Discovering Ubud For a First-Timer: Top Ten Activities

Move through the Assortment of Retail, Souvenir and Traditional Shops along Jalan Hanoman and Jalan Monkey Forest

After arriving in Ubud mid-morning and offloading your precious cargo at the hotel, it’s time to find your Indonesian travel-feet and adjust to the irriguous air circling overhead.  Let the anticipation unravel by taking a stroll along Ubud’s premier shopping streets: Jayal Hanoman and Jalan Monkey Forest.  It’s here that you’ll find a kaleidoscopic array of shops to whet your sagacious shopping appetite, as well as busloads of tourists hauling it on day trips from Kuta.  Don’t be put off: there are plentiful escape options in the surrounding hills for the afternoon.  If it isn’t shopping you’re after, then strolling along these streets will get you orientated, and unveil the nucleus of Ubud: a cultural hub in Bali’s emerald core with an edifying-heart beating akin to the local Zeitgeist of art, tranquillity and spirituality.  For goods made of bamboo, the product quintessentially South-East Asian, don’t pass by Bambooku.  For food and beverage, there are innumerable options on this route, so replenish yourself by stopping - every now and again - to sample new and appetising local flavours.  I spent a few hours completing the circuit, and collected more goods than I’d anticipated taking home.   


Take a Stroll Through Ubud Monkey Forest and Pose (a Distance Away) with a Mischievous Furry Creature

For an opportunity to get up close and, well, quite personal with a mischievous monkey – or over seven hundred of the avaricious grey-haired Balinese macaques – then head to Ubud Monkey Forest, a strip of jungle at the southern end of Jalan Monkey Forest (or Monkey Forest Road).  Considered sacred by locals, walking through the sanctuary will take you past several temples – mostly covered in the forest’s furry creatures – that date back to the fourteenth century.  It’s an ethereal experience guaranteed to provide education and entertainment for several hours.  Although endearing, I avoided getting too close to the monkeys.  They can, at times, be vicious.  Ensure your rabies vaccination is complete, as you wouldn’t want a face bite from an untrustworthy shoulder-dwelling primate ruining your Balinese escape, health and future wellbeing.  

Step Back in History at the Effervescent Don Antonio Blanco Museum

Originally the home of Philippine-born Spanish prodigy Don Antonio Blanco, the establishment – converted into a museum by surviving family at the late artist’s request – is a chef-d'oeuvre of his eclectic works.  Ideally located atop a hill, you will be rewarded for visiting: with extravagant views of the surrounding Campuhan valley, the stunning architectural masterpiece and gardens are an unofficial Ubud landmark; value for money is guaranteed.  After paying fifty thousand Indonesian Rupiah for admission and guzzling a complimentary icy cold beverage, it’s time to begin exploration of the assorted studios and galleries.  Replete with paintings, collages and lithography – mostly of nude Balinese women – you can easily lose yourself curiously engaged by the master craftsman’s thoughts, philosophies and ideals.  If you’re lucky, a personalised tour of the soon-to-be-landmark establishment may be completed by a member of the late artist’s family.  Visiting the museum was a welcome escape from the harsh heat of midday, a retreat abounding in class and sophistication. 


Indulge in Indonesian Cuisine at Bebek Bengil on Jalan Hanoman

Home to hundreds – if not thousands - of food options, gastronomy aficionados will feel right at home moving between Ubud’s picturesque dining locales.  Often nestled between - or set before - rice paddies, indulging on Indonesian fare at one of these restaurants will engage all your senses.  Bebek Bengil is no exception: backing onto a sea of green, patrons can chow down on the restaurant’s famous crispy duck while sitting under wooden huts surrounded by emerald resplendence.  Aside from duck, the menu boasts multiple tasty meat options including chicken cooked in the smooth nutty goodness of satay ayam.  Dining at the ‘Dirty Duck Diner’ was a pleasurable multi-sensorial gastronomic experience.  


Pamper Yourself by Means of Reflexology or a Full Body Massage at a Spa

Just like Ubud’s dining options, there is no shortage when it comes to mind and body indulgence.  Spas and wellness centres abound, so choosing the right escape-from-reality establishment can be a taxing task.  One could easily devise an entire trip around spas, sliding from oily acupressure sessions into scented petal baths.  I personally ‘investigated’ various options throughout Ubud, and successfully escaped reality during a full-body pampering at Jaen’s Spa, followed by pedal bliss during a session of reflexology at Dini Bali.  Visiting a spa or wellness centre while in Ubud is essential for true immersion in Indonesian culture.


