Ubud, I’m Just Not That Into You

The first time I went to Ubud, I spent less than an hour there before deciding that I needed to leave as soon as possible.  I’m not sure if it was the Eat, Pray, Love mentality, the overpriced organic restaurants, or the plethora of yoga studios, but after spending only 24 hours in the city, I made the hasty decision that Ubud just wasn’t for me.

Balinese temple - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Ubud is chock full of Balinese temples.

I was surprised that I had such an immediate and negative reaction to Ubud, which is highly regarded as the cultural capital of Bali.  Everyone I’ve ever talked to gushes about the city’s hip cafés, international eateries, and lush countryside.  I actually don’t think I’ve ever heard a bad thing about Ubud.  That being said, everyone’s travel tastes are different.  And the things that draw most travelers to Ubud aren’t necessarily selling points for me.  Most tourists visit the city to strike a downward-facing-dog pose at the Yoga Barn, get a rub down in one of the town’s famous spas, splurge on chic boutique hotels, or shop at the traditional art markets.

It sounds pretty awesome, right?  But there’s just one problem – these things don’t appeal to me.

I’ve never actually done yoga, though I would like to try it.  And thanks to a very awkward massage experience in Mexico, I don’t tend to get massages.  I’m too broke to treat myself to a night at an expensive boutique hotel.  And I just so happen to be the only girl in the world who loathes shopping.

 Ubud Traditional Art Market - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Hawkers sell all sorts of goodies at the Ubud Traditional Art Market.

Six months after my short-lived backpacking trip to Ubud, I came to realize that I had been too quick to judge this much beloved city.  As a seasoned traveler I know all too well that it’s impossible to get an accurate understanding of a new city in a day’s time.  And the fact that I hadn’t even given Ubud a chance meant that I was doing myself a disservice.  What if I would have loved it there?

As some of you might remember, I decided to take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Bali last month.  I had no real plan other than getting in some beach time in Kuta.  But after reading some very convincing blog posts about Bali’s stunning rice terraces and the thrills of motorbiking around Ubud I quickly decided that I needed to go back and give Ubud another chance.

Tegalalang Rice Terraces  - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
The emerald-green Tegalalang Rice Terraces in Ubud, Bali.

This time around I was determined to let Ubud work its magic on me.  I had a few goals – I would stay longer than one day, I would wander around the markets and temples, and I would motorbike to the famous rice terraces.  And hopefully Ubud would charm me as much as it does everyone else.

The second I arrived I had an intense moment of déjà vu.  And I experienced that all-too-familiar urge to flee.  I really don’t know why Ubud has this effect on me.  As I walked along the main drag of Jalan Hanoman I was still less than impressed by the city’s relatively ritzy storefronts.  There were trendy wine bars, organic cafés, and luxurious spas – nothing about it felt like the Indonesia I know and love.  Walking around the city center felt a little bit like hanging out in one of the swankier areas of San Francisco.

This is not a knock against San Francisco, a city that I adore.  And it’s not to say that I don’t appreciate Ubud’s hippie mentality, because I do.  After all, I did attend UC Santa Cruz (for those who don’t know this is the hippie university in the US), and I’ve been a vegetarian since high school.  I am the textbook definition of a hippie.  Yet, something still rubs me the wrong way about Ubud.  Walking around, it all just felt so cool, so gentrified.  And, I have to say, I much prefer the grit of dirty and raunchy Kuta Beach.

Vegan Warung - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Vegetarian eateries are a dime a dozen in Ubud!

One thing I do love about Ubud is that it’s the one place in Indonesia where being a vegetarian is not only understood, but it’s embraced.  There are dozens of vegetarian warungs (local eateries) sprinkled around the city and almost every restaurant has a plethora of veg-friendly options.  My first night in the city I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was not in Jakarta anymore and that I was finally among people who could relate to my quirky eating habits.  I was delighted when I stumbled across the Vegan Warung.  As I happily stuffed my face with sweet and spicy tofu, I finally felt a tinge of excitement about being back in Ubud.  Satisfied and still determined to keep an open mind, I went to bed excited for what the next day would bring.

Hotel breakfast - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Best complimentary breakfast ever!

I’d been dreaming of motorbiking to the Tegalalang Rice Terraces since I’d arrived in Bali.  That morning, after I savored the world’s most amazing free breakfast (courtesy of my $15-a-night budget hotel), I lingered over a cup of Balinese coffee and mapped out my route to the rice terraces.

