The Cultural Heart of Bali

Ubud is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Kuta's busy beaches.

Ubud is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Kuta’s busy beaches.

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Tucked away in the rice paddies of central Bali, Ubud emanates an ethereal spiritual glow that makes it feel a million miles from the party scene of tourist  areas like Kuta and Seminyak.

In the past decade, the town has also become a mecca for yoga-lovers, as well as travellers intrigued by Bali’s local traditions and heritage who often gravitate towards the fascinating little town to explore the plethora of temples, galleries and traditional workshops.

If you have the time, it is useful to set aside at least one week to make the most of Ubud’s treasures, whether you are the type of visitor that enjoys a spot of white-water-rafting or prefer taking in a traditional shadow puppet show at the local theatre.

Market Moves

If your Rupiah are burning a hole in your pocket, Ubud’s authentic local market, situated at the corner of Jl Monkey Forest and Jl Raya Ubud, is a great place to pick up a few trinkets and souvenirs. Not for the faint of heart, the basement market offers a true taste of everyday life for the locals – with everything from knick-knack stalls to butchers.

If you want to buy something a little more traditional for friends back home, a landslide of souvenirs is on offer, from hand-crafted wood carvings to batik shirts. It is customary to haggle with stall owners in order to get the best price, but remember it’s all part of the fun, and to keep smiling rather than tai in the price negotiations too seriously.

Cultural Pulse

There are so many temples and historical sites in and around Ubud that you can experience an overwhelming sense of visual delight once you truly begin to explore.  Goa Gajah (Elephant Cave) is a must-see destination. The site is home to a cave with an entrance that is ornately carved to represent a demon’s mouth. Poet Mountain, known locally as Gunung Kawi, dates back to the 11th century. The site is thought to be the burial complex of King Anak Wungsu. Visitors that climb down all 371 steps are rewarded by the chance to feast their eyes on one of Bali’s most ancient monuments, not to mention the glistening view of the steep valley, lined with shining paddy fields, which is nothing less than mesmerising.

Far from the Beach

While many travellers flock to Bali in search of gentle beaches, the scenery further inland is just as enchanting. The layers of paddies towards the south of the town offer the greenest views, and are particularly striking for visitors entering the town from this direction. The stunning terraces around the village of Tegallalang, a small settlement to the north of Ubud, are well-known for their breathtaking beauty. A gentle stroll through the paddies is a great way to soak up the relaxed atmosphere of the island, although it is best to enquire about a local guide if you plan on going any real distance. Alternatively, you can enjoy exploring the area with a refreshing breeze on a gentle bicycle ride.

Close to Nature

In addition to the peaceful paddies surrounding Ubud, it is also possible to experience a livelier form of nature with a trip to the renowned Monkey Forest. This sacred forest is home to scores of hungry (and very cheeky) monkeys, so it is best to be wary as you make your way to the temple at the centre of the forest. If you aren’t in the mood to battle with the forest’s fiery inhabitants, a trip to Bali Bird Park provides more of a relaxing encounter with nature. The park stretches out across two hectares of land, and is home to a rainbow of more than 250 different bird species.

Arty Attractions

If you are something of an art buff, then Ubud will not disappoint as the town is home to a selection of museums and art galleries. To get your fill of artistic pleasures, head to the Agung Rai Museum of Art on Jl Pengosekan. This museum showcases the work of many local Balinese artists, in addition to internationally-renowned creative minds that have found inspiration on Bali. If you want to get your hands dirty, take a trip to the Bali Centre for Artistic Creativity, where you can feast your eyes on works by various Indonesian artists before taking part in a class yourself. If you are a fan of modern art, Museum Puri Lukisan on Jl Raya Ubud is the place to go. The museum houses an impressive showcase of both modern and traditional Balinese art, including works by Rudolph Bonnet.

Some Must Sees and Do’s

If you only visit Ubud once – although it’s hard to resist a return trip – try to make time in your itinerary for the following activities to make the most of the island.

  • Shadow puppetry is an exquisite art form that offers a fantastic way to soak up a little of the local culture. One of Ubud’s most impressive performances can be seen at the Oka Kartini Bungalows on Jl Raya Ubud to the east of the town. Performances take place at 8pm on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Arrive early to snag the best seats in the house.
  • Bali is a hotbed of local traditions, some of which play a major part in contributing to the island’s economy. Traditional textile weaving is one such tradition and to learn a little more about how Balinese textile makers and basket weavers have operated for centuries, head to the Threads of Life Centre near Ubud.  The centre houses a small gallery, and visitors that aren’t content to watch a demonstration of weaving can even have a go themselves by taking part in one of the centre’s workshops.
  • If shadow puppetry isn’t your cup of tea, then perhaps a traditional performance of Balinese dance is your preferred way to spend an evening. To take in an evening of traditional Barong Dance, make your way to Batubulan, which is situated a little south of Ubud. The performance tells a story of the battle between good and evil, which is interweaved with traditional dance. Alternatively, a kecak dance performance, with a grand finale of fire dancing, is well worth catching. Head to Pura Dalem on Jl Raya Ubud for this.
  • For travellers that need a hit of adrenaline to make it through a holiday, Ubud is also home to white water rafting. The Aung River at Sayan, just to the west of Ubud, is a great place to try out some high-speed rafting during the rainy season.
  • No trip to Bali would be complete without sampling a taste of Babi Guling, which translates to ‘spit-roasted pig’. Ubud offers plenty of outstanding cafes and restaurants for travellers to sample this dish. Served with rice, spiced vegetables and sometimes even offal and blood sausage, Babi Guling is a delicacy meat lovers won’t want to miss out on.
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