Famously known as Bali’s ultimate cultural hub, Ubud is an amazing mesh of old and new with something to offer to every traveller that steps into its beautiful auspices. Whether you are visiting Ubud as a solo traveller or with family or in a group, Ubud is a one-stop tourist attraction promising a full spectrum of activities for everyone within close proximity. Activities range from visiting different ancient temples to yoga retreats, and even learning a new art, Cozmo Travel advises travellers to get ready to be spoiled for choice in this magnificent town that never fails to appeal and entice every visitor. In addition to the breathtaking beaches and glorious sunsets, there are always hidden gems tucked away in surprising places, reserved for those who are looking for a meaningful and offbeat travelling experience.
Setia Darma House of Masks and PuppetsTucked away at the back of Mas village, six kilometres from Ubud Palace and set within a beautiful manicured tropical garden, a collection of lovingly restored, charming historic ‘Joglo’ houses from Java display ancient treasures. If the idea of masks and puppets do not appeal, it’s worth going to Setia Darma House to see the houses. It’s recommended to take in the beauty of the pale yellow and green combined ‘Joglo’ and ‘Limasan’ house form Boma village in Central Java, with its quirky wooden pineapples hanging upside down from the ceiling. The exhibits are well presented with informative labels in English and Indonesian. Don’t be afraid to enter the darkened rooms, the well-designed ‘sensor-tripped’ lighting comes to life as visitors cross the threshold. Each piece displayed is a masterpiece of craftsmanship to rival any international museum collection.
Museum Puri LukisanMuseum Puri Lukisan also called ‘Palace of Paintings’ offers an excellent collection of Balinese art that spans the development of various artistic styles in Bali, only slightly eclipsed by the collection at Neka Art Museum. Conveniently located in the centre of Ubud and set in beautifully tranquil gardens that are as alluring as the exhibits, the museum is punctuated with ponds and sculptures (travellers are advised to look for the carved figure almost growing out of the large banyan tree at the back of the garden), four pavilions that house the collection and a certainly worthwhile art experience. Visitors are recommended to spend a couple of hours for a good viewing of the entire collection. In 1936, expat artists Rudolf Bonnet and Walter Spies, together with Balinese artist I Gusti Nyoman Lempad and Princes of Ubud, Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati and Tjokorda Gde Raka Sukawati, established the Pita Maha foundation to maintain the standards of Balinese art and to encourage artists to create high quality art pieces, and not just art that is targeted at the transient tourist market. The foundation later led to the establishment of the Museum Puri Lukisan with Tjokorda Gde Raka Sukawati as the director and Rudolf Bonnet as the curator. Officially opened in 1956, it was the first of its kind in Ubud.
Museum Gedong ArcaThe region east of Ubud comprising the villages of Bedulu, Pejeng and Tampaksiring is one of the most archaeologically significant localities in Bali. Offering an overview of Balinese ancient history is a small archaeology museum, the Museum Gedong Arca, is located in the village of Bedulu. This area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and today tourists can visit the ancient sites of Goa Gajah, Yeh Pulu, Gunung Kawi and Tirta Empul, as well as some significant temples including Pura Penataran Sasih which houses the ‘Moon of Pejeng’, the largest known Bronze-age relic in the world, a drum believed to have been crafted around 300 BC.
Pura Taman SaraswatiThis picturesque lotus-filled pond is the main attraction for tourists at Pura Taman Saraswati, a stone’s throw away from Ubud’s main road, and it does indeed make a pretty backdrop for a selfie, but it’s worth getting a little closer to admire the impressive paduraksa or the entrance gate. Pura Taman Saraswati is a temple dedicated to Dewi Saraswati, goddess of the arts and scholarship. Historically, this goddess may have been a river goddess but has transformed to represent the more metaphorical creative flow. Saraswati Day is celebrated every 210 days according to the Balinese calendar when offerings are made to sacred texts and books are blessed. Commissioned by Ubud’s Sukawati Royal family, the temple was built by renowned court undagi (architect), stone-carver and painter, I Gusti Nyoman Lempad. The red brick gate features a large variation of pale paras stone ornamentation, protected by a florid Bhoma head. Bhoma can be seen on many temples in Bali, symbolic of being halfway between earth and the Gods, a guardian, yet a representation of entering or traversing from one dimension to another.