Hotel breakfast - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I have to admit that I was slightly apprehensive about driving a scooter on my own.  As I’ve mentioned before, motorbiking is by far my favorite way to experience new cities.  I had a fantastic experience motorbiking around Nusa Lembongan (a tiny island off the coast of Bali).  But considering Lembongan barely has any cars on it, and Aaron did most of the driving, I figured navigating Ubud’s crowded roads would prove much more challenging.  Renting a scooter is always thrilling and terrifying, which is all part of the appeal.  But I usually have Aaron there to help me from veering in the wrong direction.  And if I were to breakdown or – knock on wood – take a spill, he’d be there to come to my rescue.

 Absolut petrol - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
An Indonesian-style gas station – Absolut petrol.

In spite of my nerves, I rented a scooter for 50,000 ($4 USD) from my guesthouse.  After a few moments of hesitation I finally mustered the courage to start the engine.  I nervously lurched onto one Ubud’s congested thoroughfares and clumsily merged into traffic.  My nerves waned almost immediately as I went speeding through dusty towns, snaking up mountainous roads, and passing by intricate Balinese temples.  And it didn’t take long for me to start understanding why travelers rave about the countryside’s beauty.

Tegalalang Rice Terraces  - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I chose to go to the Tegalalang Rice Terraces because they are supposed to be some of the most beautiful in Bali.  However, that also means they’re a huge tourist trap.  I’d read some not-so-flattering stories about busloads of camera-toting tourists, ultra-aggressive hawkers, and surly Indonesians demanding tariffs to walk around the terraces.

Tegalalang Rice Terraces  - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I was pleasantly surprised to find the terraces to be nearly empty when I visited.  There were just a few other tourists quietly exploring the vibrantly green paddies and, at times, I felt like I had them all to myself.  The setting was just as remarkable as I’d imagined.  And I had a blast getting muddy and taking way too many photos.

Tegalalang Rice Terraces  - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

After motorbiking around the countryside all morning I felt like I finally understood why people are so charmed by Ubud.  I spent a total of three days there, wondering around, people watching at the Traditional Art Market, and marveling at the city’s ornate Balinese temples.

After three days I’d had my fill of Ubud.  I still can’t say that it is my favorite place in Indonesia, but I am glad that I made the decision to go back.  When it comes to beautiful landscapes and intricate temples, Ubud is a pretty special place.  I can see why people go there and never leave.  If I were a spa-loving yoga fiend with a little more money I probably wouldn’t leave Ubud either.

Have you been to Ubud?  What were your impressions?  Have you ever had mixed feelings about a place everyone else raves about?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

30 thoughts on “Ubud, I’m Just Not That Into You

    1. I was so quick to judge it last time and it definitely deserved another chance. I’m not in love with the town itself but the countryside really is beautiful. Motorbiking to the rice terraces was by far my favorite part of being in Ubud. If you ever find yourself in Ubud again you have to visit the terraces!

  1. Interesting article Justine! You are such a brave little hippie! Hope you have a Happy American Thanksgiving in Indonesia! We miss you both!

    1. Ha, thanks Cindy! We’re going to celebrate Aaron’s birthday and Thanksgiving tomorrow. It’s sad being away for the second year in a row. We miss you guys too!

    1. Thanks Paula! Ubud might be the perfect place to recover from all the partying in Kuta. I suppose all those massages and yoga were sounding very good at that point!

  2. Great post! I really loved Ubud, and I’m planning to go back next year, but I can see where it might not appeal to everyone. I think it was just nice for me because I was coming from Korea, so ANY place with a laid back atmosphere and vegetarian options was a slice of paradise. And the beautiful scenery really can’t be denied!
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    1. Thanks Kaleena! Ha, I can understand that Ubud would be a welcome escape from Korea. It was definitely a nice reprieve from Jakarta. And being in a place were everyone grasped the concept of vegetarianism was AMAZING! And, I agree, the beautiful scenery cannot be denied. It was my favorite part and I feel like I barely saw a thing. There’s so much more to explore.

