My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 2: exploring Ubud

Hello Wanderers!

So, after a few days in Kuta and Seminyak I was ready to leave the westernised part and venture into the inner core of Bali, the village of Ubud. Ubud offers you a jungle escape, a moment of total reconnection with nature and spirituality, as depicted in the book and movie “Eat, Pray, Love”: luxuriant temples, rainforest, waterfalls, yoga and meditation classes… but also adventure activities, traditional village life, organic and authentic Indonesian food, beautiful art. Don’t expect the beach of course, because Ubud is far inside the island… and you don’t really need the beach, because there’s a lot to do and see in this area, I wish I had more time myself!

For my accommodation I wanted something completely different from the hotel in Seminyak. Ubud offers a multitude of private pool villas immersed in nature, where you can really enjoy your stay. I chose Umae Villas and I was absolutely pleased with the choice: perfect location, intimate and quiet, simple and lovely design, romantic and cosy. The pictures below show a few views of the villa we were staying at (Umae Villas count a total of 10 different villas), included the cute square pool (where I even swam naked because yay! it was our private pool) and the ‘rainforest’ bathroom! Breakfast is served in your own garden in the morning, it’s quite basic in terms of choice of food but it does the job (that was the moment I became addicted to having mie goreng for breakfast, to the point of missing it once I was back in London! Insane! Fried noodles?! Me, an Italian?).

Some handy travel tips

When we arrived to Ubud it was raining cats and dogs, and this is a very recurring phenomenon in this part of the island, so if I had to give one precious piece of advice that would be “absolutely PACK A PONCHO”. Umbrellas would ruin your experience, wear a poncho instead and you can dance in the rain while you enjoy your adventures in the jungle. You will soon realise that there’s really a lot to do and see in and around Ubud, and you will have to make the best of your time here. A good thing to do would be downloading the GetYourGuide app and book a private driver for the day: price is usually between 30 and 40£ and you have a personal driver for 8-10 hours (so cheap!), who will follow the itinerary you want, picking you up and dropping you off at your hotel. Here’s a clever use you can do of this service, keep your ears open. As I said, I was staying in Seminyak, which is on the South-West coast of Bali, before going to Ubud. Usually a taxi ride will take around one hour with no traffic (which is basically an utopian scenario in Bali, where streets are always busy) and will cost you the same amount of money as renting a private driver for the day. So why not hiring a driver that would pick you up from an area of Bali in the morning with your suitcases, take you around all day and drop you off in Ubud in the evening? This way you will save money and time, avoiding to waste half a day only to travel to Ubud. 😉 If you don’t want to use the GetYourGuide app, many hotels have their own private driver rental service too, but I’m not sure if it would be cheaper or not. In case, try and haggle a bit.

What to see in Ubud

My villa was very close to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, which I really recommend if you like jungle and animals! This forest is brimful of monkeys and it has an organised pathway you can follow, with members of staff explaining things and helping you getting to know these cute and unpredictable animals. Yep, unpredictable. A moment they are the loveliest thing ever, the moment after they start to fight like in Game Of Thrones trying to bite each other’s head off. A few simple rules when you visit the Monkey Forest: don’t carry valuables (jewellery, wallet, purse…) or at least keep them securely zipped where the monkeys can’t see them, because the little buggers love to jump and steal things; if you want to take pictures make sure you attach securely your phone or camera to yourself and be fast and sneaky, for the reason above; don’t carry food, especially bananas, because they can smell it and attack you. That said, you will be able to experience some beautiful family scenes of these fascinating animals and take the best pictures ever, of them and of the wonderful surroundings (the sanctuary itself is magical and the jungle is lush).

