Asia Bali Travels

Eat, Pray, Love in Ubud

May 15, 2013

Ubud - Goddess in entryway

Whether you’ve read the book, watched the movie or have a bunch of girlfriends who have, good chance you’ve heard about this famous trip to enlightenment from Italy to Bali via India that Elizabeth Gilbert took a while ago. Needless to say countless of women have followed in her path since, searching for something or just wanting to visit those magical places she shared with the world, myself included. The third of the journey (the love part), and most will say the culminating one since she met her current life partner there, happened to be based in Bali’s spiritual capital, Ubud. While I sadly didn’t meet my Javier Bardem (!), I did fall in love with the town, its people, the food, and the overall sense of serenity that exudes from just about everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, within moments of arriving there, I was charmed. Hypnotized by a way of life we’ve all unsuccessfully tried to make our own, relieved that the obvious hike in tourism has left most of the beauty and spirits intact, and most of all utterly gleeful for the chance to live here for a week, no matter how hard it will be to go back… Though I can hardly communicate the intangible nature of what makes Ubud so magical, I hope the following highlights will give a good idea of its beauty and why I so want to pack my things now and move there.

Settling into Ubud, one has two choices: an array of gorgeous and luxurious resorts perched above the river some 10-20km away from town, or an even bigger selection of family-run guest houses smack in the middle of it, offering a comfortable local experience at crazy inexpensive prices. Guess where I went… I spent a week a Puri Bayu Guest House where for a mere $25/night I had a big bedroom, lovely outdoor bathroom to shower with the local flora and fauna, …

Puri Bayu Guest House - Ubud

…and a big terrace where they would serve my breakfast every morning. This is some serious bargain, especially considering that this is an intimate and quiet 4 bedrooms private house located right outside the center (no noise!) facing the rice paddies, and accessible via a narrow path. You feel secluded though are still within minutes of everything…bliss.

Ubud - Breakfast on the terrace

Breakfasts were amazing and different every day, always accompanied by fresh flowers, beautifully cut fruits, tea/coffee, and a scrumptious main dish.

Breakfast at Puri Bayu - Ubud

I hope you like bananas as they have them everywhere here. Stuffed in French Toast was lovely but the real deal is the local specialty of green banana pancakes topped with fresh coconut and cane sugar…I feel I could start every day like this.

Balinese Breakfast - Green Banana Pancake

Another winner was their savory chicken porridge (bubur) served with shredded chicken and roasted peanuts, a very filling start to the day!

Ubud - Porridge breakfast

Like in most places, the day starts early in Ubud and you should too if you want to make the most of it. Just across from the guest house was this extensive rice field that would greet me day and night, though I always thought it looked its best in the early dawn, around 6:30am…

Ubud - Rice paddies at dawn

Another reason to wake up that early is for the chance to go to the market, and by that I mean the real market. Ubud’s market is usually a place for tourists packed high with cheap souvenirs and clothes which you can bargain to your heart’s content. Locals don’t shop there during the day so if you want to immerse yourself and get an insider’s view of their morning rituals, you have to show up between 6am-8am when the local food market is taking place (before they clear everything up to make place for the sarongs and wooden statues).

It’s a real feast for the senses and I literally lost myself in there, the only tourist for about an hour, trying to capture as much as I could, taste local delicacies, and enjoy the hustle surrounding me.

Ubud Market

Mangosteen, chilis, lemons, bananas, and jack fruits.
Ubud Market - Fruits

Flowers are an important part of life in Ubud, and Bali in general and are used as daily offerings to the gods (and visiting guests too!).

Ubud Market - Flowers

Ubud Market - Flower Ladies

Food stalls offer a delicious and cheap way to compose an enormous breakfast.