Walk or Ride Along Jalan Subak Sok Wayah

Escaping the hustle and bustle of Ubud’s busy centre is simple: walk – or ride – a short distance north along Jalan Subak Sok Wayah, and watch the landscape splinter into hues of emerald.  Despite being a stone’s throw from town, moving along this scenic path takes trippers to another planet: a landscape of flowing rice paddy fields, abounding in peace and serenity. It’s not uncommon to see farmers – well protected under cone shaped straw hats – working to maintain their respective lots.  Scattered cafes and restaurants compliment the path, providing an opportunity to nourish yourself en route to paradise.  I stopped to indulge my curious appetite at Café Pomegranate.            

Dine with a Luscious View of Rice Paddy Fields at Café Pomegranate

With three-hundred-and-sixty-degree open views of surrounding rice fields, there are few finer options along this route in which to truly appreciate the magic and inimitability of Ubud.  With views stretching to the holy mountain of the north, unwinding at this locale while indulging on freshly prepared fare is a truly holistic experience.  With an impressive menu boasting an array of international options, your tastebuds are bound to be titillated.  I opted to boost my inner health and indulged on the fruity goodness of papaya with turmeric - a palatable smoothie robust in flavour.         

Collect Indonesian Treasures at Ubud Traditional Art Market

Even if you don’t enjoy shopping, taking a walk through this art, craft and souvenir market –opposite Ubud Palace – is a must.  It’s an opportunity to understand a little about Indonesian culture, and get up close and personal with locals sharing their craft with the world passing through Ubud.  For lovers of art, and all things quintessentially local, spend an hour or two wandering from stall to stall and employing your finest bargaining savvy; it’ll be time well spent.  I was inveigled to buy a handcrafted mini-surfboard by a convincing shoulder-height Indonesian man, the relic of a sport in which I never engage.  My father appreciated the keepsake of my Balinese escape.      

Traipse through the Cascading Tegallalang Rice Terraces

More than a short walk from town, the cascading rice terraces of Tegallalang provide the perfect opportunity to unwind and appreciate the beauty of Bali’s emerald heart, all while surrounded by nature’s bliss.  If you’ve ever dreamed of riding a scooter in Asia, then here is your chance.  There are picturesque stops en route from Ubud’s core, so taking your own two-wheeled transport is preferable.  Otherwise, a taxi – with a price negotiated suitably – is a perfectly acceptable means of arrival.  Quintessentially Balinese – and by extension South East Asian – the rice fields of Tegallalang are unique: developed in symbiosis with nature, the terraces make it possible to wet rice farm, a method of yielding the white starchy staple that’s almost always performed on flat terrain.  Not only is it an aesthetic delight, walking down, through and around the terraces will enable you to understand the intricacies of the job.  Ensure you stop to engage with farmers on your sloped walk, and don appropriate footwear for traversing ground that’s often sodden.  Keep a few Rupiah handy, as a donation is often requested for accessing the terraces opposite the road.       

Titillate your Tastebuds at Luwak Coffee

Seven hundred metres down the hill from the rice terraces is Luwak Coffee.  If you’ve ever wondered what happens to coffee beans throughout the production process, then a visit to this coffee plantation is vital. I learned a lot about the role of the civet cat, or rather its alimentary canal, in the whole process.  Perched on the same hill as Tegallalang, a guided and educational walk through the establishment is refreshing.  Top it off by sampling a delicious array of coffee flavours, or for those otherwise inclined, a range of local teas.  The tour was complimentary, as were the bite-sized samples at the end.  Take your time ambling through the shop, and consider collecting a sample or two to take home. 



Further Information

Getting there

By Air

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The author stayed at Ubud Padi Villas near Ubud. 

Consult the following websites for up to date information regarding prices and availability of accommodation in Ubud, Bali and Indonesia:


The currency utilised in Indonesia is the Indonesian Rupiah. Please refer to the following website for current and up to date exchange rates:

Ben McGarry

Born and raised in rural Australia, I've spent most of my adult life living abroad and travelling the world. I now wish to share the moments I've captured with you.
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