If you watched “Eat, Pray, Love” or if you simply ever typed ‘Bali’ on Instagram you surely have seen the images of luxuriantly green rice fields (paddies), organised in vertical staircase shapes and absolutely beautiful. You can’t go to Bali and not see the Tegallalang Rice Terraces: hire a bike and cycle all along the upper circuit or ask your driver to do a long stop and explore them by walking, so you can soak up all that marvel. These rice fields have some lovely photo spots in the form of suspended nests and cocoons, where you can climb in and have your fantastic picture taken. Ubud is literally full of these photo corners, as much as it’s full of swings, suspended at various (scary) heights. I challenged my irrational fear of height and gave the swing a try… I was launched back and forth in the air and once I stopped screaming like a hyena on fire I really enjoyed it!

Goa Gajah Sanctuary (or Elephant Cave) is another lovely place to visit. The cave itself is really small, with a nice facade but nothing major inside… but the surroundings are breathtaking and it’s such a peaceful place. Like for all the temples in Bali, you will be asked to cover your knees and your shoulder: don’t buy the sarong from the vendors in the outside parking lot (unless you like the colours and you want to bring one home with you), because you will be offered one for free at the entrance, near the box office. Don’t laugh at me in the photos below: my red Sarong didn’t really match the blue trainers and the green t-shirt. Fashion faux pas.

The Ubud area is also famous for some gorgeous waterfalls. Tegenungan Waterfall is a great fun place, where you can admire this cascading wonder of Nature and take the best photographs in suspended nests, love hearts or with wooden angel wings. Bear in mind that there’s a steep and long slope with stairs to reach the actual waterfall, which is perfectly fine when you are going down but it’s a bit challenging on the way up (don’t worry there are spots in the shade where you can sit down a few minutes and sip some water. Bring water with you at all times in Bali!). If you have the chance, visit this waterfall in the late afternoon, when the weather is less humid and it’s less packed with tourists.

Here’s a controversial one. The visit at the Luwak Coffee Plantation. Luwak Coffee is known for being the most expensive coffee in the world, with its well rounded flavour and very low caffein content. To obtain the precious blend, the coffee beans are fed to these civet cats that eat them, partially digest (and here is where the fermentation process happens) and expel them from, ehm, their rear exit. The pooped beans are then washed, dried and milled into fine powder. This practice is controversial for a few reasons, all related to the conditions in which these animals are kept (caged, fed a one-food type diet when they would need a variegated one, etc…). The visit to the coffee plantation has no admittance fee and includes a free tasting of many different teas and hot chocolates as well, which are honestly delicious. The staff are welcoming and they show you the different plants of the field, but you will not actually see much of the process of creation of the blend. Altogether it is a nice place to see, with cute photo spots, but if you don’t want to support animal cruelty in any way just avoid to buy or even try the Luwak Coffee, enjoy the teas and chocolates instead. Bear in mind that some of the products you find in the gift shop are available in town in Ubud even at cheaper prices. So yes, I wanted to list this place as one of the things to see but it’s a tricky one, totally up to you.

Kemenuh Butterfly Park! We stumbled upon this place by pure chance and it was a really nice surprise! You walk across a garden full of butterflies with different patterns and colours… You can follow the various stages of growth from larvae to cocoon to fully adult and even keep a giant moth in your hand. It’s quite warm and humid in the garden, so dress light.

The village life in Ubud is busy but very nice. Visit Ubud Palace in the late afternoon and stay to watch the evening Balinese Legong dance, or venture inside the nearby Art & Craft market Pasar Reni to buy souvenirs. Don’t forget to experience a class of yoga in Ubud: Yoga Barn is the more popular studio, but if you want something more intimate you can try Intuitive Flow.

Food & Drinks

Thanks to the tips of my lovely Spanish friend Bea I got to experience the sultry deliciousness of a dish called beef rendang: it’s a sort of sweet and sour marinated pulled beef served with rice and vegetables, and I loved it so much that I had it almost every day when I was in Ubud. You can taste the best beef rendang at Waroeng Bernadette, which is a place that serves lovely Indonesian food and it’s also super quirky! It’s decor is all made with vintage colourful finds from thrift markets and artistic creations (see photos below!). A few steps after Waroeng Bernadette there’s another interesting restaurant called Biah Biah which serves a long menu with many different Indonesian dishes in the form of little tapas, perfect if you want to taste a few options and have an idea of this cuisine. If you fancy a day meal with breathtaking view on the rice fields, check Kampung Cafe or Sari Organik (they are a bit far, so maybe you can pair them to your visit to the rice terraces!). For a coffee & cake afternoon stop or a bistro lunch with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options I strongly recommend the superb Kafe, right in the centre of the city. For night drinks and chill-out vibes I would suggest the candle-lit ambience of CP Lounge, tapas bar with live music.

