Ubud, Bali

travel guide:

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about the city

What a special place! After spending my days waking up with yoga in the rice paddies, a creamy glug of cocnut milk in my coffee, and bright pink smoothie bowls full of antioxidant-filled Asian fruits, it only took me one morning to understand why people often come here and never come back. I can still smell the spicy Balinese incense wafting out of the blue and pink flower offerings to the gods, but more than likely, that's just because I bought that incense and light it in my room each night. ;) But really- I use the incense to remind me of the feeling I had in Ubud of how life really should be lived- slowly, shared, and nourishing your body.

In Ubud, one of the yoga meccas of the world, made famous by the movie "Eat, Pray, Love," it's okay to care for yourself. In fact, it's even expected! Life is simple here. Wake up, practice yoga, walk through the rice paddies, eat foods straight from the earth, practice yoga again, share a drink with a stranger while swapping stories about life, get a good night's rest. This is living! If you're looking for an action-packed adventure weekend, head to other parts of the island, but if you're looking to rest and restore, there are few better places than Ubud.

Before you go

While Bali is the perfect place to relax, really do try to support the local economy. I talked to many people who said they were only in the tourism industry because it's quickly becoming one of the only ways to make money in Bali anymore, and they don't love that they have to leave their families behind to work at the hotels all day. Ask your hotel staff about locally-owned restaurants, artisan good shops, and off-the-beaten path activities to support jobs outside of traditional tourism.

where to stay

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Most places around Ubud are pretty similar - lots of guest houses run by local families who really care about sharing their culture with you. You can pay a huge price for luxury retreats outside of the city, but that's not what my city guides are ever about. The following are close to all the activities and restaurants you'll want to go to and keep all the local charm at some shockingly low prices (your money goes far in Bali if you don't get sucked into the tourist traps!):

Ubud Inn– With a beautiful garden and pool, you’ll feel at rest despite being off the busy Monkey Forest Road. This location is very close to Yoga Barn (see "What to Do") if you're spending lots of time there.

Artini Resort- Right next to Yoga Barn (see "What to Do") and a short walk to most of the restaurants, this hotel has two gorgeous pools and is off of rice fields- a perfect oasis from the chaos while still being close. The staff are also extraordinarily friendly and will go out of their way to help you out with whatever you need. It strikes the right balance of upscale resort while still inexpensive. (Be careful: There are many places named "Artini," so make sure you're booking the right one, although the cottages look great too)

Padma Retreat Ubud- Perfect little oasis right off the rice paddies (perfect early morning stroll!) and only a very short walk to city center. I would stay around here next time to be by the rice paddies.

Rumah Roda- Right next to Padma Retreat, Rumah is also in a wonderful location and run by a sweet family who greatly cares about their guests. If you go to their main website, they list out all of their staff with a name and photo because they truly do care about connection!

Puri Saraswati- Directly beside the palace, you can't get much more central than this! Great Bali character.

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what to do

Honestly, don’t plan your days here. That’s not really how life is lived in Ubud. Take advantage of the incredible yoga and be calm during your off time.

 

Yoga Barn- This is the Ubud yoga mecca. This compound is located at the south end of the center of town and a true yoga paradise. The gorgeous grounds house multiple yoga studios, guest houses, a vegan restaurant, juice bar, and holistic healing center. Not to mention, there are extremely fascinating people from all over the world who flock here, so you’ll have some great conversations as you chill in between your yoga practice. You can buy each class individually or buy a set of them at a time to get a discount. The drawback here is that it almost feels slightly cultish. It’s easy to never leave the grounds and be sucked into the “Yoga Barn”culture, but I think as long as you go into it with the right attitude and enjoy the experience without taking things so seriously, you’ll absolutely love it here. I took a variety of different types of yoga classes, and each practice was challenging yet energizing, and I finally got into a proper modified headstand!

Yoga House- If you want a more peaceful session away from the ever so slight Disneyland of yoga that is Yoga Barn, come to Yoga House. I highly suggest their morning session, which is right in the middle of the rice paddies. That downward dog view is probably one of the best in the world as you gaze at endless green instead of a stucco wall! You can register ahead of time online, which I would do because these classes definitely fill up!

Nighttime Balinese dance show- There are around four of these going on any given night. Men are selling tickets on the streets in the afternoons. I took a look at a bunch of them, and they generally all look pretty similar and are similar prices. Ask around, and once you find one that sounds good, don’t worry about anyone scamming you. They’re all legit and a good time. This is most definitely a tourist show, but the dances they’re doing really are performed at Balinese ceremonies and a part of their culture, so don’t think this is some tourist trap.

