Is Ubud worth visiting in 2020? Read on and see what you think.
Early morning is the best time to experience Ubud. Picture yourself on Jalan Gootama. The offerings have just been placed on the threasholds, incense smoke rises into the morning haze, filling the air with the scent of sandalwood, champak and frangipani.
Local shoppers crowd the junction at Bisma Ubud buying their fruit and vegetables from sellers seated on cloths at the roadside. Scooters and cars push and shove inches away, ferrying Yoga practitioners to their shalas or day trippers to the waterfalls, beaches and temples.
The restaurants and cafes are coming to life; eggs are frying on skillets, vegetables are being tossed in woks, palm leaves are being cut to fit wicker plates.
Ubud has done well to keep its character under the pressure of tourism and globalisation. However, change, modernisation, progress, or whatever you want to call it is at work, erroding the very thing that makes many people go there. Finding the right balance is never easy.
Tegallalang, the beautiful rice terraces from Ron Fricke’s Baraka are now more like a Disney imitation than the real thing. Where once you could walk up and down the clay paths, seeing the locals tending their paddies, or selling coconuts from their bamboo huts, you can now swing in front of purpose built statutes and greenery tended only for that perfect, but unoriginal photo, a snapshot of a purely superficial experience.
The surrounding rice fields are, one by one, being sold off as building plots; the colours and smells of nature giving way for white washed walls of modern villas.
Ubud now has not one but two Starbucks.
Despite all that, Ubud is still an amazing place. The majority of restaurants are locally ran and the atmosphere in town is very good. It’s a place where you can make lasting friendships with both Balinese and foreigners alike.
Where to eat
You really are spoiled for choice here. So you can’t go wrong with wherever you end up. The following are the restaurants I visit again and again but there are many more I want to try. Just walk down Jalan Gootama on your first day.
- Fair Warung Bale – All profits go to the Fair Future Foundation (provides healthcare to Indonesians).
- Clear Cafe
- Atman Nourish Cafe
- Sweet Ginger (attached to Sapodilla Ubud, where I like to stay)
- The Melting Wok
- Waroeng Bernadette – must try the rendang
- Queens of India
- Art Cafe
- Arang Sate Bar
- Sweet Orange Warung
Where to go
- Jump on a scooter or find a driver and go explore the surrounding area. You’ll soon find yourself in a sea of green rice fields under a blue sky, with a view of (I think) four volcanoes in the hazy distance. You can find the above by driving straight up Jalan Suweta, like I did, and you could even visit the Pyramids of Chi up there for some sound healing – Let me know if it’s any good.
- Camuphan Ridge walk. It’s fully paved and has great views of nature on either side. Before turning back, I stopped off at Karsa Spa for a Jamu and a young coconut while watching a Javan pond heron take two carp from the pond.
- Walk through the rice fields from the main street (Jalan Raya Ubud). Access across from Lazy Cats Cafe for the path that leads to Cafe Pomegranate – one of the best places to see the sunset, or from behind The Paon restaurant, where you can follow the path to Sweet Orange Warung and beyond.
- On the subjects of sunset, I’ve stayed in a few hotels and homestays in Ubud. My favourite for watching the sunrise or sunset is Iman Homestay on Jalan Gootama. It has amazing views over town. I got a room on the top floor facing east and left the blinds open so the sunrise would wake me. With only two rooms on each floor, there was no need for anyone to be going past that window (which led nowhere) at 6 in the morning. So it was a little embarrassing as I stood naked looking out when the cleaner suddenly blocked my view and began moping the balcony.
What to do
- Get a traditional Balinese oil massage. My favourite spa is StarChild.
- The Laughing Buddha has some great live music. I like the Monday nights when Unb’rocken are playing. As I publish this (February 2020) they are on tour in Australia for 2 months.
- LOL Reggae bar is a great place to go with cheap local wine.
- Go see the Kecak Dance at Pura Dalem.
- Latin night in No Mas.
- CP Lounge if you fancy a late night – They have a little sound-proof disco house to the right of the main entrance.
- Melting Pot Saloon to play pool.
- Bali Bohemia supposedly holds great open mic nights. I haven’t had a chance to check them out yet, so let me know what you think.
- Go to Soma Cafe on a Friday night for an Ojas Builder and to watch and listen to the Yoga Barners jam. Bring ear plugs just in case.
- See a film at the Earth Cafe.
- If you’re there for at least three weeks, you could go learn ashtanga yoga with Prem and Radha at the Ashtanga Yoga Bali Research Centre. Be prepared to sweat.
is ubud worth visiting in 2020?
I would say a definite yes.
The Balinese people are some of the most hospitable people in the world, the food is excellent and the country itself has an abundance of natural beauty. It’s no wonder that you seldom meet anyone who has been there once without returning or without having plans to return.
In spite of the selling-off of the rice fields, the two Starbucks and the death of Tegallalang, Ubud retains the local culture and upholds its customs more than any place I’ve been to in Bali. Hopefully when you’re there you’ll see one of the local ceremonies where the people dress in their best traditional clothing and get fully involved.
Like most places in Bali, Ubud is very much worth a visit, and will continue to welcome tourists of all kinds for many years to come.
If you’re considering going to Ubud, like most things in life it’s best to do it now. The ‘golden age’ of Ubud and Bali might be long gone, but your very own golden age may just be beginning. Don’t put off the things you want to do until tomorrow, because as Cat Stevens says ‘you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.’
The present is guaranteed but the future isn’t.
P.S. Are you as adventurous and generous as I think you are?
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