Ubud is this and much, much, much more, that I didn’t have the chance to experience in the little time I had… This time I preferred to concentrate in terms of distance the things to see and do, but next time I will definitely try and hike Mount Batur to see the sunrise, see the Tirta Empal Temple and the other smaller but beautiful waterfalls that are a bit far out from the city area.

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Wanna know how my holiday continued? Swimming with turtles, drinking Lemon Bintang and cycling an entire island in less than one hour? Read My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 3: Gili Trawangan

🙂

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My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 1: Kuta and Seminyak

Hello Wanderers!

My Bali holiday was something I really looked forward to and I planned it with enthusiasm for months, reading posts from all my favourite travel bloggers and shaping up my personal itinerary. Here you can find my experience, tips and suggestions for Kuta and Seminyak, where it all started for me!

Kuta days (and nights)

The strip of Kuta Beach is the closest area to Denpasar Airport and it’s often mistreated and overlooked because it tends to be chaotic and busy: it’s one of the favourite areas for youngsters, full of bars, clubs and discos, with locals offering you taxi rides and all kinds of goods (legal and not) and traffic jams every day at peek times. Said that, you can still enjoy some time in Kuta, maybe a couple of days, if you like places with a buzzy nightlife. For your accommodation I will suggest you three different options for three different budgets: if you want to treat yourself to a luxury room, beautiful Balinese decor and a breakfast buffet that looks like a wedding banquet then take a look at The Anvaya Beach Resort : with its wide choice of suites, rooms and villas, an elegant cocktail bar and all the facilities you can imagine (even for families with kids), this resort will pamper you good. The Anvaya organises tours, excursions and activities for their guests, you just have to book yourself in 24 hours before. The boutique hotel The Vira is another chic and beautiful option in the area, or, if you are on a tighter budget but still want a quality stay with swimming pool and spa services, The Rani will make you happy. All three hotels are on Jl. Kartika Plaza, the main street of Kuta Beach.

I briefly mentioned earlier about excursions and activities you can do in Kuta and in Bali in general. There are lots. Snorkeling, surfing, diving, island hopping, boat cruises, cooking classes focused on Indonesian cuisine… Scattered around Kuta are many kiosks where you can book the activities you like, just remember to step up your best haggling game (although Bali is generally quite cheap and affordable, it’s always good when you can knock a few pennies off the prices and vendors in Bali are usually flexible in this sense). If you want to be able to book your activities with a click on your smartphone I suggest you the great app called GetYourGuide , which allows you to source and book activities by location, anywhere in the world (I will tell you more about some clever use you can do of it in my post about Ubud). When in Kuta, don’t forget to check the Art market for local crafted creations, organic products and wall art to buy at very affordable prices. Kuta has big “western style” shopping malls as well, to satisfy your shopping spree urges for popular brands: you can head to Beachwalk , Discovery or Mal Bali Galeria, to name a few.

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Dinner time! Speaking of food and beverages you can start your night at Bamboo Bar & Grill, where you can enjoy a wide choice of cocktails and bites, resting your feet on the sand-covered floor and listening to a live band playing (very often they give you the chance to jump on stage and sing, so prepare your best performance and have a couple of drinks to warm up!). Another good fun place is Aribar , delicious Mexican restaurant where Sangrias and Margaritas keep you happy and the friendly staff entertain you with impromptu dances… If you are a fan of Indian food you need to check Queen’s Of India, possibly the best Indian food I ever had in my life! You will not be disappointed.