Barbecued chicken skewers
Ubud Market - Skewers

Mini pancakes freshly baked (addictive, I carried a bag while wandering around).
Ubud Market - Pancakes

Sweets of all kinds, mostly made with coconut, rice, cane sugar and other natural flavors.
Ubud Market - Sweets

While the main market at street level is for fruits, veggies, sweets and breakfast bites, you should not miss the downstairs, covered area which is the meat and groceries market. You’ll find everything for a gargantuan feast from whole grilled chicken to suckling pig and every animal parts you can imagine, not nearly as intimidating as certain Chinese markets I’ve visited in the past. Despite being that early, the meat grilling over flaming coals smelled like heaven and venturing through the dark alleys only brought up more delicacies such as homemade tofu, fresh vanilla pods, and spice mixes.

Ubud Market - Meats

Back on the main floor, it’s time to grab something a bit more substantial to eat as to mini pancakes are long gone. I wasn’t feeling the fish too much but I loved the porridge at the house so much I looked out for something similar.

Ubud Market

Ubud Market - Breakfast 2

I settled on a sweet version this time, very typical, made with red rice and sweetened with coconut milk and cane syrup which I savored back at home on my balcony.

Ubud Market - Red rice porridge

Staying with the food theme, Ubud has of course many wonderful restaurants and I’ve listed my favorites here. Most popular are the local warungs, family-owned casual cafes which serve Balinese cuisine for the most part in a very casual setting and at very reasonable prices. It’s nice that it’s where the locals eat too and if you stick with them you’ll rarely pay above $10 for a full meal.

Warung Sopa advertises itself as ‘the friendly cafe for vegetarian‘ and is a lovely place to hang out for a while and feel good about what you’re eating.

Warung Sopa in Ubud

A fresh and minty limeade was a godsend in the midday heat (did I mention every day was incredibly sunny and warm?) and as everything looked so good I opted for their Nasi campur which is a local dish of rice topped with your chosen sides (vegetarian in this case though Nasi campur usually includes meat). I had ratatouille, banana flowers, eggplant curry, and crispy tofu miso cubes with organic red rice.

Warung Sopa in Ubud - Vegetarian Nasi Campur

All of it very slowly consumed as I read my book laying on a cushioned bench… no idea how long I stayed there but that proves how comfortable and relaxed the place is!

Warung Sopa in Ubud - Inside

At the other end of the spectrum sits an equally tasty though definitely not vegetarian warung dedicated to one thing only – suckling pig! It became hugely famous when Antony Bourdain filmed its No Reservation show at the roadside joint and declared it the best suckling pig he’s ever had… and I concur!

Ubud - Ibu Oka_

Constantly busy, you just grab a seat on the floor and order ‘the special’ (i.e. you want to go early as they run out by mid-afternoon usually). What you’ll get is a heaping paper bowl filled with a mound of rice, topped with a generous portion of tender and juicy roasted pig, a spicy sauce, a big chunk of fatty skin, some insanely crispy and to-die-for cracklings, and a small piece of blood sausage.

Ibu Oka - Suckling Pig - Ubud

It’s considered the most famous dish in Ubud, a bit strange for a town so popular with vegetarians, but you’ll soon realize why once you’ve taken your first bite. I still dream about it…

Ubud - Ibu Oka Suckling Pig

With such good weather, afternoon breaks in the shade are much appreciated and every other place seems to be serving amazing fresh juices and smoothies so take advantage of the vitamin boost at many of the roadside cafes. Ice cream is harder to come by though a few gelaterias are there to curb your cravings – I even found a dragon fruit flavored one. :-)

Red fruits in Ubud

Another favorite restaurant of mine was Clear Cafe, probably the most happening while I was there since it was pretty filled up every night with beautiful locals (i.e. Aussie expats wearing tattoos, dreads, an incredible tan, a toned yogi body, and a gleeful expression surely acquired by the simple fact of living here every day…ah!).

Clear Cafe - Ubud 2

Ubud - Clear Cafe

Though not vegetarian, it’s another health conscious eatery serving organic food, fresh fish, and some raw menu items. As delicious as it was, what really makes it truly great is the sophisticated and clean interior, as if you were in a spa’s relaxation room, and the incredibly gentle prices with most entrees not topping $10. I’d definitely be a regular if I lived here…and I think I could even pull the tattoos and dreads!