  3. Great post! Lol.. well you know I’m an Ubud lover, but I have to say that we didn’t actually stay IN Ubud. We stayed about a 15 minute scooter ride away in a private villa with a view of the amazing jungle and a pool (for just $40 btw), and just rode in to eat and get massages. We spent most of our time riding the surrounding area. Honestly I’m not sure that I would like staying in directly in Ubud myself…I hate shopping too! But I sure liked having easy access to all it’s amazing food, cafes and spas! 😀
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    1. When I was looking for a room online I found the most amazing hotels on the outskirts of Ubud. Super nice rooms, awesome pool, situated on the rice paddies – and they were only $40. I would love to stay in one of those hotels sometime. I’m sure I would have fallen head over heels for Ubud had I done what you did! I don’t much care for the town itself, although it is nice to be able to walk to the restaurants!

  4. We didn’t much love Ubud either, but I do think it’s a tricky kind of place where, if you’re only there for a really short while, you only experience a very superficial side to it, which is generally pretty plastic & fake (even if it’s all about yoga & crystals and liquid cleanses). I was really disappointed by how built up Ubud was… you really do need a scooter and the ability to drive way out into the countryside to really appreciate how beautiful Bali can be, I think.

    I also agree that Ubud has some really good restaurants. We aren’t vegetarians, but we really enjoyed the warungs and restaurants we found in Ubud more than perhaps anywhere else in all of Indonesia.
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    1. It does feel really superficial. That’s a good way to put it. Both times I visited Ubud I stayed in the city center. And both times I was so immediately turned off by it. Typically I would be in heaven in a city that flaunts this sort of hippie mentality. Things like organic eating and healthy living are things that I fully appreciate. But I think I was put off by how just how gentrified and consumerist it all was. Like Silvia said in a previous comment, staying outside of the city might have been more ideal for me. My favorite part of Ubud was the countryside, so I think I would have had a completely different impression of it had I not stayed in the city center. Oh well!

      The food was definitely another great part of Ubud. I was able to find a lot of affordable options, but it did bum me out that I felt like I couldn’t eat in a lot of restaurants because of the inflated prices. But that’s just me being a cheapskate 😉

  5. :) Thanks for the heads up about ubud. Still, I’ve been in jakarta a week now so any place with fresh air and even slightly less traffic will be a very, very welcome change of pace.
    Pleeeeease divulge the name of your budget ubud hotel! Our budget is $15/night for two. I wanna get me some of that breakfast… xo

    1. Ubud is definitely a nice reprieve from Jakarta. And just because Ubud isn’t my favorite place in the world doesn’t mean you won’t like it. Again, most people LOVE it :)

      I stayed at Nyoman Warta Hotel. But even though it was cheap and had the world’s best complimentary breakfast I wouldn’t recommend it. They’re currently undergoing construction, and the noise was a total drag. My room was fan-cooled, which didn’t bother me. But it seriously had the loudest fan ever, which made it tough to sleep. There was also something boring holes in the wooden beams in the ceiling and I woke up to a bed full of debris which really skeeved me out! There are plenty of cheap places sprinkled around town, but there are a lot of duds. My best advice is not to book ahead. If you aren’t oppose to it, you might want to walk around town and look at a few rooms in person. You should be able to find a place for $15 with free breakfast and a pool.

      If you are open to renting a scooter I would highly recommend staying somewhere a little removed from town. If you do a little research online (like on Agoda) you’ll see that you can find some awesome deals on very nice rooms that have AC, a flat screen, a pool and gorgeous views of rice terraces for $15-$40. The value of rooms that are a touch outside of the city center is really amazing. I hope you love Indonesia as much as I do! Where else besides Jakarta and Ubud are you planning on visiting?

  6. thanks for your detailed response!! Just out of town sounds like an ideal place to stay to visit ubud.
    I’m actually in padangbai now, went right here from the bali airport because I thought I would get a boat to either Gili meno or nusa lembongan the next day. But now that day is today, and this town is so chill and the snorkelling so good, I’m gonna stay a bit! Really taking this trip day by day, haha. Other than those islands, going to Kalimantan would be incredible. Photographing oranutans is a ‘must’ for my boo (I mean, travel partner). We’re flying out of jakarta to go to India in January, so I know I’ll be back to brave the non-sidewalks once again.
    Thanks again for your response! Your blog has been fun to read and a big help for this trip! x

