I love winter in Europe: it’s the best time to get away! This February I went back to Indonesia, to spend a month in the mighty island of Bali. To be precise, to spend a month in the mighty town of Ubud.
Bali: Tourist Trap or Paradise?
This is the great debate going on about Bali, Indonesia. And I find it completely unfair.
Bali is not the small tropical island many think of. It’s 150km by 110km, for a total of 5,780 km² area for 4,5 million inhabitants.
It would be really unfair to put the whole island under the same hat. It’s composed of different places with different souls and vibes.
How can we compare Seminyak, with its high-end resorts and shopping areas, to a village in the northwest of the island?
In this article, I’m talking about the place I spent most of my time: Ubud.
Ubud is touristy enough not to be boring and cultural enough to be interesting.
Yes, Bali is very touristy (especially the south part, the Kuta boys, the unleashed Aussies) and it’s not the paradise island often portrayed.
Yes, Ubud is the capital of the Westernized, new-age, spiritual practices fueled by the famous eat, pray, love movie. It’s full of women in their mid-thirties coming from individualistic societies, looking to find some balance.
Yet, it’s not all about tourism. There’s a fair number of expats and all around Balinese people live traditional, cultural-enriched, community-oriented lives that maybe, mayyyybe provide the balance so many are looking for.
Settling down in Ubud
February in Ubud is low season (and end of rain season!), so there were plenty of accommodation options.
We rented an independent bungalow with a spacious bedroom, a cool bathroom with open-air shower, and a big veranda with a small kitchen.
A shared pool (never used), the view over the jungle, and the entrance trail passing between paddy fields completed this quintessential Ubudian stay.
This cost 5.5 million IDR, equivalent to 380 EUR or 420 USD – including daily cleaning service.
The best resources to find a short-stay place to rent are the Facebook groups:
AirBnb is also an option, but more expensive. We secured the place before arrival, but next time I’d rather stay the first night in a homestay (traditional Balinese compounds), spend a day or two to view houses, negotiate prices, and close the deal directly in Ubud. You can save some money this way.
Anyway, I was really happy with the house. It was very… lively.
Being surrounded by paddy fields and jungle, staying in a house near Ubud means staying in close touch with nature.
All around the house, creatures were eating each other or shitting.
Being used to live in a city, I found it somehow humbling and a good reminder of how nature really works – something you easily forget when your food comes from shelves or served in a plate.
There were two frogs living in the shower (called frogella and frogellina), a gecko stationary in the roof beam (occasionally singing), bees nesting in the thatch (to hell with them), lizards minding their business, a chicken regularly shitting over the bench, and a rat going ballistic on the veranda.
This was pretty much our extended family.
This is without counting the zillions of frogs, toads and crickets giving concerts every night – and that I consider responsible for the otitis I got for using dirty earplugs!
Renting a motorbike is by far the best and most easy way to get around Ubud. The town center is walkable but if you stay for more than few days you want to check other areas like Penestanan.
There are plenty of rental places that charges around 50.000 IDR (~3.3 EUR) for a day.
Renting for a whole month will cost 500-600.000 IDR (~33-40 EUR) depending on the type of scooter (manual gear or automatic), engine size (110cc or 125cc, the second more powerful and with a bigger gas tank) and conditions.
Ubud is considered one of the capitals of spirituality and new age.
The rich local culture, that revolves so much around the Balinese Hindu religion, was probably a fertile ground for the first westerners that imported here Yoga, meditation, and all the rest of the bandwagon.
Nowadays you can find all sort of holistic and new age practices in Ubud. The co-working are full of coaches and people working on ‘I-make-you-happy’ ideas.
I like these type of unconventional places because they attract interesting people but, this time, I was a bit skeptical.
“It’s the capital of fake spirituality, so much show off,” said a 50 years old Italian woman, owner of a nice pizzeria downtown.
“All those people that want to teach me how to be happy, but I’m already happier than most of them!” she said, with a bit of naivety of whom doesn’t know that to sell you happiness, they have to make you feel unhappy first.
Most of the people living in Ubud I met were pretty sarcastic about the whole spiritual scene. How to blame them? One example above all: a guy going into a full-year of silence but, of course, with the exception of interviews and videos on his blog! To inspire others.
Besides tourists and spiritual gurus, Ubud hosts quite a group of
expats digital nomads location independent foreigners living here (temporarily or permanently).
The locals are unfortunately not easy to get in touch with, apart from the brief talks with folks on the street during my morning runs, and meeting Agung (thanks, Gian Paolo), because the language barrier is too high and my Bahasa Indonesia too scarce.
Thai food used to be my second favorite before visiting Indonesia. This country has a very rich cuisine with plenty of variety (every island has different traditional dishes, and there are 17.000+ islands!).
Ubud offers the best of Indonesia, mixed with good international options, all sprinkled with healthy stuff to accommodate the type of tourism received.
Yes, it’s that good. Everywhere there are vegetarian and vegan options.
Superfood is plentiful. Organic by default. Spirulina, chia seeds, you name it. If it’s hip and healthy, you’ll find it here.
My default option for lunches were the Padang places, easily to recognize by they have dishes piled up in the front window. This places are run by migrants from the Padang area in Sumatra and are spread all around Indonesia. It’s a buffet: you get your dish with a portion of rice, and you point the food you want. Tofu and tempeh (fermented soya bean fried) are not to be missed, but mixed with veggies and meat/fish as preferred.
Here my favorite three places for food.
