Bali is rapidly becoming one of the top tourist destinations in Asia. Whilst it has always been hugely popular with Australian holidaymakers as a cheap destination and a party capital (think some kind of Asian Ibiza) it is now becoming far more popular with European tourists. Recently it’s been experiencing a similar boom to places like Thailand which are powered by a tourist economy. While Kuta remains by far the most popular destination on the island, with kilometres of beaches backed up by a strip of nightclubs that form the heart of Bali’s nightlife, there are some other parts of the Island are certainly worth a visit.
Chief amongst these has to be Ubud, a little town in the uplands of the island. Somehow Ubud has somewhat resisted the ‘partification’ of many other island hotspots, giving the visitors there a better representation of the traditional Balian culture. It is far from a bustling hub – the main town consists of about two parallel streets. But is accessible from anywhere else on the island, about a 90-minute drive from Kuta and an hour in a shuttle bus from Padang Bai (for those needing to detox after time spent on Gili T). Accommodation is plentiful on the main street, which is preferable to staying out of town (as we did) and having to pay for taxis in and out every day.
In order to fully experience everything Ubud and the surrounding region has to offer (especially if you only have 24 hours) it is worth booking a driver for the day. Many hotels and hostels will be able to hire you a driver from the reception desk, but be sure to avoid getting ripped off. We paid 400,000 Rupiah (AU$40) for the day, which seemed to be a little below the standard rate of 500,000 Rupiah (AU$50), but even that is probably worth it, especially if you are travelling in a group of more than two people.
If you have a driver, then you are basically set. The drivers are more than used to ferrying tourists around the normal attractions so you can essentially sit back and relax. But for your reference beforehand, I’ll guide you through what is worth seeing in the day.
Just out of Ubud you can find some of the most spectacular rice terraces on the islands, which are well worth stopping off at to walk around – they make for some pretty stunning photographs. Also around the rice terraces are plenty of local coffee plantations; although coffee has been imported to Bali from South America, it has become one of the island’s biggest exports. Particularly Luwak coffee, made from beans ingested by a local weasel-like animal which then ferment in the stomach and produce a far nicer blend than normal coffee. These coffee plantations will normally give you free tasters of their teas and coffees (ranging from very nice (cinnamon tea) to less nice (anything with Ginseng in it – although each to their own) and there are gift shops for potentially tasty souvenirs.
In terms of more obvious tourist attractions, the Holy Springs temple at Tampak Siring is probably Ubud’s most popular; with people coming from across the island to wash in the springs (which you can’t do as a tourist unless you have your own sarong). The temple complex itself is hugely impressive, especially the Koi reflection pond. The other temple that is normally included in the tourist trail is the Elephant Cave temple, which although still impressive, does not compete with the Holy Springs. However, the most impressive temples of all, are those at Mount Kawi. They are carved into the side of the mountain and only accessible by a pretty long trail of steps. The temples are in the most spectacular setting on the island, backing on to more beautiful rice terraces. All of the temples have an entry rate of 15,000 Rupiah (AU$1.50) and require you to wear a Sarong, these are provided with the ticket, so do not buy one from the vendors near the entrances.
Once you’re all templed out, and probably quite warm given the humidity, the next stop has to be the Tegenungan waterfall where you can cool down by swimming in clear waters right by the fall (unless it’s rained recently, then the water is less clear). After this, the route back into Ubud will take you past possibly the most fun attraction in the town, the Sacred Monkey forest. Home to hundreds of Crab-eating Macaques; the forest only costs 40,000 Rupiah (AU$4) for entry and is hugely popular. Given the inquisitive nature of the monkeys, it does not take much time before you find yourself suddenly become a climbing frame, especially if you have any food on you or anything that looks like food – as I discovered when one monkey tried to steal my phone.
Those attractions will take up most of the day, but if you are in town in the evening and not too tired, then one other attraction worth going to see is a traditional Balinese Kecak performance. This is a form of dance and music theatre which tells the story of the Hindu deity Rama and the rescue of his consort Sita. These are traditionally followed by a Sanghyang, a traditional fire-based exorcism dance, when a dancer is placed in a trance and dances on bonfire.
Though this piece is supposed to give you stuff to do in 24 hours, I’m going to stretch that a bit to recommend an early morning activity. Again bookable through most hotels and hostels for around 350,000 Rupiah (AU$35) per person, a 2am start allows you to climb Mount Batur, a volcano around an hour north of Ubud. There you can watch the sunrise over the bay between Mount Batur and Mount Agung, with breakfast often provided by the tour company. Definitely worth the early start, it’ll have you back in your hotel by 11am so leaves plenty of time for exploring in the day.
Though Ubud may be less well known, if you want busy days and to learn something about the culture of Bali and to see some of the sites inland, it is most definitely worth a visit- even just to detox after a few heavy nights in Kuta.
All Images belong to the author, Frazer Loveman.