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Seminyak sunsets and pools

Only 25 minutes taxi ride (if you don’t get stuck in traffic!) from Kuta and you are in lovely Seminyak! The most “westernized” part of Bali, the perfect area to have a gradual immersion into the Balinese spirit and wear off your jet lag (believe me, if you fly from London you will need a couple of days to adjust!) enjoying beautiful beach resorts, poolside cocktails, a perfect combination of relax and luxury and some of the best sunset spots!

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For my days in Seminyak I really wanted to pamper myself accomodation-wise, and what a stunning surprise was my stay at De Vins Sky Hotel! I stumbled upon this gorgeous hotel while browsing on Agoda and I’m so happy that it didn’t only match the expectations but it exceeded them in all aspects of the experience. I suggest you to check on Agoda if De Vins Sky Hotel has special deals on their Whirlpool Suites and book one like I did! The room is absolutely stunning and you will have your own private Jacuzzi on the veranda, where you can relax to the sound of the cicadas before getting ready for your night out. The hotel has a lovely spa, a gym, a rooftop pool with bar and a restaurant (I spent literally hours floating on pool mattresses with a Rosella Mojito in my hand, getting my best tan) and the most friendly and smiley staff. Once a week the hotel hosts an event called Balinese Cultural Night, where you can taste an amazing Indonesian buffet and watch a Balinese dance show for the equivalent of just 10£ (yes, that’s another reason to love Bali)!

In terms of sightseeing, the Petitenget Temple is worth a visit and it’s right there in the area, near Seminyak beach and nightlife spots (perfect location!). But make sure that during your stay in Seminyak you save a late afternoon to take a taxi and go and see the sunset on Tanah Lot Temple, because it’s one of the best views you’ll see. I made the mistake to visit the temple in the morning and the sun was high and incredibly hot, so definitely go just before sunset for your own safety! You may want to pair the visit to the Tanah Lot Temple with a day trip to Canggu, another nice area of Bali famous for surfing spots, amazing organic food bowls, art markets and places with a trendy-hipster edge: go there in the early morning, have a beach day, an afternoon of strolling and exploring and finish watching the sunset on Tanah Lot Temple. Sounds very good to me!

Speaking of sunsets, Seminyak offers some of the best clubs, rooftop pools and lounge bars you can possibly have, to enjoy this magical moment of the day. Potato Head Beach Club has the perfect combination for me: hip and artistic edge, infinity pool right before the beach, people getting together on the lawn, cocktails flowing and chill out music… Oh, what a great vibe! You definitely can’t skip it. Other similar places I can suggest are Ku De Ta (very similar setting to Potato Head, less hippy, more “western”, very popular and busy!), Mrs. Sippy (awesome cocktail bar with a huuuge saltwater pool) and La Plancha (spanish tapas bar and restaurant with a colourful explosion of beach umbrellas and bean bags, totally instagrammable!). Dinner time? If you fancy some delicious Italian fine dining you must go to La Lucciola: astonishing candle-lit restaurant on the beach, a bit more expensive than the usual Bali prices but totally, totally worth it! If you want to try a more local cuisine, check Made’s Warung, which has a wide choice of cuisines, from the authentic Indonesian to Thai and American too, great if you are a party of people with different tastes!

Because of their proximity to the Denpasar Airport, Kuta and Seminyak are a good starting point for a Bali holiday, to immerse gradually into the Balinese atmosphere and not be thrown into the jungle straight away! Although Kuta was kind of a handy location for me (I had just disembarked from my contract on a ship in Benoa and Kuta is nearby), net of the night life it’s objectively not the cutest place in Bali. You might consider choosing the near areas of Jimbaran or Uluwatu (a bit more south of Kuta), or even Canggu, as an alternative. But I absolutely loved Seminyak and I’m sure you will love it too!

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Wanna know how my holiday continued? With monkeys, butterflies, rice fields, swings, nests and waterfalls? Read My Bali and Gili Trawangan holiday! Part 2: exploring Ubud 🙂

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