Ubud is a tourist day trip magnet, the home to thousands of expats and a raw food lover’s paradise.
On our previous trips to Bali (we’ve been 9 times) we use to visit to Ubud for a day, but this time we decided to base ourselves here for about 1.5 months. With a thriving expat community and the promise of convenient, healthy meals, a splash of yoga and a smattering of peace and quiet, it sounded exactly like the place we needed to recoup.
If you’ve been planning a long-term trip to Bali and have considered staying in Ubud, then this guide is precisely what you were searching for. Or if you’re a serial visitor (like many Aussies), you might just get inspired to stay a little longer next time.
There’s 1 primary international airport on the island – “Ngurah Rai” located south of Kuta. Remember to bring cash with you to pay for the 30-day Visa On Arrival (VOA), if you haven’t organised a longer-term visa in advance (currently US$35 per person). But there are now convenient ATMs located in the airport so you can withdraw cash if needed before reaching the VOA payment desk. By the way it costs 250,000 rupiah per person (including kids) to leave the airport as well, so save money for that.
From the airport you can take a fixed-price taxi to Ubud or you can arrange a driver ahead of time to collect you. A driver will cost about 300,000 rupiahs (approximately AUD$30). The journey will take around 1.5 hours depending on traffic and sometimes a little longer during peak hour traffic. Just ask the driver to take the toll road, which will cost you an extra 10,000 rupiah (AUD$1) to shave off at least 15 minutes from the journey. Drivers can be found anywhere from TripAdvisor reviews to Bali Facebook forums. Or you can just wait until you get to the airport and take a lucky pick. There won’t be any shortage of drivers vying for your attention, but make sure you bargain for the best price.
Bali is undeniably scooter-centric and it really is the easiest way to get around for short trips. You can hire a scooter for around 600,000 rupiah per month (AUD$60) or around 50,000 rupiah per day (AUD$5). Helmets are included with the scooters. Usually there’s no paperwork or deposits so don’t get stressed. Filling up petrol (gasoline) is easy – look for small shops selling fuel in glass bottles. Depending on your location, these should cost around 15,000 (AUD$1.50) for a large bottle – enough to fill up a scooter tank. Simply pay the shopkeeper and they will do the filling up for you.
If you feel more comfortable driving a car you can hire one, but will probably spend a lot more time in traffic, since a scooter can zigzag through the cars and fit into tight spaces. Cars are also more difficult to park, while scooters can be parked pretty much anywhere. We did this on our first visit back in 2012.
It is a legal requirement for only the scooter driver to wear a helmet and regardless if you’re in a car or scooter, you must carry your driver’s license. An international one will work better if you’re pulled over by the police, but most will accept a small bribe - around 50,000 rupiah (AUD$5) - to keep you going on your way. Never flash all your cash to avoid that bribe going higher. Even better, keep a 50k note separate in your pocket so it’s easy to reach.
Keep a plastic poncho in the storage compartment under the seat for those sudden torrential downpours. We used one of our spare ponchos from a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. I knew that would come in handy one day!
Don’t be surprised if you see 4 people on the one bike or several other bizarre things squeezing into impossible spaces. We actually tried that and while it was logistically possible to get 2 adults and 2 children on 1 scooter, because of Josh’s long legs it was rather uncomfortable. So whenever all 4 of us wanted to go out, we’d simply hire a second scooter for the day.
Ubud does not have any regular metred taxis, unlike the rest of Bali. They do have unmarked vans with drivers who pretty much do the same thing as a taxi. You’ll see them standing on the side of the street either calling out or holding a small sign. The clever reason for this is to prevent further traffic congestion on the already busy roads. A journey into and out of town (from the outskirts) will usually cost about 50,000 rupiah one way (AUD$5). They will always ask for more so make sure you negotiate firmly before getting into the van.
A couple examples of hiring a driver:
- Ubud to Nusa Dua (one-way): about 300,000 rupiahs (AUD$30),
- Ubud to Nusa Dua (return): about 400,000 rupiahs (AUD$40).
If you need the driver to wait around you may look at getting a driver for the whole day. This could bump up the price by AUD$10, depending on how far you drive.
Where To Stay
During our previous visit to Ubud in 2012 we stayed at the Bali T House, on the outskirts of town.
This time when we first arrived we spent a few nights in Tjampuhan Hotel and Spa. This place was the perfect intro back into Ubud, with lush gardens, traditional-inspired suites, and soothing hot springs within caves overlooking the Tjampuhan Ridge. We spent a lovely time there.
