbikes. Always rent helmets, drive slowly and be very wary of cars. Drivers don’t always seem to know what they are doing, especially when manoeuvring.