Ubud, Bali which is a well known Indonesian island. Famous for its yoga, holistic and vegan retreats and centers world wide. It is a haven for yogis and spiritual seekers.
At 34, I consider myself reasonably well travelled, I believe I have visited over 20 countries, lived in a few and backpacked around 6 destinations. So I am not being biased when I say this: Ubud, Bali has to be one of my favourite places to visit and not only that, it felt like home and I plan to go back.
Ubud stole my heart, and I am planning to go back sometime in February to mentor on a teacher training and reconnect with friends. Everywhere you turn there is beauty all around and this beauty is considered sacred by the locals. Every step you take there is a woman giving offering in her Kabiya with flowers adorning a statue, the front of the house, waterfall or family temple.
I wasn’t a big fan of the main strip, although there are plentiful shops, vegan cafes, yoga studios and local markets to cater to your every need and desire and the monkey forest is also closeby for a quick afternoon stroll.
Ubud is one of the most popular destinations to visit in Bali, Indonesia. From incredible waterfalls and rice terraces, to volcano hikes, yoga classes and massages and more!
For a place in the world that is so well known, you’d expect it to be overtly touristy, but it wasn’t. It was surprisingly relaxed, even when walking down the main strip with other tourists, it still didn’t lose its intrigue, Ubud continued to feel lush and magical, and didn’t give off a tacky touristy vibe.
Ubud is also super close to my heart because I was able to enjoy my time there with my best friend, we’re both in our 30’s and had never been on a best friend holiday before, Ubud was the first and so I have beautiful memories shared with her. As well as this, I befriended a woman on my yoga teacher training in Canggu, when the training was completed we both opted to spend two weeks together back in Ubud before parting ways. This brought our friendship to the next level, we’ve become so close that we talk almost every day, so I consider her my Bali best friend.
So What is there to do in and around Ubud?
I stayed in the quiet area of Penestanan, this is still in the Ubud district but feels more local and lush with jungle. You do feel very tucked away in all the plants and vines and ancient structures. Within Penestanan you can visit Yellow Flower cafe, Alchemy, Ting Ting’s and Lala & Leelee’s for a bite to eat. Bin Tang supermarket is a ten minute walk away and Intuitive Flow Yoga studio is so close to Gerebig Bungalows, which I highly recommend you stay in. Gerebig is owned by a Balinese family and for a reasonable price you can stay in one of their lovely traditional Balinese huts, breakfast is included in the price. Myself and friends loved staying here, and the lady Kadek is a wonderful host, she even took me with her to her bank to help me withdraw money safely (it is highly recommended you withdraw money from a secure source with a security guard on patrol). Anything you need Kadek will find a way to provide or at least find someone who can help. She pretty much adopted me and treated me like a daughter, I do really miss her.
Tegalalang Rice Fields
Not far from Ubud centre you can visit the Tegalalang rice fields, they are about a 2o minute drive or a 2 hour walk. This is the iconic Tegalalang rice terrace, one of the most visited tourist attractions in Ubud. If you’re planning a trip to Bali, you have to add a visit to the rice fields of Ubud to your itinerary.
If you’ve seen any photos of Bali online you will most likely recognise the shot below of lush green terraced rice fields. Does it look familiar? This is the iconic Tegalalang rice terrace, one of the most visited tourist attractions in Ubud. If you’re planning a trip to Bali, you have to add a visit to the rice fields of Ubud to your itinerary.
Tegalalang rice fields is a series of rice paddies located close to Ubud, in the centre of Bali, famous for its terraced layout. This is a traditional Balinese irrigation system known as subak. Positioned in a valley the Tegalalang rice terraces offer extremely scenic lookouts over the rice fields and surrounding green landscape.
The Tegalalang rice terrace is a short 20-minute drive north of Ubud (or a 2 hour walk but I wouldn’t recommend that in the Bali heat). The road is mostly straight and they’re pretty easy to reach if you have your own scooter or car and want to drive there alone. There is a big parking area close to the rice paddies where you can drop your vehicle for a small fee (around 10,000 IDR).