Clear Cafe - Ubud

When you’re in the mood for a more casual setting and need to do some quick groceries as well than you won’t find better than Bali Buddha. A small health food store on the ground floor is the perfect place to grab a few items for tomorrow’s picnic (all these rice paddies around are begging to be explored) – they have amazing baked goods, some fruits, chocolates, etc. Upstairs is their lovely cafe where you can enjoy a bite or a full meal. I had a veggie burger made with beets and some fries, healthy comfort food, while checking the yoga schedule of the studio across the street (yoga studios are as numerous as warungs around here).

Ubud - Bali Buddha 3 Ubud - Bali Buddha Ubud - Bali Buddha

You get an idea now that the casual cafes and restaurants are what I preferred about Ubud, though the serious foodie that I am could hardly pass the chance to be so near one of the top restaurants in Indonesia. Mosaic is the most upscale restaurant in Ubud and a chance to try what gastronomic Balinese cuisine with French technique tastes like (very good indeed). I could have just sat there and ordered a tasting menu but since I had the time, I decided instead to join their cooking workshop! I signed up for an afternoon in the restaurant’s demo kitchen with the Chef and another student – probably the most rewarding way for me to spend a few hours.

Mosaic restaurant - Demo Kitchen

We first started in the gardens where we learned about specific Balinese ingredients we were to use a bit later – no better way than to see them in their natural state, touch them and taste them to remember them. Most of them I know will be hard to find fresh back home but it was fascinating to taste them and think of ways they could be integrated in Western cuisine (which was the title of the workshop: ‘Balinese ingredients in Western cuisine’).

Kalamansi lime (sweeter than a lemon), carambola (mini star fruit… super sour!), fresh vanilla beans, fresh turmeric

Mosaic Restaurant Garden - Ubud

Then it was off to the kitchen to start prepping our 3-course meal using mostly local ingredients. Never have I learned so much technique and tips in such a short period of time – it did help we were only two therefore having full attention of the Chef!

Mosaic Restaurant - Cooking class

2.5 hours later we were sitting down to enjoy the fruits of our labour – definitely deserving of the praise the restaurant has been getting. I have all the notes and recipes to bring back home so this calls for a special dinner at my house sometimes soon…practice makes perfect!

Mosaic Restaurant - Cooking class Finale

On top of recipes or cooking books, I always love bringing back home some food items (pending immigration approval!) and in Ubud you’ll have the choice between the obvious coffee (get the Kopi Luwak as I described here) and the chocolate. For something unique and that you’ll enjoy a lot back home I’d suggest stopping by Confiture Michèle, a lovely shop selling homemade jam made with local ingredients. You’ll get to try fruits you’ll never find back home and the small jars make for the most adorable gifts. I left with ‘spicy guava’ and ‘vanilla-passion fruit’, looking forward to many summery breakfasts back home.

Ubud - Confiture Michele

After all this food, no matter how healthy it is, one needs a break and Ubud is filled with temples welcoming you to do just that. Wandering the streets you can easily duck into any side alley and find yourself in another world, suddenly cut off from the bustling city center and feeling like you just stumbled upon your own little piece of paradise.

Ubud Temple

Though not as hidden as many others, the Water Temple just off the main street is a sight to behold and one of the most peaceful places you’ll find around. Surprising how long can someone stare at waterlilies… they just have such a calming effect.

Ubud - Water Temple

Balinese don’t need temples to pray though as they do so multiple times a day at home, in the streets, in their shops, etc. Fresh offerings made of flowers  and burning incense in tiny banana leaves baskets are deposited every day at the feet of the numerous statues of gods and goddesses, family shrines, as well as in front of homes and shops to bring good karma and please the spirits.

Ubud - Offerings

Besides its temples, Ubud counts many other places of beauty and rest including a handful of interesting museums. The Blanco Renaissance Museum is a must see as it shows all the eccentricity and flamboyance of its creator, painter Antonio Blanco, and lets you enter his unique home, now housing over 300 of his sexy and humorous artworks.

The Mansion

The building and paintings are worth seeing though just wandering around the property and its gardens is reason enough to visit.