Padang Putri Minang
The default for lunchtime. Cheap as it can get and very delicious. I could never get tired of this place.
This place is run by volunteers and runs on donations. It has an alternative vibe and an excellent bookshelf. A good place to spend a couple of hours relaxing – but don’t ask for Wi-Fi.
Queen’s of India
I didn’t know that Indian food could be so good. Easily the best Indian place I’ve tried.
Working from Ubud
For digital nomads and location independent workers Ubud offers a plethora of options. Keep in mind that Internet is not always fast (unlike other parts of SE Asia), but it’s improving.
At the moment, there are three co-working spaces and I tried them all.
This was the first co-working space in the whole Bali, and still the most famous and popular one.
Settled in a beautiful wooden house, with a large veranda overlooking the paddy fields, this is a truly beautiful location that will make envious everyone back home. It has a thriving community and weekly events that are both educational and social.
Of course, all this goodness comes with a price: it’s an expensive co-working space, with the monthly unlimited membership at over $250 USD.
Like many others, I was just ordering drinks from the bar (this gives a complimentary 2-hours access to the excellent wi-fi).
For some reasons, I didn’t really enjoy the atmosphere in Hubud. I understand that this place is catering established businesses, companies on a winter workation, remote teams, and aspiring coaches.
We hear you, Hubudians! … and we would like to let you know that starting from March 28, 2015, the Internet Pass at the Living Food Lab cafe will no longer be available for non-Hubud members. The cafe is still open for public, and non-members who would like to use the internet could purchase a Day Pass at Hubud's front desk, at a (very reduced) price of IDR 150,000. This Day Pass is available for a one-time use, during our opening hours. Please note that our Guest Passes are still available if you'd like to invite your guests for a meeting at Hubud. Please get in touch at [email protected] to book Hubud's meeting room for you and your team. Thank you very much for your kind attention! Regram ? @deep_in_trip
Onion is a cheaper option, in a nice setting with a large swimming pool and cool outdoor cafè. It has also accommodation options, providing a full package for the digital visitor.
Unfortunately, when I was there, there were very few people around (between 5 and 10) and the general consensus around Ubud is that Onion is nice but nobody goes there.
A new co-working space in Ubud. Fast wifi, cool space (reminded me of Santorini), dorm and loft available for rent, 10% disc. at the restaurant, free swimming pool (with slides), free tea + coffee, open 24/7, daily rate IDR 85K. #coworkingspace #coworkingbali #onion #digitalnomad #travel #traveler #traveling #indonesia #bali #ubud #deliciousonion
This is the newest co-working option in Ubud, and also my favorite. I spent a week working there.
The ground floor is still under construction, so they offered a reasonable discount to stay in the upper floor, that features large tables and a beautiful large balcony overlooking the jungle.
Sunsets from that balcony are already legendary. And that balcony is also the perfect place to socialize with others, without bothering other busy workers.
Outpost attracts a mix of creative people, mostly working in the publishing & writing space. I was the only techie there, which is comforting somehow.
It provides access to a swimming pool, free massages on Thursdays and tea-Tuesdays.
Working from Cafés
The cafè scene in Ubud is pretty amazing and there are great places to chill or crack open a laptop. Here are my favorite three places.
Beautiful setting, with an outdoor space and big veranda. Good selection of drinks at an average price. Nice environment with a bunch of folks singing and playing music. Internet as fast as you can find around.
Vegan place with organic food and drinks (don’t go for beers there).
Really cool place, with an amazing view from the top floor over the river and the Tjampuhan Temple.
Kombucha is a fresh and healthy option and comes in bottles for a decent price.
Seniman Coffee Studio
This place isn’t as hipster as the previous two, but has a great feature: an air conditioned room, perfect to keep it cool 🙂
What to do in Ubud (or better, what I did)
I haven’t done much, really. Mainly enjoyed living there. But having a scooter and few weekend available, we explored the surroundings.
Jimbaran Fish Market
Big credit to Gian Paolo aka #notacoach for this one.
We drove on a Sunday morning down to Jimbaran, arriving just in time for lunch. Famous all across Indonesia, the Jimbaran fish market is a smelly and wet place where you can buy seafood.
You buy it fresh at the market and get it cooked at the close by eatery with an alarming roof of asbestos.
The snapper was delicious!
On the same say, after lunch a Jimbaran we drove down to Uluwatu’s beaches, one of the most famous spot in Bali.
Champuhan Ridge Walk
Waking up early is totally worth the scenery from this ridge. It’s beautiful and just few minutes away from Ubud Grand Palace.
A very famous temple over the water. Mostly rebuilt with Japanese money, it makes for a nice visit but I prefer the not-so-famous temple next to it:
You can actually hear the waves crashing against the rock formation and feel the ground shaking.
How much I spent
This time, I deliberately decided not to track every penny with the Expense Manager app. This doesn’t mean that I can’t provide an overview of the expenses from my month in Ubud:
|House Rental (one month)||5.500.000 IDR (~370 EUR)|
|Scooter Rental (one month)||600.000 IDR (~40 EUR)|
|Outpost (5 days membership)||650.000 IDR (~43 EUR)|
|Doctor visit and medicines for otitis||800.000 IDR (~54 EUR)|
|TOTAL including food&drinks||982 EUR|
The total is calculated using the bank and credit cards statements. My biggest financial mistake was changing 850 EUR at the ABNamro office at Schiphol airport. I got a shitty exchange rate.
Next time Daniele, change money at the destination.
To conclude: I really like Ubud, and it can totally be my winter base in SE Asia!