The Gunung Kawi
Is an 11th-century temple and funerary complex in Tampaksiring north east of Ubud that is spread across either side of the Pakerisan river. It comprises 10 rock-cut candi (shrines) that are carved into some 7-metre-high (23 ft) sheltered niches of the sheer cliff face. These funeral beautiful monuments are thought to be dedicated to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty and his favourite queens. Here you are obligated to take your shoes off when entering the shrines and it feels so wonderfully earthy walking on mud and moss covered stones. A small part of this complex is dedicated to meditation and you can sit in a dark, cave-like stone room to meditate.
The Holy Springs of TIRTA EMPUL: Bali’s Sacred Pool of Purification
For over a thousand years, Balinese Hindu worshipers have been drawn to Pura Tirta Empul (Holy Water Temple), whose sacred springs are said to have been created by The God Indra and possess curative properties. This tradition still continues almost unchanged, and today, aside from worshipers, tourists from all over the world also come to this place to marvel at its beauty, and bathe in its refreshing blessed water.
As a Petirtaan or bathing center, Tirta Empul is quite a large temple complex and it takes at least 30 minutes to an hour to explore the entire site. Just as at other temples and sacred sites around the island, you will need to put on a ‘sarong’ before entering the premises. The sarongs are available at the temple’s entrance and can be rented for a small donation.
Entering the inner courtyard, you will arrive at the ‘Jaba Tengah’ area which is the main area of the temple. The holy springs here bubble up into a large, crystal-clear pool within the temple and gush out through 30 waterspouts into the two sacred purification pools. Local Balinese and Hindu worshippers stand in long lines in the pools waiting to dip their heads under the water spouts in a purification ritual known as ‘melukat’. Bathers start in the pool on the left side standing in the pool to the waist under the first water spout. Once they have cleansed themselves under the first spout they join the next queue. This process is continued until they have cleansed themselves under each waterspout. However, there are two spouts that are meant only for cleansing the dead and are for prohibited to be used by the living for the ‘melukat‘ ritual.
Tirta Empul is dedicated to Vishnu, the Hindu God of water. An inscription dates the founding of a temple at the site to 926 AD. In the Balinese language, Tirta Empul loosely translated means water gushing from the earth, which for this reason Tirta Empul is regarded as a holy spring. The Tirta Empul Temple includes shrines to Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, as well as one for Indra and Mount Batur.
Once you are at the entrance you still have to walk down some stairs. Just over a hundred stairs. Sounds like a lot but you will be down in no time. If you are not up for the stairs you can still get a great view of the waterfall from the top, at one of the cafes (you will still need to pay the entrance fee). This is a highly visited waterfall. Unless you are here early morning you will most likely be joined by quite a lot of people. Don’t let that deter you from a visit though. Make sure you get there before 10am in the morning and you should be fine, most tourists and tourist buses start arriving from 11am. This is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen! For a better view and better photos- cross over the wobbly bridge to your right, it will feel a little unsafe as its so close to the river water but you’ll get across in no time and you’ll proud of yourself for plucking up the courage to walk over to that side. You can also get fantastic photos on the way down and back up. This is a very touristy hot spot and sadly you’ll see many pop up shops and stalls on the way down with owners trying to sell you something. To be fair, the products are good quality and the clothes are out of this world, I wish I had the money to buy them all.
Griya Beji waterfalls
This is a little secret destination that most tourists do not know about. I was taken here with Kadek to partake in an authentic Balinese ritual and blessing. She taught me how to give offering and how to correctly be involved in the ritual. It was such an honour! The high priest and Priestess both told Kadek they want me to come back for the full initiation to be a priestess of the waterfall! I hope this happens when I go back in February 2020!
As part of the ritual you must take off your shoes and be covered up in a kabiya or sarong, you leave offerings to the dieties and very slowly walk down towards a cave which houses a secret waterfall inside it. Here you recieve a blessing from this waterfall before walking round to be purified by the second waterfall, it is in this one you scream into the water, wishing the water to take all your pain and worries away. The final waterfall is meant to give you healing and lots of love, it is here you make a wish and the waterfall will make it come true.
Soon after you bath in the pool before coming back up to be blessed by the high priest and priestess. This experience took my breath away, it was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I will mention that women who are on their period are not allowed to partake in the ritual but you are still allowed to be on the site. I highly recommend you take a change of clothes and waterproof camera.
Ubud is like home to me, I’d move there in a heartbeat and can not wait to go back to explore more!
If you want to know more about Ubud, you can read my article on Bad Yogi that gives you a little bit more information about where to stay and eat and things to do. Bad Yogi City Guide: Ubud.