This is the first of two posts dedicated to my time in Ubud, which I totally adored.
But first, a weekend in Canggu
Back on the mainland, I first spent a weekend in Canggu. This time I stayed in a dream, bed bug free hostel that was basically a luxury villa. The guy who owns Waterborn jacked in his corporate life to run a hostel in Bali and he seriously has it down a T – it’s beautiful, clean and oh so comfortable.
In Canggu I spent my days lazing by the pool and went back to Serenity for a yoga class, feeling a little rusty after not having done any yoga since Lombok. I met Radana, a friend from home in Bali with her boyfriend on holiday, for a dreamy lunch at the Lawn. It was pricey by backpacker standards but they did amazing frozen rose cocktails and had dream beach views.
I also met some really wonderful people at Waterborn (hiiii Hanna and Lisa 😘) the same kinds of kindred spirit travellers I had met at Captain Coconuts, and had some GREAT dinners and drinks (I covered Canggu food in a previous post but check out Echo Beach fish barbecue and, if you’re dying for a “real” coffee like I was, get yourself to trendy café Crate).
I also got up at 5am one morning to watch the sunrise and it was spectacular, just us and local fisherman (and a couple of keen morning runners) on the beach.
Being back in Canggu felt super chilled and staying at Waterborn felt like such a luxury. I could quite happily have spent the entire final fortnight of my trip there but Ubud was waiting!
Initial impressions of Ubud
I deliberately saved Ubud til last because I had a feeling I’d fall in love with it. Not only is it Eat Pray Love brought to life, but everything about it that I’d read appealed. Set amidst the lush jungle, with waterfalls and rice terraces and countryside cookery schools and coffee plantations only a 10 minutes drive away, and a busy, buzzy centre packed with art galleries and craft shops and yoga schools and spas and amazing restaurants – it sounded like utter perfection.
Putu, my very first Bali driver, picked me up from Canggu and took me to Ubud. I’m going to be honest and say that my heart sank a little when we first drove into Ubud and I was confronted with crazy busy roads, traffic and what seemed to be endless crowds of people. Momentarily, it felt like the magic I had conjured up in my own mind was nowhere to be seen. This can’t be it, I reasoned to myself. And luckily, I was right.
Yes, Ubud is busy and yes, tourists visit in their throngs (and I am proudly one of them; it always amuses me when backpackers begrudge a place for being touristy when there is clearly a reason they have visited that very place). That scene in Eat Pray Love where Julia Roberts cycles along a deserted, leafy, pedestrianised street to Wayan’s shop? Not sure where it was filmed but it sure as hell wasn’t central Ubud. Ubud’s centre is full of vertical, busy roads with a lot of traffic and a lot of people and a LOT of taxi touts – “TAXI” shouts one man, “no thank you” I sweetly reply, “TAXI” shouts the man sitting next to him as if his cry of taxi would somehow appeal more, “no thankyou” I reply, “TAXI” cries the man a metre further a long… and so the saga continues, everywhere you walk).
But you know what, once I had gotten used to dodging mopeds and rebutting taxi offers, none of this actually bothered me in the end. Hello, this is Asia – and if I can’t handle Ubud then I sure as hell won’t be able to handle Hanoi. What I quickly learned is that tranquility is everywhere in Ubud. You only need to step away down a side street or through an ornate doorway and you will find temple enclosures, beautiful peaceful gardens and fountains with trickling water. You could spend an entire afternoon peacefully browsing in one of Bali’s art galleries or bookshops – and sometimes, I did. Walk ten minutes along the main road and you will find yourself in peaceful rice paddies as far as the eye can see, with not so much the beep of a moped horn. Incense and offerings are at every turn and while I was there, the Hindu festival and public holiday Galungan was celebrated so ornate decorations adorned the streets, making even the busiest of roads beautiful.
So, you see where this is going. Within 48 hours I had fallen head over heels for Ubud, and that’s why I stayed there the best part of two weeks.
NB: I did a lot of stuff in in Ubud and have a lot to say, a lot of recommendations and a lot of reflections, so I’m going to split this into two posts. First I’ll cover off where I stayed and what I ate , then I’ll cover off the amazing things i got up to in post two.
I stayed in three different places in Ubud.
