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Ultimate Ubud: A Guide for First-Time Traveller’s to Bali

Besides two days in Singapore, at the time I travelled to Bali I had never been anywhere else in Asia.

It was about to be an entirely new country and culture for me to experience. I was excited but there was definitely a side of me that felt wary, too. Before Bali, my travels had taken me to quaint towns across Europe, Floridian sunshine in the States, and the many vibrant cities and coastal suburbs of Australia. Nothing felt quite as extreme – in my mind at least – as the prospect of venturing to South East Asia on my own for the first time.

The beautiful Tegallalang Rice Terraces
Turns out my first insight to Bali was one that I’ll remember fondly forever.

After a year hopping around Australia and New Zealand, staying in 50+ hostels and lugging my backpack around on numerous trains, buses and planes, Bali was to be my final stop before home. And above anything, I dreamed of having a slow, relaxing couple of weeks to really enjoy my first experience of Bali and so I decided – I would base myself in Ubud. No more buses or hostels or re-packing of bags late at night. Just two weeks of calm on the paradise island.

More than a year on, I still have very vivid memories of what it felt like to arrive in Ubud. To witness the crazy bustle on the streets, to feel that whack of humidity every time you step outdoors, to smell the scent of various incense left as offerings on doorsteps and frangipani flowers lovingly shaped to spell out words and phrases of positivity.

A touch of Balinese hospitality on the steps to my hotel reception

In this guide, I want to give my honest insight to everything I experienced and would personally recommend in Ubud for first-time visitors, along with some tips on sightseeing, transport, costs and what it’s like being a solo traveller there.

The hot walk down 250 steps to Pura Gunung Kawi temple

About Ubud, Bali

Ubud is a town in the Gianyar region on the island of Bali, Indonesia.

Over the years, Ubud has become known as a cultural centre of Bali and has built up quite the tourism industry, with over 3 million foreign tourists passing through each year. But on the outskirts of the bustling main town lies small farms, plantations and the lush, green rice paddies that paint a rather idyllic image of Ubud.

It has become synonymous with health spas and yoga retreats, colourful acai bowls and those dreamy shots we’ve all seen looking out across rice terrace vistas, the most-known being Tegallalang Rice Terraces.

Currency

The currency used throughout Bali is the Indonesian Rupiah, where 100,000 rupiah is the equivalent of about £5.00 GBP or $9.50 AUD.

Time-Zone

Bali is within the Central Indonesia Time zone and although Bali is one hour ahead of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta – Bali itself only has one time-zone. This means Ubud and other areas on the island including Denpasar, Kuta, Seminyak and Canggu all share the same time.

But you’re on Bali, who’s checking the time?!

Getting there…

Transport from Airport

Ngurah Rai International is Bali’s main airport, located close to the island’s capital Denpasar.

It’s quite an easy airport to navigate but start doing some research on transport to parts of the island from the airport and you’ll run into all kinds of varying opinions, costs, and advice. A lot of forums will tell you that the rough price for a taxi should cost anywhere between 250,000 to 350,000 IDR.

As a first-time (solo) traveller to Bali, I opted for a tiny peace of mind and arranged my pick-up through my hotel. This cost me 450,000 IDR, which is roughly £22 GBP and honestly, a cost I really didn’t think twice about spending!

Rush hour heading to Ubud

Duration from Airport

Another thing that is much-debated across travel forums and blogs is the amount of time it takes to get to your destination anywhere in Bali. For Ubud, it is estimated anywhere between one to two hours or more for the journey time from the airport (for me, it was a solid two hours and dark by the time I reached my hotel).

So, make no pre-conceptions about what time you’ll arrive – just enjoy the journey and be happy that you’ve arrived in Bali!

Transport around Ubud

Honestly, for most of the attractions within Central Ubud, I walked. It’s hot, it’s sweaty, it’s really hot. But, walking is the best way to spot all of the details in any place that you’re unlikely to see from a car window or perhaps while being concerned for your life on the back of a scooter (in the case of Bali).

If there are places you want to visit just outside of Ubud, like the famous rice terraces and the countless temples, then you can hire a driver, usually at a set price, for the day. It’s pretty affordable and if sharing the cost with friends, it’s even better value.

Staying in Ubud

Finding accommodation in Ubud is definitely a factor that you shouldn’t struggle with at all! I’ve never seen so many hotels, hostels and guest houses in one place. Obviously, sometimes when there’s so much on offer it can make the search even harder! Ubud caters for everyone and everything, from basic, budget-guest house’s to 5-star retreats.

Poolside at Meruhdani Guesthouse

My Hotel Recommendation – Meruhdani Guesthouse

I found Meruhdani and almost instantly believed it would be perfect for me. It seemed as though it was tucked down a side-street, just minutes away from the buzz of central Ubud. The pool area looked like a small tropical oasis, and the hotel itself seemed lovely, clean and struck me as being quiet due to housing just 8 rooms! And I can confirm, all of these inklings were correct! I couldn’t recommend it enough and I can’t wait to go back.

Friends of mine who travelled to Ubud the same year as me (2019) also had lovely stays at Poshtel and Bali Dream Resort.

Little poolside oasis at Meruhdani Guesthouse

Now that those finer details are taken care of, let’s talk about SEEING Ubud.

Notable streets in central Ubud

Jalan Raya Ubud is the main street that runs through the centre of town, with other notable streets including Jalan Monkey Forest, Jalan Hanoman and a little favourite of mine, Jalan Goutama.