Ubud - Blanco Museum

Blanco Museum Studio

Slightly outside the city center, the ARMA Museum (Agung Rai Museum of Art) is the best place to get familiar with Balinese art from the classical to the modern. Housed in beautiful traditional buildings set amidst pleasant gardens, the  museum also serves as cultural center and you’re sure to witness during your visit either a dance practice, music lesson, or wood carving session – I happened to see all three!

Ubud - Arma Museum

Ubud - Arma Museum

One cannot come back from Bali without mentioning the massages… Spas are probably the most abundant of businesses in Ubud and you should take full advantage of it like I did! With prices hovering around $10-12 for an hour of Balinese massage to $25 for a 2 hours extravaganza of massage-scrub-floral bath, there is absolutely no shame in booking one every day and trying a different one each time.

I particularly loved Kayma Spa which is hidden in the middle of the busy Monkey Forest Road in the town center yet is such a peaceful place with views of rice paddies right from your treatment room you’d forget you’re in the city altogether.

Ubud - Kayma Spa

Once you’re all rested and feeling like a million bucks, a stroll through the smaller streets of Ubud is an ideal way to spend the rest of the afternoon, peeking into little shops and galleries. Jalan Kajeng is a particularly picturesque one.

Ubud - Street Life

If shopping is on your mind, then look no further than Jalan Hanoman street which stretches North-South with an endless array of clothing and jewellery stores, yoga shops, textiles and homewares stores and cute little cafes for breaks in between.

Ubud - Shopping on Hanoman street

Evenings are quiet around here and the town goes to bed early in contrast with the party meccas of the coast such as Kuta and Seminyak. The only form of entertainment, and one you shouldn’t miss, are the daily dance performances that take place around Ubud in enchanting outdoor theaters. It’s a cultural experience you won’t get to see anywhere else and well worth the $8 admission fee. Most shows start around 7pm and last for 1.5 hours and the Tourist Office can point you to the most popular ones and give you a complete schedule.

I saw the Legong and Barong Dance in the middle of the Ubud Palace one evening, thoroughly enjoying this intensely expressive and dynamic dance tradition.

Legong Dance at Ubud Palace

Girls start training at a very young age to master the intricate bodily gestures with fingers, hands, body, head and eyes all moving with stunning angularity. This form of artistic and religious expression is sure to be one of the highlights of your stay and I only wish I could have seen many more.

Ubud Palace - Legong Dance

To end yet another blissful day in nothing beats stopping by one of the many temples to stare at the starry sky and thank the spirits for giving you your own little Eat, Pray, Love journey…feels like no other place would have succeeded like Ubud did.

Ubud - Water Temple at Night

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  • lexy June 28, 2013 at 3:26 am

    Hi! Just wondering what type of camera you used? I’m about to travel to Ubud myself and your pictures are beautiful!

    • Sandra June 28, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      Thanks Lexy! I use a Nikon D3000 with a bunch of different Nikkor lenses, my favorites being the 50mm f/1.8G and I also use a wide angle 10-24mm for landscape shots. Hope this helps!

  • yanique jp July 2, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Sandra ,

    thank you for this insight I’m traveling to Bali , Indonesia myself and you’ve helped tremendously , you’ve really captured the beauty and diversity of Bali , &I’m just here to say thank you for sharing , if you have any helpful tips I could use please feel free to share and a quick question as well ; what do you think would be an ideal amount of US cash I should take to be completely comfortable with food , transportation , fun , a little culture shopping etc ?

    • Sandra July 9, 2013 at 10:03 pm

      Hi Yanique,
      Very glad I was able to help! As far as budget goes, Bali is extremely varied and can be as cheap or as expensive as you’d want it to be. I stayed around Ubud the whole time which is slightly less expensive than the resort towns from the coast and I’d say you could get by comfortably with approx $75/day including lodging, meals, transportation, and a massage or two! 😉 Enjoy!