Inn Between Hostel
I generally liked this place because Jenn was staying there and I met a couple of cool down to earth Brits. It was really well located and situated down a lovely tree lined path – it had a pretty traditional Balinese exterior, pool and a banana pancake breakfast from the renowned Mama’s Warung was a mere 20,000IDR (£1.20). The room itself was the cheapest I stayed in in Bali, at the equivalent of only £5 a night. However, while the room was clean, it was cramped and the bathroom was damp and smelly. I found myself feeling a bit hostelled out in Ubud, I think sometimes the introvert in me just wants to be alone – fully alone – and that can be difficult in a tiny room. I also find not being able to unpack even some of my things a bit of a pain in the arse. But while I didn’t fully love my stay, I’d certain recommend staying here overall for budget central Ubud accommodation with a pool.
Uma Capung Mas Villa and Cottages
Ness, one of my oldest and best friends in the whole world now living in Brisbane, came out to see me for 5 days and it was amazing (more on that next post). We ventured out of town in search of more tranquil accommodation and stayed in the beautiful Uma Capung Mas Villa – we felt like the only people staying there and most days had the huge infinity pool overlooking jungle trees to ourselves. Wayan, our host, was an absolute delight. Our room, at £27 a night, was spacious and clean but the highlight was breakfast on the terrace overlooking the rice paddies (and drinking an Aussie red wine that Ness kindly brought over me overlooking the same view at sunset)!
Bale Bali House
I spent my last three days here and it was utterly delightful. My favourite type of Balinese accommodation is the traditional homestay, I just love seeing families going about their daily lives. This one was so so pretty, and as previously it was a luxury having my own room and bathroom and little terrace area even if it was at the steeper end of my budget (£14 a night). It was only 5/10 minutes walk from my two favourite Ubud streets Jl Hanoman and Jl Gootama (GREAT name).
Food in Ubud
Ok, I don’t even know where to start with this because food in Ubud is utterly brilliant. I’ve tried to narrow it down to my favourites:
Clear Cafe has to be seen to be believed. It is utterly beautiful. I totally fell in love with it and ate there a few times for brunch, always spending hours and hours there – their Buddha Bowl with grilled veg avocado and tofu and their jamu juice was excellent.
Cafe Pomegranate and Sari Organic are both bohemian cafes a short wander off the main road and through the rice fields – Ness introduced me to them as she’d been with her family in May. We only had drinks and nibbles at the former and a cup of excellent Balinese tea at the latter but it’s worth going for the views and tranquility (and lack of wifi!) alone.
Ubud has no shortage of really good, cheap warungs and traditional restaurants. Mamas Warung do great pork belly and rice (and if you’re lucky you get to meet the delightful Mama herself!), while I sampled my cheapest and most delicious Mie Goreng for 20,000 at Don Biu Warung. Try Hongalia for amazing home made egg noodle and dumpling soup and the popular restaurant Bebek Bengil, where you must order their world famous a crispy roast duck, steamed rice, vegetables and sambal. I’m going to be controversial and say I’ve has better duck in Chinatown in London but it’s still totally worth a visit.
Restaurants (and an Eat Pray Love encounter)
Jenn and I were craving a pizza so went to Buonasera on Jl Gootama. The pizzas were REALLY good – think huge woodfired pizzas piled high with speck, salty ricotta and rocket – but what really made the visit was the company. We met Pedro at Buonasera, a Brazilian (we guessed in his sixties) who had been travelling for 40 years for his import export trade. He was the most fascinatingly interesting man I think I’ve ever met. We talked about how Ubud had changed since Eat Pray Love, although he hasn’t read the book or watched the film, he said. ‘I was shocked when Jose first said it was him in the movie’ he remarked flippantly. Woah woah woah, Jose is the real name of Felipe, THE Brazilian who helps Liz keep her balance in Bali at the end of the book. Turns out Pedro and Jose/Felipe were old friends, mainly from being in the same trade and being part of the same expat community in Ubud. I tried to keep it cool but naturally ended up grilling him and loved how totally nonplussed and non braggy he was – almost bemused by my fascination and interest.
Other higher priced, more western eateries I enjoyed I visited with my friend Lisa from Canggu were ambient eatery Kismet, who had a huge cocktail menu, and Watercress, where we ate insane tuna sashimi. I thoroughly recommend both but neither are for the budget traveler!
Next on the blog: a cookery course, a dream spa day and an unexpected naked man…!