Tirta Taman Mumbul SangehA combination of water temple, lake, bathing pools and lush surroundings, picturesque Tirta Taman Mumbul Sangeh is an idyllic and serene location to take a break and may be partake in a water cleansing ritual. Not far from Sangeh Monkey Forest, this location is 250 metres down a short steep road from Jalan Raya Sangeh. This area was mostly only visited by locals prior to early 2016, when it was developed as a tourist attraction. Huge trees, shading an expansive clear green pool, more akin to a lake is edged by a beautiful temple, Pura Ulun Mumbul. Across the road, what was once a popular fishing pool has been transformed into a bathing area with another spring for collecting drinking water. A large banyan tree by the lakeside shelters a small statue of a water-bearer, the legendary old woman water seller, who tired from travelling between villages bearing the heavy weight of her water jug and who stopped at this location to rest.
Goa GajahGoa Gajah or ‘Elephant Cave’ may be cave-like, but there are no elephants here, nor were there ever any in Bali. The elephants at elephant parks come from Sumatra. The name could refer to the elaborately carved ‘elephant-like’ face over the man-made cave entrance, or perhaps the Ganesha statue within. Regardless of the misnomer, Goa Gajah is a significant, yet intriguing ‘Hindu-Buddhist’ archaeological site, and may well be the oldest in Bali that possibly dates back to the tenth or eleventh century. This temple complex contains a cave, a couple of temples, ancient bathing pools and a few collapsed Buddhist relics all within a stunning forest setting. The proximity to downtown Ubud makes it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area.
Tirta EmpulIf you’re Balinese and it’s your birthday, there are chances that you will be heading to Tirta Empul Holy Springs for a ritual purification. The bathing pools and facilities here are Bali’s oldest and most sacred, and pilgrims flock from all over Bali for the mysteriously curative and spiritually cleansing waters. The Springs are the source of the Pakrisan River, which flows south passing the neighbouring ancient temple of Gunung Kawi, and the surrounding temple complex here was built in the Saka (Balinese calendar) year 882 (around 960 AD) during the Warmadewa Dynasty. Legend states that the springs were created by the God Indra who thrust his staff into the ground to tap Amruta (the elixir of life) to reincarnate his troops poisoned by the demon King Mayadanawa. The battles between Indra and Mayadanawa are the origins of many place names in Bali, Tampaksiring (the village in which both Tirta Empul and Gunung Kawi are located) translates to ‘oblique impression’ and illustrates an episode where God Indra is fleeing Mayadanawa, left his footprints upon the hill. The final battle between the two where Indra wins, is commemorated by the Balinese festivals of Galungan and Kuningan, and during this time the springs are particularly packed with the faithful. Along with Gunung Kawi and Taman Ayun Temple at Mengwi, Tirta Empul is integral to Bali’s subak irrigation system and was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2012.
Mountain Biking in Bali“Make sure you have good brakes. Like life, it’s mostly downhill.” says John Daniels of Bali Discovery when he was told that there would be a mountain biking trip from Kintamani to Ubud in Bali. This is true, as except for a single near vertical 100 metres, the ride is almost all downhill. Travellers looking for a slice of Bali far from the pulsating Kuta Beach, can find a guide to lead a half-day pedal excursion, and the adventure consists of rolling from Kintamani to the tourist heart of central Bali, Ubud. The road is fine, smooth, sealed, next to no traffic, clean air and fruit and vegetable gardens off to each side, with scenic and lush vegetation. A little away from the tarred roads are goat trails for the adventurous cyclists.
Tegallalang Rice TerracesBali is synonymous with postcard-perfect paddy fields and the most iconic of them are located at the terraces at Tegallalang, nine kilometres north of central Ubud. The sculptured and terraced farmland was developed by means of Bali’s cooperative water management system known as ‘subak’. Introduced in the ninth century, ‘subak’ is a system that has shaped the landscape and enabled the Balinese to become prolific rice producers. This system is integral not only in Bali’s physical environment, but moulds relationships with neighbours, nature and the spirit world, and as such has been added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage sites. The dramatic landscape makes it a popular stop for travellers, and it is certainly like walking through a postcard. The best time to visit these terraced farms is early mornings or late afternoons to help visitors beat the crowds. The local community charges 10,000 rupiah for the privilege, and if you wander through the terraces, be prepared to pay ‘donations’ for crossing bridges and fields, usually 5,000 to 10,000 rupiah a pop.
