Escape to Ubud, the Heart of Balinese Culture and Art, Bali, Ind

Escape to Ubud, the Heart of Balinese Culture and Art

The artistic, cultural and spiritual heart of Bali for centuries, Ubud is serenely located up in the hills in lush jungle, surrounded by rice-paddies. Lined with galleries, cafés and craft shops, its narrow streets are a delight to wander — just watch out for those drains!

There’s no denying that Ubud has become increasingly commercial and its economy is more tourist-focused than ever. And it does get crowded. But at least many of its shops specialise in textiles and crafts rather than Bintang t-shirts and stubby holders as they do down in Kuta.

Experience Ubud

Be enchanted by the tranquil gardens and sublime Balinese art — from the Pitamaha school to the naïve style of the Young Artists (my favourites) at Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA). Art buffs should also browse Museum Puri Lukisan and Neka Art Museum. Everyone else can go mosey the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary to spend time with the cheeky Balinese Macaques, stroll the rice terraces, take a bird-watching walk, pamper yourself with a spa treatment, or enjoy a dance performance after dark.

Learn in Ubud

A major centre of learning, Ubud is paradise for experiential travellers. You can learn almost anything here, from playing in a gamelan orchestra (see this video of Terence’s lessons!) to learning how to make offerings as I did. There are courses on Balinese painting, architecture, dance, drama, cooking, woodcarving, and yoga. ARMA has a popular and affordable program of cultural workshops though not all instructors speak English; check before signing up. Travel blogger Kasia swears by the batik course at Nirvana.

Volunteer in Ubud

The not-for-profit Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) supports a vet clinic at Ubud, where they welcome volunteers to help care for animals — they need people to do everything from cleaning duties to dog walking. Not far from Ubud, the innovative Green School — built from bamboo! — welcomes helping hands in the classroom, as well as donations. The excellent Bali Spirit website also lists non-profits that need volunteers. Do you know of other opportunities? Let us know below.

Shop Ubud

After putting your bargaining skills to use haggling at the already ridiculously cheap and crowded stalls at Ubud Markets (best for sarongs, cotton dresses, baskets, carvings), clear your conscious by buying traditional Balinese textiles at Threads of Life, or handicrafts, postcards and prints at the fair-trade Kafe Kares (formerly Bali Cares) shop. Scores of art galleries and craft shops are dotted around Ubud, but we liked Tony Raka’s gallery for tribal and contemporary art and the The Seniwati Gallery of Art by Women, which supports local women artists.

Savour Ubud

Local specialties include suckling pig and crispy duck. Overlooking rice paddies, Bebel Bengil (Dirty Duck) is way too famous for its deep fried ducks — we far preferred the delicious BBQ pork ribs (the duck was unpleasantly crispy and practically burnt) and their Pavlova-style coconut cream cake. A better choice is The Pond, also set on rice paddies, and (as you’d expect) a pretty lily pond. We loved their scrumptious duck spring rolls, tasty pork satay, and, once again, wonderful pork ribs.

Discover Ubud

The best sources of information on what to do, eat, drink, buy, and learn in Ubud are not the guidebooks (all terribly disappointing and out-dated), but two free locally produced magazines (no surprise): Ubud Life and The Bud, which has a brilliant listings section with detailed reviews.

Stay in Ubud

We didn’t stay in Ubud (although HomeAway Holiday-Rentals does list lots of beautiful properties there) but instead drove the one-hour drive along the backroads through fascinating villages from our villa in Tumbak Bayuh. When we return to Bali, we’ll split the time between Ubud and some place on the coast so Terence can get in some surfing — suggestions?

Did we miss some great spots in Ubud? Why don’t you let us know in the Comments below?



There are 13 comments

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  1. Dave

    Escape from Ubud – the Heart of Tourist Traps and Expats Obsessed with a Self-centered, Psuedo-spirituality would be a more useful article.

  2. Jane M

    We have also had a bellyful of overcrowded Ubud – the July/August high season is not the time to go if you’re after peace and quiet! We have just escaped to Nusa Penida, a small island not far off the south coast. This is the tranquil beauty we were hoping to discover when we came to Bali!

  3. Lara Dunston

    Agree. High season is never a good time to go anywhere if the desire is to avoid crowds. Personally, I have a greater tolerance for tourist crowds when I’m in travel writer-mode – as I like to observe how they travel/behave, what they do, where and what they eat etc. But when I’m actually on holidays I prefer to visit more off the beaten track places and in off-season. Eager to get back to Bali and explore more of the rarely-visited bits of the island. Nusa Penida sounds lovely – have fun!

  4. Manasi

    We’ve just booked our Bali trip with a side stay in Ubud, looks like i made the right decision – we’ll be there first week of October, really looking forward to it.

  5. Lara Dunston

    Enjoy! Let us know how you enjoy it – and do share any new discoveries with us, won’t you? Especially anything on the arty/crafty, cultural and culinary side of things 🙂

  6. Alma

    My favorite was the monkey forest. A monkey jumped on my
    Shoulders and kind of adopted me.
    I slept In a rice siloh on the middle of rice paddies, fireflies lighted the path at night and the fields.
    That was very peaceful! (It was a property on airbnb for 17 dlls)
    I also liked Eating with the locals on the street fresh fish balls soup and steamed Greens, delicious and cheap!
    I was invited to a Family ceremony and that was really special!
    But the best is feeling all around the spirituality
    Of the balinese that make offerings to their
    Gods everyday outside of their homes and
    Pray for all forms of life!

  7. Lara Dunston

    Hola Alma – so pleased you enjoyed Ubud. Those monkeys are mischievous, aren’t they? We saw a few ceremonies when we were there also – it’s wonderful when you can have those experiences and get an insight into local life. Thanks for dropping by!

  8. Nina

    Great photos, as always! I love the Organic Trail, just on the outskirts of Ubud.
    For a few days surfing head to Balian or Medewi. Fewer crowds, lovely beaches, small village and yoga.

  9. Brooke Vlasich

    I’m eager to learn more about BAWA and Threads of Life now that I’ve read about their mission/purpose. I would love to see this part of Bali and becoming involved with an organization like one of these would be fantastic!


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