    1. No problem! I’m always happy to talk travel :) I had no idea that Padangbai was so cool. I went there to catch a ferry to Gili T, but I didn’t know it could be a fun place to stay! That’s nice you’re able to take things day by day. That’s the best way to travel! I hope you make it to Kalimantan. I’ve been dying to go there! Anyway, I”m glad my blog has helped you out a little bit. When I was traveling I completely relied on travel blogs for information. And it was always my aim to share my knowledge. Happy and safe travels :)

  7. I have similar feelings about Ubud – I can see the draw for expats, but that’s just it, I saw mostly expats and very little culture. Ubud is a far cry from the rest of Bali. We took it for what it is, enjoyed the sights to be seen, but I won’t go back. We had 4 days there and like you – it was plenty. We spent an entire day outside of the city which was amazing!!
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    1. This time around I could definitely see the appeal for expats. It has such a huge expat community and I found myself thinking that Ubud wouldn’t be the worst place in the world to live. But when it comes to traveling it’s not my first choice. I really wish I would have explored mainland Bali more. I’m sure I’ll be going back a few times next year. And I would love to visit some of the place you’ve been :)

  8. I love your post and I’m really glad that you managed to get your Ubud groove back LOL!

    I’ve been to Bali twice now and Ubud is my favourite place. In fact, I’ve just written a post about it….!

    I first went to Bali in 1999 (Gulp!) and had a magnificent time. I also went to Kuta for and I absolutely couldn’t stand it. Nope! Give me serenity and rice fields any time!

    I do have mixed feelings about another place, and that’s Singapore. I didn’t like it all!
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    1. I think a lot of people share your sentiments about Ubud and Kuta! So funny that you mention not being a fan of Singapore. I was actually just there last week. I’d never been there before but I’d never heard great things about it. To be honest, I had such low expectations. I only spent a day there, but I really loved it! It had so much more character than I expected and the Indian food was fantastic :) But, I must say that I was not a fan of the prices … I spent way too much money in just 24 hours!

  9. It’s so refreshing to hear something different about Ubud! Personally, I loved it but I love yoga and the whole boutique hotel and hippy vibe. It took my boyfriend a few days to settle in Ubud and he wasn’t sure at first but I’d signed up for a 10 day yoga course so there was no leaving!

    The food is amazing and I can’t believe that breakfast was included, it looks better than a lot of breakfasts I’ve paid for!
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    1. Thank you Monica! Almost everyone I’ve met who has been to Ubud absolutely loves it. I was so afraid that everyone would hate on me for expressing my lukewarm feelings about Ubud 😉 But it just wasn’t one of those places that clicked with me. Ha, I hope your boyfriend ended up loving Ubud as much as you did!

      Isn’t that breakfast insane? That fruit salad was so pretty I almost couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I’ve had a lot of complimentary breakfasts in my time, but never have I been served something like that. It was probably worth more than I paid for the actual room!

    1. The rice terraces were really cool. And I was really happy that they weren’t teeming with tourists. It was actually very tranquil there :) Since I travel on a fairly tight budget paying for things like yoga classes, massages and expensive meals just aren’t things I ever consider. I’m sure these things can be done fairly affordably in Ubud but, again, these aren’t things that really interest me. There really are some incredible budget hotel options there. I think if I found the right hotel I could easily spend a week just chilling out there, preferably by a pool :)

  10. This sounds horribly familiar. I’ve been to a lot of places like this, and just think it’s a bit of a shame – feels like they try to recreate what we have at home, just in a more pleasant setting – or a more pleasant climate, at least. I always feel almost embarassed to be in these places, one of the vast masses. The Thamel district of Kathmandu comes to mind…

    1. I tend to agree with you. And I think that’s why I had such an immediate and negative reaction to Ubud. Bali is a beautiful place full of culture, history and beauty. Ubud is supposed to be “the cultural capital of Bali” but I can’t help but disagree with this line of thinking. It may have a lot of temples, but there seems to be a huge disconnect with traditional culture there (at least when it comes to tourist influence). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad and I do have an appreciation for expat communities. But the wealth, the gentrification, and the overall superficiality of Ubud all rubbed me the wrong way. Interesting that this reminded you of the Thamel district. I’d never heard of it but I just looked it up and there are definitely parallels. I had no idea that Kathmandu had a full WiFi zone. That seems so out of place!

    1. The rice terraces were definitely my favorite part of traveling to Ubud. It might not be my favorite place in Indonesia, but there’s no denying that the countryside is very beautiful!

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