  • Sheila August 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    I absolutely love all the pictures and helpful info. I am going to Ubud Bali for the very first time in Sep. So excited. Thank you

  • Ann Ferguson August 27, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Thank you for your absolutely wonderful post about Ubud. I haven’t been there for nearly 20 years and I am taking my teenage daughter next year. Your photos and words are so evocative and informative. Magical photos!

    • Sandra August 27, 2013 at 7:04 am

      Thank you Ann! I’m sure you will have a fantastic time in Ubud with your daughter. Feel free to look at my other posts as well on Bali for things to do around Ubud (the bike ride in the rice paddies is my favorite). Enjoy!

    • Caroline February 4, 2015 at 11:56 pm

      Hi Ann,
      I just wanted to ask how was your trip with your daughter? I’m going to Ubud next week with my teenage daughter too, and would love some recommendations for things to do to keep it interesting for her.

      Well done Sheila on such a majestic blog, all your information and inspiration has been a great source of guidance for my trip. Fantastic imagery, each picture sings!!

  • Andi September 5, 2013 at 6:41 am

    Thank you so much for putting together so many great recommendations. I’m going to Ubud in November for 4 weeks and you’ve given me so many things to look forward to.

  • Amber October 27, 2013 at 11:09 am

    So happy to have found this post as I’m planning a trip to Ubud over Chinese New Year (late Jan/early Feb). I might even stay at the place you recommended here and have contacted them. One question: if we want to go to the beach how far is it from the guesthouse?

    • Sandra October 31, 2013 at 5:08 am

      Hi Amber,
      So glad to hear you’ll be heading over there! Ubud is not near the beach (which I liked as you have much less tourists this way) and you’ll have to count about an hour to get to the nearest ones which still makes for an easy an enjoyable day trip. If I can make a suggestion it would be to go a bit further to ‘White Sand Beach’ which is a beautiful and secluded bay, just stunning, and though it might take about 2 hours to get there it’s really worth it and you can visit quite a few sites on the way such as Tenganan village. Enjoy!

  • zjoyce76 October 31, 2013 at 4:18 am

    Hi. Your post is very informative and photos are beautiful.
    Is the Puri bayu guesthouse very clean? It is very cheap and looks really nice. I just couldnt believe it costs very cheap :)
    Hope to get your reply.
    Thanks!

    • Sandra October 31, 2013 at 4:36 am

      Hi! Yes Puri Bayu is very clean and the hosts are incredibly nice, highly recommend it! With such low prices though, it does get booked really fast so I advise making a reservation at least a week in advance and more if you can.

  • Laurie January 31, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    This was a lovely description of so much of what we are seeing in and around Ubud. We have similar houseing on Jalan Tirta Tawar among the rice fields.
    We are trying to spend a bit less on food than you, I think, as we are here for a month. Our favorite Warungs are Made Becilk, Fair Warung Bale (a nonprofit for the free clinic) and Abe-Do Organic Warung.
    We are loving it here and can’t get the photos up fast enough!

    • Sandra February 1, 2014 at 12:01 am

      Thank you Laurie and thanks for mentioning your favorite warungs. I wish I could have stayed for a month to try them all! Maybe next time!

  • vicky March 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Oh wow! Your pictures are stunning. I went there twice and I realize that I miss out a lot of things regarding the food when I look at your pictures. Allow me to relate your blog to this video I discovered recently on Bali : http://youtu.be/vl9C37rA3UA . I think you both give great tips.
    Thanks again for sharing your insights.

    • Sandra March 6, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Thanks Vicky, now you have an excuse to return a third time!

  • Stephanie March 14, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Fantastic description! Just what I was looking for as I prep for my short stay in Ubud before heading to Bunaken. I don’t see the water palace listed on TripAdvisor. Is there another name for it? That looks like a place I could probably sit and chill out for some time! :)

    • Sandra March 14, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      Thanks Stephanie! The water palace is officially called Pura Taman Saraswati and you should be able to find it on Trip Advisor. You can definitely linger for a while and this is made easier by grabbing a pond side table at the Lotus Cafe. Have a fantastic time!