After our hotel stay we moved into a villa about 3 minutes drive away on Jl. Penestanan Kelod. This rustic narrow path was home to many of our friends and the perfect place to set up home. Just walking distance to restaurants, car-free and lined with private villas and rice paddies alike.
We found our particular villa through friends, but the owner does have a website with many more villas available. Ours featured 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, cable TV, equipped kitchen, swimming pool, washing machine, utilities, breakfast prepared daily, and daily cleaning.
It is quite common that you’ll find expats in Ubud with cleaners, nannies, security guards or full-time cooks. If this is something that is not included in your villa then ask around. Ask other expats that are living there, ask your villa’s cleaner or check a few Facebook groups.
If you are looking for a safe and reliable nanny, we have been using Chomang for years and she adores our kids. Tell her I sent you.
What To Do
Ubud is the spiritual hub of Bali, so you will find plenty of yoga and spiritual healing classes.
My favourite class was at the Yoga Barn. It was 120,000 rupiah (AUD$12) per session or you can buy in bulk and the price gets as low as AUD$6 per session.
The Monkey Forest is a must visit, despite the aggressive nature of the monkeys. It really is a beautiful walk. But if you are not comfortable around monkeys there is also a calmer monkey forest called Alas Kedaton.
Walk around rice paddies, shop in the markets, eat lots of good food, and make plenty of new friends. Hire a nanny and go out for couples’ massages or even take the kids with you. Anything goes.
Massages are wonderfully cheap in Bali. On average you can get a 1 hour Balinese massage for 80,000 rupiah ($8 AUD), a pedicure for 70,000 rupiah ($7 AUD) and young girls can get their toes painted for around 30,000 ($3 AUD). Of course you can find places for more and less. Our favourites were Sedona Spa (near Bintang supermarket) and Rembulan Spa (1st spa on Hanoman Rd).
Reuse Centre – The lady who started this use to work for Google and is passionate about recycled crafts. You can drop the kids off for an hour, or stay with them and create anything you like using all the amazing recycled craft items. Session price is 50,000 rupiah per child (AUD$5).
KidsWorld – We visited during our previous stay in Ubud. It hasn’t change much, but still just as fun for the kids with trampolines and inflatable bouncy castles. Bring along a swimsuit for the kids because it can get pretty hot inside and outside is a fun-sized swimming pool with mini waterslide.
Paradiso Cinema – A new addition since our last visit to Ubud. This small movie theatre in the middle of town is the world’s first organic vegetarian cinema. Tickets are 50,000 rupiah (AUD$5) per adult and the kids a little cheaper, but the bonus is whatever you spent on tickets you receive a voucher for your food bill. There is a healthy, organic restaurant attached to the cinema so that you can purchase meals and have them delivered to your seat. The cinema is equipped with lounges and crisp air-conditioning. They don’t play the latest Hollywood blockbusters, but they do play cartoons and kid-friendly films most evenings at 5pm.
Where To Eat
We wrote a post about this back in 2012, but how times have changed! So here are our new favourite places to eat.
Melting Wok – Seating is limited and usually packed out so call to book in advance. Must try their unique interpretation of chicken curry.
Warung Schnitzel – A new favourite. Owned and operated by a true German. The schnitzel was better than most of those we tried in Vienna, Austria. And for only AUD$6.50, the kids loved the sausage and mash potato.
Taco Casa – Our old favourite and still just as awesome as I remember. The best Mexican in town (or anywhere in Bali as far as I’m concerned).
Alchemy – Only a short walk down the road from us, this refreshing salad bar offers a huge bowl of salad, chosen to suit your needs for just AUD$5. It’s more expensive than most food in Ubud, but healthy, raw, organic, vegan and delicious.
Taksu – We enjoyed breakfast here once and the eggs benedict was spot on. I’d eat here again without a second thought.
Casa Luna – A frequent weekend brunch spot, and popular with expats. Unfortunately they can’t cook eggs benedict particularly well, but the Mediterranean platter is delicious.
Clear Café – Amazing views and the best breakfast burritos. You can work from here all day with the free Wi-Fi and calming temple jungle views. Keep in mind their original café location burned down a while back, so they are temporarily located opposite Bridges (see next).
Bridges – This fancy place overlooks a scenic bridge, jungle and river. We visited on Valentine’s Day and the food was top notch. If you are looking for something more upmarket or hanging out for a juicy steak, this is the place for you.