Sangeh Monkey ForestLegend states that when Hanuman, the monkey king of the Ramayana, an Indian epic, attempted to lift Mount Meru to quash the evil giant, Rahwana, a clump of the cosmic mountain landed in Sangeh complete with a troupe of simians. Entering the shaded avenue of soaring ‘Pala’ trees at Sangeh Monkey Forest, this will be an easy tale to believe, and besides, the cool, dark forest certainly emits a certain mystical atmosphere. The 14-hectare forest at Sangeh lies about fifteen kilometres by road, northwest of Ubud and is inhabited by roughly 700 long tail macaques banded in three troupes. Pala translates in Indonesian to nutmeg, however the tree species here, Dipterocarpus trinervis aka Dipterocarpus retusus differs from the edible nutmeg native to Banda in Maluku. The lofty strait-trunked nutmeg trees grow to 40 metres, and 2,000 trees are interspersed with other species including mahogany, guava, and sapodilla. Within the sacred forest, the moss-covered, towering nine-level meru at Pura Bukit Sari is diminished by the surrounding growth.
Ubud Monkey ForestThe Monkey Forest is a highlight for many first-time visitors to Ubud. According to a brochure handed out to visitors when the entry ticket is bought, there are 563 long-tail macaques in the forest, spread across five main groups. Travellers may well encounter the macaques before they even enter the forest as they’re often roaming around the car parking area and the roofs of buildings around the bottom end of Monkey Forest Road. There are two main entrances and visitors will also be offered bananas for sale to feed the macaques. While the moneys are well behaved and are used to to visitors, do note that they are wild and should not be teased or played around with.
Ubud Palace (Puri Saren Agung)Located at the heart of Ubud is Puri Saren Agung, more popularly known as Ubud Palace. It certainly has a commanding presence within the community of Ubud. Sitting in a prime position at the intersection of Jalan Monkey Forest and Jalan Raya Ubud, opposite the Ubud Market and slightly southeast of Pura Saraswati. The palace is the royal residence of the descendants of Ubud’s last official king, Tjokorda Gede Agung Sukawati. The Royal houses of the Ubud region were first brought into being in the 17th century when a rebellion in Bali’s then capital, Gelgel emerged with nine kingdoms, establishing the house of Sukawati, south of Ubud. After expanding into present-day Ubud’s outlying areas with a series of battles and incursions, by the late 1800s Ubud as a sovereignty was well established and had began to prosper, even then famed as an enclave of the arts.
Ubud marketShopping savvy travellers know that to sample a taste of local life, they have to head to the markets, and Ubud Market is just the place for local flavour as it offers a large variety of tradition and commerce in two variants, a regular local market in the mornings and a tourist ‘art’ market by day. It previously had multi personalities with a night market as well, but local restaurants were too much competition. If travellers are looking for an authentic night market close to Ubud, they will have to head to Gianyar, but if that is not possible, Ubud’s well stocked market will suffice. The real business starts as early as four in the morning, although the official opening time is 06:00. Ubud Market sits on the corner of Jalan Raya Ubud and Jalan Monkey Forest, opposite Ubud Palace. Newer double- and triple-storey buildings have occupied the prime positions.
Tegenungan WaterfallTropical weather is known to be steamy and it definitely makes travellers a bit restless. But worry not, because the Tegenungan Waterfall offers the perfect place to cool off and is the closest waterfall to Ubud. Hidden amongst lush jungle that surrounds the Tegenungan village, ten kilometres south of Ubud, the impressive falls cascade about 25 metres into the Petanu River. Travelers can get a taste of the local cuisine by eating at neat and clean food stalls all with added restroom facilities. These eateries also provide a lookout helping visitors with a view into the gorge, and to help them decide whether if it’s worth climbing the steep steps for a swim in the river. The cement stairs leading to the water’s edge are wide and well made.
Tibumana WaterfallTucked away in the village of Apuan, 15 kilometres east of Ubud, Tibumana Waterfall takes a plunge into the Bangunlemah River. The falls here are scenic, and the journey here is made worhwhile as the drive to the loaction is picturesque. Travellers pass charming villages, the roads are narrow and the picturesque landscape is enticing. Rice fields, coconut palms, banana trees and temples form the vista.
Yoga In UbudUbud is certainly a yogic paradise. Despite its small size, there are dozens of yoga classes to choose from every day. Travellers will find styles to suit everyone’s yogic needs starting from high impact spiritual practices to fast paced vinyasa and power flows. Studios are well equipped and make the most of Ubud’s tranquil beauty with views of rice fields and jungle. Ubud yoga classes are affordable. Cozmo Travel recommends travellers to start their day with yoga as it’s a great way to get into the relaxed and healthy Ubud vibe.
Mutli – Cuisine TreatUbud has a wide assortment of restaurants cooking up dishes for everyone’s tastes. There are cuisines from Balinese and Indonesian, to international. Vegetarians will be happy to know Balinese cuisine has multiple options such as tofu and tempeh.
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