Ubud Palace, Jalan Raya Ubud

Top sights in central Ubud

  • Ubud PalaceJalan Raya Ubud, Free Admission
  • Monkey ForestJalan Monkey Forest, Admission cost: IDR 80,000
  • Ubud Art MarketJalan Raya Ubud, open every day roughly 9am-6pm
  • Saraswati TempleJalan Raya Ubud, Free Admission (with separate cost to see dance shows)
  • The Blanco Renaissance MuseumJalan Raya Campuhan, international contribution: IDR 100,000
  • Museum Puri LukisanJalan Raya Ubud, Admission cost: IDR 50,000
  • The walk to Campuhan Ridgestart from Jalan Raya Campuhan, take a turning for Jalan Bangkiang Sidem

Top sights outside of central Ubud

  • Tegallalang Rice Terracesa visit to Ubud is surely not complete without a stop at the rice terraces in Tegallalang, the most beautiful and well-known rice terrace view on Bali
  • Pura Gunung Kawione of Bali’s oldest and most interesting temples and monuments, consisting of 10 shrines carved into rock faces. Reachable via 250 steep steps, with souvenir sellers on either side – thought they’re not pushy.
  • Tirta Empul Templea water temple, with holy spring water where rituals can often be observed (or participated in).
  • Uma Pakel very close to Tegallalang, with lovely views, giant swings for all of those ‘Instagram’ photo opportunities, if that’s your thing. However, there is also a coffee plantation and a shop/café where tons of Indonesian coffees and teas can be sampled.
  • Mount Baturone of the most popular activities while staying in Ubud is to hike to the summit of Mount Batur, which you can organise yourself or through your hotel.

Restaurants in Ubud

You’ll never go hungry in Ubud. However, you do have to be a little choosy with where you eat. Just like the stories you hear of the dreaded Delhi-Belly in India, unfortunately – but not always (I was fine, more on that later) – Bali-Belly exists as well!

Some places I loved and can recommend for great food, atmosphere and cleanliness are Casa Luna, Milk & Madu, Clear Cafe, Dumbo, Honeymoon Kitchen, La Pacha Mama and the restaurant connected to my hotel, Semujaen. Also for a quick snack in the middle of the day, Daily Baguette and Tukie’s Coconut Shop are perfect.

The places I just listed are a mix of Indonesian and Western foods. Don’t worry, there are plenty of options around. Ubud is also really good at catering for vegans/vegetarians and is packed full of veg/vegan cafes and restaurants, like The Seeds of Life, Bali Buda, Zest Ubud, KAFE and Moksa.

Head over to Instagram to see my mini guide on Ubud

Is Ubud clean?

Ubud is not the cleanest place I’ve been to. It’s the kind of place where two or even three showers a day are completely necessary due to the heat and how much dusty grit you can pick up off the streets. I would sometimes shower before heading to dinner and return to the hotel needing to at least clean my feet. That’s what you’ll get walking everywhere in flip flops! Sadly in some areas there were some mounds of litter, but realistically it didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment.

‘Bali Belly’ – Is it a real thing?

I mean, (thank goodness) in my personal experience, no. But from friends and other travellers I had spoken to previously, apparently Bali Belly CAN be a very real thing! It might just depend on luck, but I also think it pays to be extra safe and use common sense.

Don’t drink ANY tap water – don’t even brush your teeth with it, ask for drinks without ice cubes if you’re not sure where the water is coming from, steer clear of street food if you’re not 100% about the cleanliness of the water in which they are washing fresh food in. Keep anti-bacterial gel with you and use it often, especially before eating.

Is Ubud safe for solo travellers?

In my experience, yes. Despite feeling a little wary prior to going to Bali, I didn’t once feel unsafe when walking the streets of Ubud. If anything, the most dangerous thing I encountered was the drivers and the traffic. And in those cases, just be careful walking down the roads as pavements are often broken and you may be forced to walk in the road, there are also not really road crossings or traffic lights – there are however traffic guards usually monitoring different areas of town and I found quite often that they would always help (especially foreign) travellers to cross the roads safely.

One of many beautiful boutiques in Ubud

I booked all of my transport (to and from the airport and on my outings to see more of Ubud) through my hotel. I’m not sure I would’ve just jumped in a taxi and I definitely wouldn’t have hired a scooter, as many tourists do – simply because the roads are chaotic and to be honest, I’m not sure I trust my own driving skills enough either! As with anywhere as a solo traveller, keep your wits about you and keep your belongings close. Don’t go far or into lonely places at night time. You know all this!

Is Ubud too touristy?

I often see travel blogger slander on the subject of Bali and how touristy/unauthentic it has become. It’s hard for me to compare it to other parts of Asia as I have still seen so little at this point. Since this is a first-timer’s guide, I can only speak from that perspective.

Is it touristy? Well, yeah. Is there a café on nearly every street that screams ‘HEY INSTAGRAMER’S, OVER HERE!’ – sure. Is it packed with travellers? It’s very busy with all kinds of foreign travellers, but you don’t have to be surrounded by them if you don’t want to. Stay in a small guesthouse just outside of the main town and you can still experience plenty of peace in Ubud.

Clear Café, Jalan Hanoman

Final thoughts

Ubud was one of those places that I had already decided I would love, months before even booking my flight there. To me, it was ‘dipping my toe’ into South East Asia for the very first time and it was the perfect introduction. Had I not already had a plane ticket home to England, I imagine Ubud is a place I could’ve stayed and explored for many more weeks – who knows, even months! It encapsulates everything that is Bali – the arts, the culture, the food, the spiritualism, the beautiful, green nature.

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