Sari Organik – A stalwart in the Ubud food scene. Most of the produce is grown on the nearby organic farm and the serene views of the rice paddies are a fast track to relaxation. But considering the quality of food, slightly on the expensive side.
The Onion Collective – Josh visited this chilled restaurant once with a friend and the burger was surprisingly good. The Wi-Fi password sums it up… chillaxx (yes with 2 x’s).
Café Wayan – We visited this restaurant frequently in 2012, but only tried once this time. I had been looking forward to 1 particular dish but unfortunately it had been removed from the menu. The atmosphere is very pleasant, and the variety of food is impressive, but prices are a bit higher than what you can find elsewhere.
Gaya Gelato – Easily the best ice cream in Ubud (and possibly the world), and made with fresh ingredients. Can also be delivered to your front door for around AUD$1 (very dangerous if you’re on a diet). Made by an Italian who knows precisely what he is doing. Pistachio was my favourite! To die for!
Caramel – Patisserie serving delicious cakes, sweet treats and Josh’s favourite… Red Velvet cake. Grab a seat upstairs for a quiet, relaxing morning tea. Then head across the road to Rembulan Spa for a massage.
Most of the above restaurants will deliver to your house. It’s not tricky to find someone to deliver; the tricky part is describing where you live. If you do have easy-to-describe directions, then these are our favourites:
Umah Pizza – Great, cheap pizzas. We are talking 2 large pizzas, 1 garlic bread delivered for AUD$9. Tipping 1 dollar makes the delivery person’s day!
Pizza Bagus – The pizza is okay, but the pasta is very good. Also they offer online ordering, which makes things much easier. Speaking on the phone to restaurants takes a lot of patience because of the language barrier.
Mamma Mia – This place also has great pizza.
Dream Café – The chicken nuggets are real chicken in panko crumbs – definitely worth it when you are searching for chicken nuggets and chips for the kids. There’s no McDonald’s in Ubud – and why would you want to go with so many amazing restaurants to choose from?
Bayu’s Kitchen – We enjoyed the Indonesian food from here. They were also conveniently located near our villa in Penestanan (northwest Ubud).
Queen’s – This Indian restaurant was expensive and the food mediocre. If you must have Indian then give them a try, otherwise I would hold off.
There are 2 big supermarkets in town – Bintang (northwest) and Delta Dewata (northeast). Coco Mart is a bit smaller at the southern end of town. You should be able to find most things in these two larger supermarkets. Fresh milk is less common compared to Australia and relatively expensive, with much of it UHT. Bread is also not that cheap (around AUD$0.90 for half a loaf) and gets mouldy quickly in the tropical humidity, so keep it in the fridge or freezer.
Western food is going to be expensive, such as AUD$8 for a box of Weetbix or a small bag of Granola. Other items like a bottle of Smirnoff will only set you back AUD$2.50, so change your eating habits to suit the prices or just beware.
Oh, and Australians… bring your Vegemite. A jar on the shelf in Bintang will set you back AUD$13! Ouch!
Staying In Touch
Balinese Internet speed can be a little hit-and-miss, although it’s getting better in Ubud. Most restaurants and cafes offer free Wi-Fi. However, we picked up a local SIM card (simPATI) which only cost around AUD$9 in total and included enough calls, SMS and 1.5GB of data for a month (reloading was a little cheaper since there was no new SIM card cost). These can be picked up from any cell phone shop. If you’re not sure where to look, just ask a staff member at your villa/hotel or a restaurant.
Wi-Fi at our villa sat under 2Mb/s, but some hotels are getting 6Mb/s. Hubud claims 20Mb/s.
What Language Do They Speak?
While the official language is Balinese and Bahasa Indonesian, you will usually have no trouble speaking in English. The majority of Balinese speak English fairly well and a surprisingly substantial percentage of the restaurant owners are actually Australian, American, Canadian or British. In fact, our villa’s landlord was an Aussie.
Why Is It Family Friendly?
Despite the traffic and uneven pavement, the aggressive monkeys and the rain, Ubud is a welcoming environment for families. The town emanates an ultra relaxed vibe that really brought our family together with jug-fulls of freshly squeezed quality time.
The expat community thrives with resources for home schooling as well as several highly regarded international schools. The social environment is booming, and entrepreneurship is growing with new establishments to cater for digital nomads such as Hubud. There’s always something fun to do, from movies to sports activities to festivals. The cost of living is a fraction of Western countries. Oh, and a swimming pool is never far away. What more could you want?