Kajeng rice fields walk- The more famous walk is the Campuhan Ridge Walk (this is where people take the swing over the rice paddies pic). If lining up to take a fake Instagram pic (it looks like it’s in the jungle, but the reality is that it’s tourist town) is your thing, this is a beautiful walk; that can’t be denied. However, I was blown away by a different rice paddies walk and was so confused why everyone wasn’t doing this one! It’s so peaceful, stunningly beautiful, and you can see the rice farmers at work. This walk is seriously 100x better than the Campuhan walk. You can enter off of the main road of Jl. Raya Ubud, and it's marked on Google Maps.

Ubud Palace- Never been to a temple before? This one’s beautiful and small so easily doable. Make sure your shoulders and knees are covered. Been going around Southeast Asia and already seen a million temples? You can skip this one. It’s beautiful but underwhelming compared to others in the region.

Traditional Art Market- Full of any souvenirs you’ll ever need, the art market has everything from gaudy knick-knacks to beautiful handmade goods. Support this! Through work, I was able to meet with artisans who love their craft but who have had many of their friends quit and go to work in hotels because they can make more money there. They’re slowly watching their traditions and handiwork be lost to tourism, so it’s really important that we help keep this alive. Skip the gaudy tourist shops and buy here. Or go to novica.com if you don’t want to bring things home with you in your bags. They work to keep art alive and give artisans fair wages. I work closely with this company, and they are incredible people doing very impactful work!

Rembulan Spa- There are lots of very similar and good spas all around Ubud, but I went here for a massage and a manicure and had a great experience. 

where to eat

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I want to eat the food from Ubud forever and ever, amen!!! YES PLEASE to all of the healthy, nourishing, and so. freaking. good. food that is all over Ubud. I want to list every restaurant in town here, but I’ll be kind so you’re not as overwhelmed as I was and give you my very favorites. But if you end up going somewhere else that’s amazing, please let me know in the comments!

Clear Café- My Balinese friend told me this was the best restaurant in Bali, and he’s correct. As you walk up to the restaurant, you’re greeted by a lady who will take your shoes from you and swing open a giant wood carved circular door to let you into paradise. Sit on a pillow on the ground next to the coy pond or on the balcony in a swanky lounge-like setting. Any option will feel like you’re on a movie set. A great mix of vegan food and traditional Indonesian dishes, order anything on the menu, and you’ll be blown away. They unfortunately lost our order and left us sitting for an hour before we got our food, but even with that, my friend and I wanted to eat here for every meal, and that’s certainly saying something! Don’t miss this one.

Fair Warung Bale- Run by the Fair Future Foundation, this restaurant has a social mission of providing jobs and job training to youth ages 15-22 while donating 100% of its profits to the Fair Future Foundation, which provides free health and medical care to those who lack access. Yes!

Rococo Warung- I walked in here because it has the same name as one of my favorite spots in Mexico City, and boy am I glad I did! For typical Indonesian food, this small little place had the tastiest chicken skewers I tried. They have several options, but order the Bali style ones. You won’t be disappointed! Another favorite Indonesian food is beef rengdang, which is also on the menu.

Kismet Restaurant & Lounge- A chill café by day and a swanky lounge by night, this is your perfect day-to-night transition place. If you’re looking for a place with wifi and to chill with a computer, you can easily do this here during the day. Fuel up with one of their bowls. I ordered one skewer of tempeh and the other “vegan” (I asked what the vegan one was but didn’t understand TBH...), and they were unbelievably tasty. I was actually sad when I finished and think about this dish more regularly than I should. At night time, come order a cocktail and feel cool AF.

KAFE- There are two locations of this restaurant, one on Jl. Hanoman, which is one of the main streets of Ubud, and the other in good ol’Yoga Barn. They have bomb vegan food that’s so good you won’t miss the animal products one tiny bit. They also have wifi and are cool with hanging out and doing work.

Lazy Cats Café- This was my very first spot in Ubud, and I immediately knew I was going to like it there. Order a coconut milk matcha for a different take on a classic and the Coco Mint Mash. I never would’ve thought to have mint toast in the morning, but I now recreate a version of this dish almost every morning back at home. They also have awesome smoothie bowls if you like something sweeter in the mornings.

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