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Ubud is culture, yes. It’s also home to good restaurants, cafes and streets of shops, many selling goods from the region’s artisans. There’s somewhere to stay for every budget, and no matter what the price you can enjoy lodgings that reflect the local Zeitgeist: artful, creative and serene.
Ubud’s popularity continues to grow. Tour buses with day trippers can choke the main streets and cause traffic chaos. Being named the top city in Asia by Conde Nast Traveler only added to the hoopla from bestselling Eat, Pray, Love. Fortunately Ubud adapts and a stroll away from the intersection of Jl Raya Ubud and Monkey Forest Rd can quickly restore sanity. There’s nothing like a walk through the verdant rice fields to make all right with the world.
Spend a few days in Ubud to appreciate it properly. It’s one of those places where days can become weeks and weeks become months, as the noticeable expat community demonstrates.
The region east and north of Ubud has many of the most ancient monuments and relics in Bali. Some of them predate the Majapahit era and raise as-yet-unanswered questions about Bali’s history. Others are more recent, and in other instances, newer structures have been built on and around the ancient remains. They’re interesting to history and archaeology buffs, but not that spectacular to look at – with the exception of Bali’s own bit of Angkor at Gunung Kawi. Perhaps the best approach is to plan a whole day walking or cycling around the area, stopping at the places that interest you, but not treating any one as a destination in itself.
The area is thick with excursion possibilities. Besides the Elephant Cave, there’s the Crazy Buffalo Temple. Heading north you find Bali’s most important ancient site at Tampaksiring and a nearly forgotten shrine nearby, Pura Mengening, that rewards the adventurous.
South of Ubud
The road between south Bali and Ubud is lined with little shops making and selling handicrafts. Many visitors shop along the route as they head to Ubud, sometimes by the busload, but much of the craftwork is actually done in small workshops and family compounds on quiet back roads. You may enjoy these places more after visiting Ubud, where you’ll see some of the best Balinese arts and develop some appreciation of the styles and themes.
For serious shopping and real flexibility in exploring these villages, it’s worth arranging your own transport, so you can explore the back roads and carry your purchases without any hassles. Note that your driver may receive a commission from any place you spend your money – this can add 10% or more to the cost of purchases (think of it as his tip). Also, a driver may try to steer you to workshops or artisans that he favours, rather than those of most interest to you.
The roads form a real patchwork and you’ll be rewarded with surprises if you take some time to wander the lesser routes.
North of Ubud
Abused and abandoned logging elephants from Sumatra have been given refuge in Bali at the Elephant Safari Park. Located in the cool, wet highlands of Taro (14km north of Ubud), the park is home to almost 30 elephants. Besides seeing a full complement of exhibits about elephants, you can ride an elephant for an extra fee. The park has received praise for its conservation efforts; however, be careful you don’t end up at one of the rogue parks, designed to divert the unwary to unsanctioned displays of elephants.
The surrounding region produces ochre-coloured paint pigment. The gentle uphill drive from Ubud is a lush attraction in itself.
The usual road from Ubud to Batur is through Tampaksiring, but there are other lesser roads up the gentle mountain slope. One of the most attractive goes north from Peliatan, past Petulu and its birds, and through the rice terraces between Tegallalang and Ceking, to bring you out on the crater rim between Penelokan and Batur. It’s a sealed road all the way and you also pass through Sebatu, which has all manner of artisans tucked away in tiny villages.
The one off-note will be Pujung, where the rice terraces are beautiful but have attracted a strip of ugly tourist traps overlooking them. A few years ago the farmers got fed up with looking up at others profiting from their labours and installed picture-ruining mirrors until they were cut in on the take.