  • Kate April 10, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Spectacular info, thrilled and inspired to get there after reading your post!! It’s supposed to be an anniversary trip… What time/ month of the year where you here? Thanks again for sharing!!

    • Sandra April 11, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks Kate! I was there in May though I hear it’s a great destination any time of the year.

  • Pamo June 20, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Lovely blog here, I read everything you wrote. I’m so glad I can find people like myself, who wants to live like that. I’m planning my trip to Bali for the same reason you mentioned the book, time to find myself conscious of life. Well your blog gives a lot of great tips. I’m not sure where to start, so I’ll ask, is it ok to go by yourself? I started to travel alone 2 years ago and this would be my third destination. I’m from southamerica and i speak only english and spanish, some portugese too. Is it too hard to communicate or to discover things alone?
    I hope I can keep asking you things about this, maybe in a few months I’ll be ready to live this.
    Thanks!!!!

    • Sandra June 23, 2014 at 9:51 am

      Thank you! Yes, Bali definitely is a great destination to travel by yourself. I was alone the whole time and had absolutely no problem getting myself understood and going just about anywhere. Their level of English is more than sufficient for your needs and their extremely hospitable demeanor is a delight. You’re going to have an amazing time and please feel free to ask me any further questions at flyingfourchette@gmail.com.

  • Elaine June 27, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Hi, thanks for the tips. I’m also gonna travel alone there. It would be my first time. I am wondering whether did you try yoga classes that is along paddy field? I was told those are not commercialized and cheaper. I’ll be traveling alone with a tight budget thus I might not be able to spend on the lovely rooms you mentioned. Sad :(

    Hi Pamo,

    I’m wondering if you have any dates set yet to visit Ubud? Maybe we can both meet up if you will be there early Aug.

    • Sandra June 29, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      Hi Elaine,

      I didn’t try the yoga classes by the fields but I’m sure they’re amazing (have to be with this setting!). Ubud is breathing yoga and community spirit so there have to be options for every budget out there. Have a fantastic time!

  • Clariza | Allianz SG July 11, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Lovely food shots you got there! I’m planning to go to Bali from Singapore on September 1-8. I am reading different blogs right now to have an idea on what places to go during my trip. I am going alone so I think your tips would be very helpful to me.

    Puri Bayu’s price is very affordable. The place is also good and looks like I would also spend my eat-pray-love moments here when I visit the place.

  • Amanda September 6, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Wow. I love your article.

    It just has everything I wanted to know and the photographs are lovely!
    I am heading there next year Jan and will be staying in Ubud for a week.
    We are four of us and have booked Mahogany Villa – http://www.ministryofvillas.com/villas/the-mahogany-villa/
    We don’t have plans to move out of Ubud, but Kuta looks interesting to do a short tour.
    I can’t wait to try the amazing food you’ve shown here.

  • Vicky September 20, 2014 at 6:28 am

    What a great post! thank you very much for this great summary of your time in Ubud. I need to try out a few of those addresses!

    best wishes from Ubud,
    Vicky

    The Golden Bun

  • cheryl December 15, 2014 at 1:06 am

    Hi there,

    thank you so much for your highly informative post, it is all very useful and it really makes me look forward to this trip! but i have 2 questions, how did you travel around ubud, was everything you did in walking distance? and was there an airport transport to the guesthouse? thanks!

    • Sandra December 16, 2014 at 7:41 am

      Hi Cheryl!

      Yes, the guesthouse arranged an airport taxi pick up for me, they have a few regular drivers they use. Most of the stuff I did around Ubud was walking distance except for the one day I hired a driver (around $60 for the full day) to drive me further out to the beach and to visit some famous villages, it was well worth it! Have a fantastic time!

  • kerry May 14, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Such as Julia Roberts movie title famous trip in Bali. Ahhh, I do not watch it, but I read your article, and very interesting. such as a travel search of tranquility and peace. I love the photos of your show, show real life in Ubud Bali. But Ubud is an ideal location for those who seek tranquility and peace. In fact, there is accommodation for activity with the purpose, such as yoga, massage, and more. nice share.